Can Cap­i­tal­ism Save the Planet?

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I took part in this debate hosted by Intel­li­gence Squared Aus­tralia (an ini­tia­tive of the St James Ethics Cen­tre) last month. I was on the oppo­si­tion side, along with Paul Gild­ing and Kate Jen­nings; the gov­ern­ment posi­tion was put by Lucy Turn­bull, Ross Git­tins and Geof­frey Cousins. Details on all the speak­ers are avail­able here, as is a video of the entire debate from begin­ning to end. In this post I’m repro­duc­ing this video in bite-sized chunks–9 min­utes for each of the speak­ers (plus a 2 minute sum­ming-up period), plus the audi­ence dis­cus­sion that included a cou­ple of Debt­watch stal­warts.

I’ll open with my two con­tri­bu­tions, and then repro­duce the entire debate in chrono­log­i­cal order below that.

Steve Keen speech

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Steve Keen sum­ming up

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Intro­duc­tion by the Chair, Dr Simon Longstaff, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of St James Ethics Cen­tre

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Lucy Turn­bull speech

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Paul Gild­ing speech

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Ross Git­tins speech

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Steve Keen speech

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Geof­frey Cousins speech

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Kate Jen­nings speech

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Lucy Turn­bull sum­ming up

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Paul Gild­ing sum­ming up

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Ross Git­tins sum­ming up

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Steve Keen sum­ming up

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Geof­frey Cousins sum­ming up

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Kate Jen­nings sum­ming up

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Ques­tions

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

Ques­tions con­tin­ued

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast 

| Open Player in New Win­dow

About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.
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  • sir­ius

    34 Mar­garet

    I don’t like to see the anthro­pogenic global warm­ing (AGW)hypothesis used as a proxy for resource scarcity argu­ments. They should each stand or fall accord­ing to their own evi­dence”

    If I can twist what you said a lit­tle bit?
    Shoot­ing at tar­get “A” (as adver­tised and spon­sored by gov­ern­ment) in the hope that the side-effect of shoot­ing at “A” will impact upon the real tar­gets “B”,“C” and “D” is not the way that I want things to be done.

  • sir­ius

    It appears to me that peo­ple often latch onto the “yes or no” ideas like “CO2 is bad”, “debt is bad”, “salt is bad”, “fat is bad”.

    This has frus­trated me enor­mously as I try to explain (to the few that will even begin to lis­ten) that it is about quan­tity and bal­ance.

    Salt is bad for you”.

    I say salt is essen­tial for life, but ingest too much of it, say 500 grammes in one sit­ting, and well, the out­come could be very bad for you.

    I can crunch num­bers and make sense of some­thing. ALL processed can be viewed in terms of energy input and out­puts, includ­ing farm­ing. (I don’t per­son­ally think of things in such a “cold light”, I don’t go around think­ing — hey plant you are only 15% per-cent effi­cient — nonethe­less the prior state­ment is valid)But dogma, dogma is good for what ?

    I fyou looked back into the past and realised how com­fort­able one could be with fewer things, less food and shorter dis­tances to work you and appre­cait­ing what you have really got you would be likely to find that life is actu­ally bet­ter.

    I would say at this point that most peo­ple “in the main­stream” could be herded down this route and find it is not so bad a thing. Most peo­ple are happy to have a roof over the head, some food, some “toys” and some “soap” on the TV (oh foot­ball as well).

    This is true is it not ?

    I am not seek­ing to divide peo­ple on these issues. I am just say­ing use a bit of com­mon sense and think for your­self. I have no inter­est in “opin­ion”. I can like red and you can like green. No point debat­ing that (as some are want to do).

  • sir­ius

    Sorry for all my typos. I hope that you can “inter­po­late”.

  • Vfe

    Whilst cap­i­tal­ism may or may not save the planet it appears our Reserve Bank work­force def­i­nitely had an eye out for its own bacon over the last two years. See Karen Maley’s lat­est piece on BS http://www.businessspectator.com.au/bs.nsf/Article/housing-bubble-Goldman-Sachs-property-debt-pd20100920-9FRMZ?OpenDocument&src=sph

    Of par­tic­u­lar note is this excerpt;
    So who are the peo­ple most likely to snap up invest­ment prop­er­ties?

