Jul 312013
 July 31, 2013  Posted by at 1:23 pm Finance

Often, for some reason, when you want to make a simple point, before you know it it mushrooms into something much bigger. Like in this case, blasphemy. All I started out with was the notion that if we put a dollar value on something like an Arctic melt, or the extinction of species, we are making fundamental mistakes. Which invariably show in the way we reach the conclusions, presented as "scientific", that make us put such values on potential or already final events.

It may be getting increasingly hard to accept in our present worldview, but it's still true that not everything can be expressed in dollar terms. We may still find this to be obvious when we talk about losing our loved ones, our children, but other than that, there are hardly any questions raised when some individual or institution reports a $100 billion price tag for the loss of the bumble bee, or, the example that led me here, that a sudden Arctic "methane belch" could cost $60 trillion.

These reports come with such regularity these days that we have come to see them as normal. In reality what they depict is our loss of values, and a tendency towards moral bankruptcy. The problem in all this is that as long as we keep expressing the damage done by climate change, pollution or extinction in dollar terms, we have no chance of turning any of it around. Putting a dollar value on our very own destruction of our very own and sole habitat (which we share with all other species) carries with it an unspoken suggestion that there also must be a dollar value price tag we can put on halting the destruction, as well as undoing and repairing it. Which is, just like the original claim that an arctic melt would cost $60 trillion, the peak of absurdity.

But still, for 99% of people who read a headline with such numbers, their first reaction will be: that's a lot of money. If you are one of those people, you have some thinking to do. It makes no difference whatsoever what the financial cost is of an animal going extinct, or half the arctic melting. The fact that we increasingly tend to describe destruction in monetary terms is precisely why it will continue, since if a dollar value is all you have left, you might as well have no values.

What makes discussing these things blasphemous is that while you can't escape a critical look at how capitalism functions, in our world capitalism has taken on the role and characteristics of a religion, which typically rejects critical looks. You're not supposed to question it, and if you do anyway, before you know it you get to be Galileo. In the case of capitalism, if you dare criticize the prevailing system, you are a communist or a socialist. And like Galileo, a heretic.

From where I'm sitting, all the isms through history have led to the same result: a ruling elite and gagged masses. Most forms of Marxism promise those masses a voice in how their societies are structured, but few if any deliver. Our capitalistic societies call themselves democratic, but doubts about that are self-evident. When you only get to choose between options that are pre-selected by ruling classes, that's at best democracy between huge and thick brackets. Point in case: the masses don't tend to opt for a choice of rapidly increasing income inequality (which leaves them poorer), but it is what we experience. In short, capitalism leads where all other isms lead. People may claim that it's the least worst option, but that remains to be seen. Let it run its course, and then perhaps we can judge.

In any case, the pseudo science that comes up with the numbers mentioned above badly needs to be called to task and revealed for what it really is. So let's give it a shot.

Here's an article in New Scientist last week:

Huge methane belch in Arctic could cost $60 trillion

A sudden methane burp in the Arctic could set the world back a colossal $60 trillion. Billions of tonnes of the greenhouse gas methane are trapped just below the surface of the East Siberian Arctic shelf. Melting means the area is poised to deliver a giant gaseous belch at any moment – one that could bring global warming forward 35 years and cost the equivalent of almost a year's global GDP.

These are the conclusions of the first systematic analysis of the economic cost of Arctic melting, which delivers a sobering antidote to other, more upbeat assessments that say melting in this area would improve access to minerals on the ocean bed, increase fishing and create ice-free shipping lanes.

Previous work has estimated that more than a trillion tonnes of methane lie under the shelf, trapped inside lattices of ice known as hydrates, at depths as shallow as 20 metres. Concern about a possible eruption has grown since 2010, when research cruises over the shelf by Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov, both now at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, found plumes of methane as much as a kilometre wide bubbling to the surface.

The pair calculated that a release of 50 billion tonnes would be possible within a decade, through known areas of melting and geological faults. Since methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide, such a scenario would trigger a "climate catastrophe", they say, increasing the methane content of the planet's atmosphere twelve-fold, and raising temperatures by 1.3C.

Now, environmental economist Chris Hope and Arctic Ocean specialist Peter Wadhams, both at the University of Cambridge, together with climate policy analyst Gail Whiteman of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, have analysed the likely consequences of such a release occurring between 2015 and 2025. They did so by adding the extra emissions to an existing model used in the UK government's 2006 Stern Review, designed to assess the economic cost of coping with climate change between now and 2200.

There's so much wrong with this, where to begin? For starters, an environmental economist is not a scientist, since no economist is. Math and physics are sciences, since they deal in formulas and laws that can pass the fallibilty test. Economics deals with human behavior, which we don't know nearly enough about to formulate any such laws. The fact that papers like Nature and New Scientist publish this stuff anyway just goes to show where these publications have been heading for a while.

The entire piece is based on guesswork only, and that's not exactly scientific. To wit, the inevitable rebuttal in Live Science is just as credible:

Arctic Methane Claims Questioned

A scientific controversy erupted this week over claims that methane trapped beneath the Arctic Ocean could suddenly escape, releasing huge quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas, in coming decades, with a huge cost to the global economy.

