The Green Gap

In the Cold War, we feared a Missile Gap was a strategic weakness. Nowadays, we must awaken to the fact that the Green Gap is true strategic weakness: the nations whose economies will thrive in the coming years will not be those with the biggest factories, but those with the most sustainable, efficient, and ecological markets. What we require is a Strategic "Green Reserve" of ecological design to weather the coming changes that both climate and resource scarcity will force on the international economy.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Subverting the Global Economy through Local Action, Part 1

It's a common and nonetheless sad story that, no matter where or who we are, we assume that the only way to change our lot in life is to rally behind a figure who, inevitably, betrays his or her ideals once in a position of power. The politicians who win elections can bend but won't act, and those who won't bend and would act: don't win. Leaders are, on the whole, incapable of NOT doing what the system is set up to make them do. In a democracy, politicians appeal to their base with stirring rhetoric to get elected, and once in power, must compromise and please the majority. That's the democratic system. On the other hand, authoritarian concentration of power comes greater need to offer power and wealth to the people who support you, and no matter how benevolent the despot, his innate sense of entitlement and ability to rationalise make it impossible for him to resist the trappings of power and reject its substance. So much for leaders.

So what have we got to rely on? First, we must take power over ourselves. Power over oneself is the greatest of powers, but we just happened to have become acculturated to giving this power up to authority to the point that we don’t know that it’s gone. Next, realise that there’s a lot more in this society than just governments and individuals. We're not only talking about ourselves, but the communities that we left behind to inhabit our soulless suburbia. Building on a few of my previous articles, I wanted to talk about how to use your personal power to make the world a better place. No, this isn't intended to be some kind of self-help or inspirational article. This is a blueprint for a peaceful and insidious revolution that just happens to be inspiring.

The global economy has made many goods very affordable. The more globalised we become, the cheaper everyday items seem to get. Economies of scale, container ships, and big box stores are efficient: they are able to produce the most amount of widgets for the lowest price. Efficiency is exactly what the global economy is about. Companies can move production of widgets to the countries with the lowest-cost workforce, countries that provide the most favourable tax laws, or countries that subsidise corporate inputs. Given the smorgasbord of potential options for cost externalisation (fancy language for how corporations make other people pay for the stuff they use) and arbitrage (fancy talk for simultaneously exploiting the margin in price between two regions for profit), companies can naturally make their homes in locations that offer them lowest cost for their operations.

The problem with this efficiency is that it means one thing: concentration. Profits become concentrated when corporations operate in an environment where they are free to reduce or externalise their costs. As much as I believe in the free market, I believe that everything from lower salaries and cheap electricity to favourable tax legislation and undervalued currencies are externalities naturally produced by the current way of doing business. My definition of a truly free market is as free of these corporate advantages as it is free of hindrances. All externalities must be internalised to create a truly free market. Economies work best when all actors have an even playing field. When the field is uneven, groups can effectively arbitrage (for example) the high-currency consumer power of country A with the low currency and tiny salaries of country B. There are plenty of multinationals that would be unable to survive if it wasn't for these arbitrages and externalities. In my opinion, they shouldn't survive: they are poster-children for unfair business practices and unsustainability... but I also understand that, when the only goal of a corporation is to expand share value, they will naturally act amorally to achieve these ends.

The WTO (formerly GATT) has facilitated a kind of corporate wonderland where corporations (through their governmental proxies) can take countries to court for throwing up trade barriers. Trade barriers, in this case, can mean even something as simple as health legislation (where the US forced the EU to accept hormone-laden beef that has been linked with increased risk for cancer) or environmental protection legislation (where Venezuela forced the US to allow them - effectively - to sell more polluted gasoline on the US market than extant EPA legislation allowed), or indeed human rights legislation (where Massachusetts was forced to deal with Myanmar even though they had made legislation that disallowed them to deal directly with despotic regimes). This is simply in their nature: corporations act to increase share value. They will use all tools at their disposal to grow, and prying open other markets is one of the things necessary for growth past a certain point. It is no surprise that GATT became the WTO and the WTO may likely expand to the TPP. It's a natural evolution. Predictable, really.

We need a way for economic proverbial Davids to compete against proverbial economic Goliaths. The purpose is not to abolish the WTO, throw out the multinationals, eat the rich, and establish a dictatorship of the unions. That can't be done, especially not through any kind of direct conflict. No, the purpose is to make the people in your immediate area able to compete against money. Not simply against this company or that company, or this product or that product, but against the fundamental underpinnings of the entire neoliberal economy: money itself. 

More in the next instalment. Read this for a taste of the direction we're going. A shout out to The Valhalla Movement, a step in the right direction.

Influencing Behaviour

It is easiest to get someone to do something when you make it in their own best interest to do so.

If it is in their own best interest to do something and they do not do it, perhaps they suffer from a lack of information.

If they have adequate information about something in their best interest and they do not do it, perhaps they lack the capacity.

If they have the information about and the capacity to do something in their best interest and they do not do it, perhaps you have miscalculated the priorities of their interests.