Nuclear Power, Capitalism and Marxist woo

UPDATE 07-09-12:More on the professional Greenpeace fraud Arnie Gundersen here

I seem to have spent half the summer debating the topics I usually engage with here on Facebook, a new departure for me, which has not left a lot of time for blogging so I might summarize some of them here.

Much of these debates are with the usual New Age/Collapse/Dark Greens on the usual topics: anti-technology, humans are bad, we’re all doomed, computers (and Facebook!) are great but apart from that we should retreat to self-reliant “resilient” local communities and knit our own windmills from organic home-spun hemp. Often these debates end up being thinly disguised anti-captialist (Apple and Microsoft exempt) rants with an (un-) healthy dose of Gaia worship thrown in.

After posting this link to an article by Wiliam Tucker– author of Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Energy Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey– I was recently drawn into a debate with a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist who cut straight to the chase: capitalism is the cause of all environmental problems, starting with Fukishima. In support of this position I was sent this link from Democracy Now! featuring a short report from from the Japanese Parliment showing that “A Japanese parliamentary inquiry has concluded last year’s nuclear meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was “a profoundly man-made disaster — that could and should have been foreseen and prevented.” This was presented to me as “empirical evidence” that, since it was a “man-made” error, and Japan is a captialist country, accidents like Fukishima are “the logical result of the coupling of economic and political power” in capitalist societies.

That’s an interesting take, because as far I as can see Fukishima was the result of a Tsunami which killed 30,000 people, and this Marxist posturing- just like the anti-nuke Greens reaction which has lead to a massive increase in coal consumption in both Japan and Germany-– looks to me like jumping on a political/ideological band-wagon and riding roughshod over the victims’ graves.

The Democracy Now! piece then goes onto interview former nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen, and co-author of the Greenpeace report “Lessons from Fukishima” who lies about the evidence regarding the levels of radiation from Fukishima, stating “we know it is as bad as Chernobyl. We now know the release of radiation was as bad as Chernobyl” even though experts at a meeting at the Royal Society in London of the Foundation for Science and Technology concluded it was only 10% as much.

The Tsunami that hit Japan resulted in a serious nuclear accident- but to say it was “human error” does not mean much in itself. Indeed, given that this was an aging 1970s design, and likely was being badly run, it says more about how safe such reactors really are given that it was hit by a category 9 Tsunami. Whether such an event should have been better prepared for is not really the point; under any political system, stuff will happen, human error and natural disasters; not all eventualities can be prepared for, and we can always learn from mistakes. This is well explained in this post here on Brave New Climate:– we can always be wise after the event. Which gives the anti-nuclear movement a rather easy get-out because, as with genetic engineering, no amount of safety will be considered enough. The Parliamentary report looks very much like political spin to me, possibly in the context of a country reeling from a terrible natural disaster under pressure to find heads to chop.

The fact is, Fukishima was the result of a natural disaster, and no-one is expected to die of radiation. Let’s pause again to remember the 30,000 deaths caused by the Tsunami to get things in perspective.

Kirk Sorensen commented

What is known is that this is a situation very different than Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. There was no operator error involved at Fukushima-Daiichi, and each reactor was successfully shut down within moments of detecting the quake.

(but see the interesting comment below from Riccio).

That Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman is just capitalising on the disaster for her own political reasons is ably demonstrated by Mark Lynas here . Goodman’s fear-mongering with regard to the fact that about half the US reactors are of similar design to Fukishima seems entirely spurious- they are not threatened even remotely by Tsunamis (any more than Germany’s are).

Throughout this discussion I was told that I was ignoring the “sociological context” the power relations of capitalism that make such events as the Japanese Tsuanami inevitable- an unholy alliance between capital and political power. As a sociology graduate myself (on a Marxist-dominated course 25 years ago) I am all too well aware of the sociological context; but the context in the nuclear debate seems to one of a very well-funded campaign (Greenpeace annual budget: $100m pa) which has done a remarkable job in scaring people away from nuclear power through misinformation and lies.

The debate then moved onto climate change:

“As you know yourself,” I was told, although I didn’t know this, “the growth imperative of capitalism and stopping global warming are not compatible, so building that more rational industrial society is essential for the future of humanity.”

