If real-estate speculation is a predictable cause of economic recessions, why aren’t most economists correctly forecasting these events with the tools at their disposal? For example, very few economists predicted the 2008 economic collapse (Fred Foldvary and Fred Harrison, however, both familiar with land economics, went on record to predict the 2008 economic depression... in 1997) . It’s because most economists are unaware of what causes economic recessions.
Mason Gaffney, Ph.D., a professor of economics at University of California, Riverside, claims in his work The Corruption of Economics, first published in 1994, (along with Fred Harrison) that industrialists toward the end of the nineteenth century intentionally created and promoted a new brand of economics to divert public attention from the monopolization of land. According to Gaffney, economists such as John B. Clark and Frank A. Fetter began promoting an economic theory that didn’t recognize the difference between land (elements of nature such as land, coal, oil, etc.) and capital (human-made goods such as machines that aid in the production of wealth); due to their influence, Clark and Fetter were able to persuade other economists to abandon the critical distinction between land and capital.
The failure to distinguish land from capital prevents most professional economists from accurately “diagnosing problems, forecasting important trends, and prescribing solutions.”
The Corruption of Economics takes a fresh look at how the original science of economics was deliberately and increasingly sidelined in favor of so-called neoclassical economics, an economic theory widely in use today that, despite its sophistication, treats nature as capital—as a resource to be exploited. According to Gaffney, this failure to distinguish land from capital prevents most professional economists from accurately “diagnosing problems, forecasting important trends, and prescribing solutions.”
For more information about how land reform can create meaningful work, restore our ecology, and bring more wealth into our local communities, I invite you to read my book Land: A New Paradigm for a Thriving World.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Martin Adams is a systems thinker and author. As a child, it pained him to see most people struggling while a few were living in opulence. This inspired in him a lifelong quest to co-create a fair and sustainable world in collaboration with others. As a graduate of a business school with ties to Wall Street, he opted not to pursue a career on Wall Street and chose instead to dedicate his life to community enrichment. Through his social enterprise work, he saw firsthand the extent to which the current economic system causes human and ecological strife. Consequently, Martin devoted himself to the development of a new economic paradigm that might allow humanity to thrive in harmony with nature. His book Land: A New Paradigm for a Thriving World is the fruit of his years of research into a part of this economic model; its message stands to educate policymakers and changemakers worldwide. Martin is executive director of Progress.org.
This article was originally published in
The Guardian, 14 September 2016,
George Monbiot's Blog, 15 September 2016
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Consumerism occupies a sacred and inviolable space,|
while the wonders of the living world are dispensable.
The world’s largest land animal, the biggest fish, the bird with the greatest wingspan, the largest primate: all are sliding towards extinction at astounding speed. If we will not protect such magnificent species, what are we prepared to do?
In just seven years, 30% of Africa’s savannah elephants have been wiped out. The other African sub-species, the forest elephant, has crashed by more than 60% since 2002. Perhaps this month’s resolution to ban domestic sales of elephant tusks will make a difference, but governments have done so little to restrain the international trade that illegal ivory and other wildlife parts are still sold on the surface web, rather than the dark web.
Last month the whale shark was classified as endangered. Some are still hunted deliberately for their meat and fins, and it seems that the revolting practice of live finning – slicing them off then dumping the shark overboard to die slowly – continues. Most are killed as bycatch in nets used to catch other species, especially tuna. Some fishing boats use whale sharks as markers (tuna tend to congregate beneath large objects), and deliberately cast their nets around them.
Their decline – whale shark numbers have halved or worse in 75 years – reflects the global loss of ocean life. Since 1996, the fish catch has fallen by one million tonnes a year, as stocks are exhausted. Sieving the seas for what remains, fishing fleets will trigger the collapse of entire ecosystems.
