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“The Focus is ‘Enough’ Rather Than ‘More’”

“The Focus is ‘Enough’ Rather Than ‘More’”

The mainstream economics notion that unfettered growth accompanied by greater consumption and productivity benefits society is false, argues Rob Dietz, Program Director at the Post Carbon Institute. In an interview with getAbstract, he shares his vision of a new economic way forward.

“The Focus is ‘Enough’ Rather Than ‘More’”

getAbstract: In a nutshell, could you give us a short definition of “steady-state economics”?

Rob Dietz: You can think of steady-state economics as a sustainable alternative to mainstream or neoclassical economics, which assumes perpetual growth of production and consumption. So steady-state economics is the study and practice of how to maintain an economy with a stable level of resource consumption and a stable population. Such an economy keeps material and energy use within ecological limits, and the unsustainable (and unrealistic) goal of continuously increasing income and consumption is replaced by the goal of improving quality of life for all. In short, the focus is enough rather than more.

Why do you think adopting a steady-state economic model is the only way to promote widespread prosperity and resource sustainability for future generations? 

I’m not sure it’s the “only” way, but it’s our best bet at this pivotal point in history. Let’s start by establishing working definitions of the terms “widespread prosperity” and “resource sustainability.” Widespread prosperity means that everyone is able to meet his or her basic needs for physical health and sustenance, plus some standard of comfort. No one lives in poverty, and daily life offers opportunities for fulfillment and enjoyment beyond toil just to stay alive.

Related Summary in getAbstract’s Library

Image of: Enough Is Enough

Enough Is Enough

This provocative book challenges many beliefs about the value of unfettered economic growth.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Let’s Be Less Productive

HAS the pursuit of labor productivity reached its limit?

Productivity — the amount of output delivered per hour of work in the economy — is often viewed as the engine of progress in modern capitalist economies. Output is everything. Time is money. The quest for increased productivity occupies reams of academic literature and haunts the waking hours of C.E.O.’s and finance ministers. Perhaps forgivably so: our ability to generate more output with fewer people has lifted our lives out of drudgery and delivered us a cornucopia of material wealth.

But the relentless drive for productivity may also have some natural limits. Ever-increasing productivity means that if our economies don’t continue to expand, we risk putting people out of work. If more is possible each passing year with each working hour, then either output has to increase or else there is less work to go around. Like it or not, we find ourselves hooked on growth.

What, then, should happen when, for one reason or another, growth just isn’t to be had anymore? Maybe it’s a financial crisis. Or rising prices for resources like oil. Or the need to rein in growth for the damage it’s inflicting on the planet: climate change, deforestation, the loss of biodiversity. Maybe it’s any of the reasons growth can no longer be safely and easily assumed in any of today’s economies. The result is the same. Increasing productivity threatens full employment.

One solution would be to accept the productivity increases, shorten the workweek and share the available work. Such proposals — familiar since the 1930s — are now enjoying something of a revival in the face of continuing recession. The New Economics Foundation, a British think tank, proposes a 21-hour workweek. It may not be the workaholic’s choice. But it’s certainly a strategy worth thinking about.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Steen Jakobsen: The Four Horsemen Portend A Painful Reckoning

Steen Jakobsen: The Four Horsemen Portend A Painful Reckoning

Even the US is now ‘swimming naked’

Steen Jacobsen, Chief Economist and Chief Investment Officer of Saxo Bank sees economic slowdown ahead.

Specifically, his “Four Horseman” indicators: the drivers of economic growth, are all flashing red.

Jacobsen believes that the central banks will continue their liquidity tightening efforts for as long as they can get away with (i.e., until the financial markets start toppling over). In his opinion, they eased way too much for way too long; and the malinvestment and zombification that resulted needs to clear the system — and it will likely do so more violently and painful than the central banks will like:

I like to make things simple. Right now we have the Four Horsemen: the four drivers of the global economy. They are the quantity of money, which is falling; the price of money, which is rising; the price of energy,which is a tax on consumers and is rising; and globalization/productivity, which is falling.

So, if you look at the economy as a black box, I really don’t know what happens inside of it. But I can observe what goes into the black box: it’s these four things.

Globalization / productivity, we know that’s all about Trump, trade war and the likes. It’s not exactly improving; it’s actually worsening.

