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Nassim Taleb looks at what will break, and what won't
Nassim Taleb, The Economist
Paradoxically, one can make long-term predictions on the basis of the prevalence of forecasting errors. A system that is over-reliant on prediction (through leverage, like the banking system before the recent crisis), hence fragile to unforeseen “black swan” events, will eventually break into pieces. Although fragile bridges can take a long time to collapse, 25 years in the 21st century should be sufficient to make hidden risks salient: connectivity and operational leverage are making cultural and economic events cascade faster and deeper. Anything fragile today will be broken by then.
The great top-down nation-state will be only cosmetically alive, weakened by deficits, politicians’ misalignment of interests and the magnification of errors by centralised systems.
... Most of the technologies that are now 25 years old or more will be around; almost all of the younger ones “providing efficiencies” will be gone, either supplanted by competing ones or progressively replaced by the more robust archaic ones. So the car, the plane, the bicycle, the voice-only telephone, the espresso machine and, luckily, the wall-to-wall bookshelf will still be with us.
... Finally, what is now called academic economics will be treated with the same disrespect that rigorous (and practical) minds currently have for Derrida-style post-modernist verbiage.
(22 November 2010)
Tea Party & Cars
Yves Engler, ZNet
If the Tea Party applied its supposed ideas consistently it would take up the slogan: “Oppose big government, say no to cars.” Or for the more fervent among them: “The automobile is a socialist plot.”
Does any other technology demand more government involvement than the car? Not according to Washington. A few decades ago, the U.S, government reported that “the average American citizen (has) more direct dealings with government through licensing and regulation of the automobile than through any other single public activity.”
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Some tea partiers complained about the recent bailout of GM and Chrysler, but the amount of government money spent saving these bankrupt companies is peanuts compared to what is plowed into roads each year. For the first three decades of car travel basically none of this money came from users and today less than half does.
Licensing, bailouts and roads are relatively obvious examples of the government-car symbiosis. So is curbside parking, which sucks up tens of billions of dollars in government subsidies each year. Less obvious are the ways in which cars spurred the modern administrative state. Norman Damon explains: “State officials concerned with building roads, licensing drivers and their vehicles, enforcing traffic laws, as well as concerned with school and college education, early organized to deal with common problems. Thus, the American Association of State Highway Officials came into being in Washington, D. C. in 1914; the Institute of Traffic Engineers was founded in Pittsburgh in 1930 …; the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators in Chicago in 1932; the State and Provincial Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police at Toronto in 1938; and the National Commission on Safety Education at Washington, D. C. in 1943.”
Early on the automobile demanded aggressive social engineering. Traffic lights are now taken for granted, but pedestrians don’t need them and cyclists would do fine with a lot fewer lights. To make way for cars most cities and town were restructured in the 1910s and 20s.
... In Republic of Drivers Cotten Seiler argues that one of the reasons for the car’s rise to dominance is that driving formed “the right kind of American subjects.” Car travel legitimated “the power structures of managed, administered, modern liberalism” (or state capitalism) all the while preserving “the symbolic figures of Republican political culture.” Driving can engender “sensations of agency, self-determination, entitlement, privacy, sovereignty, transgression and speed”. But, this is made possible by massive government intervention.
The sense of freedom that cars create is inextricably intertwined with huge profits for mega corporations, which work hand in glove with government. These corporations just happen to be some of the sources of Tea Party funding.
That’s why the Tea Partiers would never dare challenge them.
Yves Engler and Bianca Mugyenyi's “Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the road to Economic, Social and Environmental Decay” will be published in early 2011. Anyone interested in organizing a talk as part of a book tour please e-mail: yvesengler(at)hotmail.com
(1 December 2010)
Interesting argument against cars from a left-wing perspective. Related articles by Yves Engler:
Class Struggle against Car Domination
China and cars
Post Carbon Politics, Intro
Erik Lindberg, Transition Milwaukee
At Transition Milwaukee, we’ve been talking about politics lately. Our conversation was precipitated by the visit from the City of Milwaukee’s new “Sustainability Director” at our last Hub Meeting, as well as some discussion about the possibility of “Progressive Radio” in Milwaukee.
