Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Myth of Capitalist Support for Overpopulation

In my blog entry on ‘The Myth of Overpopulation’:


One of the remarks I made concerning Deborah Young’s effort to soft sell the risk of human over population (in conjunction with her hubris that we can easily support a population of 10 billion) was:

“She does have a point concerning dictators squandering national resources (like Papa Doc Duvalier in Haiti) but totally excludes from comment the most wasteful and rapacious system in the world, capitalism. There is never going to be ANY way for her more equitable distribution of food, resources, water...until she confronts that bogey. Her omission speaks volumes....of selective attention, expedience and convenience!”

Evidently one commentator didn’t like this take at all, and actually accused me of cluelessness in respect of understanding capitalism. (That comment was rejected as not contributing anything to enhance the discussion – as it too clearly showed he’d not done his own homework prior to commenting). In fact, I will show that he is actually the one who is clueless, since there is no way that an economic system predicated on profits and privatization can remotely sustain a burgeoning population.

Again, this doesn’t take a menial or rudimentary intellect to grasp, though it seems some folks’ ideological commitments to the capitalist “market god” effectively reduce their mean IQs to about the level of the average religious fundamentalist.

Before getting under way let me refer readers to Part III-B of my series, ‘The U.S. Propaganda Industry’:


Pay attention therein to false consciousness and how I noted the propagandists have successfully implanted it in most of the American populace – who still swoon whenever the terms “capitalism” and “free market” are uttered. But which swoon gives them away as essential zombies in the service of the corporatists – and which will now make them slaves to those same interests, thanks to the recent abominable Supreme Court decision which equates having free speech rights to inhuman artifacts (corporations), simply because a bastardized earlier (1886) SC ruling declared them to be “persons”!

Next, under myths – specifically (ii) ‘Existence of a Free Market’ – note where I stated:

“According to this myth, equal competition exists between more or less "equal private capitalists". In such a case, the competition almost always acts in the interests of the consuming public. In truth, this quaint concept was demolished by the arch-capitalists (Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller) after their creature, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, was enacted in 1890. This, along with the absurd legal definition of corporation, equating it to a 'person' in the infamous 1886 Santa Clara decision.

Maxine Baca-Zinn and D. Stanley Eitzen observe (op. cit., p. 343) that more accurately:"The American economy is no longer based on competition among more or less equal private capitalists. It is now dominated by huge corporations that, contrary to classical economic theory, control demand rather than being responsive to the demands of the market."

So, the free market as idealized in the paeans to it by the likes of the “American Enterprise Institute” no longer exists. Rather it is a controlled market. What exactly are the chances any such entity would see fit to deliver the infrastructure to support an increasing population – to the tune of maybe four billion more, and another 500 million in the U.S.?

Need a clue? Okay, let me provide one: look around at the crumbling U.S. basic infrastructure – from roads, to sewer systems, water mains and bridges. WHAT has been done to even bring these up to operational level? NOTHING! Even as the almighty DOW had continued its great ascent (to hear the “Bulls” and marketers) that infrastructure disrepair remained, and one could read about it any given day. For example, three days ago when a 26” water main burst in my own city and crews had to be rapidly dispatched to repair it.

Now, if the entrenched capitalist system can’t even find the initiative to fix this mess (which the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates will come to $1.7 TRILLION) why would they evoke any initiative to try to establish a much vaster, more intricate system to serve maybe twice the U.S. population? The answer is they wouldn’t! As we also saw with the Chinese dry wall controversy, the market bidders, builders etc. would likely use inferior materials just to enhance their profit margins. THAT is the nature of the capitalist beast! To screw whoever it can, and hopefully not be detected.

If one then goes through all the nations of the world, one finds similar levels of problems – but less so in the European “Rhine Capitalist” (or democratic socialist) nations, such as Norway and Germany – where at least ample public monies are set aside for public works.

Even in Europe, however, the processing of refuse throughput is becoming an almost insurmountable task. What had been millions of tons of refuse and garbage in the 1980s is now trillions. To match this, landfill space is vanishing. And yet the geniuses advocating that we can hold ten billion people blithely skate over this little nuisance. No problem! We’ll have an explosion of technology to fix it!