The issue being debated is this: Could the Arctic seafloor really fart out 50 billion tons of methane in the next few decades? In a commentary published in the journal Nature on Wednesday (July 24), researchers predicted that the rapid shrinking of Arctic sea ice would warm the Arctic Ocean, thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea and releasing methane gas trapped in the sediments. The big methane belch would come with a $60 trillion price tag, due to intensified global warming from the added methane in the atmosphere, the authors said.

But climate scientists and experts on methane hydrates, the compound that contains the methane, quickly shot down the methane-release scenario. "The paper says that their scenario is 'likely.' I strongly disagree," said Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

But I don't intend to get into such controversies; they just keep our eyes off the ball. Environmentalism tends towards too many of the faults of all isms already. We know that human activity, burning fossil fuels, and the use of energy in general, tends to raise CO2 levels, and we know that higher CO2 levels tend to raise temperatures, but that's about it. We're dealing with systems that exhibit such elevated complexity, we should be very careful about drawing conclusions. Far too many people blame a local heatwave or flood on climate change that may well be simple fluctuations in existing models, and that's just as counterproductive as denying the whole mechanism to begin with (that we raise CO2 levels and they, over time, tend to raise temperatures). We should all stick to science, to what we can prove, not what we wish to believe.

But that was not my point. I wanted to address a different fallacy: that of trying to put dollar values on – sections of – our destruction of the world we inhabit. Capitalism tends to express everything in dollars, and that's where it fails: it has no other values, and therefore might as well have none. If we convince ourselves to believe that the demise of the polar bear or the bumble bee or, for that matter, half the population of Bangla Desh, can be expressed in numbers or dollars, we lose all hope of understanding the issues involved, let alone doing anything to counter them.

Nor is that $60 trillion number the only one that's floating around. The Christian Science Monitor has this:

Global warming could spell more bad news for baby seals

Research on threats to harp seals joins surging attention to the effects that melting in the Arctic will have not only on the wildlife there but on the entire planet. This week, a team of researchers found that, by 2030, the release of methane gas from just the melting Arctic ice is likely to accelerate the rise in temperatures to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. That increase in temperatures would cost the world some $60 trillion in damages – a sum almost as large as the size of the entire global economy last year, which measured about $70 trillion. That number tacks on an additional cost of about 15% to the already $450 trillion that global warming is expected to cost the world.

Now people start to do the math in their heads: If we pay it off over a period of 10 years, or 20, or 100, 200, it doesn't look so bad, does it? The worst case scenario from that point of view is we could go temporarily bankrupt. But that's not very likely either, because our economists and central bankers seem to have found the solution to that: just watch the economy flourish in the wake of the banking crisis.

The problem is that while such discussions continue, the destruction continues too, and aggravates unabated. Which more pseudo scientists can then do more pseudo modeling for. None of it leads us anywhere but down. We need to take the discussion away from this nonsense, and put it on less shaky ground than blunt denial or fantasy number games. We don't even need to wonder what an environmental economist bases his figures on – though that could be pretty revealing -; we should figure out how people can even consider going this route. And that inevitably brings us back to religion.

A few quotes from finance journalist Cynthia Freeland's book "Plutocrats" put it into a clearer perspective. She cites Matthew Bishop, co-author of a book named "Philantro Capitalism", on the topic of people like Bill Gates, who "re-invent" philantropism (he labeled it “creative capitalism"), presenting what should at the very least raise serious questions, as something unequivocably positive:

"… in each era going back to the Middle Ages, the entrepreneurs have been among the people leading the response to the destruction caused by the economic processes that made them rich."

To my amazement, and I kid you not, both Freeland and Bishop leave no doubt that they find this a good thing. Which makes me think they must be either poor readers or religious zealots.

You saw it in the Middle Ages, you saw it with the Victorians, you saw it with Carnegie and Rockefeller. What is different is the scale. Business is global and so they are focusing on global problems. They are much more focused on how do they achieve a massive impact.

You see? It all tends towards the same theme: putting a dollar value on the destruction that made them rich. And then pay it off. And there's no way they would stop there either:

Marx famously observed that early generations of philosophers has sought to describe the world; he wanted to change it. Gates and his plutocratic peers are having a similarly dramatic impact on the world of charity. They don't want to fund the social sector, they want to transform it.

One example is their impact on education in America. With their focus on measurable results, Gates and his fellow education-focused billionaires have spearheaded a data-driven revolution. The first step was to put tests at the center of education, so that the output – student learning – could be measured.

The next step is to try to make the job of teaching more data -and incentive – driven. As Gates said in a speech in November 2010, "We have to figure out what makes the great teacher great." That effort includes videotaping teachers in the classroom and paying them based on how they perform".