Fishing also accounts for what has happened to the bird with the largest wingspan, the wandering albatross, whose population has fallen by around 30% in 11 years. Again, the tuna fishery is the principal threat, in this case through the use of baited longlines. The albatrosses dive for the bait, get hooked and drown. Another cause is their junkfood diet: the plastic they eat then feed to their chicks through regurgitation. The photographs taken by Chris Jordan on Midway atoll, of the albatross corpses rotting away to reveal the rubbish they contain, are a synopsis of our treatment of the living world. However far we travel, our impacts precede us.
A week ago the status of the eastern gorilla, the world’s largest primate, was changed from endangered to critically endangered: it has declined by 70% in 20 years. Its habitat, in central Africa, has been ripped apart by logging, mining and farming, and the gorillas are hunted for meat. As they share 98% of our DNA, this is not far from cannibalism. All the great apes are now either endangered or critically endangered, in the case of orangutans largely as a result of producing palm oil. What does it say about us, that we are prepared to drive our closest relatives towards extinction?
The great acceleration towards a bare grey world is also reflected in this week’s State of Nature report, which shows that more than 10% of the remaining species in the UK are now threatened with extinction. Last week we learnt that one tenth of the world’s wild places, forests, savannahs and other lands in which human impacts are not obvious, have been lost – dewilded – over the past 25 years. The trajectory suggests that there could be almost nowhere left by the end of the century.
These should be among the central issues of our age. Yet we treat these losses as sad but peripheral, though we commission them through the things we buy. Elephants, rhinos, lions, polar bears, the great sharks, turtles, condors, whales, rainforests, wetlands, coral reefs: they are all the bycatch of consumerism. We assert both the right to consume – whatever we want, however we want – and the right to forget the consequences.
Flying to Bratislava or Bermuda for a stag weekend, shopping trips to New York, driving our gas guzzlers 300 metres to school, buying jetskis, leaf blowers and patio heaters, furnishing our homes with rare wood, eating tuna, prawns and salmon without a thought of how they were produced: these ephemeral satisfactions, to judge by the reactions when you question them, occupy a sacred and inviolable space. The wonders of the living world, by contrast, are dispensable.
People who would never dream of killing an albatross or a whale shark are prepared to let others do so on their behalf, so that they may eat whatever fish they fancy. People who could not bring themselves to gut a chicken are happy to commission the disposal of entire ecosystems. The act of not seeing is sanctioned and normalised, while attempts to explain the consequences are treated as abnormal and impertinent. On the Guardian’s website, you can read about the global collapse of tuna populations, then, in a recipe published the following day, learn how to prepare a tuna salad, without a word about the implications.
Such cultural norms, positioning us as consumers first and moral beings either second or not at all, grant the disposal of the living planet its social licence. They allow us to compartmentalise, to be conscious of the issues when there is little that we can do about them, and to forget them at the moment when we have the capacity to act (or to refrain from acting). This is the safe space we establish for consumerism.
The costs cannot be computed in financial terms. There is no price that can capture the awe aroused by a whale shark, the deep being of an elephant herd, the way in which your heart soars with the albatross as it mounts a column of air; the gorilla’s fathomless gaze. The albatross hangs around our necks with a weight that defies calculation.
Is this how we choose to be remembered? We were here; it is true that we existed: you can see it in the pulse of extinction. Are we to use our gift of life to snuff out other lifeforms? What will you leave behind, except your contribution to the Pacific garbage patch?
I believe we can do better, that we can position ourselves as just one participant in a world of wonders, blessed and cursed with higher consciousness, but using that capacity to embed ourselves within its limits.
We cannot wait for governments or schools or the media to deliver a new environmental ethics. Join the groups trying to defend the living planet, learn about the consequences of what you do, demand, from friends, from parents, from yourself, a better way of engaging with the world. By living lightly we enrich our lives.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
George Monbiot is a British journalist and critical analyst of human affairs. For more information about this author, visit his
The Oostvaardersplassen is a nature reserve in the Netherlands managed by the State Forestry Service. Covering about 56 square kilometres it is noted as an example of rewilding, which may be a critical strategy for humanity moving into the future.
