Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Paul Mason's end of capitalism

I have recently had my attention drawn again to a seminal Guardian article by Paul Mason, which first appeared six months ago.

I'm almost a fan of Mason. He writes some thought-provoking stuff, much of which I'm inclined to agree with. I think of him as a natural political ally but not quite a kindred spirit. This is because I don't share his preoccupation with the "end of capitalism".

A number of agents and factors motivate the provision of goods and services - markets, public administrations, community spirit, the intrinsic satisfaction of productive work, sheer creativity and perhaps much else. What Mason would describe as the decline of capitalism, I would describe as a decline in the importance of markets as motivators of production.

For a variety of reasons, markets are in decline in some areas. As Mason points out, they are being undermined in the information industries and beyond as digital technology has made it cheap and easy to make and store perfect reproductions of text, software, data, pictures, sound and video. In other areas, increased government intervention is likely in response to environmental threats such as from climate change.

Further government interventions may become unavoidable in the area of banking and other financial services - if only to allow markets to function better. Growing perceptions of social injustice may generate political will to address, through government action, such issues as gross income and wealth inequality.

Let us assume that, over the world economy as a whole, these actual and potential blows to the significance of markets are unmatched by the enhancement of markets in other areas - such as a de-bureaucratisation of economic life in India. Does there come a point where we can say that the world economy, or some major part of it, is no longer "capitalist"?

Perhaps, but "frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn". I am not a Marxist but I am not a fervent economic liberal either. I see threats to individual welfare and liberty coming as much from plutocracy as from an overweening state. I think the state should be as big as it needs to be to do what we want it do and no bigger. Reversing what I see as a drift towards plutocracy is one of the things I want it to do.

If we reach a happy state where the major threats are averted, where acute suffering is much reduced and where most people have before them growing opportunities to flourish, then I won't care if we call our economic regime capitalism, post-capitalism or something else.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Airport expansion and the Paris Agreement

A couple of weeks ago I commented to a fellow blogger on a posting about airport expansion at Heathrow or Gatwick and said:-
COP21 brought a touch of reality to thinking in high places on climate change. One implication is that the UK’s commitment to 80% cuts [in greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050 can no longer be considered adequate. By 2050 we will need to be completely carbon neutral, as will the whole world shortly after. This means that by then any aviation will either need to be completely carbon neutral (running exclusively on biofuels or something not yet invented) or offset by carbon-negative activity.
The date by which we become carbon neutral is less important than what we emit in the meantime. We need to start making big cuts in emissions now and I don’t think an optimal mix of cuts could exclude aviation.
Hence the big issue is not where we site a new runway but how quickly we can reduce aviation, so turning any new investment in airport capacity into stranded assets....
Sorry – I’ve made a lot of sweeping statements here. I’ll try and justify my position in a resuscitation of my own blog.