Anyone thinking that what Gates' education efforts are aiming for is for people to learn NOT to do what he did to get rich? Yeah, me neither. All I can think is this guy is dangerous, like so many self-appointed high priests of so many religions are. I know his foundation saves some babies' lives in Africa, but does that balance out this megalomania? There's still more:

Strikingly, the ambition of the philantro-capitalists doesn't stop at transforming how charity works. They want to change how the state operates, too. These are men who have built their businesses by achieving the maximum impact with the minimum effort – either as financiers using leverage or as technologists using scale. They think of their charitable dollars in the same way. "our foundation tends to fund more of the up-front discovery work, and we're a partner in delivery, but governmental funding is the biggest," Gates told students at MIT on a visit there in April 2010."

If I may summarize: We should all want our children to emulate Bill Gates, so they will learn how to destroy things first and then pay off their guilt about it, preferably by buying up government influence. And feel good about it! Like they're the most worthy citizens of the earth that history has ever seen. If everything in our lives can be data-drivenly expressed in dollars, then Bill Gates must of necessity be right about all he says and does, because he has more dollars then just about anyone else.

It's hard to believe people allow their minds to go there (and still claim they love their children). Fortunately, just as I was starting to get really depressed about this, I read something that gave me back at least a glimmer of hope.

A July 11 interview in the Guardian paints a portrait of Doug Tompkins, a rich man by just about everyone's standards with the possible exception of Bill Gates. Tompkins, a good friend of Steve Jobs, clashed with the latter on issues that are very similar to those raised by Bill Gates' words. Tompkins became rich through the sale of the North Face and Esprit clothing brands, got out decades ago, and directs his efforts in different ways. He looks the much saner man.

How technology has stopped evolution and is destroying the world

It has become something of a mantra within the sustainability movement that innovations in technology can save the world. But rather than liberating us, Doug Tompkins, the cofounder of retail brands The North Face and Esprit, believes technology has enslaved us and is destroying the very health of the planet on which all species depend. Tompkins, 70 has used his enormous wealth from selling both companies to preserve more land than any other individual in history, spending more than £200m buying over two million acres of wilderness in Argentina and Chile.

He challenges the view that technology is extending democracy, arguing that it is concentrating even more power in the hands of a tiny elite. What troubles him the most is that the very social and environmental movements that should be challenging the destructive nature of mega-technologies, have instead fallen under their spell.

"We have been poor on doing the systemic analysis and especially in the area of technology criticism," says Tompkins [..] "Until we get better at that, I think we're cooked, we're going to continue to extinct species and we're going to continue to dig the hole deeper of the whole eco-social crisis.

Tompkins [and] his wife Kris, the former CEO of the outdoor clothing and equipment company Patagonia [..] have been instrumental in creating two huge nature reserves and are in the process of creating another one in the South American region of Patagonia, despite opposition within Latin America [..]

[..] ..they also fund numerous small activist NGOs, arguing that more established organisations such as WWF and Greenpeace have become too closely enmeshed with corporations. "When WWF started out, they were doing some good stuff," says Tompkins. "Now, they're burning up money like crazy and they don't really get too much done. "

Tompkins derides those who pin their hopes on technological developments in areas such as wind, solar and nuclear as coming from the smart resource management school, saying they fail to understand that this will not address the core issue, which is that capitalism is addicted to growth.

"Resource efficiency is the wrong metric," he says. "We should use nature as the measure, using nature's wisdom as a template for our economic systems."

"Capitalism doesn't function when it starts to contract and we can see that quite clearly right here in the eurozone. It's like pushing a giant monster underwater that's gasping for air. It goes nuts. Capitalism may have all sorts of things that are good, but ultimately it's bad for everyone."

He believes most sustainability practitioners have made the mistake of spending their time creating strategies and projects, without taking the time to gain a deep understanding of how we got into a mess in the first place. As a result, they may end up doing more harm than good. "As we get sucked more and more into the technosphere, we become less and less capable of understanding it because it becomes a technological milieu that we're in," he warns.

"If you extinct all the biodiversity and we end up living on a sandheap with a Norwegian rat and some cockroaches, that doesn't have too much logic to it. That would show that our behaviour as a civilization today is to the pathological. But, if you make a systemic analysis, that's exactly where we're going."

Tompkins recalls the Apple advertising campaign that highlighted the 1,001 great things that the PC was going to give to us and would tell Jobs that these represented a mere 5% of what the computer did while the other 95% was all negative and exacerbating the biodiversity crisis.

"He'd get mad at me when I'd tell him that," says Tompkins. "He was locked into a view that these technologies were going to bring all these good things. But that's typical of the purveyors of new technology. They're selling their product and their idea, and their prestige, their power and their influence. Their self-esteem is wrapped up in that. It's impossible for them to see it or to admit it, you see? Because, it pulls the rug out from underneath their purpose, especially when it's attached to a moral purpose."

Tompkins foresees a dark future dominated as he puts it by more ugliness, damaged landscapes, extinct species, extreme poverty, and lack of equity and says humanity faces a stark choice; either to transition now to a different system or face a painful collapse.

"Of course I'd prefer the transition, because a crash will be highly unpredictable," he says. "It could exacerbate something terrible."

"The extinction crisis is the mother of all crises. There will be no society, there will be no economy, there will be no art and culture on a dead planet basically. We've stopped evolution."