The upshot from our listserv discussion, here at Transition Milwaukee, is that there is no consensus, not even the sort of operating consensus that Greer might agree to, about what the appropriate or tactically astute involvement of a Transition group in electoral politics should be. We also discovered quickly that, despite the fact that nearly everyone in the group has emerged from a progressive or liberal background (as traditionally defined), the notion of Transition being a “progressive movement” would be to misrepresent considerable aspects of our collective vision and mission. It would not, I think, be correct to suggest that Transition is simply a more radical manifestation of progressive politics, in the way that the civil rights movement involved a logical and long overdue extension of basic principles stated in The Declaration of Independence or The Declaration of the Rights of Man. What we are witnessing now is not a mere enhancement or updating of progressive principles caused by the influx of new information about our climate or our fossil fuels. Something more substantial is afoot.
The unsettled reality of Post-Carbon Politics will likely upset our current political labels and disrupt our familiar political categories. I believe that we will witness, in the near future, a great realignment that will perhaps be as momentous as the one from which Liberalism was birthed and manifested near the beginning of the industrial revolution and during the age of colonial expansion. Indeed my very suggestion that Liberalism is a product of the age of fossil fuels, while not novel, is nevertheless a sign of nascent retrospectiveness--that we have begun the process of looking back on political Liberalism as a historical artifact.
Revolutions and realignments, alike, are fought in the streets, negotiated in the halls of labor unions or workers’ guilds, at the market and the banks, in the furrows of the fields. Without adopting a “crude materialism,” I generally agree with Marx that the organization of the means of production (and thus the way the prominent sources of energy are channeled and refined) is the ultimate and radical source of political consciousness. But, following Hegel, Marx also believed that such shifts demanded vast amounts of intellectual labor, to perform the work of articulating these underlying forces and changes, of giving language and imagery to new social relations and community organization as well as emerging practices of exchange and commerce, to provide an analytics and an dynamic iteration of economic tectonics and their political and social quakes and tremors.
It is to this task, at a modest level, to be assured, that I will turn my attention for a series of posts that will continue as long as I think I have something valuable to say (or until other convince me that I do not).
(4 December 2010)
Slow Money: Reconnecting The Economy To Soil, Biodiversity and Food Quality, By Woody Tasch
Woody Tasch, Speaking Truth to Power
The following is an excerpt from Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered by Woody Tasch (Chelsea Green, 2008). Tasch presents an essential new strategy for investing in local food systems, and introduces a group of fiduciary activists who are exploring what should replace the outdated concepts of industrial finance and industrial agriculture. This excerpt is from the prologue.
- Carolyn Baker, editor of the site Speaking Truth to Power
Civilization is a big idea. So is the idea that as soil goes, so goes civilization. So is the idea that as money goes, so goes the soil. We don’t need any more big ideas.
We need small ideas. Beautiful ideas. Beautiful because they lead to a large number of beautiful, small actions — the kind alluded to by Wendell Berry: “Soil is not usually lost in slabs or heaps of magnificent tonnage. It is lost a little at a time over millions of acres by careless acts of millions of people. It cannot be solved by heroic feats of gigantic technology, but only by millions of small acts and restraints.”
There is another kind of erosion at work, just as surely, here: erosion of social capital, erosion of community, erosion of an understanding of our place in the scheme of things.
(4 December 2010)
UK economic recovery 'poses threat to environment'
James Meikle, Guardian
Any emergence from recession may erode shift towards more sustainable lifestyles, warns EU report
The hoped-for emergence of the UK from its economic crisis might erode a shift towards more sustainable lifestyles, according to an EU report published today.
A growing population, coupled with demand for more and larger homes, is threatening the UK's security of water supplies and wildlife, said the European Environment Agency (EEA).
There is also a risk that public concern with green issues declines as more people live in towns and cities and have no "experience of the natural world", said the assessment of the challenges facing the country. And this trend may be greatest among younger generations, it warns.
The UK analysis, provided by the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), also warns that Britain's increasing reliance on overseas manufacturing to meet consumer demand will continue to cause " 'off-shoring" of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts through the consumption of products and services produced outside the UK".
(30 November 2010)