It gets worse, for what capitalism has always had is money with which to try to buy influence. Today’s version of U.S. capitalism has died and gone to heaven on this issue. A company is now free to spend money to influence political outcomes and need tell no one, least of all its own shareholders, the technical owners. So, rich industries can exert so much political influence that they now have a dangerous degree of influence over Congress. And the issues they most influence are precisely the ones that matter most, the ones that are most important to society’s long-term well-being, indeed its very existence. Thus, taking huge benefits from Nature and damaging it in return is completely free and all attempts at government control are fought with costly lobbying and advertising. And one of the first victims in this campaign has been the truth. If scientific evidence suggests costs and limits be imposed on industry to protect the long-term environment, then science will be opposed by clever disinformation. It’s now getting to be an old and obvious story, but because their propaganda is good and despite the solidness of the data, half of the people believe the problem is a government run wild, mad to control everything. So the “industrial complex” (or parts of it) fights to increase the inherent weaknesses of capitalism. They deliberately make it ever harder to reach the very long-term decisions that will serve us all. The influence of the Tobacco companies in deliberately obscuring the science to protect profits at a huge cost to society in health costs and lives is a perfect analogy to the energy industries that work hard to confuse the public on scientific measures of damage to health and the environment.
[W]ith natural resources, capitalism wants to eat into these precious, limited resources at an accelerating rate with the subtext that everyone on the planet has the right to live like the wasteful polluting developed countries do today. You don’t have to be a PhD mathematician to work out that if the average Chinese and Indian were to catch up with (the theoretically moving target of) the average American, then our planet’s goose is cooked, along with most other things. Indeed, scientists calculate that if they caught up, we would need at least three planets to be fully sustainable. But few listen to scientists these days. So, do you know how many economic theories treat resources as if they are finite? Well, the researchers at the O.E.C.D say “none” – that no such theory exists. Economic theory either ignores this little problem or assumes you reach out and take the needed resources given the normal workings of supply and demand and you can do it indefinitely. This is a lack of common sense on a par with “rational expectations,” that elegant theory that encouraged the ludicrous faith in deregulation and the wisdom of free markets, which brought us our recent financial fiascos.
Capitalism, by ignoring the finite nature of resources and by neglecting the long-term well-being of the planet and its potentially crucial biodiversity, threatens our existence. Fifty and one-hundred-year horizons are important despite the “tyranny of the discount rate,” and grandchildren do have value. My conclusion is that capitalism does admittedly do a thousand things better than other systems: it only currently fails in two or three. Unfortunately for us all, even a single one of these failings may bring capitalism down and us with it.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Not All Billionaires Lack A Conscience
From Jeremy Grantham's 4Q investment letter (as always, insightful and without rationalization, a common means of denial by the very rich):
Posted by Grey Matter at 3:36 PM