Now we're getting somewhere. Capitalism has nice traits, but it also has a built-in self-destruction mechanism: the demand for never ending growth. And that wouldn't be so bad, if that mechanism didn't also spell destruction for much of the planet is has been unleashed on. Spearheading education systems towards producing more Bill Gates clones in a sorcerer's apprentice fashion is definitely not the answer. Gates would do the world a lot more good if the curriculum were based on the exact opposite. But then, he just goes to proof that you don't have to be smart in a wider, "uomo universalis" kind of way, in order to get rich. In fact, you're more likely to succeed in that if your view is narrow.

The entire notion of being data-driven turns a society, bit by bit, into one that is controlled by numbers such at the $60 trillion or $450 trillion ones "calculated" for climate change damage, based on hollow guesswork derived from fake science that is devoid of any actual meaning. When Doug Tompkins says: "We have been poor on doing the systemic analysis and especially in the area of technology criticism", he advocates the opposite of what Bill Gates does, who would rather see only people just like himself, since he thinks he is a really great specimen. If you count the value of a human being in dollars, that may make sense, but it also leads to counting the value of everything else in dollars. And that's where the logic stops. Because you simply can't.

"Capitalism doesn't function when it starts to contract", as Tompkins puts it, is not even so much contested as it is flatly denied these days: every crisis is seen as but a springboard to the next high. To the true believers, a crisis is a sign that the system functions, and any contraction can only be temporary. But we can destroy, and we're actively doing it as we speak, more than we can rebuild, and that has nothing to do with how much money we have or how many technological advances we can yet produce.

We simply can't express our feelings, our love, our grief, our hope, in data or numbers. And no-one, not even Bill Gates, would dream of that. Techno-dreams involve robots that develop human features, like consciousness, grief and love, not humans developing into robots.

Capitalism, technology and the eternal progress they promise form a belief system increasingly built around the justification of the destruction we unleash on our world. And we need to question that belief.

Then again, I don't agree with Doug Tompkins that we have stopped evolution. Evolution, which is another word for life itself, is a force much grander than mankind. We are but an afterthought in the scheme of evolution. And if we don't fit that scheme, we will end up as just another one in a multi-billion years' series of billions of failed species. If we wish for our progeny to survive, we need to focus our efforts on understanding, not ignoring it. We are not bigger than life itself. At least that we should be able to agree on.


Photo top: Russell Lee The Law of God February 1939
"Child of migrant sitting by kitchen cabinet in tent home near Edinburg, Texas."


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    Often, for some reason, when you want to make a simple point, before you know it it mushrooms into something much bigger. Like in this case, blasphemy
    [See the full post at: Capitalism, A Norwegian Rat And Some Cockroaches]


    The false impression is that we can solve it by thinking about it. It is actions, not thought or belief, that really make the difference. Prior to civilization, there were natural negative feedback mechanisms that humans were engaged by, and these forced us to comply with the rule of being useful to our own future (our environment). Civilization isolated humans from those feedback mechanisms, and the solution is to recreate something inside civilization that reflects the costs of our actions to our environment (our future). So far, the myth of Perpetual Growth has dominated with the exact opposite: feedback mechanisms that are positive for growth and consumption, and its remedy is obviously Anti-growth (sales taxes). Capitalism doesn’t have to end, it has to be localized and moderated in the right direction so that it becomes a rare luxury that can occur only after all natural obligations are met. Too much of the discussion implies that people act destructively because they think about it, but more and more scientific research only shows that people act out of habit and emotion, not conscious decision beyond the moment, and that our decisions are made with false assumptions about our own future desires. In other words, we are enslaved to our emotions and habits, and believing we are not is one more tool in the pocket of profiteers (environment extractors).
    Capitalism self-destructs when children are born into it as consumers, not when the money runs out. When our children are born into generosity, their culture will have a chance. Whether that means post-apocalypse or controlled descent is a matter of luck and Chaos theory (if we can start a small ball rolling), I guess.


    Capitalism self-destructs when children are born into it as consumers, not when the money runs out.

    Eh, sorry, no. Capitalism self-destructs when growth runs out. And since growth is its most essential element, there’s nothing about it than can be tweaked to localize or moderate it sufficiently.


    Eh, sorry, no. Capitalism self-destructs when growth runs out.

    Corporatism and Finance Ponzi schemes self-destruct when growth runs out. Capitalism would adjust for limits to growth, if it was allowed to be practiced.


    Capitalism self-destructs when growth runs out? Why is it we say that again?

    I get that our current monetary system will self-destruct when growth runs out, but our current monetary system isn’t a required part of capitalism.

    Society will always have capital. It will always need to be allocated. Currently we have crony capitalism and its doing it poorly, various flavors of cartel capitalism, dictator-state-ism, colonialism and marxism give it a try. Growth or no growth, the problem of capital allocation will remain. It does seem that decentralizing the process is useful, as is a system that rewards proper allocation and punishes capital misallocation, regardless of whether or not we have growth in the total capital available to the system as a whole.

    I think modern systems suffer partly from issues driven by inherently sociopathic structures, combined with sociopathic individuals (possibly not an accident – maybe the latter constructed the former) resulting in some unpleasant outcomes. Better structures, better people – perhaps better outcomes?