More political spin- ignoring the whole point of the original article about nukes vs coal! Playing the climate change card hear suggests my protagonist has only one thing on his mind- bashing capitalism. The problem seems to me to be not “capitalism” (which appears to be astonishingly good at creating better technology to solve earlier problems, not to mention furnishing millions of people with useful things like washing machines and computers- and let’s not forget to mention Facebook once more!) but fear-mongering from activists who cynically play on radiophobia: Lynas again provides good evidence that the main human cost from both Fukishima and Chernobyl is simply stress and fear caused by exaggerating the dangers:

look at how real people actually did suffer and die as a direct result of the Fukushima accident – not because of the radiation itself, but because the fear of radiation led to a hurried evacuation of vulnerable people from hospitals and care homes. A paper in The Lancet describes the sorry mess that resulted

– and knee-jerk political reactions like closing nukes in Germany and replacing with coal are a result of this activist pressure as well, not explained by some abstract theory about the workings of capital and politics. Thus it would seem that the anti-nuclear Greens may be some of the worst contributors to climate change- an apparently irreconcilable contradiction that cuts to the heart of the Dark Green movement.

Once again it may be that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Matt Ridley has a different take on why the best designs have not so far been adopted:

Because nuclear reactors were developed by governments in a wartime hurry, the best technological routes were not always taken. The pressurized-water design was a quick-and-dirty solution that we have been stuck with ever since. Rival ideas withered, among them the thorium liquid-fuel reactor, powered by molten fluoride salt containing thorium

But technology has come so far since the 1970s in reactor design that there seems little reason that similar reactors to Fukishima need ever be built again.

In any case, the inevitability of continued carbon emissions from capitalism and growth should be questioned- the US currently leads the world in CO2 emissions reductions, having cut its emissions over the past decade by 7%, a result surprisingly not of a lurch to the Far Left politically, but of the success of shale gas. {Update: Roger Pielke Jnr. calculates from EIA data that since 2007 US CO2 emissions have dropped 9%. Of that, 4% can be attributed to net CO2 from coal decline, gas increase.

My Marxist disputant would have none of it: quite unconcerned by the lies and scare-mongering of his Greenpeace/Marxist friends, or that he could provide zero evidence for his sweeping claims, he sent me, with the flourish of someone who has got mate in 2 on the chessboard (if such a thing is possible on a FB discussion) this extraordinary document of Marxist thought with the injunction that “I read it to the end.” zzzzzzzz

The writer would have you believe that Marxism is the ultimate Panglossian heaven: technology under Marxism you see will have no such problems as we saw at Fukishima, and perhaps will not even be subject to natural disasters as has happened there at all. The Marxists seem to pride themselves on being pro-technology, but it has to be Marxist technology. Apparently the only thing holding technology back is capitalism.

It is as if they would have us believe that, if we had a Marxist system, we would already have nuclear fusion, personal jet-packs and everyone would have domestic robots to do the cleaning. Food would be grown in automated hydroponic high-rise city blocks, and all the workers would be liberated from drudgery so they can spend their time worshiping the Great Gods of Dialectical Materialism. We would all be living on Mars already, instead of having just dropped in one more puny robot this month.

Every aspect of human development is hindered by the erroneously-named free-market. With the development of computers, the internet and new technologies, humanity stands at the doorstep of a bright future of scientific advancement and prosperity.

Yeah right, we all know computers and the internet developed in that marvelous bastion of Marxist Utopia called Silicon Valley. Snort. And the stuff about the Electric Car reads like a 2-bit conspiracy theory on a par with alien abductions. There are reasons why the electric car is not technically viable at present (although give it a few decades and we shouldn’t rule it out- though I think we would need nuclear power to have displaced oil for it to become widespread); the ones in the film Who Killed the Electric Car? were only for Hollywood Stars at a couple of hundred grand a-piece, not for your average socialist worker. (See Smil’s book “Energy Myths and Realities” for a more detailed critique of the film.) But apparently Marxism is popular these days with a lot of Hollywood millionaires too. Same with the AIDS story- just another sick conspiracy theory to promote an ideology. And here we have that outstanding example of modern Marxism in practice Comrade Gates addressing that particular challenge.

