Re: The Miracle Of Compound Interest; Or, "Mom, This Money Tastes Funny"

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we'll be much richer in the future, and our future riches will make it easy for us to deal with ecological damage in that future time when it becomes a real emergency

in general, nobody is ever rich enough; there is no amount of money which will make people say "yes, now i have enough, let's stop growing".


Posted by: cleek | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:12 AM
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There's also the notion that compound effects are also driving some of these slow-motion disasters, and trying to mitigate their effects now is cheaper and more effective than trying to do so in the future.


Posted by: dob | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:15 AM
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a Roman family in AD 0 with some money to invest in real estate in Rome. Assuming the family keeps on reinvesting their money,

But alas, in AD 39 the emperor Caligula, strapped for cash, trumped up a charge of treason against them and seized their estates.


Posted by: gdr | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:16 AM
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a Roman family in AD 0 with some money to invest in real estate in Rome. Assuming the family keeps on reinvesting their money,

But alas, in AD 39 the emperor Caligula, strapped for cash, trumped up a charge of treason against them and seized their estates.


Posted by: gdr | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:16 AM
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You know, I thought you were going somewhere different with the compound interest analogy, where the emissions were like a credit card interest rate, and how thinking we could deal with it later when we were richer was like making only the minimum payment.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:18 AM
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we'll be much richer in the future, and our future riches will make it easy for us to deal with ecological damage in that future time when it becomes a real emergency

I think the claim must be that we grow our economy faster than the cost of global warming correction grows. At some point, everyone will buy into the need to stop global warming, because the evidence will be obvious to all. Because of growth, we'll be better able to afford changing things.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:22 AM
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Decreasing marginal utility of stuff is a somewhat more sophisticated argument against large current investments in climate change mitigation. Basically, future generations will (presumably) be richer than us. So, our sacrificing now to help them amounts to a regressive intragenerational redistribution.


Posted by: ptm | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:23 AM
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Of course, some physical systems don't recover, there's large time lags, etc, etc.


Posted by: ptm | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:24 AM
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Cleek gets it right in 1. The fallacy at work here is that the political obstacles to re-dividing the pie will become smaller as the pie grows, but history gives little grounds for optimism on that score.

The "let's invest that wealth now and fix global warming with the proceeds" dodge is closely related to the "there are so many other social problems where that same money would have a greater impact on alleviating human misery", in that both arguments are more commonly made in bad faith than good.

If someone wants to argue that we should tax the economy to set up a global trust fund TODAY to earn a compounded return and finance climate remediation efforts in the future, when the technology is cheaper, I'd be willing to take them slightly more seriously, but to use the compound interest argument as an excuse to ignore the problem is just Bravo Sierra.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:26 AM
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A fair number of Roman landowners remained wealthy, at least locally, after the "official" fall of the empire. This guy's letters are famous.

Also, Goths.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:28 AM
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Well, the key here is that the compound growth argument is just a slightly modified version of the techno-optimist argument. Economic growth can be decomposed into three parts: returns to more labor (i.e. population growth), returns to more capital (more savings and investment), and total factor productivity, which is whatever's left over. Of these, only total factor productivity really makes people feel richer, since returns to more labor just means that production is spread over more people and returns to more capital just means that people are foregoing spending today to get more tomorrow.

That's why total factor productivity growth is a pretty big deal, and it's really the source of the wealth that makes people optimistic about solving future global warming issues. Guess what the main driver of this free-lunch productivity gain is? That's right, new technology/innovations (new business models can also produce these gains, as can any other form of organizational as well as purely technological innovation).


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:28 AM
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11: isn't it levelling off, in any case?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:30 AM
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So, our sacrificing now to help them amounts to a regressive intergenerational redistribution.

Yeah, and? The New York water system, the Erie Canal, the National Parks, the Interstate Highway System, the Voyage space probes, the land grant universities, etc. were all regressive intergenerational transfers of wealth.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:32 AM
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10. I've just been reading Peter Heather's analysis of this, where he points out that many Roman landowners were able to hang onto their land because they had skills as lawyers or bureaucrats that the Goths needed, so they made a fairly seamless transition from being courtiers in the train of the western Emperor to being courtiers in the train of the King of the Visigoths, or Burgundians or whatever. Some of Sidonius' mates are cited as examples.

Unfortunately, a warmer planet isn't going to pay us to write stirring panegyrics to it, so the analogy falls down a bit there.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:35 AM
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11: Relative to when? And where? I haven't seen stats recently.

It would be interesting to see stats for China's recent growth. I've heard a lot of their gains have come from the massive workforce expansion and direct investments, but I imagine there's a lot of low-hanging TFP fruit from adopting new technology and people's lives really do seem to be getting better.

As for the US and Western Europe, there were pretty big gains as IT started to infiltrate every type of business ever. Those gains are still happening in Western Europe, I believe, but I haven't heard recently if they've tapered off in the US.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:35 AM
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And what about inflation? Each dollar of the "wealth" of the future is worth less.

Also: It seems to me that value is always created by exploiting some asset of the Earth. We cut trees, extract oil, mine for beryllium, etc., and it all comes out of the planet itself.

That future wealth will mean we're extracting even MORE of the Earth's assets. Add in the fact that many of those things are being depleted, making the basic value of the planet less, and less available, and it's likely that we'll be poorer, not richer.


Posted by: Hank Fox | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:36 AM
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This is a stupid argument, not really even worth refuting.

With delay, the costs of fixing global warming could easily go up faster than your wealth, you really have no idea.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:36 AM
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a warmer planet isn't going to pay us to write stirring panegyrics to it

Maybe it will if we're richer.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:37 AM
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Yeah, and? The New York water system, the Erie Canal, the National Parks, the Interstate Highway System, the Voyage space probes, the land grant universities, etc. were all regressive intergenerational transfers of wealth.

Point for the Erie Canal; I'd throw in the continental railroad, which was a straight-forward frenzied looting of the public treasury which happened to set in place the next forty years of American growth. Maybe we just don't have the Leland Stanford of the greens, willing to bribe his way to a more sensible climate change policy that also makes him and his cronies staggeringly wealthy.

Also, Goths.

I bet Peter Murphy understands the need to combat anthropogenic global warming!