    Perhaps increased enlightenment is a requirement to construct a better world.

    Just some thoughts. The rest of it all made sense.


    Gravity is a limited liability algorithm.


    Very fine essay. But I do take exception to your labeling the ‘work’ of evolution as often ending up as you put it “in a multi-billion years’ series of billions of failed species.” If anything is to be taken away from much of what is said on this sight and others like it, it is that finitude is the way of the world, infinite anything is the enemy. Immortality, be it of an individual, a nation, a civilization, a species, a solar system (and speculating, perhaps even a universe!) is not the way of the world. We all drink from the well and move on to leave room for our successors to enjoy or suffer their turn in the great wheel of life. The passing away of a generation is the necessary condition for exhuberant life to express itself in newness and freedom in the future. So, I contend, extinct species were not failures … they had their turn, participated in the life of the universe, and gave way to what came next. That said, I certainly hope humanity get’s more time to develop it’s unique way of being — though hopefully not at the terrible cost it is currently inflicting on all the other forms of life on our planet.

    There’s an excellent series that takes this sort of view Living Nature view of things by a German by the name of Andreas Weber. Well worth reading. (via Resiliance and Shareable: [ https://www.shareable.net/blog/enlivenment-towards-a-fundamental-shift-in-the-concepts-of-nature-culture-and-politics-chapter- ]


    In my travels around the Internet, I am always amazed by the amount of people who say, “Don’t worry, technology will take care of it,” or “Don’t worry, in future we’ll get our resources from somewhere out in space.” Aaaaah! Nice if it works, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Yet these people DO bank on it. In their minds, it’s not something to worry about – at all.

    William Ophuls says that just as matter and energy are governed by entropy, he suggests that there is a moral entropy. He also says that humans have not evolved much past hunter-gatherers, are present-oriented (“present-value” is what matters, the now) and we neglect or devalue the future. “Human beings are barely evolved primates driven by greed, fear, and other powerful emotions.”

    He quotes Edmund Burke: “History consists, for the greater part, of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly appetite.”

    He sees modern civilization as doomed, drowned in its own hubris.


    Niccolo Machiavelli:

    “Wise men say, and not without reason, that whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever will be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.”



    You’re right of course on many counts, but something can be said for more successful species in evolution living longer. From memory, the croc and turtle families have what, 300 million years, while we’re at 100,0000? Not that there’s anything wrong with approaching and defining what success consists of from a more philosophical angle, but most evolutionary accidents don’t have long lives on the grand scale of things, while the better adapted – even if purely accidental – survive.


    davefairtex – “Perhaps increased enlightenment is a requirement to construct a better world.”

    You’re right, but how do you get that? I don’t think you can reach out and grab “enlightenment” or capture its essence by reading about it. It’s got to come from within, and in order to REALLY change your thinking or ways of doing things, it usually takes suffering. Suffering is what etches “enlightenment” into the mind.

    If you don’t suffer, and life begins to get better (another crisis is papered over and “growth” continues unabated), you never reach the point of actually seeing or knowing in your gut why things have to change. You don’t get your head up above the water.

    Of course, there are many who do not want the masses to be enlightened, as that could seriously cramp the lifestyle of the rich and famous and change the power structure.

    The only thing that will wake up the masses is a complete breakdown. Paradoxically, that’s about the only thing that might save them, their children, and this planet.


    We’re saved – growth will resume. So says Krugman: “Yes, I think there’s a pretty decent chance that we’ll actually be seeing another wave of technological improvement, that growth will resume. There is a question about whether workers will share in that growth, but that’s a different story.”

    Workerless growth. Lovely. How do unemployed workers buy driverless cars? Perhaps the cars come equipped with printing presses.


    Golden Oxen

    It is mankind and it’s moral compass that is the problem, not one of the many economic systems he may function under. Greed and destruction were around long before capitalism.


    One example is their impact on education in America. With their focus on measurable results, Gates and his fellow education-focused billionaires have spearheaded a data-driven revolution. The first step was to put tests at the center of education, so that the output – student learning – could be measured.

    I find this statement quite objectionable. It seems to me that they think that what cannot be measured is of no value or utility. How exactly do you measure a person’s understanding of something like Machiavelli’s Prince?

    I think kids should be encouraged to be often bored and adults should not try to provide “activity” of “entertainment” to kids just because they look bored. It is only when one is bored that one becomes thoughtful and creative. A kid who is constantly stimulated by an iPhone of similar is unlikely to ever come up with a new tune.

    IMHO if the Beatles had access to a fraction of the entertainment modern kids get, they would never have been so creative. Am I the only one who is amazed to see all these kids listening to stuff that came out when I was a teenager? We used to laugh at our contemporaries if they played stuff that was a few months old, because fresh stuff was coming to take its place all the time.


    Hi Folks,

    But that was not my point. I wanted to address a different fallacy: that of trying to put dollar values on – sections of – our destruction of the world we inhabit. Capitalism tends to express everything in dollars, and that’s where it fails: it has no other values, and therefore might as well have none. If we convince ourselves to believe that the demise of the polar bear or the bumble bee or, for that matter, half the population of Bangla Desh, can be expressed in numbers or dollars, we lose all hope of understanding the issues involved, let alone doing anything to counter them.