Personally the debate around and within Marxism don’t interest me very much. As far as I’m concerned the ideological debate was won when the Berlin Wall came down, probably as a result of the sheer boredom of the citizens trapped on its east side. It does strike me though through other debates with Greens that there is underlying distrust of anything that might be called “capitalism” and a complete refusal to acknowledge any benefits it may have brought us, and while it is rare for anyone to mention the “M-” word or even the “S-” word, all too often the message is the same: technology cannot work under capitalism, so we must reject both; the destruction of humanity and the biosphere is inevitable if we do not. Unfortunately for Marxist ideologues, the evidence does not support them. That won’t stop the faithful continuing the glorious workers’ struggle on the pages the wonderful socialist institution that is Facebook.

Leave a comment


  1. Matt

     /  August 17, 2012

    I totally agree with you that the left is largly made up of dogmatic reactionaries who wouldnt agknowledge truth if it ran them over.That said,it is unfortunate that the anti civ crowd is framed as doom and gloom.Personaly I see much hope in the uncharted posibilities brought forth by the trade and spread of usfull plants from around the world.I like to imagine that this sharing of genetics presents opportunities to humanity that have the potential to make industrial civilization obsolete.

  2. Cathal

     /  August 18, 2012

    Graham this really is a terrible distortion of the debate we had on your facebook page. I’ve no interest in re-hashing it all over again but I think your blog readers should have a chance to see the arguments I actually made and not your caricature of them.

    First you say I’m “a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist who cut straight to the chase: capitalism is the cause of all environmental problems, starting with Fukishima”

    No, I started the debate by saying “To answer the question “is nuclear energy safe?” we can’t give a single objective, “yes, the science is unambiguously clear”. Like with GM foods we must examine how safe nulcear power would be in the contemporary social relations and regulatory regime we live under.”

    After you responded by reducing the issue to the technical I said “Yes, in the last instance safety is a technical/engineering issue, but we can’t reduce it to that when analysing our energy options for this real, imperfect world. The objective technical knowledge about nuclear is put in action under a social framework, not in a vacuum. Western liberal democracies have very poor records in regulating big industry. We need only look at Shell in Co. Mayo, the explosion in unregulated financial credit instruments that led to the recent financial crash, and the perenial oil spills and other environmental disasters that regularly occur. This happens for a variety of reasons, most obvious of all is that big industry doesn’t like regulation. Complying is usually costly, so companies uses their resources to influence our political systems to minimise regulation. Often regulatory agencies are underfunded to the point of not being able to do their jobs properly, or industry sends their own people to work for said agencies.

    Totalitarian states have of course proven no better at protecting the safety of its people and environment due to a whole other set of kafkaesque issues like the hierarchies in government beaureacracies.

    So no, I don’t think it’s fruitful to separate the technical question from the social one. These safety issues are undeniably linked to issues of the democratic deficit in our politics and our lack of control over industry. We need to push for genuine open deliberation of energy options, and democratic control over the ones we choose to pursue.”

    Note that I also critiqued the Soviet Union for their bureaucratic totalitarianism – strange for a “dyed in the wool Marxist”, hey? But of course, as I explained during our debate, yes I do find Marx’s analysis of capitalism to be very insightful. But Marx himself wrote very little about communism, the theorist who did and whose work helped define the 20th century experience of communism – Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao – I have nothing but contempt for. Your assertion that “the ideological debate was won when the Berlin Wall came down” is really forgetting or ignoring this elementary distinction, i.e. (once again) Marx’s critique of capitalism is not the same thing as the attempts by Marxists to construct Communist states, they each must be judged on their own merits.

    My point about capitalism and dealing with climate change being incompatible is quite simple, and one you have only responded to by misrepresentation. Capitalism needs 2-3% growth annually, climate change needs carbon reductions. The possible carbon reductions you point to with nuclear power and shale gas will only reduce emissions temporarily as the growth imperative of capital will have them eaten up in only a few years. Therefore capitalism and stopping climate are incompatible. Political spin? Activist scaremongering? No, just the objective facts you don’t seem able to deal with.

