ThankGodwefailed at The Hague

Milani Economy 1

There was a profoundirony in Canada’s position at the recentconference on global warming in The Hague. With the United States, Japan, and Australia, weblocked agreement on reducinggreenhousegases by demanding an emissions trading system. In doingthat, wecaused the conference to fail.

The ironyisthatwewereproposing a tooldrawnfrom an economic system sodesignedthatitmethodically destroys the environment.

In the development of oureconomic system, I don’tthinkanyoneconsciously set out to destroy the environment. But, by the sametoken, it’s hard to accept the credibility of anyonewhodoesn’tacknowledgethatsomethingisdesperatelywrongwith the system. Personally, I like the way Brian Milani refers to it in his new book. He  calls the system cancerous.

Milani is one of thoseexceptionalbeings, a worker-intellectual, a carpenterwhoteaches at the Transformative Learning Centre of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto, at York University’sFaculty of EnvironmentalStudies, and at the Toronto Labour Education Centre.

In his book, Designing the Green Economy: The Postindustrial Alternative to CorporateGlobalization (Rowman&LittlefieldPublishers Inc., Boston, $29.95 in paperback), hedescribeshisapproach as Marxist/Taoist, sodon’tpick up the book thinkingyou’regoing to getsomethingfrom the Chicago school of economics .


Nevertheless, many of his basic points are acceptedwisdom. The book is a demandingread, but rewarding, especially in itsoverview of how wegotfrom Adam Smith to here.


Milani acceptscapitalism’s central tenetthatscarcitycreates value. And that the goal is accumulation of wealth. But hethenoutlines how, in the Twentieth Century, scarcitywasdeliberatelycreated to avoid massive overproduction and an economic collapse, as happened in the Great Depression.


Creatingwastewas how wecreatedscarcity, hesays. To understand, justthink of planned obsolescence. Of disposablediapers, of throwaway containers and packaging, of the waste of people and talent in thisera of corporate downsizing and McJobs, of the profligate use of naturalresources.


As oureconomic system isshiftingitscoreactivityfrommanufacturing to financial transactions, scarcityisstillnecessary, hesays. But since the transactions deal with money, not goods, itis the scarcity of dollars that’s important.


Nowadays, itisdebtthatcreates the necessaryscarcity, hesays. A panoply of differentkinds of debt transactions allowfinancialdealings to occur on an enormousscale, withoutincreasing the supply of dollars or interest rates. Increasing the supply, say by printing money, would cause serious inflation.


Eventhoughwasteis not used to createscarcity in financial transactions, Milani says, itis a pervading by-product.


He calls this stage of oureconomic system the Casino Economy, becauseitinvolves a constant scramble for short term gain on financialmarkets. To give an idea of the scale of activity, he points out thateverythreedays, the amount of money thatelectronically changes hands in New York isequal to the output of all U.S. companies and the total American work force. Everytwoweeks, itequals the total annualproduct of the world.


The scramble for short term gain by investors, says Milani, is forcing companies to protecttheirworthwith short termpoliciesthatmaintain constant and substantialquarterlydividends — but only at the cost of exploiting the environmentever more intensely, demandingendlesstaxcuts, dislocatingcommunities by insisting on cheaper and cheaper sources of labour, and generallyracing to the bottom on a whole range of social issues..


From the mind set thatfeelscomfortablewiththis system comes the idea of pollution emissions trading. It equateswithsaying to Jack the Ripper: If you’llcontribute to the support of a girls’ school, youcan continue preying on women. It wouldbe a way to licensecontinuingassault on the biosphere. ThankGodwefailed at The Hague.

NEXT WEEK: A differentway

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