    It’s hard to believe people allow their minds to go there (and still claim they love their children).

    Actually I would argue that they don’t love their children, or rather they do not know what love is, its not in their value system. Its an insane society that has ‘pissed’ on the childrens fire:


    As I’ve commented before, if your value system is corrupted, or worse still is non-existent, then how can you know, ever, what you are doing? Whether it is right or wrong? Many do not know, this is why they do not know what they are doing. What do you value? What has Real Value and not just a price? People horde money and material possessions thinking they have value. This happens because they do not know what they are doing. They allow over a thousand people, half of whom were women and also many children to die in a building collapse in April earlier this year (2013) at Dhaka, a suburb of Savar in Bangladesh to save a few pennies on clothes. Do you think that would happen if they knew what they were doing?

    Most people today are mad; they have the wrong set of values and insanely cling to them – status, power, control and wealth. These are not true values, these are objects of desire and greed. True values are about caring; they are about Love, Compassion, Beauty and Truth. And you cannot charge for them because they are free.

    Then again, I don’t agree with Doug Tompkins that we have stopped evolution. Evolution, which is another word for life itself, is a force much grander than mankind. We are but an afterthought in the scheme of evolution. And if we don’t fit that scheme, we will end up as just another one in a multi-billion years’ series of billions of failed species. If we wish for our progeny to survive, we need to focus our efforts on understanding, not ignoring it. We are not bigger than life itself. At least that we should be able to agree on.

    I agree, though I question the term failed species – failed in what way, by whose criteria? Ours? Evolution itself is another theory, co-opted by the same forces to support their dogma of selfish competition. Darwin agreed with Wallace that the term survival of the fittest was better than selection due to its less anthropomorphic connotations, but they meant by this an adaptation to immediate local environment in what one would now term symbiosis, not a total domination over the whole planet with a view to using it as it pleases which is the current societies ‘ism’. :dry:



    I find this statement quite objectionable. It seems to me that they think that what cannot be measured is of no value or utility.

    Nassim, that’s my point exactly. Bill Gates wants to clone himself in American classrooms, since he sees himself, consciously or not, as the alpha male. No, he really does. Just look at the feathers waving from his asscrack.

    So, let’s take an example: how much fun does Bill have in his life? Well, you can’t really measure fun, so Bill doesn’t care. He thinks he has lots, but compared to who? What he does know about fun is only his own experience, which no matter how you look at it, is limited. Does that make fun some sort of side issue? No. It’s just hard to measure.

    F**ing bleeping videotaping teachers to see if they do well? Do what well? Raising kids to be like Gates? Might as well turn ’em over to Catholic priests.

    Now we need to wonder what the difference is between raising kids to Gates’ standards, and raising them to be the next Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Rembrandt. Who the f**ing bleeping frozen-over-hell is Bill Gates to decide that? From my point of view, he seems to have very little, if any, affinity with how Samuel Langhorne Clemens became Mark Twain, so maybe the very last person on the planet we should want to have any influence on US education is Bill Gates. Looking at the world today, I’m pretty confident that one single Mark Twain would do us a lot more good than 1000 Bill Gates the Second’s.

    The only things that make life worth while are the ones you can NOT measure. That’s the secret, that’s the whole idea: love, sorrow, a just plain happy moment, music that brings back a memory of a long lost loved one, a sunset that evokes eternity.

    For that matter, Twain might have been talking about Gates when he said:

    To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.


    Our ideas will outlive us.

    Yves, at naked capitalism, has posted this blog and there is a discussion that some of you might want to follow.



    “The only things that make life worth while are the ones you can NOT measure”

    Everything is measurable Ilargi. Maybe not in dollar terms, which is what you’re rallying against, but perhaps in terms of preference or personal value. Any experience I ever had (love, sorrow, a plain happy moment) can be compared to another one, and thus I can place “value” on it by determining which I appreciated more and/or wanted more of.

    Also, “dollarizing” something isn’t necessarily a sign of lack of values or moral bankruptcy, it is just a manner in which some choose to measure their personal beliefs in a way others might be able to relate to.

    Example – I “dollarize” my decisions and come to the conclusion that murdering another individual would be at a cost of $1,000,000 (a sum I’m likely never to see; though if I really wanted to be one of those people who thinks they would never commit murder, I could just make the cost some ridiculous number like $100 trillion) due to the horrible impact to society and the psychological impact it would have on me. Then along comes Joe Blow who doesn’t think of things in terms of dollars, but has no problem ending a life the minute that person inconveniences him.

    Which of us is morally bankrupt? The one that has used a construct (dollars or otherwise) to measure their own morality and discover what they truly value, or the person who has no measurement system in place yet seems to have no qualms with doing what others would find morally reprehensible?

    I’d have to think that Joe Blow is more morally bankrupt than I am; he is just less aware of how little value he places on the act of murder in comparison to me.

