2075. jonathan franzen in the new yorker.

In Santa Cruz, where I live, there’s an organization called the Homeless Garden Project. On a small working farm at the west end of town, it offers employment, training, support, and a sense of community to members of the city’s homeless population. It can’t “solve” the problem of homelessness, but it’s been changing lives, one at a time, for nearly thirty years. Supporting itself in part by selling organic produce, it contributes more broadly to a revolution in how we think about people in need, the land we depend on, and the natural world around us. In the summer, as a member of its C.S.A. program, I enjoy its kale and strawberries, and in the fall, because the soil is alive and uncontaminated, small migratory birds find sustenance in its furrows.

new yorker sep 8.

2074. Free markets and loss of freedom.

Free markets dynamism and results.

Why did neoliberalism collapse with bad performance? There is a very simple dynamic aspect to free markets that seems to have been missed.

If you have a free market of participants who are freed from government regulations, they will violate their status as isolated economic men and women by  entering  relationships, with another, or a few,  for advantage in that market, advantage vs. others in that same market

As Adam Smith wrote in Wealth of Nations, 

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the publick, or in some contrivance to raise prices

The result of these pairings, with a few as in a conversation, or many as in a corporation, is to create a quasi monopoly that can control enough economic activity to make the  participants in the conspiracy  (breathing together) partners richer, and that is always at the expense of the whole , of the others – many of whom are trying to do the same thing.

The result is that the original wealth active in a free market tends, over time, to become concentrated, and anything but free, with a smaller number of increasingly wealthier winners and a larger number of increasing poor losers.

The idea of free market is consistent with the rise of early globalizing chaotic commerce, 14th to 17th centuries,  and idealized in John Locke and of all people Ayn Rand for both of whom freedom was for the individual. They  did not consider groupings of interests within the market.

So, the dominant ideas of free market and individual action within neoliberalism  (equilibrium of free agents) came to dominate after WW2 when large government and the large business they spawned during the war, came in conflict, a conflict that was resolved for a time by the neoliberal perspective. But, like all achievements in history, over-done create resistance and finally collapse.

The problem now is that the collapse is environmental, global, leaving us with an out of control population on an increasing hot planet already undermining the living conditions of millions and soon billions.

The group psychology that let this dynamic go unrecognized as the game stopper it is is complex and amazing.  The consequences disastrous. The idea of free markets more or less fit circumstances, but the “less” has undone us and we need to move on to a new way of looking at society, wealth and people.

2073. Dorian and Climate change – how we think.

Provocation 224   Life threatening Dorian and life threatening economy collapsing through climate change -how we think. 

Why are a number of the economists I know  so tuned in to Dorian but not tuned in to climate change? (I am going to leave this rough, like a conversation, not giving the false appearance of being well worked out. Imagine that we are just having a cup of coffee and  chatting. )

 There are some deep similarities between the way we look at the climate, economy and  change and the way we look at Dorian . For example, the focus on numbers such as GDP and category 4 or 5.  But Hurricane categories seem visceral while   GDP a is OK for approximate calculation. GDP (and other performance measures for the economy, such as “incomes are rising”) do not get us in the gut – because it is too far away from visceral experience, and, as in this case, badly misleading. We know for example that cutting trees can contribute positively to GDP while also a loss  of wealth from the earth. But we don’t feel it the way trees falling in Barbados tears at our imagination.  In the economy our  numerics and our intuition often move in opposite directions.  House work and child care don’t count.  For hurricanes it seems like a more coherent experience.

The main difference might be that hurricanes are delivered in narrative form as a sequence,   “this then this then this”, whereas economics are delivered in equations – only “if this then this”. The narrative form is open and easy to include emerging or missing steps. In economics such things are treated as external to the system and mere disrupters of our professional stance. 

What can we learn about this? It really is a call for a deeper understanding of human feeling and cognition if we want to increase our understanding of what happens.. Our narratives about the hurricane seem fairly accurate, taken together, while for  climate change they are just touching the surface. Death  by hurricane is spoken, death by climate change is not.

One way to think about this s to compare an approach through systems thinking with narrative thinking.  I was in a meeting yesterday where a silicon valley thinker said he was relabeling himself a story teller, no longer  a systems thinker. System thinking tends to form around a single heavy model, narratives are more like  a handful of butterflies.