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:38 AM
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16 hits the nail on the head. Wealth is extracted. More wealth requires more extraction requires more energy usage. One mitigation would be to take a lot of it off planet, but I don't see anybody proposing this seriously.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:39 AM
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Maybe we just don't have the Leland Stanford of the greens, willing to bribe his way to a more sensible climate change policy that also makes him and his cronies staggeringly wealthy.

Bill Clinton's looking hard for him.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:39 AM
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Some wise economist was once heard to muse (gazing off toward the horizon and puffing thoughtfully on his pipe) "I don't see how we can have any obligation to future generations".

After all, what have they ever done for us?

As for past generations -- if they think we owe them something, let them come and try to collect!

Small minded people can't think that wisely, because they're hamstrung by ethical superstitions and ancient customs. But economists are rational and cut away the bullshit. "Prove it!"


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:40 AM
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Maybe we just don't have the Leland Stanford of the greens, willing to bribe his way to a more sensible climate change policy that also makes him and his cronies staggeringly wealthy.

Leland Stanford doesn't deserve the credit for what Huntington and the Crocker brothers did.

I'm just going to nitpick anything historical in this thread.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:41 AM
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Also: It seems to me that value is always created by exploiting some asset of the Earth. We cut trees, extract oil, mine for beryllium, etc., and it all comes out of the planet itself.

This is counter-Ricardo thinking, isn't it? Wealth comes from getting something someone wants into the hands of them that wants it, which is to say that Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Steve Jobs are very rich men even though software, insurance, and adorable Pixar creations aren't the result of resource exploitative industries.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:42 AM
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We need somebody to do for environmental policy what Robert Moses did for communism.

See, eb? I help you!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:42 AM
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24: not the first order result, but they wouldn't get very far without cars or computers.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:43 AM
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Guess what the main driver of this free-lunch productivity gain is? That's right, new technology/innovations

All true and correct, especially for the secondary and tertiary sectors, but for the primary sector of the economy (agriculture, fisheries, forestry, mining, energy extraction), factor endowment matters a lot. Saudi Arabia managed first-world levels of productivity (output per capita) for a long time with a third-world workforce and relatively modest capital commitment because they had so much oil so close to the surface.

One of the economic consequences of climate change is to impair certain factor endowments(agricultural land, fisheries, biodiversity) and make others less valuable (fossil fuels). It's not unthinkable that we will quickly reach a point where the productivity-diminishing impact on factor endowment outweighs the productivity enhancing effect of innovation and dispersion of technology, at least for certain jurisdictions that rely heavily on the primary sector. So the compound interest free lunch doesn't necessarily even work on its own terms, even before you factor in things like system changes, irreversibility, option value, and the like.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:45 AM
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software, insurance, and adorable Pixar creations aren't the result of resource exploitative industries

They aren't? Are computers made of nothing? Are the umpty-zillion plush dolls of Pixar characters just created ex nihilo?


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:46 AM
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We need somebody to do for environmental policy what Robert Moses did for communism.

I could make a Marxist argument that a workable response to climate change requires a planned economy. Socialisme ou barbarisme. I think a lot of deniers probably suspect that this is true, which is why they are so vehement in their folly.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:46 AM
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Basically, future generations will (presumably) be richer than us. So, our sacrificing now to help them amounts to a regressive intra [sic - inter- makes more sense here] generational redistribution.

Future generations of Americans *might* be richer than us. Future generations of Bangladeshis are really quite unlikely to, and they are more likely to bear the costs.

Also, it's really imprudent to project total factor productivity improvements without limit into the future. They really aren't the norm when one takes the long view; periods with more or less stagnant technology are much more common.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:47 AM
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There are many areas of the economy in which physical resources and physical inputs are not an important factor. And in a prosperous economy the agricultural, mining, fisheries, lumbering, and even manufacturing sector all put together are a rather small part of the whole. And countries which depend mostly on primary production are mostly poor countries. And many specific resources (e.g. copper) are almost completely substitutable.

But when economists take these facts to show that the physical substrate (air, water, topsoil, etc.) is basically not very important and never will be, they're allowing their formal system to lead them into insanity. And they do that all the time.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:50 AM
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previously valuable exurban housing that will be pretty much uninhabitable and valueless

Well, maybe. The flip side is that all those suburban half-acre lots could grow an awful lot of food once we quit wasting the land with manicured lawns.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:52 AM
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I could make a Marxist argument that a workable response to climate change requires a planned economy. Socialisme ou barbarisme.

How would that argument go? I'm genuinely curious? And does the argument require "planned economy" and "socialism" to be defined the way the American Right defines them, i.e. any state action that places any unwanted constraint whatsoever on the right of owners of capital to do as they please?


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:52 AM
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This depressing shit is why Democrats lose elections.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:53 AM
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This is why these conversations are so incredibly frustrating to me. The problem isn't just that we need to come up with some new technology; the problem is that ultimately we need to consume far, far less than we're currently consuming. But our modern conception of economic well-being assumes that "healthy" economies are constantly producing and consuming as much as they possibly can, which is just insane. It's utterly unsustainable. It's destroying us in terms of climate, in terms of air and water pollution, in terms of soil degradation, in terms of water depletion, in terms of habitat destruction and biodiversity. We're already starting to see the impact of these practices throughout the developing world, and to continue with our myopic obsession with "economic growth" at a time when we really need to be ditching that concept is completely nuts.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:53 AM
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A lot of topsoil is destroyed with development, though. And it would be hard to plough a decayed development tract chopped up into 1/8 acre plots.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:54 AM
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They aren't? Are computers made of nothing? Are the umpty-zillion plush dolls of Pixar characters just created ex nihilo?

Just like rainbows!