As for the quantity of money, a lot of people argue with me that the Central Banks are still expanding their balance sheets, but the fact of the matter is that the QT in terms of the U.S has been reducing the Federal Reserve balance sheet. And we have a stealth reduction of the balance sheet in terms of the Bank of Japan. The EBC would love to cut and is publicly committed to doing so. The Bank of England is doing its first hike. So the quantity of money is falling.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Is Productivity Dead in the Water?

Why Is Productivity Dead in the Water?

The only possible output of this system is extortion as a way of life.

As the accompanying chart shows, productivity in the U.S. has been declining since the early 2000s. This trend mystifies economists, as the tremendous investments in software, robotics, networks and mobile computing would be expected to boost productivity, as these tools enable every individual who knows how to use them to produce more value.

One theory holds that the workforce has not yet learned how to use these tools, an idea that arose in the 1980s to explain the decline in productivity even as personal computers, desktop publishing, etc. entered the mainstream.

A related explanation holds that institutions and corporations are not deploying the new technologies very effectively for a variety of reasons: the cost of integrating legacy systems, insufficient training of their workforce, and hasty, ill-planned investments in mobile platforms that don’t actually yield higher productivity.

Productivity matters because producing more value with every unit of energy, every tool and every hour of labor is the foundation of higher wages, profits, taxes and general prosperity.

I have four theories about the secular decline in productivity, and all are difficult to model and back up with data, as they are inherently ambiguous and hard to quantify.

1. Mobile telephony and social media distract workers so significantly and ubiquitously that the work being produced has declined per worker/per hour of paid labor.

2. Public and private institutions have become grossly inefficient and ineffective, soaking up any gains in productivity via their wasteful processes and institutionalized incompetence.

3. Our institutions have substituted signaling and compliance for productivity.

4. The financial elites at the top of our neofeudal economy have optimized protecting their skims and scams above all else; their focus is rigging the system in their favor and so productivity is of no concern to them.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Social Media, Not Religion, The Opium Of The People

Social Media, Not Religion, The Opium Of The People

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. – Karl Marx,  A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

Social media is becoming the new whipping boy and poster child for all that ills our culture and contributing to its decline.

We added our two cents in a recent post,  Why Google Is A Short,

…social media probably generates negative productivity.  We read some time ago the average American spends 40 minutes per day playing Farmville.   How does planting virtual corn add to the GDP?

Though we are more ambivalent about Google, Facebook is doing some severe psychological damage to an entire generation, including my 15-year daughter.   They spend much of their time competing with trophy photos loaded up on Instagram.  Never gonna win that game, which leads to increased anxiety and depression for an entire generation.

The Google Short

That brings us to the Google (we are old school and can’t bring ourselves to call it Alphabet) short.

Imagine when a politician has his/her epiphany that all those porn searches they have done over the years on Google are stored somewhere and could be hacked and released to the public?  That will ignite a prairie fire of potential legislation, which will spread faster than you can say SNAP.  – GMM, Apr 24th

Our Friend Weighs In

We received this email from a very close friend yesterday,

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Pie Is Shrinking So Much The 99% Are Beginning To Starve

Melissa E Dockstader/Shutterstock

The Pie Is Shrinking So Much The 99% Are Beginning To Starve

How much longer until the pitchforks come out?

Social movements arise to solve problems of inequality, injustice, exploitation and oppression. In other words, they are solutions to society-wide problems plaguing the many but not the few (i.e. the elites at the top of the wealth-power pyramid).

The basic assumption of social movements is that Utopia is within reach, if only the sources of the problems can be identified and remedied.  Since inequality, injustice, exploitation and oppression arise from the asymmetry of power between the few (the financial and political elites) and the many, the solution is a reduction of the asymmetry; that is a tectonic realignment of the social structure that shifts some power—economic and/or political—from the few to the many.

In some instances, the power asymmetry is between ethnic or gender classes, or economic classes (for example, labor and the owners of capital).

Social movements are characterized by profound conflict because the beneficiaries of the power asymmetry resist the demands for a fairer share of the power and privileges, while those who’ve held the short end of the stick have tired of the asymmetry and refuse to back down.

Two dynamics assist a social, political and economic resolution that transfers power from those with too much power to those with too little power: 1) the engines of the economy have shifted productive capacity definitively in favor of those demanding their fair share of power, and 2) the elites recognize that their resistance to power-sharing invites a less predictable and thus far more dangerous open conflict with forces that have much less to lose and much more to gain.