2072. Work/jobs and climate

Interesting how the conversation about the future divides into the two discussions: future of work and the struggle with climate. I assume the two conversations need to be integrated. The boundary conditions for such an integration start with the fact that cutting fossil fuels to meet the 1.5 (or 2) degrees would require massive stopping current modes of work with terrible disruptive effects – but not quite as disruptive as not cutting fossil fuel use.

So – work and jobs – if we cut fossil fuel use sufficient to stay under 1.5, what jobs are there, remaining and new? What work is to be done? If we can make progress on sketching that, then we can make some solid progress on how it is to be organized, its relation to IT and AI, and what we do with those who are hurt by the transition.

Integrating the climate and the jobs/work conversations would be a serious contribution to the task of managing the planet under real existing conditions.


2071. Economics as management of wealth vs. management of the commons.

Provocation 223

Economics, as management and as theory

Physics has always tried to grasp the hardest problems:  planetary orbits, , gravity, light, magmatism, energy. The result is we have  a fairly, actually beautifully, coherent view of how the physical world is.

Biology has not done quite so well. There is confusion about evolution – is it an increasing  pluralism or unfolding convergence, and can there be a theory of what will be the next species. And what does life really mean. And why does it seem that the deep structure of all all life comes fro one  molecule (I exaggerate, but not by much). Whereas physics deals with the timeless biology moves more in the realm of change.

Economics however seems to have worked to avoid contact, much less exploration, of the key  and interesting facts:  what is wealth, what is capitalism, how is the material world connected to the political world, how peoples’ individual fates are determined by the contingencies of material and power. Economics, mostly in the realm of change (“creative destruction”) tries to stick to the strategy of timelessness (protecting property). 

A simple explanation is that,  like law, economics serves.  There are deep issues in the law but mostly bypassed by the profession. Economics seems to be the same, but whereas law was designed to protect private property it, alog with economics, mystified  the origin of private property. Curious because the history is readily available. Carl Schmitt’s extraordinary book,  Nomos of the Earth,  has lots to say, but goes mostly. unread. He looks at the word nomos , the same as the second part of eco-nomy,  and meaning by Plato’s time “laws”,  the collection of legislated documents,  but earlier had to do with  declaring some land “ours”, appropriation, and then dividing among us to match the grazing needs of our cattle, equal distribution, and only then, its use. The Movement from equal distribution to just a list of laws took two hundred years. The point is, we are confined in our thinking to the end point of a process and not its interesting beginning. What is an arc in history we treat as a timeless universal. We treat property as if god given (Locke and many others). Private comes from the latin pri vatus,  to set apart from the public. Private was not given by god, it was taken from the commons.

Economics in avoiding all these issues, ends up as an accessory to the concentration of wealth and fails to help develop thinking to manage the commons. This might end up being fatal  to our species if we fail to undertake the intellectual challenge.  We need to understand wealth and its use, the (possible) need for power and its rewards, but we are not doing the thinking. Money is managed but the commons is not.

2070. The problem with most climate proposals. lies.

here is the summary of Sanders’ proposal, which is quite similar to others.

Among Sanders’ ideas is sourcing 100% of the country’s electricity from renewable and zero-emissions power. He is calling for committing $2.18 trillion in grants for low- and middle-income families to weatherize and retrofit their homes and businesses, with the goal of reducing residential energy consumption. He would charge the Energy Department with making sure that both new and existing commercial structures, as well as high-income home owners, meet his administration’s energy retrofitting goals.

What is striking, and in common \, is that nothing is said about what people need to do. It’s all at the level of policies and institutions. ogy.

how do you get from the burning of gas and oil to using only renewable sources of energy to produce electricity? People would need to replace their home heating , cooking and hot water by gas. Play impacted her manufacturing of the replaceable electric furnaces would be very high.More than 50% of the US is heated by gas and we’re talking about maybe replacing 80 Million homes with new electrical heaters. The impact of this manufacruring on the environment would be a very high since the manufacturing process is also technology and pollution creating. Half of the food cooked in the whole world is done on open fires. Are going to replace these with electric stoves?