(Fair enough to both 26 and 28; I should have put a qualifier in there. But I did choose software and insurance for a reason. If I could think of any billionaire panhandlers or hookers, I would have used them as my example instead. On the other hand, re Sifu's 26, absolutely nothing is therefore non-resource exploitative dating back to Hammurabi; I don't think that reduced consumption and massive public investment into wind/solar/tidal power generation require us to return to being hunter-gatherers, but if you do I hear that Eugene is a lovely place to live.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:54 AM
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Adding to what Stras said, continued growh in the standard of living is assumed; if economies don't grow, they decline, and if people don't expect to get even richer, they work less. So a steady-state economy is unlikely.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:55 AM
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Clearly, all this calls for a re-appraisal of values. A mere builder of more industrial plants, a creator of more railroad systems, and organizer of more corporations, is as likely to be a danger as a help. The day of the great promoter or the financial Titan, to whom we granted anything if only he would build, or develop, is over. Our task now is not discovery or exploitation of natural resources, or necessarily producing more goods. It is the soberer, less dramatic business of administering resources and plants already in hand, of seeking to reestablish foreign markets for our surplus production, of meeting the problem of under consumption, of adjusting production to consumption, of distributing wealth and products more equitably, of adapting existing economic organizations to the service of the people. The day of enlightened administration has come.


Posted by: fdr | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 8:56 AM
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FDR, your brand of communism is not what America wants to hear right now. Americans are optimistic and demand to be treated as if each of them was a financial Titan. For after all, aren't we all?


Posted by: David Brooks | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:00 AM
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There are many areas of the economy in which physical resources and physical inputs are not an important factor.

True in GDP terms for the rich world. But most of the word's population still makes its living from the primary sector.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:02 AM
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On the other hand, re Sifu's 26, absolutely nothing is therefore non-resource exploitative dating back to Hammurabi; I don't think that reduced consumption and massive public investment into wind/solar/tidal power generation require us to return to being hunter-gatherers, but if you do I hear that Eugene is a lovely place to live.

Well, right. You need to decouple as best you can, but you're obviously not going to stop using natural resources outright, even in Eugene.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:02 AM
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Socialisme ou barbarisme. I think a lot of deniers probably suspect that this is true, which is why they are so vehement in their folly.

I think that this is largely right, but it's so wrapped up in cultural issues (in the US at least) that it's hard to pick apart. Caring about the planet == DFH. Lately the schtick of prominent rightwing media types is to brag about wasting energy. The local hate radio station says, "WKKK, broadcasting on 50,000 watts of coal-generated electricity."


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:03 AM
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For after all, aren't we all?

No! There can be only one John Galt. The rest are merely ants - ants! - scuttering about and picking crumbs from his mighty table!


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:05 AM
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||

What is the term for goods whose goodness derives entirely from their scarcity, so that if a lot of people get it, it loses its value?

|>


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:07 AM
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Lately the schtick of prominent rightwing media types is to brag about wasting energy.

This seems descended from the same lineage that gave us jokes about gratuitiously killing endangered species.

Going back even further to the 1970s energy crisis, when Texas was still a major oil producer, there were bumper stickers that said "Drive 70: Freeze a Yankee".


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:08 AM
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38: This, I think, is the biggest problem with the 'deal-with-this-when we're wealthier' strategy. All of the goods that my grandparents had as part of a modest middle-class existence are cheaper now than they used to be. By the time they retired, they had one small house, eventually one car, two televisions (one was black and white, and the other was color and twenty inches), and one phone line. We have made all of these goods cheaper, but all that's done is change the idea of what a modest middle class existence is going to look like.

So even if we assume that energy will be cheaper, the future generation will have the same argument that they'll no doubt make on the Interhead by accessing their cybernetic implants.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:08 AM
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S. Jones, I'll cut you some slack and assume you're some sort of service provider who would be unionized if he wanted to be, but chooses not to be. Anyway, radical libertarianism was just what the country needed to recover from the Depression, which was the closest we've ever come to a government run by Communists/Progressives, but now we need a less ambitious brand of anti-government nihilism, one in which people have no particular hopes or dreams except providing for their family and not living within shouting distance of anyone else. Government subsidies can easily make this continue to happen, but people must continue to be unaware they are receiving government subsidies.


Posted by: David Brooks | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:09 AM
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45: "ass fucking"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:09 AM
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45: positional goods.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:09 AM
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37, 42: Although the joke here is that I'm very sure the carrying capacity of the earth is much less if we all live as hunter-gatherers than if we utilize modern technology to reduce environmental impact. How quickly do you bet the natural foraging and hunting food resources of the world would be exhausted by 6 billion people?

42's right. The key is still going to lie in technology use, it will just have to be focused specifically on reducing or eliminating the use of exhaustible resources at every turn. And consumption reduction, but that's no damn fun.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:10 AM
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45: Your mom.


Posted by: David Brooks | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:10 AM
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49 and 50 are interchangeable terms, of course.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:11 AM
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How quickly do you bet the natural foraging and hunting food resources of the world would be exhausted by 6 billion people?

Depends if the people count as food resources.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:11 AM
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if we can make the economy continue to grow more quickly, we'll be much richer in the future, and our future riches will make it easy for us to deal with ecological damage
or conserve everything until the better times
this is exactly our dilemma
we have these huge deposits of everything natural and mineral, except fortunately oil
and there is an ongoing debate of how to explore them
the pro-western faction says, explore now get rich deal with the consequences afterwards when we'll get rich and mighty and use all the best western technologies, not outdated russian or chinese, though it means a lesser profit for now
the pro-conservation faction says, our unique gobi ecosystem, we don't need your fucking dirty money, get out all from our country, we lived without the riches we'll be fine without it too etc
meanwhile the corrupt government sells out everything to the chinese for their petty needs and the masses remain perpetually poor
so thinking what is the right thing to do
i'm inclined to support the first faction though if the true conservation was possible i would want to be cautious too


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:11 AM
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Further on 43: There's probably a divide between managerial (for want of a better term) conservatives and cultural conservatives. The former fears that laissez-faire will get short shrift under any climate change management regime; the latter just hates anyone who doesn't want to Pave the Earth.

I think Emerson has talked about a cultural shift among managerial conservatives, who were once upon a time conservative and practical-minded in equal proportion, but have become more and more conservative over the past couple decades, to the point where you see them making dumb business moves because they feel good politically (a lot of labor relations fall into this category). I don't know if it's true, but it makes some superficial sense to me.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:11 AM
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we'll get rich and mighty and use all the best western technologies, not outdated russian or chinese

To be fair, most of our technologies come from China these days.

we don't need your fucking dirty money, get out all from our country

Mouseover text?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:13 AM
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55 wins.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:13 AM
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55: Boy, sounds like we need to liberate Mongolia.

