[p2p-research] no oil crisis?
Paul D. Fernhout
pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Aug 15 18:59:27 CEST 2009
Michel Bauwens wrote:
> I work more closely now with some people involved in the state of the world
> forum, which is a stellar collection of minds if I ever saw one,
> I can tell you that literally 'nobody' believes that oil and food markets
> work the way you suppose they do,
> there is very very high level debate, as there is indeed panic about both
> the havoc that the seesaw in oil and food prices is doing to the system as a
> this 'market' is so dysfunction that it literally threatens the survival of
> the system itself, this is no wild leftist imaginings, but the thoughts of
> important members of the current establishment ...
> the pristine functions of the market you imagine are nothing else than myth
> and ideology,
Personally, I want to transcend the market, especially because I feel (based
on Alfie Kohn's work) that most competition is inherently destructive, and
that a means of production built mainly around competition is in that sense
a dumb idea. (Although, I can acknowledge a hybrid system of some
competition and lots of cooperation may have some merits.)
The reason those prices are going crazy is in part the unchecked
centralization of wealth. There are many trillions of dollars sloshing
around in global financial markets (no transaction tax) moving from
speculation to speculation and doing some of the damage you outline. It is
another systematic risk of markets, especially as the physical markets for
food and manufacturing are now being dwarfed by other markets for services
That's one reason why, as long as we have markets, maybe we need *enormous*
taxes? Seriously. Maybe we need to go back to the 94% marginal tax rates the
USA had after WWII, and also lots of property taxes, as long as we have a
market, with the money going mostly back to the people as a basic income. If
people don't want taxes, then we need to reduce the role the market plays in
human affairs. Note, this is completely opposite to the current dominant
sentiment in the USA, but since the USA is going off a cliff economically,
maybe that just shows the popular sentiment for low taxes promoting growth
or societal happiness is a fallacy? Markets can't function well if wealth is
too concentrated; I've seen others (economists) say that, and it is
essentially what you are saying here.
So, what we are seeing is a reflection of how easy it is to solve resource
problems because, essentially, they are so trivial that in one way, the
market doesn't care about them or take them seriously anymore. :-) For a
sign of how trivial these basic problem are, in the USA about 2% of the
workforce is involved with agriculture, and about 12% (and dropping fast)
with manufacturing (some imports happen too, granted). Anyway, clearly only
a fairly trivial amount of the workforce is involved with primary productivity.
And even there, much of what is produced (beef, snowmobiles) is of dubious
value. So, I'd guess we could support everyone in the USA with a good life
(mostly vegetarian) with maybe 3% of the workforce (plus maybe some more
(1%?) for core services like medicine, which could be more peer-ish given
So, all the rest of the economy is "fluff" in that sense, mostly about
guarding (like grocery store cashiers) or dealing with the negative
consequences of the Western diet. But, it is fluffy enough to hide the real
stuff. And that 94% of the economy we don't really need is the dog wagging
the tail is the really essential part of the economy. So, yes, I'll agree
that is a really dysfunctional situation. So, yes, I'll agree with those
others in that sense.
Now, that is obviously a "market failure". So, the government needs to step
in with enormous taxes and redistribute those trillions of dollars of wealth
to make the market function again. Printing money is another way to have
such a tax via inflation, though who exactly gets hurt there is a tricky
subject. Or, if that is impossible politically, then I agree that people
need to create non-market alternatives, like a gift economy, a shared
commons of ideas and other resources, or local subsistence production, or
Smart countries, like Singapore, see this, and even without much taxes,
ensure that core services like food production can continue to function for
national security reasons, which means interfering with the market somehow
(some interferences are worse than others, perhaps). Again, if so little of
the economy is really needed these days with all our modern technology to
supply food and other basics, it does not take much taxes to ensure the
infrastructure is in place to produce them under any circumstances.
It is only extreme free market fundamentalist places like the USA that are
at great risk of starvation and so on. It is both ironic, and
understandable, that a place like the USA so at the mercy of the free market
(grain supplies have been run down from years to days due to the Bush Admin
"Lowest Food Supplies in 50 or 100 Years: Global Food Crisis Emerging"
also spends the most on "national security". That is because rather than an
*intrinsic* security of a well functioning infrastructure, the USA is
relying on *extrinsic* security of soldiers to defend an indefensible
infrastructure for oil and food. So, we have "Brittle Power".
Unfortunately, if the USA implodes, it has so many nuclear weapons and
plagues and such that it could take the rest of the world with it. :-(
Or as I said here:
What am I up to with that PU education myself? Besides being a part-time
stay-at-home Dad, I'm busy these days in my "free" time (along with many in
the world, such as these people: http://www.reprap.org/ :-) attempting to
help take down the intellectual scaffolding of global capitalism one myth at
a time in a controlled safe manner where no one gets hurt, same as these
people do when demolishing physical structures past their usefulness:
"And behind each successful project stands the CDI team - a talented
group of professionals with decades of experience dedicated to absolute
perfection on each new project."