    • Well thanks for identifying yourself Cathal. Im not sure it was such a smart move though.
      “I’ve no interest in re-hashing it all over again..” sounds like you do Cathal…
      “we must examine how safe nulcear power would be in the contemporary social relations and regulatory regime we live under..” -reasonably good example of meaningless Marxist waffle;
      “Western liberal democracies have very poor records in regulating big industry”- to which I gave numerous counter-examples, inc the airline industry, the food regulation industry, and I would add the nuclear industry, and the GE industry; so actually it is you who is caricaturing my arguments; and yes indeed you do go onto critique the Soviet Union, which proves my point- there is no political system you can point to with a better record of regulating big industry- there is no such system. It only exists in your head. You yourseflf say this quite clearly!

      Some countries do better than others, and we can all point to regs we would like to see changed or improved; this has nothing to do with your hand-flappy abstract views on “capitalism” and the “sociological context” – the latter which you completely ignore. You yourself, though your link, showed a prime example of the real context, of Greenpeace lying and scare-mongering about the dangers; despite me repeatedly asking you about this, you still refuse to condemn it. They are your Marxist buddies Cathal, repeating lies to further the same ideology you stand for. You are lying as well. You know perfectly well they have to lie because the facts dont support your theory.

      Basically you religious Marxists are no different from New Age Greens: you live in a fantasy world where nothing Bad ever happens. You have a deep-rooted belief that all of life’s difficulties are all someone else’s fault- we could all be living in the garden of Eden if only it wasn’t for the greedy capitalists. Any political system that is conceivable or possible will have problems, accidents, mistakes, and indeed a level of corruption. Only Heaven does not. And there will always be people in any system who are lazy and disgruntled complaining and bleating about how their system would be so much better, even as they continue to suck on the teat of the system that feeds them so well, but that they deride.

      “So no, I don’t think it’s fruitful to separate the technical question from the social one.” I am not doing this, I merely pointing out what the actual context is, sthg you refuse to address because it would upset your Marxist apple cart.
      “Totalitarian states have of course proven no better at protecting the safety of its people and environment due to a whole other set of kafkaesque issues like the hierarchies in government beaureacracies.” So here you are explicitly stating that there is no better system- except for your Marxist fantasy. You know Cathal, there is a whole wing of the political spectrum who would share in common a lot with your concerns on kafkaesque bureaucracies, which is what you get with more state regulation. It’s called “The Right.”

      “Capitalism needs 2-3% growth annually, climate change needs carbon reductions. The possible carbon reductions you point to with nuclear power and shale gas will only reduce emissions temporarily as the growth imperative of capital will have them eaten up in only a few years.” You have zero evidence for this- you have to believe it because it fits your theory. The US continued to grow the past years even as it cut emissions by 9% (apparently about 4% can be attributed directly to shale). You are claiming basically that your Marxist theory is like an infallible oracle, predicting this will change in the future, even as the evidence stacks up against you. If we went back to the 19th C we could be having the same debate about smog- the logic of capitalism guarantees an increase of smog because it requires growth. But this isnt what happened- the “logic” of capitalism, although I would not see anything teleological about it, is that as societies develop they get wealthy enough to clean up their act. Growth increased massively- and smog disappeared. Same with water quality and many other enviro indicators, even as people’s standard of living increased multiple-fold. Now the same is happening in China, as I linked to on FB see Could Chinese Shale Gas save the Planet?.
      You neglected to tell my very intelligent readers that your initial comment on climate change was:

      The science is clear that the world needs a 70-90% reduction in carbon emmissions by 2050 or feedback loops will kick in which will lead to runaway climate change, and the eventual end of the earth’s ability to hold most human life

      -another example of hyperbolic lying to make a political point. You dont care about the planet, or climate change, or even human life; you care about one thing only which is promoting your political religion.

      This is the socio-political context: an unholy alliance of Marxism and Big Green are doing their best to prevent tech solutions to climate change by lying and scare-mongering. You are part of this Cathal, you support this. If tech solutions like shale and nuclear are banned, then CO2 emissions will rise- and this is the case whatever the political system. Your main problem is, you dont have an actual alternative, apart from that truly ludicrous article you sent which would have us believe that under Marxism all these problems will just magically disappear.
      Maybe “religious Marxist” or “Marxist-fantasist” would be a better description for you and your ilk.