When XII COrps of the First Unfogged Brigade steps ashore, Bob will declare, "read, we are here."


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:16 AM
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I think Emerson has talked about a cultural shift among managerial conservatives, who were once upon a time conservative and practical-minded in equal proportion, but have become more and more conservative over the past couple decades, to the point where you see them making dumb business moves because they feel good politically (a lot of labor relations fall into this category). I don't know if it's true, but it makes some superficial sense to me.

I don't remember Emerson's comments on this subject, but it sounds like he's discounting the extent to which those managerial conservatives have become and will continue to become neoliberals.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:20 AM
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Mongolia sounds a lot like Alaska. Except with oil, so the people benefitting from the extraction are not "China" but "Big Oil".


Posted by: Fatrman | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:20 AM
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I don't remember saying that, but I might have been drunk.

I do remember speculating that when management started taking drugs during the seventies ("The Greening of America" --> disco --> cocaine) they started inventing avant-garde financial instruments to use to fleece the taxpayers, their debtors, their employees and retirees, and the putative owners of the firms they managed. And also, cocaine gave us Dow 36,000 or whatever the number was, and all the other straightline and exponential grafts going to infinity.

And the singularity rapture, I forgot that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:25 AM
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The lost productivity due to big piles of dead brown people will be more than compensated for by the remarkable profits from Mortgage Backed Securities.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:31 AM
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big piles of dead brown people

Composting, people!


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:32 AM
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It's composting people!


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:36 AM
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Speaking of mouseover text, would someone tell me the rest of this ? It's making my brain itch.

An eclectic web magazine whose iconoclasm became so chic that it is now almo...


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:36 AM
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The fallacy at work here is that the political obstacles to re-dividing the pie will become smaller as the pie grows, but history gives little grounds for optimism on that score.

I don't think that's true. It seems to me that people care much more about charity, the environment, etc., as they become materially secure.

Future generations of Bangladeshis are really quite unlikely to, and they are more likely to bear the costs.

I think this is precisely the right issue to be raising in the context of global warming. 100 years from now, the first world, thanks to economic and technological advancement, is going to be capable of performing and affording some fairly phenomenal things. What we've shown real lack of ability to do is translate wealth and technological progress into "aid to poor countries" in any reliable way.

There's debate on this, obviously, and maybe Sachs is right that there's a tipping point we just never reach. That said, I have basically enormous confidence that France, in 2108, will have a lot of good ways of dealing with a higher incidence of big storms hitting Marseille. It's much less clear that the first world will have the political will or organizational savvy to have the same effect on poor countries.

On LB's basic point: yes the claim isn't that we'll have more money in 100 years. It's that we'll have the ability to produce more results we care about more easily. This assumes that growth in real productivity will continue unabated despite increased prices of fossil fuels. If you don't think that's going to happen, then all techno-optimist bets are off!


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:37 AM
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...st passé.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:38 AM
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Aaaah, thanks!


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:38 AM
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Come visit the most placid and undiscovered Virgin Island.


Posted by: St Passé | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:45 AM
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I have basically enormous confidence that France, in 2108, will have a lot of good ways of dealing with a higher incidence of big storms hitting Marseille.

Gray goo, on the other hand, not so much.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:47 AM
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71:mais, gout gris? Pourqoui pas?


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:54 AM
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The whole climate discussion just shows what a bankrupt philosophy modern American "conservatism" has become. Conservatism, at least in theory, used to be about prudent preparation for the future.

Now, conservatism can be broadly defined as science denial, the transfer of power to the powerful, and the use of violence as an end in itself. Is there any other foundational conservative belief in play nowadays?


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:55 AM
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Conservatism, at least in theory, used to be about prudent preparation for the future.

Despite the nomenclature sort-of suggesting this, I don't think it's actually true.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:58 AM
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Conservatism, at least in theory, used to be about prudent preparation for the future.

Theory has never been practice.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 9:59 AM
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Now, conservatism can be broadly defined as science denial, the transfer of power to the powerful, and the use of violence as an end in itself. Is there any other foundational conservative belief in play nowadays?

There's also the quest to preserve "traditional" gender roles, and the tradition of Christian belief, which manifests as A) a quest to preserve "traditional" gender roles, and B) a quest to preserve a Jewish-led state in Palestine in order to hasten the Apocalypse.


Posted by: Fatrman | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:00 AM
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There's also the quest to preserve "traditional" gender roles

There's also a huge push not to meddle with God's Natural Punishments. They don't want people to stop committing sins, it's really that they don't want God's Consequential Punishment thwarted.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:04 AM
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and the tradition of Christian belief, which manifests

I don't think the current US `Christian right', i.e. US style evangelicals, really has that much in common with the long-standing tradition of Christian belief.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:05 AM
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78 should have been: tradition(s)


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:05 AM
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Science denial is new to the game -- you can hardly saddle the right with William Jennings Bryan -- but the power and the violence bits are not new.

As for the preservation of traditional gender roles, it's only very recently that either party wavered on its importance. I'm familiar with the world as old as my grandparents, anyway; what was the partisan breakdown of the suffrage movement?


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:08 AM
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What we've shown real lack of ability to do is translate wealth and technological progress into "aid to poor countries" in any reliable way.

Well, it would certainly be helpful not to drown the poor blighters.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:10 AM
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100 years from now, the first world, thanks to economic and technological advancement, is going to be capable of performing and affording some fairly phenomenal things.

Not in a world of runaway global warming it won't. And that world will be coming a lot sooner than a hundred years. Even by the very conservative estimate of the IPCC, our window for stopping a +2°C increase ends at around 2050, and then we're pretty fucked.

I have basically enormous confidence that France, in 2108, will have a lot of good ways of dealing with a higher incidence of big storms hitting Marseille

Like what? France isn't just going to be dealing with "a higher incidence of big storms" in a runaway global warming scenario; under the best and most improbably optimistic of circumstances, it'll be facing massive food shortages and huge waves of disease, along with a lack of energy and material for building whatever magic storm-repelling technology you seem to have in mind.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:12 AM
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really has that much in common with the long-standing tradition of Christian belief.