In other words, ceding 40% of their wealth-power still conserves 60%, while stubborn resistance might trigger a revolution that takes 100% of their wealth-power.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Falling Productivity of Debt

Discounting the Present Value of Future Income

Last week, we discussed the ongoing fall of dividend, and especially earnings, yields. This Report is not a stock letter, and we make no stock market predictions. We talk about this phenomenon to make a different point. The discount rate has fallen to a very low level indeed.

We add this chart to provide a slightly different perspective to the discussion that follows below (and the question raised at the end of the article). This is a very simple ratio chart, which focuses on non-financial corporate debt in particular, as neither consumer debt nor government debt can be considered “productive” by their very nature – the latter types of debt are used for consumption, which they “pull forward” (as an aside, we don’t believe there is anything wrong with consumer debt per se, but it is not “productive”). As the recommendations of Keynesians on combating economic downturns indicate, they have a slight problem with the sequencing of production and consumption. They favor measures aimed at boosting demand, i.e., they want to encourage consumption, which is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. The chart above shows the ratio of GDP to total non-financial corporate debt – and obviously, GDP is not really an ideal measure for this purpose, as Keith also mentions below (GDP has many flaws, and its greatest flaw is the underlying idea that “spending” is what drives economic growth; not to mention that it seems not to matter what the spending actually entails – even Keynesian ditch digging or pyramid building would “add to GDP”, but would it represent economic growth? That seems a rather audacious assumption – in fact, it should be obvious that such activities would diminish rather than enhance society-wide prosperity).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Productivity and Debt


William Blake Europe Supported by Africa and America 1796
 

Earlier this week I was struck by the similarities and differences between two graphs I saw float by. And the thought occurred that they are as scary as they are interesting. The graphs show eerily similar trends. And complement each other. The first graph, which Tyler Durden posted, shows productivity, defined as more or less the same as GDP per capita. It goes all the way back to 1790 and contends that 2017 productivity is about back to the level it was at in 1790. In the article, Tyler suggests a link with the amount of time people spend on Instagram et al, but perhaps there is something more going on.

That is, America and Western Europe exported almost their entire manufacturing capacity to China etc. And how can you be productive if you don’t manufacture anything? Yeah, I know, ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘service economy’ and all that, but does anyone still really believe those terms? Sure, that may have worked for a while as others were still actually making stuff (and nobody really understood the idea anyway), but it’s a sliding scale. As productivity plunged, so did GDP per capita. We can all wrap our heads around that.

America’s Productivity Plunge Explained

For the first time since the financial crisis, US multifactor productivity growth turned negative last year, mystifying economists who have struggled to find something to blame for the fact that worker productivity is declining despite a technology boom that should make them more efficient – at least in theory. To be sure, economists have struggled to find explanations for the exasperating trend, with some arguing that the US hasn’t figured out how to properly measure productivity growth correctly now that service-sector jobs proliferate while manufacturing shrinks. But what if there’s a more straightforward explanation? What if the decline in US productivity measured since the 1970s isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What Killed the Middle Class?

What Killed the Middle Class?

If the four structural trends highlighted below don’t reverse, the middle class is heading for extinction. 

Everyone knows the middle class is fading fast. I’ve covered this issue in depth for years, for example: Honey, I Shrunk the Middle Class: Perhaps 1/3 of Households Qualify (December 28, 2015) and What Does It Take To Be Middle Class? (December 5, 2013)

This raises an obvious question: what killed the middle class? While many commentators try to identify one killer cause (for example, the U.S. going off the gold standard in 1971), the die-off of the middle class is more akin to the die-off in honey bees, which is the result of the interaction of multiple causes (factors that increase the toxic load dumped on bees and other pollinators by modern agriculture).

Longtime collaborator Gordon T. Long and I discuss the decline of the middle class and other key topics in a new 29-minute video How did that work out for you?

So where do we begin this detective story? With the engine of all real prosperity, productivity. This chart reveals that wages stopped rising with productivity around 1980.

Here’s another look at the same phenomenon:

Productivity has been slipping since around 2003: Alan Greenspan:”Productivity is Dead”

Cause #1: declining productivity, which means the pie of real wealth is no longer expanding.

Exhibit #2: middle class wage earners have not received any of the gains.Wages as a percentage of GDP have been falling for decades, with occasional blips up in tech/housing bubbles:

Inflation-adjusted household income has dropped back to levels first reached in the 1980s:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Hard Look at a Soft Global Economy

A Hard Look at a Soft Global Economy

MILAN – The global economy is settling into a slow-growth rut, steered there by policymakers’ inability or unwillingness to address major impediments at a global level. Indeed, even the current anemic pace of growth is probably unsustainable. The question is whether an honest assessment of the impediments to economic performance worldwide will spur policymakers into action.