  3. Facebook can be a major timesuck.

    I wonder if a Dirigisme system would have ever gotten around to making an iPhone or Android (or a mobile phone for that matter)? It is very difficult to plan innovation. It’s a bubble-up proposition, not a top-down imperative.

    “Capitalism needs 2-3% growth annually…” I submit that all economic systems need economic growth, whether capitalist or dirigiste or a blended economy. Economic growth is not of necessity an increase in material goods; it also includes services such as Facebook, Google, haircuts, baby-sitting, dog walking, etc. Economic growth is the increase in the amount exchanging one thing for a different thing. I just believe capitalism is the best system for answering challenges because it provides incentives.

  4. Cathal

     /  August 18, 2012

    So apparently I’m supporting the lies of “my Marxist buddies in Greenpeace”! It’s hilarious and ridiculous that you bring up this up for the about the 10th time – I feel like I’m debating Leonard from Momento. Once again: I posted a link to the news website DemocracyNow because the headline clearly stated something to the effect of “Fukishima disaster was man-made and preventable says Japanese parliamentary inquiry”. The story then continued with an interview with a member of Greenpeace. Somehow in your eyes this makes me responsible for everything Greenpeace and Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow have ever done or written, and become a bizzare fixation of our entire debate.

    You quote my original comment on climate change: “The science is clear that the world needs a 70-90% reduction in carbon emmissions by 2050 or feedback loops will kick in which will lead to runaway climate change, and the eventual end of the earth’s ability to hold most human life” and then accuse me of “hyperbolic lying to make a political point. You dont care about the planet, or climate change, or even human life; you care about one thing only which is promoting your political religion.” But you don’t tell your readers that I admitted that your link on the latest climate change science was probably more accurate. The situation around climate change may not be as bad as I originally thought but, as I’ve said, dealing with it is still incompatible with capitalism. You have tried to refute this by first mentioning the 9% in the US in recent years, but I’ve already dealth with that: that reduction will be eaten up by growth. You then talk about my apparent ‘infallable oracle of Marxist theory’ – but that capitalism needs economic growth year on year is the orthodoxy of economists across the political spectrum. Then you mention the example from the 19th century of how “when societies develop they get wealthy enough to clean up their act”. Well corporations are already quite wealthy (and the funders of societies political leaders’ campaigns), and I could spend days here documenting examples of them exploiting resources from an area and not cleaning up their act (Shell in Nigeria and mining companies in Latin America for example). And of course they do so not because they are evil, but because it’s the logic of capitalism. To clean up their mess would cost money, and therefore hurt shareholders and make them uncompetitive.

    • a) show me a system that is better at bringing people out of poverty than the one we have; b) detail a rational, plausible energy policy which would work regardless of political system which would achieve both aims of bringing people out of poverty (2 billion of them) up to say the standard of living that you enjoy (washing machines, health care, computers, education.) People evidently were poor long before big bad greedy capitalism came along. It seems only thorugh capitalism have large numbers moved out of grinding poverty. Timberati is correct of course- most growth comes from innovation, which naturally can of course include innovation in CO2 reductions. We dont know what innovations may make a difference in the future; shale gas and nuclear are low-carbon, but are opposed by Marxists and greens (by lying); why?

  5. cathal

     /  August 19, 2012

    On a) and b) I always find it interesting when people respond to a critique of capitalism with “ya, but what’s your alternative?”, instead of a “well if your argument is correct, then it is of utmost importance for humanity to have a better economic system, so let’s discuss what we should do to make this happen.” The former response implies that if the person who has just convinced you of the critique can’t immediately also convince you a viable alternative, then for some reason his critique should be ignored. The latter is the response that shows a non-ideological scientific standpoint towards the empirical realities.
    Obviously creating and conceiving of a better society and economic system is the collective work of engaged citizens and social movements. However, blueprints for alternatives written by a single person can still be useful for giving a sense of what’s possible, although with so many contingencies it’s impossible to think of everything. The blueprint that has gotten the widest critical aclaim (from Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn for example) that I know that of is Michael Albert’s Parecon – as in Participatory Economics. He’s also quite an active blogger and regularly responds to and deals with criticisms of his work:

    Further to b), about ‘my energy policy’ and opposing nuclear. It’s not the technology of nuclear power that I disagree with; rather I think there are many rational reasons to fear nuclear power stations in the hands of capitalists, and regulated by the governments whose election campaigns they fund. But under more democratic and accountable economic and political relations I would wholeheartedly endorse nuclear power.
    On “People evidently were poor long before big bad greedy capitalism came along.”. Yes, capitalism and, let’s not forget, the industrial revolution, raised living standards hugely. But the key to creating a world without the massive inequality and environmental destruction we see is to decouple industry and capitalism. Industry should be democratically owned and accountable to the people. This is the only way that technological advances can benefit all in society and not just a small elite. Take as a simple example what happens when technology advances to double productivity in a factory situation. Under capitalism half the workers lose their job. Under a fair system, we could all start to work a half week.

    • ““well if your argument is correct, then it is of utmost importance for humanity to have a better economic system, so let’s discuss what we should do to make this happen.” I completely reject the premise that it is the “economic system’ that needs changing; tweaking, improving, yes that is and always will be possible and desirable; I completely reject the premise that Fukishima- an accident was caused by capitalism (!); it was caused by a natural disaster; “This is the only way that technological advances can benefit all in society and not just a small elite.” On the contrary, capitalism has manifestly benefited the massive majority; that it has benefited a small elite more and created inequality is really a secondary consideration; bringing people out of poverty quickly is much more important than enforcing equality through some “planned” system, and all attempts that we know of have been far worse. You simply have not made the case, nor even begin to make the case, that the problems of the world are a result of capitalism; fundamentally, the world is getting substantially better, including many environmental indicators; the way to improve things more is through continued innovation and development, which is indeed happening.

      • “…the way to improve things more is through continued innovation and development, which is indeed happening.”

        Indeed, trade and commerce make everyone richer, as long as someone is willing to pay for a service there is no such thing as unproductive work, and in a generation we will be richer still and the earth in better shape. Why does this happen?

        Ideas have sex and like DNA recombine to make unique individuals, bits of ideas cross-fertilize with others to make better ways of doing things. “In a nutshell,” Matt Ridley writes[1], “the most sustainable thing we can do, and the best for the planet, is to accelerate technological change and economic growth.”

        But, can it continue? Quite probably.

        “The rational optimist invites you to stand back and look at your species differently,” writes Ridley in his book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves[2], “to see the grand enterprise of humanity that has progressed–with frequent setbacks–for 100,000 years. And then, when you have seen that, consider whether the enterprise is finished or if, as the optimist claims, it still has centuries and millennia to run.”

        [1] “How To Shrink the Human Footprint: And How Going Back to Nature Would Be a Disaster for Nature”

        • Thanks Timb great links- I have a post coming up on Ridley’s book, def one of the most influential on my thinking the past few years.

          • “def one of the most influential on my thinking the past few years.”

            I look forward to reading your upcoming post. Ridley’s book was the game-changer for me (Book Review: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves ). For the first time, I was able to reconcile what I had observed happening with what I believed. My beliefs of the time were turned topsy-turvy by his book, which lays out the facts and the processes so logically that even I could follow it.

            Why were the air and water getting cleaner? Why was our population seeing more people live longer? Of course, people knew that those things weren’t happening (me included). The Rational Optimist (along with Bjorn Lomborg) laid out the facts and identified the causes.

  6. The utterly hopeless and backward mixed-system capitalism of the United States has just reduced its CO2 output to a 20-year low. Due to a shift away from coal to natural gas (methane) Coal has 4x more carbon atoms per unit of hydrogen than methane. This decarbonization trend has been ongoing for the past 250 years as we have moved from wood to coal to oil to natural gas to pure hydrogen and/or nuclear.

    “There’s a very clear lesson here. What it shows is that if you make a cleaner energy source cheaper, you will displace dirtier sources,” said Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado. (Source: Associated Press story)

    Obviously if a trend has been continuously operating 300 years (the Newcomen steam engine), it probably does not need the assistance governments.