I dunno, this made me feel like Christianity has been the same for a long time.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:13 AM
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There's also the quest to preserve "traditional" gender roles, and the tradition of Christian belief, which manifests as A) a quest to preserve "traditional" gender roles, and B) a quest to preserve a Jewish-led state in Palestine in order to hasten the Apocalypse.

But if Christianity conflicts with the foundational principles I mentioned, Christianity is tossed or reinterpreted. When's the last time you heard a conservative quote "do unto others" or "easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye" as a guide to public policy.

And I think I can shoehorn "traditional" gender roles into the transfer of power to the powerful. Same goes (at least I'm arguing) for the racism that appears, on the surface, to be a foundational belief of American conservatism.

As for Israel, when the desire for violence conflicts with the well-being of Israel, the desire for violence wins out among American conservatives. Simple as that.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:17 AM
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The link in 83 is very stereotype-affirming. Sex with the woman on top 50% more sinful than buggering a child? Check! Buggering a cleric is the worst, but there's no listing for being buggered by one.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:19 AM
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As for Israel, when the desire for violence conflicts with the well-being of Israel

I'm not sure that this ever happens from the standpoint of American conservatives. Violence helps Israel by definition, is I think their take on it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:19 AM
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I don't think the current US `Christian right', i.e. US style evangelicals, really has that much in common with the long-standing tradition of Christian belief.

I haven't seen a lot written about that, probably because most intellectuals and liberals are irreligious and anti-theological. But large areas of American conservative Christianity are doctrinally very strange and marginal compared to most historical Christianity. Literalist readings are atypical, but there are also Armageddonists who read everything as though it were a weird code like the Book of Revelation -- why they count as fundamentalist I don't know. And there are the "Primitive Christians" who junk the whole tradition and make shit up, and the prosperity gospel, and the people who claim to speak directly with God and who speak in tongues.

The reason they'r eimportant is that they're intense and they vote. They don't actually speak for Christianity.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:19 AM
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From a academic, doctrinal sense, it's useful to cast aspersions on whether "they speak for Christianity", and if you're Jim Wallis or one of seventeen people that listen to him, it's politically useful. But other than that, what's the point of saying "they don't speak for Christianity"? You go to war with the Christians you've got, and we've got some prety weird Christians.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:22 AM
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87: there was that long Harper's article about Haggard's church a few years back, and how deeply loony the theology there really was. If they hadn't written (sorry, "recieved") their own holy text Mormons could easily pass as just another branch of weirdo American protestantism.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:22 AM
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It seems to me that people care much more about charity, the environment, etc., as they become materially secure.

It seems logical, and the economists take it as a given ("environmental protection is a luxury good"), but the empirical evidence that higher growth leads to higher spending on environmental protection and charity is thinner than you might imagine.

Consider:
The U.S. adopted its most significant environmental legislation not in periods of strong economic growth, but in periods of economic distress or uncertainty (e.g. National Park Service 1916, Air Quality Act 1967, Clean Air Act Extension 1970, EPA 1970, Clean Air Act Amendments in 1977 and 1990, Federal Water Pollution Contrl Amendments 1972, Clean Water Act 1977). Also, other nations with lower per capita GDP have adopted more stringent environmental standards than the U.S.

Incidentally, charitable giving as a percent of income does not correlate well with income, whether you are comparing income brackets at a point in time, geographies (poor counties have disproportionately high rates of charitable giving), or a time series.

From a political perspective, the best course of action is to lock people into future spending on the environment now, with the costs hidden (e.g. regulation rather than direct taxation) and any obvious sacrifice to kick in later.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:24 AM
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87/89: Exactly the sort of thing I had in mind. I don't know what sort of practical difference it makes in most things, but I do suspect that trying to draw inferences from any longstanding Christian tradition (which have their own weirdness, mind) be it Catlholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, or whatever, and apply it to US evangelicals today is really unlikely to prove insightful.

As 88 notes, playing with labels isn't useful. But it is useful to realize this is a group very much separate, afaics, from many other groups using the same label.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:30 AM
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88: No, the majority of Christians in the US are not like that. But they're not as loud, and the media believe that the fanatics are "more Christian" because they're louder.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:36 AM
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Theory has never been practice.

I wonder about this, stras. At least at one time, there was a strong conservate tradition that was relatively indifferent to violence, for instance, favoring it primarily as a means to an end and not as a good in itself. Sifu is right when he attributes this sentiment to the modern right: "Violence helps Israel by definition."

Science denial is new to the game -- you can hardly saddle the right with William Jennings Bryan

That's right. I'm contrasting modern and American conservatism with other kinds. WJ Brian was no conservative, but his science denial has become a foundational belief of modern American conservatives.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:38 AM
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The U.S. adopted its most significant environmental legislation not in periods of strong economic growth, but in periods of economic distress or uncertainty

Well then, we should be well-placed to pass some great new significant environmental legislation for the next while.

I can't tell if I'm joking.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:38 AM
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Sifu is right when he attributes this sentiment to the modern right: "Violence helps Israel by definition."

My reading of modern conservatism is that violence is its own reward, not just in Israel, but everywhere including here. The catch, of course, is that they never expect to be on the receiving end of any of that violence.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:40 AM
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re: 95

There's an element of that narrative even among the 'liberal interventionist' centre. Hence all the worrying about this generation not having been 'tried by violence' in the way that the 'Greatest' generation were.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:41 AM
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What I think is sadly true is that the "social Christians" who tend to be moderate to liberal are older and dying out, whereas the younger Christians tend to be family-values fanatics. I saw that in my Mom's church.

A lot of the prosperity-gospel churches are incredibly crass meeting places for prosperous, selfish, anti-intellectual, ethnocentric people. Good place to score chicks because they're indulgent about heterosexuals.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:41 AM
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95: What we need here is a little of the old ultra-violence.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:43 AM
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Science denial is new to the game -- you can hardly saddle the right with William Jennings Bryan

That's right. I'm contrasting modern and American conservatism with other kinds. WJ Brian was no conservative, but his science denial has become a foundational belief of modern American conservatives.