Which is more utter bilge and nonsense. As Matt Savinar notes (Life after the Oil Crash, p. 33):

"The idea that technologically derived increases in energy efficiency will solve this for us is fundamentally flawed: technology uses energy; it doesn’t produce it. Here in the 21st century, we have a shortage of energy, not technology. The shortage of energy was caused primarily by the introduction of new technologies such as the internal combustion engine. The shortage is therefore unlikely to be solved by the introduction of even more technology.

More technology will simply allow us to use more energy, which will make us more dependent on technology, which will make us more dependent on energy. As the supply of energy dwindles, the technology on which we have become dependent will no longer function To illustrate: what do you think would happen if the average fuel efficiency of every vehicle on the road today was magically raised to 200 miles per gallon?

It doesn’t take a psychic to accurately predict how we would react to this “miracle.” We would continue to build our homes farther and farther away from our jobs and grow our food farther and farther away from our stores. In other words, we would increase our dependency on cheap energy. This would temporarily delay the crisis while reinforcing the underlying problem, which is a dual dependence on cheap energy and high technology. The more dependent we are on cheap energy when the day of reckoning arrives, the more painful it is going to be, the more people are going to die, and the longer it will take us to recover from the aftermath.

Consequently, increases in fuel efficiency and technology are more likely to make our situation worse, not better.

Thus, technology is NO panacea and certainly not in terms of solving the sustainability problem for any massive increase in population. But let’s get back to the imperatives of global capitalism itself. Author William Greider, who has profoundly investigated global capitalism’s dynamic offers one of the best takes (One World Ready or Not - The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism):

Do we really believe for one moment that those who preach free trade and the inevitable triumph of market forces have anything other than their own increased wealth and aggrandizement in mind? Do we honestly believe they think the system they espouse is fundamentally a good one for all concerned? Are we so naïve as to think if, by any chance, the system were to operate against their interests, that they would not make sure it was changed or abridged to suit them? Are we so innocent and trusting that we cannot recognize bullying and crude self-interest when our noses are being rubbed in it constantly?”

He adds:

“The historic paradox is breathtaking: At the very moment when Western democracies and capitalism have triumphed over the communist alternative, their own systems of self-government are being gradually unraveled by the market system”

When one reads Greider’s book one can discern the actual purpose of global capitalism is to exploit or reduce the human surplus population – NOT aid it or support it. The overall imperative of global capitalism is ultimately to abolish all governmental, national social insurance systems - whether these be Medicare or Social Security in the United States, or the analogous systems in Germany or Barbados. In each case, the particular system to be replaced by a privatized entity able to generate debt and further income inequality. As Jay Bookman aptly notes ('The New World Disorder Evident Here, Abroad'):

“The global economy has been constructed on the premise that government guarantees of security and protection must be avoided at all costs, because they discourage personal initiative. In times of crisis, however, that premise cannot be sustained politically. In times of trouble it is human nature to seek security and protection and to be drawn toward those who promise to provide it. That is how men such as Adolf Hitler, and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin came to power, with disastrous consequences.”

In other words, in any truly population-expanding world the actual response of global capitalists would be two fold: i) use the surplus population created as a hammer over the heads of those who refuse to heave to (e.g. ‘If you won’t do this we’ll find someone who will) or ii) allow the surplus population to grow to the point that the sheer lack of resources compels fierce competition leading to tribal, regional or other wars and thereby reducing the numbers. And, as Bookman notes, in the worst case scenario, a new “Hitler” emerges to take on the pain of the downtrodden masses and use it to leverage himself to power. With vast consequences – probably negative- for all.

But let’s also examine this nonsense of capitalism delivering from the point of view of eco-economics. Perhaps no one has done more in this area than Prof. Herman Daly of the University of Maryland. Eco-economists tie the quality of global ecology directly to the operation of economics, and how its priorities are set. For example, if fossil fuel production is allowed to be unregulated then it directly enhances greenhouse warming- with adverse effects on the global ecology. (Severe drought in many places and excessive precipitation causing flooding in many others, etc.)