Credit: Roberto Maldeno, Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Humans are facing the greatest test in the million-year ascent of our kind. But this isn’t a single challenge, like a famine or disease outbreak. It is a constellation of ten huge man-made threats, which are now coming together to imperil our existence.
Society often regards these risks – ecological collapse, resource depletion, weapons of mass destruction, global warming, global poisoning, food insecurity, population and urban expansion, pandemic disease, dangerous new technologies and self-delusion – as separate issues. In reality, they are deeply intertwined: each affects the others. This means they cannot be dealt with one at a time, but must be solved in conjunction – and at species level.
Over recent years I have encountered many well-educated, well-informed people – scientists, grandparents and young people especially – who expressed the fear that we may be entering the end game of human history. That civilisation, and maybe even our species, will not survive the compound dangers we are accruing for ourselves. Surviving the 21st Century (Springer 2017) is my attempt to discover whether they are right or not.
Drawing on the latest and best science the book appraises each of those dangers – and also looks at what we need to do, both as a species and as concerned individuals – to avoid them. Finding ways to limit mortal danger is what humans generally do best – at least, that’s how we made it through the last million years. Almost certainly we have the technical ability to do so again. However, on the present evidence, our national governments, financial and other institutions lack the capacity, wisdom and will to solve this compound threat. In many cases, as Sir David Attenborough suggests, they are “in denial” about its sheer scale. Something has to change.
The end of civilisation and human extinction are distasteful topics. Nobody likes discussing them and many people prefer to ignore them as they go about their daily lives. But ignoring them does not banish the risk – inevitably, it only renders humanity less prepared, our future more perilous. There is no other way to deal with such a complex problem than to face up to it, to understand it thoroughly, and to then take resolute and agreed species-wide action to prevent it.
To take some examples:
Dozens of species are thought to go extinct every day due to human activity. As the world’s greatest biologist, E. O. Wilson, warns “We are tearing down the biosphere” – the very thing that supports life on this Planet. Or as young environmentalist Bindi Irwin succinctly puts it “If you keep on pulling one brick after another out of your house, eventually the house falls down.”
The solution is not as hard as many imagine. It is to move half the world’s food production into cities and recycle both nutrients and water, and then ‘re-wild’ 24 million sq kms (an area the size of North America) under the wise management of indigenous people and farmers. It is to gradually replace mining with mineral recycling, and cease releasing toxins. Yet answers like these are not yet front-and-centre in our social and political discourse.
In their lifetime, the average person uses 100,000 tonnes of fresh water, 750 tonnes of soil, 720 tonnes of metals, 5 billion energy units and emits 300 tonnes of greenhouse gas. No wonder resources are becoming scarce and landscapes worldwide being ruined to obtain them. The self-evident answer is to re-use everything, and then re-use it again. Thanks to technology the ‘circular economy’ is already feasible and becoming cost effective, while green energy is rapidly replacing fossil fuels. However resistance – by political and vested interests – continues to block it.
Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD)
The latest climate models indicate it would only require 50-100 Hiroshima-sized (i.e. small) nuclear bombs to eliminate civilisation in a nuclear winter. World stockpiles currently hold around 15,000 such devices, and the risk of their falling into terrorist hands is growing as nuclear materials are stolen, on average, every ten days (IAEA). A new technology-based arms race is under way among the major powers featuring things like pilotless nuclear drones and artificial intelligence (what could possibly go wrong?)
Nuclear conflict remains the most likely route by which civilization may be terminated, but the conflict itself will spiral out of other issues such as famines, quarrels over resources, population displacement, and collective delusions (e.g. political, religious, monetary or nationalistic). As the International Red Cross (and many others) have pointed out, the only way to banish the spectre of such a conflict is to ban and demolish all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their material stockpiles. Regrettably, nuclear governments and industry are loath to do this.
Climate’s Hidden Risk
The release of 2.9 trillion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans is predicted to drive the planet into a hot phase of +5-10 degrees Celsius above present temperatures. Humans have already released 1.9 trillion tonnes of carbon and are adding 50 billion tonnes a year by burning fossil fuels and clearing land. The big risk is that, as the planet warms, this will cause the release of all or a part of the 5 trillion tonnes of carbon locked as frozen methane in the tundra and seabed, causing unstoppable ‘runaway’ warming. Scientists fear this may render the Earth uninhabitable to large life forms, including humans.