I think at LGM about a year or so ago that there were several links to articles contexualizing Bryan, and how much of his opposition was to Social Darwinism, and how difficult it was in the context of the time to separate the two.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:44 AM
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Conservatism used to be about the preservation of class privilege. In the wake of the genuine moves toward leveling that occurred in industrialized economies after WWI, conservatism became all about the restoration of class privilege, although this time it's the nouveaux riches who get the privilege. Now that the upper classes are more fabulously wealthy than at any point in human history, they just keep accumulating wealth, consequences for the broader society be damned. The point is no longer to conserve anything.

Right-wing Christians really are just dupes in this process, but that makes it no less disconcerting when they are hell-bent on denying climate science in favor of a laissez-faire mythology promising a Humvee in every suburban garage.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:45 AM
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the 'Greatest' generation

It will distress me if that construction has crossed the Atlantic.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:46 AM
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American black nationalism actually studied Zionism, but as I've been saying, I think that American neocons and Zionists like Podhoretz also studied Franz Fanon. The liberating power of violence, etc. (There was also Jabotinski, of course, but I bet more of them read Fanon.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:48 AM
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re: 101

I'm using it with a heavy dose of sarcasm.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:48 AM
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Some of the doomsayers on this thread are so full of shit it beggars belief.

Some gems include:

"It's destroying us in terms of climate, in terms of air and water pollution, in terms of soil degradation, in terms of water depletion, in terms of habitat destruction and biodiversity."

Because, yah know, the environment in the developed countries is sooo much worse that it was 40 years ago.

"Future generations of Bangladeshis are really quite unlikely to, and they are more likely to bear the costs."

Really... That's odd - the IMF seems to say that their economy is growing pretty well, even with the flooding. Seems the GDP per capita doubled over the last 20 years.

Also, why are we so much better able to bear the costs of global warming? Is it because we're richer? Hmmm? So then maybe if the Bangladeshis get richer they'll be able bear the costs better...

I could go on. Every crappy anti-consumption screed from the last 20 years appears to be crawling back into the light of day.


Posted by: Adam | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:50 AM
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People here really should take a look at the book that Tripp's been talking about. It doesn't explain the whole phenomenon, but it has a lot of interesting and chilling insights, backed by good research, into the minds of authoritarian followers and leaders.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:50 AM
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IMF seems to say that their economy is growing pretty well, even with the flooding. Seems the GDP per capita doubled over the last 20 years

That's a fairly meaningless statistic without knowing how that increased GDP is distributed.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:52 AM
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Seems the GDP per capita doubled over the last 20 years.

From a nickel to a dime?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:52 AM
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Adam, do the concepts of "present", "past", and "future" mean anything to you?

You've packed quite a lot of stupidity of your own in your sarcastic little snippet.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:53 AM
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104: In short, nope@nope.com, please do not go on. We can all get your kind of crap elsewhere. Don't call us, we'll call you.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 10:56 AM
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Well-trolled, Adam. Even the pros here at Unfogged can always learn a thing or two.

85 - Soldiers o Christ. A lot of American evangelism is so deeply weird -- ahistorical, extra-Biblical -- that I just want to call it something like "Jesus voodoo" and be done with it. People are welcome to practice their Jesus voodoo! The first amendment promises Jesus voodooticians all the rights and privileges of every Catholic, Jew, atheist, and Hindu, even if their Jesus voodoo doesn't make any sense! The days in which people would attempt to painstakingly document theological weirdnesses on the part of evangelical movements are long-vanished, I guess, and nobody seems to want to point out that the central tenet of Buddhism Christianity is not every man for himself.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 11:02 AM
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How exactly are modern American Christians different from "historical Christianity"? I'm asking at least half seriously. The phrase "prosperity gospel" may be new, but the idea that the Bible promotes or excuses temporal power or wealth is at least as old as the divine right of kings, and seems to be at least somewhat related to the idea of the wheel of fortune, a pretty big part of medieval doctrine.

There's a long history of eschatology of one kind or another, even if the specific story of the Rapture is relatively new. Eschatology seems like it's no longer on the fringes but is closer and closer to being widely believed, but I'm not sure how big a difference that is. How much folk belief was out there 500 years ago that wasn't part of official doctrine? American Christianity is a lot more liberal and cosmopolitan than Christianity was for most of its history, but (a) I'd call that a good thing, and (b) everything everywhere is also more liberal and cosmopolitan than it was 200 or 1200 years ago.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 11:33 AM
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I should be noted that the second colony the English managed to establish here was a refuge for some pretty damn freakish Christians.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 11:40 AM
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Some churches expel parishioners who get seriously physically sick, for example.

Present winger Christianity isn't the most bizarre ever, though some of it (the Rev. Moon) competes in that respect, but its claim to speak for all of Christianity is wildly wrong. Many churches rely on forced readings of the Bible that are almost universally rejected. A certain narrow kind of religious extremism has come to be taken as characteristic. Part of this is possible, I think, because media people are so irreligious that it all looks the same to them.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 11:42 AM
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Dispensationalism


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 11:44 AM
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111: It's not that Wacky Modern Christians are the Weirdest Evar. The issue is threefold:

1. The fringier beliefs are more central to the self-conception of WMCs than has been common (for large groups) in the past. IOW, there are tens of millions of Americans whose religion is, essentially, Rapture Worship. At least since widespread literacy came in, this is new.

2. As John has noted, WMCs get public platforms out of proportion to their numbers. Mainline Protestants still outnumber WMCs, but a nice minister talking about the Beatitudes is brought on the TV, if at all, as an object of novelty.

3. Even for a country with a long history of Great Awakenings, the current WMC project is pretty anti-Enlightenment (to a great extent consciously so). Insofar as Christianity is anti-Enlightenment, it's anti-American (which is why some small %age of anti-Catholic sentiment in the mid-19thC wasn't all wrong; official church doctrine was pretty explicitly anti-democracy. It's just that that had no impact on how American Catholic immigrants ended up being).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 12:08 PM
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Jevon's paradox says that if we have an economy based on the use of energy to produce goods then if we use energy more efficiently we will simply allow the economy to grow and consume energy even faster.

As I've said repeatedly we are transitioning from a growth economy to a scarcity economy. Old ideas don't apply here.

In a scarcity economy the power of compound interest is only available for the rich and the upper middle class. As more and more of us transition down to being poor more and more people lose that power.