See, there are people whose whole careers are devoted to the safe
demolition of historic structures. And this essay is not intended in any way
to defend anyone who intentionally destroys structures in a way intended to
hurt people. ...
At some point, after you are done building a new building (or a new
post-scarcity society) the scaffolding comes down. :-) But unlike the easier
time CDI has with demolishing vacant structures, it's much harder if people
(including PU alumni) still mistake that competitive capitalist scaffolding
for the post-scarcity building full of abundance the scaffolding surrounds
(and likely always did. :-) And I'm definitely hoping for that intellectual
scaffolding's removal in a controlled way, not a big crash like these where
often people get hurt: :-(
"Images of catastrophically collapsed scaffolds"
There are no doubt other reasons for the problems the USA is causing. As
one person wrote to me (given I had referenced Bush's Lyme disease that
might have come from an accidentally released weaponized version): "I
sometimes wonder with what (mentally and physically) the neocons are also
infected. Historically, most if not all rulers have been infected with
insecurity, a compelling need to dominate from a basis of power & greed, a
"need" or compulsion to "get even" or to show those under them something -
or to at least impress someone some how. The many STDs with which many
world leaders have been documented or reputed to carry (and transfer) may
explain some of their anger, and wishes to create suffering upon their own
sycophant subjects first, and then the world."
An interesting idea about STDs and centralized leadership. Maybe that is
another reason a peer economy makes sense -- it does not centralize STDs in
a small number of active politicians who are contracting them and then
making political decisions?
Still, let's be very clear. Pricing is part of a rationing and control
system. Just because a control system fails (say, a computer in a car) does
not mean the rest of the system has any physical problems. Even if the car
won't start, it is still there, and could be repaired by replacing one tiny
component (an ideology of free market fundamentalism in this case).
I wrote more on alternative approaches here:
Here is a sample meta-theoretical framework PU economists no doubt could
vastly improve on if they turned their minds to it. Consider three levels of
nested perspectives on the same economic reality -- physical items, decision
makers, and emergent properties of decision maker interactions. (Three
levels of being or consciousness is a common theme in philosophical
writings, usually rock, plant, and animal, or plant, animal, and human.)
At a first level of perspective, the world we live in at any point in
time can be considered to have physical content like land or tools or fusion
reactors like the sun, energy flows like photons from the sun or electrons
from lightning or in circuits, informational patterns like web page content
or distributed language knowledge, and active regulating processes
(including triggers, amplifiers, and feedback loops) built on the previous
three types of things (physicality, energy flow, and informational patterns)
embodied in living creatures, bi-metallic strip thermostats, or computer
programs running on computer hardware.
One can think of a second perspective on the first comprehensive one by
picking out only the decision makers like bi-metallic strips in thermostats,
computer programs running on computers, and personalities embodied in people
and maybe someday robots or supercomputers, and looking at their
characteristics as individual decision makers.
One can then think of a third level of perspective on the second where
decision makers may invent theories about how to control each other using
various approaches like internet communication standards, ration unit tokens
like fiat dollars, physical kanban tokens, narratives in emails, and so on.
What the most useful theories are for controlling groups of decision makers
is an interesting question, but I will not explore it in depth. But I will
pointing out that complex system dynamics at this third level of perspective
can emerge whether control involves fiat dollars, "kanban" tokens,
centralized or distributed optimization based on perceived or predicted
demand patterns, human-to-human discussions, something else entirely, or a
diverse collection of all these things. And I will also point out that one
should never confuse the reality of the physical system being controlled for
the control signals (money, spoken words, kanban cards, internet packet
contents, etc.) being passed around in the control system.
The above is somewhat inspired by "cybernetics".
So, the market and fiat dollars is just one possible control system among
many. It has its good points and bad points in different contexts. You are
validly pointing to a fundamental weakness -- the fluff in our society is in
charge of the critical part. So, we either need to spread the wealth around,
highly regulate that part of the market (the US has tried, but done it
badly) or we need to take our infrastructure out of the market (some
government planning like Singapore, or peer alternatives and local
production, or some other way). Or some mix of all those things.
So, what is fair to say is, in a theoretical market, with wealth roughly
evenly shared, the market responds to resource problems faced by everyone.
In a real market we have right now, with wealth heavily concentrated, the
market only responds to the needs of a few key individuals, and they spend
most of their money on fluff. :-) So, everyone else may starve amidst
plenty. Or, in other words, "Let them eat virtual cake." :-(
I'll have to look more at the rest of what you posted, which will take some
I've posted a tangentially related note I wrote elsewhere about die-offs and
carrying capacity and my disagreement with that premise.
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