Making existing homes energy efficient requires a tremendous amount of material and that material has to be manufactured, mined, or grown. Then it has to be transported [ from the field to the factory and from the factory to the Distributor and from the distributor to the homes. Seems the idea js that if we get the policies right the people won’t have to do anything.

So much is left out. Is it ignorance, intensionaly dishonest or imagination limited by fear? Who will be the first major public figure to describe it as it is? like this: Much needs to be done and with the best still many people will be badly hurt and all lives disturbed.

2069. Heating the planet

Amazon burning ( no not that one, the green one where many people and other species live.)

  1. Either we stop burning fossil fuel – which would basically stop the economy at the cost of many lives, or
  2. we muddle along, in which case many lives lost to heat, lack of food and water, migrating violence.

This is the current human condition. I would rather die  in the midst of extreme effort than to couch potato into  it.

Part of that extreme effort is  to be trying t make real a third possibility.


The available leverage points

  • governance
  • land use
  • religious awakening
  • common sense
  • technology
  • compassion
  • media
  • word of mouth
  • Cooperative work projects.

Democracy,  according to the previous post,  means group assembly, not individual acts of voting.




2068. Demos in democracy meant participation in the group, not individual.

This is very important for GardenWorld as the feeling for democracy declines or gets bad press. The original  idea was quite different and may be closer to the possibilities as we enter into the group creating impact of climate change. People will be milling about, looking for whom to align with. We should see the positive in public assembly – it is demos -cracy.

The Dēmos in Dēmokratia

Date Published:




Dêmokratia is widely glossed ‘rule by the people’ where ‘people’ (dêmos) is defined as ‘entire citizenry’. Yet from Homer to Aeschylus, dêmos indicated not the whole citizenry but a part: those who wielded political power through their participation in a collective agent—in the first instance, an assembly—as opposed to those who enjoyed political influence as individuals. First and foremost, dêmokratia signalled that supreme power had passed to this group, away from the leading men who had previously held sway. The implications for our conceptualization of democracy are profound.

2067. Early humans had an interesting life not consistent with modern disdain.

“let us compare, broadly, the life world of the hunter-forager with that of the farmer, with or without livestock. Close observers of hunter-gatherer life have been struck by how it is punctuated by bursts of intense activity over short periods of time. The activity itself is enormously varied—hunting and collecting, fishing, picking, making traps and weirs—and designed in one way or another to take best advantage of the natural tempo of food availability. “Tempo,” I think, is the key word here. The lives of hunter-gatherers are orchestrated by a host of natural rhythms of which they must be keen observers: the movement of herds of game (deer, gazelle, antelope, pigs); the seasonal migrations of birds, especially waterfowl, which can be intercepted and netted at their resting or nesting places; the runs of desirable fish upstream or downstream; the cycles of the ripening of fruits and nuts, which must be collected before other competitors arrive or before they spoil; and, less predictably, appearances of game, fish, turtles, and mushrooms, which must be exploited quickly. The list could be expanded almost indefinitely, but several aspects of this activity stand out. First, each activity requires a different “tool kit” and techniques of capture or collecting that must be mastered. Second, we should not forget that foragers have long gathered grains from natural stands of cereals and had, for this purpose, already developed virtually all the tools we associate with the Neolithic tool kit: sickles, threshing mats and baskets, winnowing trays, pounding mortars and grinding stones, and the like. Third, each of these activities represents a distinct problem in coordination such that the cooperative group and division of labor for each is different. Finally, the activities, like those of the earliest village in the Mesopotamian alluvium, span several food webs—wetlands, forest, savanna, and arid—each of which has its own distinct seasonality. While hunter-gatherers depend vitally on these rhythms, they are, at the same time, generalists and opportunists ever alert to take advantage of the scattered and episodic bounty nature may bring their way.”

Excerpt From Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. James C. Scott

Does this hint at what our life might be like as we go into deep climate change?

2066. how many generations?

The number of loans it is interesting but it’s significance goes further.Compare this with how incautious technical innovation is in drugs and machines, imposing changes after one or two trials.

“As far as biological changes associated with agriculture itself are concerned, we must be doubly cautious. Selection works by variation and inheritance, and only 240 human generations have elapsed since the first adoption of agriculture and perhaps no more than 160 generations since it became widespread.”

Excerpt From

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

James C. Scott