Thus, the bulk of eco-economists advocate economic models of small or no growth. Global "free trade" is one of the most blasphemous lies to ever come down the Propaganda pike. Probably the best expose of this farce was done by Daly, in his lecture, 'The G-Forces Of Disintegration' -at the Aspen Institute in 2000. Some excerpts:

“Globalization refers to global economic integration of many formerly national economies into one global economy, by free trade, especially by free capital mobility, and also, as a distant but increasingly important third, by easy or uncontrolled migration. Globalization is the effective erasure of national boundaries for economic purposes. National boundaries become totally porous with respect to goods and capital, and increasingly porous with respect to people, viewed in this context as cheap labor, or in some cases cheap human capital.

In sum, globalization is the economic integration of the globe. But exactly what is ‘integration’? Integration is the act of combining separate albeit related units into a single whole. Since there can be only one whole, it follows that global economic integration logically implies national economic disintegration - parts are torn out of their national context (disintegrated), in order to be re-integrated into the new whole, the globalised economy. As the saying goes, to make an omelette you have to break eggs. The distintegration of the national egg is necessary to integrate the global omelette. This obvious logic, as well as the cost of disintegration, is frequently met with denial.”

Again, the casualty is human security. And again, the consequences – unless the vast masses are anesthetized- will be almost nonstop killing, likely making the 800,000 slaughtered in the Rwadan genocide look like a tea party. The greater the population, the greater the magnitudes and dispersion of the slaughter.

In the same Aspen lecture, Daly noted that the concept of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was developed to help steer the US economy out of the Great Depression, and through World War Two. It was for another time and place, and is no longer relevant to this time and place. It needs to be dunned and ditched in favor of the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare. (ISEW).

GDP is an inadequate barometer because of a number of fundamental problems: we don't measure unpaid work or services that may benefit society, we treat expenses as income, and we often fail to value natural resources. In any overpopulated domain, especially here in the U.S., the meaning of GDP would become even more perverted as vast forests and other natural acreage are demolished to make room for development. Great Smokey Mountains National Park – gone! Rocky Mountain National Park – gone! Everglades – paved over for who knows what. The only ones who benefit will be the mega-rich who can afford to take off for Aspen or Jackson Hole.

Clearly any increasing population beyond the carrying capacity (which, btw, Richard Heinberg - author of 'The Party's Over') asserts is only 2 billion, 1 billion less than Asimov) will shatter the ISEW measures and lead to horrific quality of life for the packed in humans. (Assuming they will escape the ravages of greenhouse warming – including the spread of tropical diseases like dengue fever to the temperate zone)

So, again, until the ‘overpopulation is a myth’ proponents lay out their plans for dealing with the global capitalist machine ….they are all whistling Dixie past a potential human graveyard. As I noted in my earlier blog entry: Is Haiti A Microcosm of Humanity's Future' - we are poised at a threshold where we can either self destruct as a species, or move on to a higher quality of life. All those who insist overpopulation is a myth, or worse - that "capitalism" can solve it, are purveyors of human extinction. And no - I won't mince words!


Pete Murphy said...

The biggest obstacle we face in changing attitudes toward overpopulation is economists. Since the field of economics was branded "the dismal science" after Malthus' theory, economists have been adamant that they would never again consider the subject of overpopulation and continue to insist that man is ingenious enough to overcome any obstacle to further growth. Even worse, economists insist that population growth is vital to economic growth. This is why world leaders continue to ignore population growth in the face of mounting challenges like peak oil, global warming and a whole host of other environmental and resource issues.

But now there's a competing theory. Because they are blind to population growth, there's one obstacle they haven't considered: the finiteness of space available on earth. The very act of using space more efficiently creates a problem for which there is no solution: it inevitably begins to drive down per capita consumption and, consequently, per capita employment, leading to rising unemployment and poverty.

If you‘re interested in learning more about this important new economic theory, then I invite you to visit my web site at http://PeteMurphy.wordpress.com.

Pete Murphy
Author, "Five Short Blasts"

Caleb Shay said...

Very good and thoughtful article, copernicus. I can't believe some bonehead would pull you up on your knowledge of capitalism when a lot of your recent blog articles directly or indirectly deal with it. Also, if said bonehead didn't read the Propaganda Industry piece you did on the U.S. media, especially how they created the free market and other myths, he has no business getting his comment put up.

Before I comment, I make sure I've read all your other recent ones to be able to hit all the markers. This cat clearly couldn't have read your later articles, he just focused on the 'myth of overpopulation' one.

Btw, your replies to the comment you did post of his (clay's) were great. The guy is a real dummy thinking astronomers have some plan mapped out for other planets.