    Also, people who cannot place value on things (i.e. their children, the environment, a honey bee, etc.) strike me as inflexible individuals – there may be a time when a choice has to be made, as undesirable as it may be, between two horrible outcomes. I’d like to see how those who cannot place value on things would react, as I think they’d quickly figure out a construct which would allow them to weigh out those two choices based on their values.

    I’m also reminded of Bartlett’s exponential growth video I just re-watched the other day…

    “…democracy cannot survive overpopulation;
    Human dignity cannot survive [overpopulation];
    Convenience and decency cannot survive [overpopulation];
    As you put more and more people into the world,
    The value of life not only declines, it disappears.
    It doesn’t matter if someone dies,
    The more people there are, the less one individual matters.”

    So is Asimov morally bankrupt, or just realistic?

    Maybe I’m wrong, but feel like you’re barking up the wrong tree on this on Ilargi – hoping this piece was not just a vehicle used to rage all over Gates and his like? Certainly the world seems more and more immoral these days, and I wish that would change (for the better)… but measuring ones values, to me, doesn’t seem like the cause of our immorality. In fact, it seems like a way to measure just how immoral we really are.

    Also, consider that putting dollar values on the destruction of the environment may actually grab people’s attention and make them realize what they otherwise would not as they drift though the world as Sleepers, further contributing to the tragedy of the commons. If that were to hold true, than I’d think encouraging people to think about their morality/values and how they assign cost would be a good thing…



    Albert Einstein:

    “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

    How do you measure the teacher or the parent who produces a child with a “C” in math, but who goes on to lovingly hold your mother’s hand while she takes her last breath? How do you measure this, as a failure? If so, we have our values totally twisted.

    “Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value.”

    “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as judge in the field of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods.”

    “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

    “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

    “Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.”

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    How does one measure “imagination” or “intuition” or “creativity” or “curiosity”? Can these things even be taught?


    “Everything is measurable Ilargi.”

    Not via multiple-choice questions. We were talking about education here. 🙂


    Hi Folks,

    Interesting ‘antidote’ to ‘isms’:

    Paul Hawken on ‘Blessed Unrest’


    Oh and for those who cite Hardin (‘Tragedy of the Commons’):

    Briefly, in five short pages, Hardin (1) erected a conjectural house of cards upon small, scenic, sandy patches of theoretical shoreline which have long-since subsisted into the sea (8). This creates a special problem for those who have cited and continue to cite ‘Hardin 1968’ without considering the wide array of grave, logical implications this misattribution freights.

    Neo-liberal ideology is a symptom not the cause of our broken relationship with that ‘thing’ we call nature, our True Mother, the origin of us and all we see about us. :dry:



    Bill Gates ‘Education Model’ aka [strike]Microsoft[/strike] Microschool:

    You ‘buy’ some education.
    You don’t own it.
    You can ‘use’ it , but only in ways that we say you can.
    You cannot modify it.
    We will upgrade it for free, but it might not work after we have patched it.
    After a few years, we will make it obsolete, so you will have to buy some new education and learn to do the same sh*t a different way.
    We believe in education for life (as long as you pay and you do not VIOLATE our EULA (Education Under Large Asshole?) BTW, MS patents apply, copyright and trademarked – we own this sh*t ok?)
    If you try to do your own thing, we will find you and shut you down, unless you agree to do it OUR WAY with OUR School Ware!

    “IMPORTANT—READ CAREFULLY: This End-User License Agreement (“EULA”) is a legal agreement … addendum to this EULA may accompany the [strike]Software[/strike] School Ware.”

    Microschool – Where Don’t We Want You To Go Today?




    Nice quotes, BE, but on this topic I think Groucho does you one better:

    Well, Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.

    Just to say that no, I don’t think everything is measurable; I think that’s a very silly concept. Even as I admit that may be because I feel no need to measure everything. I feel much closer to Thoreau’s bewildered admiration for what he saw every time he woke up.

    We can’t understand life, and we can’t measure it, or even catch it in words; the best we can do is to stand in awe and be grateful that we get to see it unfold in motion for the few short years we are given.


    “Everything is measurable”

    Maybe, but not everything is comparable which is an important distinction. I can compare how much how much I like one peach versus another peach and maybe I can compare how much I like Vivaldi versus Mozart but I have hard time comparing a peach and Mozart. This is a well known concept in measure theory where objects are placed in lattices. Everything in a lattice is measurable but two items might not be comparable. The monetizing of things nonetheless attempts to do this. The peach may cost me a dollar and the Mozart CD 10 dollars so Mozart is better than a peach but not as good as 11 peaches.


    Comparative valuation of goods and services via the pricing mechanism provides a fair measure of average utility in a translucent market fluid under optimal equity impedance.

    Even in an ideal free market, price has deficient philosophical truth-value, but its not entirely untruthful either. When a tradeable thing has multivariate value and multiple discounting vectors because of relativity of equity, the compression of all possible utility functions into a singular price point does detract from absolute truth, but this affords easy comparison with other truncated utility functions experienced by market multitude as the average truth of price.

    Price makes it possible to compare the relative value of things based on marketable information about average truth, at the cost of discounting non-marketable information about absolute truth.