Will the rich use their power for the good of the poor?

Well, they are not using their power now for the good of the poor or the middle class. Why will they start later? The ultra-rich have hidden themselves.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 12:09 PM
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115:

I think the proper term for what you call WMCs is Authoritarian Follower. What is rather unique in the past 35 years or so is the Authoritarians have been led into seeking political power and trying to run things.

They used to pretty much keep to themselves but during Carter's term the Republican Party began actively courting their support and using them to get elected.

Because Authoritarian followers are so gullible they've been repeatedly used since then while getting very little of their own agenda advanced.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 12:13 PM
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I like new blood.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 12:13 PM
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115 makes a lot of sense.

I would add a couple of points.

4. The natural consequence of our free marketplace in religious belief is that innovations will spring forth in response to "market demand", and the most competitively advantaged of these will attract growing numbers of adherents. Chances are, at least some of these innovations will be subjectively weird.

5. The sociological role of religion in a materially prosperous, spiritually disenchanted society creates a markedly different market environment for religious innovation than in the past. IOW, it's probably more likely than ever that the successful innovations will be weird in some sense, either because they require substantial personal commitment, rigid adherence to a particular interpretation of scripture, and/or identification with a self-consciously "other" community.

The bottom line is that contemporary American Christianity has diverged even further from its evolutionary relatives in Europe. Not that there is anything normatively wrong with diverging from European practice--Christianity has always been avidly adaptive and syncretic even as it formally condemns adaptation and syncretism--but it sure is weird.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 12:40 PM
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Not that there is anything normatively wrong with diverging

This is what I was trying to say earlier. Not a judging one to be better than the other, just saying these are not the same things.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 12:42 PM
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Because, yah know, the environment in the developed countries is sooo much worse that it was 40 years ago

First off, way to move those goalposts with the arbitrary standards of "forty years ago" and "the developed world," when the course of major human intervention within the environment and the climate in particular goes back much farther. And yes, even if we take the developed world at forty years ago, it was better then in terms of biodiversity, water scarcity, soil degradation, climate, air and water pollution, etc. than the developed world today.

Species are disappearing right now, today, at a rate that the world hasn't seen since the end of the Mesozoic period. We're running out of potable water, and we're already seeing wars fought over water scarcity in places like Israel/Palestine and Sudan. And the developed world isn't doing so great on that front either. Polar ice and permafrost are melting faster than previously predicted, and those are both positive feedback mechanisms. I'm not sure what amount of evidence it would take to convince people like you that we're in a world of shit, but then I suspect that people like you simply don't pay attention to evidence anyway.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 12:49 PM
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John Emerson,

What I think is sadly true is that the "social Christians" who tend to be moderate to liberal are older and dying out, whereas the younger Christians tend to be family-values fanatics. I saw that in my Mom's church.

I think more precisely you are seeing that Authoritarian follower churches (the dogmatic closed-off Christians) have trouble retaining older members, even their children as the children age. After awhile the hypocrisy and cognitive dissonances become too much to sustain and the member leaves. The churches actively recruit young adults and gain new members that way.

One would normally expect old people to be the most dogmatic but actually it seems to be the younger members who most, as they say, drink the koolaid.

I've seen this in my experience with some of the children of moderate Methodists. They will join an extreme church, sometimes nearly a cult. I think it appeals to the idealism of youth.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 12:52 PM
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even if we take the developed world at forty years ago, it was better then in terms of biodiversity, water scarcity, soil degradation, climate, air and water pollution, etc. than the developed world today.

I don't know enough to evaluate the other claims, but there is no way that the developed world on the whole is worse off w/r/t pollution of inland waterways today than it was in 1968. That's just laughable. At most, that statement might be true of individual contaminants (mercury, perhaps?).

I have a suspicion that the air pollution (ignoring CO2, of course) is also much improved since 1968, but it probably depends how you define "improved" (e.g. pollution levels experienced by the median inhabitant, or pollution levels at the median place).


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:00 PM
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And yes, even if we take the developed world at forty years ago, it was better then in terms of [...] soil degradation, climate, air and water pollution, etc. than the developed world today.

I'm probably just quibbling here, but: Dust Bowl? Lake Erie? Smoky City?

I do think there's truth to the critique of environmentalism that suggests that environmentalists should crow about successes as a way of sustaining them, rather than pretending they never happened.

Pittsburgh now has the dirtiest air of any city in the country (we weren't in the top ten for decades, even before the mills went down); but it's plainly cleaner and healthier than it was for 80 years before the Air Control District was put in place ca. 1950. Pointing out that we (they) cleaned the skies above the Smoky City doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't clean them again now.

Anyway, I do fundamentally agree with stras' positions re: climate change and the overall environment.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:06 PM
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122 is interesting.

and 123 semi-pwns 124.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:07 PM
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Dust Bowl?

How did the Dust Bowl happen in 1968?


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:09 PM
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126: acid, rock 'n roll, the war. I dunno, it was just a different time.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:10 PM
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126: I was taking for granted that, if things have gotten worse since 1968, then they've also gotten worse since 1933. 1968 isn't generally considered an environmental peak by any standard.

The Dust Bowl was predominantly caused by stupid farming practices, exacerbated by drought. Topsoil erosion rates (in developed countries, anyway) slowed post-1940, not accelerated.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:15 PM
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I shouldn't have bothered responding to the troll, and I shouldn't have engaged him on his fairly arbitrary terms (forty years ago in the developed world). That said, in terms of climate, water scarcity, biodiversity, and soil degradation, the developed world has gotten worse over the last forty years, and air and water pollution gains have been overstated in a lot of ways, particularly when it comes to how different levels of pollution end up affecting different communities (i.e., poor and minority communities are often living with pollution levels that are decades behind the levels rich, white communities are living with).

And in terms of everything else, the world as a whole is worse, because you can't just write off the rest of the world while it's "developing." Which is why I shouldn't have responded to the troll in the first place.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:16 PM
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A lot of environmentalism has been converted to nimbyism on issues that directly and immediately affect individual quality of life.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:21 PM
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Topsoil erosion rates (in developed countries, anyway) slowed post-1940, not accelerated.