A little effort would have led him to this link:


In which it's stated:

"The budgetary review of NASA ordered by President Obama has found that the program needs quite a bit more money than previously thought to reach its goal of getting back to the moon by 2020: $3 billion more yearly is needed, the panel of experts say, on top of NASA already contested annual budget of $18 billion. The goal of "back to the moon within the next decade" was set during the Bush administration.

The panel has thus deemed the trajectory NASA is currently following "unsustainable" and calls for a "flexible path." NASA was already hoping to reduce its operating budget by retiring its fleet of space shuttles in 2010 and — in a most radical step — ceasing operations on the International Space Station in 2015".

So, if the space station is not even going to be kept up how the heck can we get to any other planets? DOH!

It's good you have the moderation in place to keep the lamest comments out.

Caleb Shay said...

Oh, I forgot to mention copernicus, that your many blog articles on stocks and relations to interest rates, dollar value, arcane trading devices- including credit default swaps, cov lites, and pic toggles trading shows you have a hundred times more knowledge of capitalism and its workings in yhour little finger than clay has in his whole brain@

Copernicus said...

Pete Murphy wrote:

"The very act of using space more efficiently creates a problem for which there is no solution: it inevitably begins to drive down per capita consumption and, consequently, per capita employment, leading to rising unemployment and poverty"

An excellent point there! The flawed premise that these people (like clay) use, is that by enhancing efficiencies we can solve the problems attendant on an increasing population. In fact, the converse is true.

Thus, in an increasingly energy-impoverished planet (say in a Peak Oil environment - sure to be with us by 2025)there is extremely limited capacity for implementing the production bases, and infrastructure to: a) produce enough goods & services for all, b) attain to the waste generated, and c) provide ample jobs. Heck, as noted in a section of the Financial Times today, small stakeholder farmers (of which there are some 1.5b now) can't even get securitization for loans!

In another section, 'Business & Food Sustainability', author Fiona Harvey observes that the very (industrial farming, genetic engineering processes) that make for cheap and abundant food ALSO contribute to its increasing wastage. This in turn, imposes a vastly larger carbon footprint for every nation for which such wastage is applicable. In the UK, she points out, one-third of the carbon footprint (for infusing excess CO2 into the atmosphere) arises from food wastage.

From this well-researched article in which she cites numerous sources (The Food Climate Research Network), it is self-evident that increasing efficiency in food production is not going to help us one iota support a larger population, if people keep their wasteful habits.

Btw, I did access your site and enjoyed it very much. Extremely informative, and I do believe capitalist -economic model advocates like 'clay' might profit from it.

Copernicus said...

Caleb Shay wrote:

"Before I comment, I make sure I've read all your other recent ones to be able to hit all the markers. This cat clearly couldn't have read your later articles, he just focused on the 'myth of overpopulation' one."

Exactly. What I expected, for anyone pulling me up on my understanding of capitalism (or lack thereof) was also attending to the arguments in blog entries succeeding the one on the myth of overpopulation. In particular, my Part III-B on the U.S. Propaganda Industry, which included the "free market" myths and others.

Since clay didn't see fit to address those, his response in dissing my knowledge of capitalism became irrelevant, and off the mark.

Again, if readers criticize - which they are certainly welcome to do - I *also* expect them to read any subsequent material posted that may have potential repercussions in respect of the issue they are addressing.

This is what I call "doing one's homework" before posting a negative or critical comment. I'm going to be very scrupulous about this now, and unless (critical) replies to a given article also cite (or at least acknowledge) relevant material in ancillary, subsequent articles - they will not receive a public hearing. At least not on this blog. If that is 'unfair' - so be it. Life is unfair. My blog, my rules.

Copernicus said...

"What I expected, for anyone pulling me up on my understanding of capitalism (or lack thereof) was also attending to the arguments in blog entries succeeding the one on the myth of overpopulation. "

Actually, since the referenced entry appeared BEFORE the one on overpopulation, there was even less excuse to overlook it! So, I ought to have stated "attending to the blog articles preceding the one on overpopulation. (However, for entries -posts in the same month, I'd generalize that to succeding posts as well)

Thus, if readers criticize *also* expect them to read any immediately ANTECEDENT or subsequent material posted that are germane to the issues under discussion.