  7. Cathal

     /  August 20, 2012

    Graham, currently 1 billion people live in slums around the world. That’s a UN figure. Mike Davis in his book ‘Planet of Slums’ documents how these people build habitats in sewers, footpaths and in every place imaginable. Technological advances in both urban and rural production have made these people into a superfluous population, they are no longer necessary to capitalism and are left to literally live in shit. The ones that are still necessary in the urban third world get alienated work in sweatshops. If the government regulates to improves the working conditions then the companies move to a ‘more competitive environment’. If the government uses tax income to help improve the social conditions of the poor, they get labelled communist and may even face a US backed coup detat, as we’ve seen happen in several Latin American countries in the last half century.

    Graham that’s the reality of capitalism. It reveals either extreme cynicism, or willful blindness to the empirical reality, to assume this is the best humanity can do.

    The Parecon blueprint I linked is not a centrally planned Soviet-style beaurcratic economy as you seem to assume without checking. If you do actually want to check, there’s a few paragraphs summarising the process here:

    • Brand gives a rather different perspective on the slums of the world: first of all, people move to the city because although it looks awful bad to us, it is a damn site preferable in most cases to the grinding drudgery of the countryside- people are willing to sacrifice a lot for opportunities, and to escape the oppression and parochialism of traditional culture. Second, slum dwellers continually improve their lot through innovation and trade; some of the older slums n existence are now respectable and pleasant places to live. They begin by basically hacking into mainstream infrastructure, then as it develops they eventually claim legal rights etc.. But the really interesting thing is the story of mobile phones, which in many of the largest slums are ubiquitous and available to the poorest of the poor, which massively increases trading options for them. It is not all hopeless even in the slums, and capitalist technology is helping there as well. Noone has ever come out of poverty without technology; it is not sufficient on its own but like it or not in the last decade 600m Chinese came out of poverty, and hundreds of millions more will come out of it over the next decade across the developing world. BTW, Japan, which is cited here as an example of the failures of capitalism in suffering a devastating Tsuanmi- a natural disaster- is one of the most equal countries in the world.

  8. Cathal

     /  August 20, 2012

    Just a parenthetical note: Central planning is not some antithesis to capitalism, it is in fact a major part of it. A multinational corporation is a centrally organised and planned economy – and some are even bigger economies than European countries!

  9. More on the man-made disaster of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant: The “International Commission on Radiological Protection…standard would seem to require the immediate evacuation of Denver.” – Richard Muller.

    • Well, it must be then that the high radon levels in Denver must also be due to capitalism!! That level of natural radiation would never be permitted in a Marxist state!!

      In hindsight, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the policies enacted in the wake of the disaster in Japan—particularly the long-term evacuation of large areas and the virtual termination of the Japanese nuclear power industry—were expressions of panic. I would go further and suggest that these well-intended measures did far more harm than good, not least in limiting the prospects of a source of energy that is safe, abundant and (as compared with its rivals) relatively benign for the environmental health of our planet.

      I think this gives support to my view that the Jap. Parlimentary report claiming it was “human error” was more a result of political need to find so. to blame in the context of a country reeling from a disaster it could not have prevented.

  10. Another article on improving life in the third world by Charles J Kenney which backs up your position.

    • Evil, evil capitalists: “In India,…[Unilever] ran an 18,000-village campaign to educate and encourage people to wash their hands with soap. A review of evidence in the Lancet medical journal suggested that washing hands with soap is associated with at least a 40 percent decline in the risk of diarrhea and that if everyone worldwide washed hands with soap after going to the bathroom and before preparing food, between 500,000 and 1.4 million lives would be saved each year. (Granted, the study was partially funded by Unilever.) Does Unilever make a lot of money from selling soap in India? Yes. But it’s also doing a lot of good.”

      • Amazing how many people I have talked to about things like this would claim that this is evil, as it makes people dependent on soap!

        • It’s not evil if you make it yourself from animals you raised and slaughtered, rendered the fat, and then combined with lye…or something like that. I prefer to buy it a the supermarket.


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