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Commentary on David Suzxuki's Economic Position

What follows are sections of a piece written by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola concerning the economy which is good for the most part, but needs to consider other realities as well, such as the rule of monopoly imperialist capitalism in this decadent decay stage of its death agony. The limit that capitalism can attain is the whole of the planet and all of the resources and then there is no more room for expansion as is so necessary in the capitalist mode of surplus value production, the end of which is wealth and power for a few at the expense of the world and humanity.

"It’s time for a new economic paradigm"

August 21, 2009 - By David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

"I’ve heard economists boast that their discipline is based on a fundamental human impulse: selfishness. They claim that we act first out of self-interest. I can agree, depending on how we define self. To some, “self” extends beyond the individual person to include immediate family. Others might include community, an ecosystem, or all other species."

If we consider that humanity is a species where individuals are disposed to different interests, we find all manner of dispositions and not all of them are selfish to the exclusion of all others and all else. Consider the mother with an infant, whether animal or human. Here instinct is so strong that the mother will place herself in direct danger to protect the infant; that investment in the future of the family or species. Selfishness extends away from the individual and toward the child. This can be extended to the family and in more primitive societies, to the whole of the group where each one has to look out for the whole in order to survive individually and as a group.

"I list ecosystem and other species deliberately because we have become a narcissistic, self-indulgent species. We believe we are at the centre of the world, and everything around us is an “opportunity” or “resource” to exploit. Our needs or demands trump all other possibilities. This is an anthropocentric view of life."

This is true due to our alienation from nature, which is a complex subject in itself and can't be so easily "blown off". Today in our metropolises, office and mall centered lifestyle where everything that we want and then-some is readily available for the right price, we lose sight of the fact that the real foundation is nature. The air we breath and also treat as a sewer, the water we drink that is wasted in a myriad of productive processes and the very earth we grow food in becomes the landfill for our garbage. Even outer space has become a waste dump. Humanity is far from being the center of the cosmos. A natural disaster of any kind should remind us of this fact. Huge forces exist well beyond our ability to control. Many of them are destructive. When the rains do not come, we lose that opportunity to gather food or for drinking water and for making hydroelectric power.

"..... When the economy experiences a downturn, we demand that nature pay for it. We relax pollution standards, increase logging or fishing above sustainable levels, or .... lift the requirement of environmental assessments for new projects."

This simple truth is extended to the fact the capitalism always seeks to cut costs in order to increase surplus value, the heart of capitalist philosophy. Thus all safety standards, health concerns and environmental protections are on the chopping block. The engineered economic collapse of 2008-2009 was about cutting costs and restructuring the economy in Asia where there are very few controls and over a billion cheap workers. The drive for profit at the the expense of the planetary ecosystem is just one symptom of the greater disease of corporate greed. A handful of individuals manipulate the economy of the world and the lives of the people in order to guarantee this trend continues. The only problem is that capitalism has to continually expand and the whole earth has an upper limit that cannot be surpassed. But this fact is by and large ignored and legislated away in various ways while the rush to expand beyond carrying capacity and tipping points continues in a blind rush for more wealth and power. Someone once said that there is no one so blind as the person who will not see.

"A fundamentally different perspective on our place in the world is called “biocentrism”. In this view, life’s diversity encompasses all and we humans are a part of it, ultimately deriving everything we need from it. Viewed this way, our well-being, indeed our survival, depends on the health and well-being of the natural world...."

We agree that a new paradigm is needed and the answer is complex rather than simplistic. We have to consider things like re-education, planning the economy, developing a more bio-centric approach to our intimate relation to nature and the logistics to bring it all together. This cannot be done via capitalism due to its intrinsic anarchy where different sections vie in competition and interfere in the ability of them to do business. Anyone who is against such approach is in an even worse position. The health and well being of the earth is not a consideration for those who do not want to pay for the cost of clean up due to that eating up profits.

"The most pernicious aspect of our anthropocentrism has been to elevate economics to the highest priority. We act as if the economy is some kind of natural force that we must all placate or serve in every way possible. But wait! Some things, like gravity, the speed of light, entropy, and the first and second laws of thermodynamics, are forces of nature. There’s nothing we can do about them except live within the boundaries they delimit. "

These facts stand squarely in the way of unbridled and unlimited growth of capital. Eventually limits are reached that cannot be surpassed and when that happens, the expansion stops, profit is lost and the corporation begins to wither. We have made a god and fetish out of money. It is in the nature of capitalist life to make the economy, money and profit sacrosanct. Workers are brought up on money and few know of alternatives to money. When the money is gone, they are desperate. With the 2008-2009 economic collapse made for immense desperation. We came face to face with limits, our ignorance and our inability to suddenly jump into a new paradigm, despite being told that we have to shift our paradigm.

"But the economy, the market, currency – we created these entities, and if they don’t work, we should look beyond trying to get them back up and running the way they were. We should fix them or toss them out and replace them."