    Inter­est­ingly, it appears that Reserve Bank offi­cials are the keen­est investors in rental prop­er­ties. “We are not sure whether to be relieved or con­cerned that of the five cen­tral bankers who were brave enough to note their occu­pa­tion on their tax form, all five had an invest­ment prop­erty!”, the report says. “Of the 200 occu­pa­tions clas­si­fied by the Aus­tralian Tax Office, the employ­ees at the Reserve Bank topped the list with respect to their invest­ment prop­erty expo­sure.” ’

    With that sort of invest­ment fer­vour is it any won­der we’ve seen a loos­en­ing bias on mon­e­tary pol­icy over the last two years. Maybe we are dif­fer­ent after all — how many coun­tries offer an invest­ment class with tax dri­ven incen­tives that are patro­n­ised so heav­ily by its cen­tral bankers?

  • bil­lk­err

    #48 sir­ius, # 39 steve

    John McCarthy’s bil­lion year nuclear esti­mate orig­i­nates from Bernard Cohen. It assumes fast breeder reac­tors and extrac­tion of ura­nium from sea water. For more details see How long will nuclear energy last?

    Sir­ius, you told me to do my own research and think for myself. I have. I sug­gest you do some research on the cre­den­tials of McCarthy and Cohen and you will find them highly cred­i­ble sources. 

    At any rate, if we take Steve’s fig­ure of 2,500 years with fast breeder reac­tors then clearly there is not a prob­lem with energy sup­ply. Hence, elec­tric cars and boron cars (the boron blocks will require reduc­tion after they are burnt, the energy can come from nuclear) are arguably viable trans­port alter­na­tives.

  • bil­lk­err

    # 32 steve

    I like the scifi long term opti­mistic twist in the dia­logue. It also puts the Lim­its of Growth argu­ment into a per­spec­tive that I sup­port. The real limit is the inabil­ity of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem to man­age tran­si­tions of var­i­ous sorts. As far as I am aware there is cur­rently no known limit on resources that presents an insur­mount­able obsta­cle to growth for a long time into the future.

    wrt expo­nen­tial growth what hap­pens is that if those lim­its occur nat­u­rally then growth stops because it has to. 

    When it is put as an argu­ment that we are about to run out of some­thing impor­tant or put stress on a sys­tem because we are grow­ing some­thing too fast then as a math­e­mat­i­cal abstrac­tion it will sooner or later be cor­rect but it is not par­tic­u­larly con­vinc­ing while the argu­ment remains at the level of gen­er­al­ity. So it can be argued that Malthus or Jevons were right but had bad tim­ing — but it can also be argued that the tim­ing is still bad and will be bad for many years to come and per­haps indef­i­nitely or at least until “the restau­rant at the end of the uni­verse” to men­tion some good scifi. As a gen­eral argu­ment it does not stand up. It needs detail. 

    When it comes to the specifics of energy sup­ply you seem to agree that it is pos­si­ble that there is not a real prob­lem for many years to come. Also, a future in which nuclear is our main sup­ply of energy (but I also argue for more R&D as a pri­or­ity) would also solve the prob­lems you pre­sented with ini­tially — peak oil, global warm­ing.

  • sir­ius

    54 Vfe

    our Reserve Bank work­force def­i­nitely had an eye out for its own bacon over the last two years.”

    Reminds me of some­body who “left town” because work had become very scarce.

    When I by chance next met him he said he had plenty of work (ren­o­va­tion work). He said his employer said “it was a great time to buy”.

    I asked him who is employer was?

    He replied “a banker”.

    Nuff said.

  • sir­ius

    55 bil­lk­err

    It is often the case that some­body looks at a prob­lem and comes up with a solu­tion that in fact causes an even big­ger prob­lem.

    That is why I like Bas­tiat (his ideas are not only con­fined to eco­nom­ics)…

    1.1

    In the eco­nomic sphere an act, a habit, an insti­tu­tion, a law pro­duces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is imme­di­ate; it appears simul­ta­ne­ously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only sub­se­quently; they are not seen; we are for­tu­nate if we fore­see them.
    1.2

    There is only one dif­fer­ence between a bad econ­o­mist and a good one: the bad econ­o­mist con­fines him­self to the vis­i­ble effect; the good econ­o­mist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be fore­seen.
    1.3

    Yet this dif­fer­ence is tremen­dous; for it almost always hap­pens that when the imme­di­ate con­se­quence is favor­able, the later con­se­quences are dis­as­trous, and vice versa. Whence it fol­lows that the bad econ­o­mist pur­sues a small present good that will be fol­lowed by a great evil to come, while the good econ­o­mist pur­sues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil. 

    http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basEss1.html

    Food for though? (Ein­stein)…

    Intel­lec­tu­als solve prob­lems; geniuses pre­vent them. 