    The iPad mini is currently on sale here for €300, but this price was heavily subsidised by chinese slave labor, so its not really an equitable product of a free market. If consumers had accurate information about this slavery subsidy lowering the price of the product, demand would surely suffer from moral revulsion. But producing them under humane conditions with decent wages for the factory workers would also increase price and thus lower demand, although the absense of moral revulsion about their assembly could induce higher demand further on, if such information was known to caring consumers.
    In addition, the costs of waste and pollution byproducts have been fully externalised into the chinese commons, and are not expressed in the price, but such hidden costs are eventually expressed elsewhere.

    Gravity is an annual algorithm.


    Whether or not everything is measurable, videotaping a teacher so that he or she can watch the video and figure out how to teach better is a good and useful idea.

    I hope Stoneleigh watches her own videos every so often, to help improve her presentations.


    All growth has limitations. Nature uses a variety of redundancy, resiliency, and replacement to manage life events. Capitalism uses leverage. Productivity in nature under a leverage scenario generally leads to chaotic events. “Let Nature be your Teacher” William Wordsworth.


    Whether or not everything is measurable, videotaping a teacher so that he or she can watch the video and figure out how to teach better is a good and useful idea.

    Depends on what anyone thinks good or better teaching is. I know what it is in Texas, for instance, but in other places, it seems to be up for grabs.

    If it means kids have to learn to think like Bill Gates, I don’t agree at all, for one thing, but there’s a world full of Americans out there who see that as teaching nirvana. I’d say teach ’em to think like Thoreau, Twain, Whitman, Gandhi, ML King, but you just try and find a parent or a school board who will support that. Teaching better is so subjective it has no objective meaning. And then where do you go from there?


    Three points:

    First, evolution is a numbers game. It’s impossible to predict when nature will hit you with the next Ghengis Khan or black plague, so each organism’s best chance of survival is to have as many offspring as practical.

    Second, this creates a classic prisoner’s dilemma. Everyone would be better off if we maintained a stable population near our environment’s carrying capacity, but almost everyone’s reproductive choices are driven by the many-offspring strategy that is hardwired into us. A tendency to reproduce to excess is shared by all earthly life, and is likely to be shared by any aliens that may have evolved elsewhere.

    Third, technology isn’t the problem. The Maya destroyed their environment with fairly primitive technology. Capitalism also isn’t the problem, as demonstrated by the environmental catastrophes that dot the former Soviet Union. The problem is intrinsic to the nature of life.


    With certain species the genetic strategy of overbreeding is employed more under resource scarcity than abundance. The cause of incidental human overpopulation is poverty, since only poverty renders overpopulation quantifiable. Poverty is the worst form of structural violence in society.

    Life has two aspects; a real aspect defined by energy, being measurable, and an imaginary aspect defined by the idea of energy, being unmeasurable. Whereas the existence of all substance is defined by boundaries, life is a sacred substance defined only by temporary boundaries.
    Energy is a transient form of life, all energy is imaginary.


    I recently experienced a philosophical episode resolving the boundaries of existence, and there are none. All things exist potentially, those few things which exist actually only constitute a temporary reality, and these named components of reality only have substance in a gravitational field which is partially imaginary. Being a recursive algorithm, the logic of life necessarily extends beyond this material universe.

    In this universe, there is no sufficient reason why energy exists analytically, but some say energy is a good idea as dialectic novelty, while others disagree, concerning the equity of mortality.

    Physically, there remain substantial boundaries to gravitonomic energy and resource usage, depending on the instrumental parameters for growth and prosperity, much potential prosperity has been misallocated into unproductive works via additive misvaluation. But capitalism is surely not the only system to misvalue life itself, the enterprise of war is the greatest waste of life historically, and war predates capitalism as an economic system.

    Life is the ultimate resource involving the production of a self-consuming commodity.


    Growth can continue for a very long time if we can expand into the galaxy. Then the rate of growth is only limited by transport speed.


    Only one quibble with your article – but a major one… may make you reassess your thoughts about evolution.

    As odd as it may seem to you, we, the humans, are the purpose of all evolution. The earth as it evolves is for us. The evolution of the plant and animal species is to result in us. And while we may effect our world, we are not the final cause of what may occur. A little more humble, please.


    An excellent essay. You’ve expressed very well the uneasiness I’ve felt by valuing nature by its ‘dollar’ value. I have occasionally been quite convinced by this, by the likes of Tony Juniper (ex Friends of the Earth director) who strongly argues we haven’t do so well in protecting the environment so far – v. true. (doesn’t mean this new approach will work!)

    There are many problems with this approach, one being that it greatly narrows the debate, it might restrict is to an argument about what the price is. But mostly its an admission of defeat, if you wont play my game then I’ll join yours (mainstream economics) but then the environment is ripe to be stripped bare.

    We end up with simple cost analysis (which economists love). Is the economic benefit of destroying the environment more than its price? If so, says mainstream economics then we must destroy it – it is efficient to do so they say. Never mind that this 1-dimensional analysis misses out all other aspects, and that the price could be way off the mark, even if you could price nature – which is a nonsense.

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