Since 2008, real (inflation-adjusted) cumulative growth in the developed economies has amounted to a mere 5-6%. While China’s GDP has risen by about 70%, making it the largest contributor to global growth, this was aided substantially by debt-fueled investment. And, indeed, as that stimulus wanes, the impact of inadequate advanced-country demand on Chinese growth is becoming increasingly apparent.

Growth is being undermined from all sides. Leverage is increasing, with some $57 trillion having piled up worldwide since the global financial crisis began. And that leverage – much of it the result of monetary expansion in most of the world’s advanced economies – is not even serving the goal of boosting long-term aggregate demand. After all, accommodative monetary policies can, at best, merely buy time for more durable sources of demand to emerge.

Moreover, a protracted period of low interest rates has pushed up asset prices, causing them to diverge from underlying economic performance. But while interest rates are likely to remain low, their impact on asset prices probably will not persist. As a result, returns on assets are likely to decline compared to the recent past; with prices already widely believed to be in bubble territory, a downward correction seems likely. Whatever positive impact wealth effects have had on consumption and deleveraging cannot be expected to continue.

The world also faces a serious investment problem, which the low cost of capital has done virtually nothing to overcome. Public-sector investment is now below the level needed to sustain robust growth, owing to its insufficient contribution to aggregate demand and productivity gains.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The persistence of the peasantry: further notes on the inverse productivity relationship

The persistence of the peasantry: further notes on the inverse productivity relationship

So first a brief summary of my ecomodernism wars to date: the ‘ecomodernists’ brought out their Manifesto in April; I wrote a critique of it that was published on the Dark Mountain website in July; Mike Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute wrote a critique of my critique on Twitter, to which I responded with a follow up essay; to Mike’s hot denial, I described ‘ecomodernism’ as ‘neoliberalism with a green veneer’; Mike came to Britain to help Mark Lynas launch ecomodernism over here, but somehow the veneer slipped off on its journey across the Atlantic, and the two of them found themselves sharing a platform with those well-known environmentalists Owen Paterson and Matt Ridley, much to Mark Lynas’s later regret. Meanwhile, George Monbiot wrote a critical article in The Guardianabout ecomodernism, to which Ted Nordhaus, Mike Shellenberger and Linus Blomqvist wrote a critical response. And Mark Lynas exchanged a couple of remarkably polite comments with me. Few dead yet.

But let us now home in on the issues raised by George Monbiot in his Guardian article with which Nordhaus et al (henceforth NSB) take issue, concerning small farm productivity and agrarian development. Monbiot made three main points:

  1. The ecomodernists claim that small-scale farming in poor countries is unproductive, but while its labour productivity is low its productivity per unit area is often higher than larger scale farming

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Is the slowdown in productivity growth a result of energy costs?

Is the slowdown in productivity growth a result of energy costs?

Slowing productivity growth in the United States has been in the news in recent months. It has become a concern to policymakers because they believe it is one of the primary contributors to a middle-class economic squeeze according to the annual report of the White House Council of Economic Advisors.

Simply put, productivity growth refers to the growth in economic output per worker or more precisely, per hour of work. When this growth slows, the potential for real wage increases diminishes since the growth in wages typically reflects the ability of workers to create more output per unit of time.

To the obstensibly naive observer the following idea may seem a plausible explanation: Higher-cost energy inputs into the production of goods and services reduce productivity growth because the economic output per dollar of energy consumed declines. And, though energy inputs aren’t the only thing to consider, they are important. The high energy prices of the last decade or so may be, in part, responsible for low productivity growth. (Conversely, low energy costs would imply more output per dollar of energy consumed.)

But strangely, almost all economic models for productivity consider only so-called “tangible” factors, that is, labor and capital. In the bizarro world of modern economics, energy and materials are not considered “tangible.”

Now, the way in which that productivity growth which is attributable to “technological advances” is typically calculated is to add up contributions to productivity growth from labor and capital (machines, buildings, vehicles, tools of any kind) and then subtract this sum from the known amount of total productivity growth. What is left is the so-called “residual” which is presumed to result from “technological advances” caused by increases in human knowledge. These advances and the increases in capital per worker are assumed to be the drivers of productivity growth.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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