    Any intel­li­gent fool can make things big­ger and more com­plex… It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the oppo­site direc­tion.

    Tech­no­log­i­cal progress is like an axe in the hands of a patho­log­i­cal crim­i­nal.

    It has become appallingly obvi­ous that our tech­nol­ogy has exceeded our human­ity

    from
    http://www.hitxp.com/quotes/einstein.htm

    In the last 30 years all I have seen is that one “solu­tion” just causes big­ger prob­lems.

    Nuclear ? We have had quite a few (unpub­li­cised) acci­dents here in the UK. Cher­nobyl. Toxic waste. I don’t buy this solu­tion per­son­ally since it is very short-sighted but I will admit that is my opin­ion based upon expe­ri­ence alone.

    There are far more effec­tive ways of deal­ing with the prob­lem but “men­tal block syn­drome” says they will be ignored.

  • sir­ius

    55 bilk­err

    Sir­ius, you told me to do my own research and think for myself. I have. I sug­gest you do some research on the cre­den­tials of McCarthy and Cohen and you will find them highly cred­i­ble sources.”

    That is not think­ing for your­self. You are still rely­ing on “cred­i­ble sources”.

  • cyrusp

    Wow — Pro­fes­sor Keen is a believer in peak oil and lim­its to growth. My respect for you just increased expo­nen­tially — you truly are an anti-econ­o­mist 🙂

    But just a minor cor­rec­tion — please don’t describe peak oil as “run­ning out of oil”. That’s a com­mon straw­man tac­tic that peak oil deniers use to attack the the­ory. By most mea­sures we still have hun­dreds of years of oil left in the ground.

    Peak Oil is best described as a “decline in oil pro­duc­tion”. So far the data sug­gests that we hit peak oil in 2005 at around 74 mil­lion bar­rels of oil per day (mbpd). From 2005 to 2008 we were on the 74mbpd plateau and then in late 2008 pro­duc­tion started declin­ing and is now around 71mbpd.

  • mar­venger1

    @cyrusp

    Peak cheap oil is good ter­mi­nol­ogy. Much of what is left is hard to get at and will con­sume more of our resources in extract­ing.

  • cyrusp

    mar­venger1 @ 61 “Peak cheap oil is good ter­mi­nol­ogy.”

    I’m not a fan of that ter­mi­nol­ogy. I’m in the near-term defla­tion camp along with Pro­fes­sor Keen — so I would expect to see oil become very cheap soon. 

    We could see $10 per bar­rel of oil if the demand destruc­tion is severe enough. Unem­ployed peo­ple do not com­mute.

    I think it is bet­ter and sim­pler to just con­cen­trate on the geol­ogy i.e. the flow-rates. Things become very com­pli­cated when you try to pre­dict prices because oil is so inte­gral to the way our economies work.

  • Florin Clapa

    Green tech such as solar power, energy stor­age sys­tems, and elec­tric trans­porta­tion should be able to solve the energy prob­lem and slow and even­tu­ally halt the rate of C02 emis­sions. Any­one can buy a solar power sys­tem right now, and these sys­tems should get cheaper and more effi­cient in the future. Energy stor­age sys­tems com­posed of bat­ter­ies or fuel cells to store solar energy for use dur­ing low solar energy con­di­tions and at night aren’t widely avail­able yet, but they shouldn’t be much of a prob­lem to develop and deploy. Plug-in hybrids and pure bat­tery elec­tric cars such as the Chevy Volt and Nis­san Leaf will start to be mass-pro­duced start­ing this year.

    http://www.pluginamerica.org/plug-in-vehicle-tracker.html
    http://green.autoblog.com/category/ev-plug-in/

    To reduce and even­tu­ally even get C02 emis­sions down to a pre-indus­trial level at the fastest pos­si­ble rate, cap­tur­ing and seques­ter­ing car­bon diox­ide from ambi­ent air seems to be the best way to accom­plish this goal (com­bined with the green tech men­tioned above).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_removal