As most people now know, the only way to prevent this is to cease using all of fossil fuels and revegetate half the world’s land mass. This can be accelerated by a switch to urban agriculture, carbon farming and landscape restoration – the same solution as for ecological collapse. Green energy is advancing by leaps and bounds and will soon be in a position to take over from fossils. Governments, however, paid off by the 90 big companies who make up the bulk of the fossil fuel industry, are hampering this transition.
The Poisoned Planet
Every day, every child on our planet is poisoned by man-made toxins. The whole of humanity and indeed, all life on Earth, is mired in a toxic swamp of 250 billion tonnes of annual chemical emissions from human activity. They are in our food, our water, the air we breathe, the furnishings and materials of our homes, vehicles, schools and workplaces, in wildlife, the oceans, in our bodies and even, now, in our genes. Humanity’s chemical emissions are four times greater even than our carbon emissions. Medical evidence that this combined assault is damaging human intelligence, gender, reproduction and health is mounting. With IQs being damaged in all industrial societies there is a risk we may become too unintelligent as a species to save ourselves.
There is an answer, though not an easy one. It is for consumers worldwide to stop buying toxic goods and foods, and to start rewarding companies which produce clean, safe products. This requires an act of co-operation and knowledge sharing on a global scale, to cleanse our poisoned planet. Concerned citizens, parents, cancer societies, doctors, environmentalists and others are already uniting, worldwide, to start this process. There must be a new human right: not to be poisoned.
World food security is on a knife-edge – for the simple reason that population and economic growth between them will drive a doubling in global food demand by the 2060s – while the world is running out of everything needed to satisfy it by traditional methods: topsoil, freshwater, wild fish, oil and fertiliser. Also we have already extinguished the climate in which agriculture was born. Governments and ‘Big Food’ don’t get this.
Food perfectly illustrates the dilemma humanity faces: to solve the problem using modern high intensity agriculture will only (a) worsen climate change, (b) destroy more land and water, (c) accelerate extinctions, (d) displace a billion small farmers, and (e) undermine human health. In other words, it’s a solution that makes things far worse.
On the other hand, producing half the world’s food in cities using recycled water and nutrients, by converting the rest to low-intensity carbon eco-agriculture, and rewilding the abandoned lands is a win-win-win which addresses several of the mega threats.
These examples illustrate the compound challenges humanity faces during the 21st Century, and the necessity for cross-cutting solutions. The evidence for them is overwhelming and cannot be denied by rational people – only ignored. But, as the book illustrates, all these issues are potentially soluble with wisdom, co-operation and technology.
However the greatest challenge may lie, not in the physical threats we face, but in our own minds. Our belief in non-material things like money, politics, religion and the human narrative often diverts and weakens our efforts to work together for survival. This has to change. Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si, demonstrated how religion can be re-dedicated to human survival – and it is essential that money, politics and the human narrative are similarly reinvented. Otherwise they will sabotage the very actions essential to our continuance.
There are also two extremely promising developments. The advent of a new human ability to ‘think as a species’ by sharing knowledge and values through the internet and social media is reshaping, for all time and for the better, our ability to co-operate around the planet. And the emergence of women as leaders in all walks of society is changing how humanity thinks about the future: women, as a rule, do not start wars, dig coal, ravage landscapes, empty the oceans, wipe out other species and knowingly poison their offspring. They think about the children and the grand children, and their needs – and they have already made a start on the population threat by reducing the human birth rate worldwide.
Such ways of thinking are a universal necessity for Homo sapiens, if civilisation and our species are to survive the 21st Century.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julian Cribb is an Australian science writer and author of Surviving the 21st Century (Springer 2017), the conclusion of his trilogy about how humanity can overcome the existential threats it has created. Surviving the 21st Century can be found here.