Not uniformly for all time. The last several decades have seen the rise of massive corporate agribusiness that wastes water and soil on an epic scale, combined with incredibly lax environmental regulation of agriculture in general. We're in for another dust bowl; all we need is the drought, and that's coming as the water runs out.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:22 PM
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strasmangelo jones,

I agree. What was first called third world "development" and is now called globalization has caused ecological problems as well as societal problems as people doing subsistence farming are pushed off their land and the land used for factory farms. The people then try to migrate to the jobs in the cities or in the first world countries and this creates other problems.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:35 PM
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123, 124: Yes, one of the things that I think environmentalists today can use against do-nothingism is a narrative incorporating some of the specific successes from the 60s. (And yes some things have improved, sometimes just locally and more than offset by more fundamental ongoing problems.) The storyline being: What would you expect the world to look like today if the actions aimed at smog in LA, water in Lake Erie, rivers everywhere etc. had not been undertaken? And how much wealthier and better equipped to deal with the problems do you actually we would be if they could have had their laissez-faire way in the intervening 40 years? (And of course as I think Cala pointed out upthread, you always have the infinite regress of "Just wait a little longer until we really know how to fix things.")


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 1:42 PM
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130:

A lot of environmentalism has been converted to nimbyism on issues that directly and immediately affect individual quality of life.

Holy oleo, once again Emerson does me before I do. Is that why I left? I don't think so.

Expanding on my (your) point - here at GlobalCorp we recycle used electronics to get the gold. This is done well at some local shops.

Our county looked into recycling electronic scrap and hooked up with some green outfit that would take the scrap for a small fee.

The problem was that after investigation the green company was the opposite of green. They piled electronic waste into shipping containers and put them on a slow boat to Africa. Once there the waste ended up being picked over by kids to pull out the wires. The wire insulation was burned off with kerosene and the copper reused. The burning plastic causes toxic fumes and pollution.

This is the nimbyism of globalization. We push people off their land and give them dirty, polluting, and hazardous jobs.

As long as it is "not in my back yard" we ignore it.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 2:40 PM
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If Tripp always stands between me and Stras, we can form an effective team.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 2:47 PM
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We push people off their land and give them dirty, polluting, and hazardous jobs.

But then we buy their mass produced trinkets!

They should be grateful!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-20-08 2:49 PM
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Emerson's point in 130 is also what we're seeing now on a a larger scale with combatting global warming, where the decision of the EU to push biofuels directly push up food prices in Africa or Asia.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 2:13 AM
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This is the nimbyism of globalization. We push people off their land and give them dirty, polluting, and hazardous jobs.

Feh. Dirty, polluting, and hazardous are all relative terms. Massive rural population growth means that not everyone can be a subsistence farmer; if you shut down the shipbreakers in Alang you're left with a bunch of people who have to go back to picking valuable bits of trash out of landfills and are no better off than they were before.

Some nimbyism is pointless, like California shutting down coal-fired power plants so they can buy electricity generated from coal in Nevada. Other nimbyism makes at least some degree of sense.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 3:08 AM
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Dirty, polluting, and hazardous job


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 6:08 AM
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How is it you kids say . . . "pwned"? You have to be quick to get a first mention in here.

Except, water moccasin, that's kind of like saying that if you free all the slaves, you're left with a bunch of people who can barely subsistence-farm and are no better off than they were before. Of course ships are going to be broken down, and of course poor people want jobs. But there can be a better way than treating human life as disposable. Or the earth.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 6:14 AM
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138

"Some nimbyism is pointless, like California shutting down coal-fired power plants so they can buy electricity generated from coal in Nevada. Other nimbyism makes at least some degree of sense."

What's pointless about putting polluting plants in relatively unpopulated areas?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:02 AM
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Socrates, sometimes you ask dumb questions. If aggregate pollution is a problem, spreading it around isn't a solution. You solve the immediate subjective perception problem, but not the bigger problem.

I'll grant that the health effects of pollution are reduced by spreading it around.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 9:14 AM
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@strasmangelo jones

Actually, you jackasss, the point I was making is that the quality of the environment in the developed world has improved substantially over the past 40 years (air quality, water quality, acid rain, energy use per unit gdp, crop yields, etc.). You were claiming that everything just keeps on getting worse... So you're wrong. Deal.


WRT developing countries -- there is a hell of a lot of literature out there on the relationship between development and environmental protection. I guess you can't be bothered to read it. Here's a quick summary: extremely poor countries and relatively wealth countries have lower environmental impacts, while middle income, developing countries have relatively high environmental impacts. Now, for the sake of the environment you may want the developing countries to return to their malthusian past, but that torpedoes any claim to benevolence on your part.

So when I cited developing countries, I'm talking about what the environmental end state of development looks like. This thread was about whether immediate growth should be pursued at the expense of long term environmental impacts. The historical examples show that environmental mitigation is one of the ways to which the increased wealth generated by development is spent and that the consequences are net positive.


Posted by: Adam | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 10:04 AM
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water mocassin,

Feh. Dirty, polluting, and hazardous are all relative terms. Massive rural population growth means that not everyone can be a subsistence farmer;

"Development" and now "Globalization" have caused the massive population growth you talk about!

Left as subsistence (but sustainable) farmers the rural population would NOT increase. We tell subsistence farmers the world needs their land for increased food production, shove them aside, and let their kids burn our toxic waste. All for the "greater good," of course, while we ourselves sacrifice nothing.

Worse yet globalization has enabled the massive population increases but not in a sustainable manner.

Morally is it right to sacrifice some people so we may have more cheap crap from WalMart?

Morally is it good to enable people to be born knowing they will die before their time?

Essentially globalization has given people false hope. It has also allowed the US to grab more than our share of the world's resources at the expense of people and places far away and out of sight, but few people care about that.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 10:24 AM
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Adam,

but that torpedoes any claim to benevolence on your part.

Is it benevolent to give people the false hope that they can continue to increase their population when we know that shortages are already happening? It is benevolent to take away people's livelihoods and forbid them from coming where the jobs are?


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 05-21-08 10:29 AM
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In a global economy the impact of one country's consumption / waste is often felt in a different country, so the comparison of rich and poor nations is misleading.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-22-08 8:14 AM
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