This kind of talk has been the inspiration behind things like Cointelpro, MKUltra and McCarthyism. The current Obama regime is attempting to buy off the inevitable by getting the private bank of the Federal Reserve to print up more money and devalue the currencies of the world and the dollars we all hold. The current methods of fixing the economy are unsustainable even just in economic terms of trillions of dollars in new debts. One economist tells us that the real debt is on the order of a quadrillion dollars. It is already beyond unsustainable. It is fit to be tossed out and replaced with a better idea. This is the choice we must now make.

"When economists and politicians met in Bretton Woods, Maine, in 1944, they faced a world where war had devastated countrysides, cities, and economies. So they tried to devise solutions. They pegged currency to the American greenback and looked to the (terrible) twins, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to get economies going again."

This important piece of history eventually led to the abandonment of the gold standard in the US in 1971 under the Nixon administration. By 1972, a severe economic crisis began to unfold that was exacerbated by the 1974 OPEC oil manipulations. The direct outgrowth was the turn toward research to alternatives to oil that was abandoned when oil prices stabilized. From there, the economy increasingly relied on speculation until the US entered the Reagan era of voodoo economics (his own term). The medium of economic manipulation, particular for international loans has been the IMF and World Bank. Economies of whole countries were ruined leading to unrest and the possibility of revolution or civil war, many of which occurred in the western world from 1959 and on.

"The postwar era saw amazing recovery in Europe and Japan, as well as a roaring U.S. economy based on supplying a cornucopia of consumer goods. But the economic system we’ve created is fundamentally flawed because it is disconnected from the biosphere in which we live. We cannot afford to ignore these flaws any longer."

Again the disconnection is due to the nature of capitalist production; i.e., maximum production at the least cost.

"Flaw 1: Beyond its obvious value as the source of raw materials like fish, lumber, and food, nature performs all kinds of “services” that allow us to survive and flourish. Nature creates topsoil, the thin skin that supports all agriculture. Nature removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and returns oxygen. Nature takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it to enrich soil. Nature filters water as it percolates through soil. Nature transforms sunlight into molecules that we need for energy in our bodies. Nature degrades the carcasses of dead plants and animals and disperses the atoms and molecules back into the biosphere. Nature pollinates flowering plants.

I could go on, but I think you catch my drift. We cannot duplicate what nature does around the clock, but we dismiss those services as “externalities” in our economy. "

We can take values that we find in nature or arrange in a manner so that we can grow food, clothing and shelter, but we cannot replace sunshine. No one has ever made food solely from chemicals in the absence of natural influences. We think we can replace soil in things like hydroponics, but these are extremely intensive and are the choice only of crops where the profit is huge due to questions of legality. We cannot grow out entire food needs from hydroponics. We can filter water, but only in a limited quantities and not in the copious quantities that we need for daily needs without escalating the cost out of reach.

"Flaw 2: To compound the problem, economists believe that because there are no limits to human creativity, there need be no limits to the economy. But the economy depends on having healthy people, and health depends on nature’s services, which are ignored in economic calculations. Our home is the biosphere, the thin layer of air, water, and land where all life exists. And that’s it; it can’t grow. We are witnessing the collision of the economic imperative to grow indefinitely with the finite services that nature performs. It’s time to get our perspective and priorities right. Biocentrism is a good place to start."

Biocentrism cannot be approached as a reform. The problem with reform is that decades of battle yields little of no results and those refoms granted partly of in whold can be struck down instantly. Bio centrism thus is a transitional demand that exceeds the capability of capitalism to deliver on it. Therefore, the choice then becomes; capitalism versus bio centrism; capitalism versus a planned economy that includes bio centrism as part of the equation. Although we have been ingenious in solving problems, this has always been in the direction to increase profit, thus things like planned obsolescence entered the economy and speeded up the ruination of the environment. Ingenious solutions always have to consider bio centrism if it is to be considered a real alternative. Everything from transportation to power generation, technology, recycling and an infrastructure has to be reconsidered.

Nature is the basis upon which we all depend and stand. Without the existence of something as simple as sunlight, we would not be here; at least in the form we find ourselves at this time. We derive our life from the various useful things we find around us and grow in agriculture as food upon which to live. We also obtain raw resources and refine them to manufacture our homes and technology.

Economies evolved with the creation of surplus value that became commodities for trade. Extend this a little further and we end up with a universal commodity; money and the economy. Money is not a be all and end all, but serves only as virtual commodities that substitute for the real thing until we actually trade it for the real thing. Money is so powerful in this way that it has become something of a mantra or a fetish that absorbs our attention completely. We strive to get as much of it is possible and lose sight of the fact that it all started with what we found in a natural setting. Money is the new god, replacing the real gods of nature manifesting as powerful forces over which we have absolutely no control. One bad hurricane is enough to ruin a lot of speculative financial game plans. We live for the most part, under the illusions and delusions of capitalism and most are ignorant of alternatives. Further, most want to continue in the lifestyle they are used to and want the other person to make the cuts and even agree with governments that force such legislative solutions. Unfortunately, this approach only causes resentment and generates the potential for civil unrest, which in itself is hard on the environment.

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