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February 02, 2006

Robert Newman.

This Robert Newman chap in the Groan today. Run out of tinfoil hats or something? Did his copy arrive scrawled in green ink? This is the most ludicrous and pathetically stupid tosh.

Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature. It is predicated on infinitely expanding markets, faster consumption and bigger production in a finite planet.

Complete bollocks. Capitalism is a system of the ownership of the means of production. Sod all to do with expansion, faster or bigger. On that finite planet bit you could at least get the Boulding quote right. You cannot have infinite growth in a finite system. Which is true but that doesn’t mean you can’t have infinite economic growth on a finite planet. Because the planet is not the limit to the system. GDP is defined as the value added in a country (OK, that’s a touch simplistic but that is what it means, at root). As we develop new technologies we can add greater value to the same resources. Even if we had (this looney’s) desired world straight out of the self-sufficient medieaval village, people would still develop new technologies and thus there would still be economic growth.

And yet this ideological model remains the central organising principle of our lives, and as long as it continues to be so it will automatically undo (with its invisible hand) every single green initiative anybody cares to come up with.

Who the frig ever said capitalism had an invisible hand? Markets, yes, but capitalism? No, they’re not the same thing.

To think, they harvested electrons and killed trees to spread this nonsense.

(Sadly, chikky yoggy seems to think he’s on to something.)

February 2, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink


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Look! Two quality posts in one day! I think that's worth a donation, don't you?While I'm not privy to the To Do list of Guardian comment editor Seamus Milne, I have a pretty good idea of what it looks like [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 2, 2006 3:30:23 PM

» Thursday Bonus Post! from The Daily Ablution
Look! Two quality posts in one day! I think that's worth a donation, don't you?While I'm not privy to the To Do list of Guardian comment editor Seamus Milne, I have a pretty good idea of what it looks like [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 2, 2006 5:05:19 PM

» COMIC from Clive Davis
I just knew Tim Worstall would go after comedian-cum-commentator Robert Newman this morning:To think, they harvested electrons and killed trees to spread this nonsense.Newman (formerly David Baddiel's other half, creatively speaking) is a very nice guy... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 2, 2006 8:22:57 PM


He's so ignorant that I can't think of anything to say.

Ignorant in the full sense of the word - not only does he not know, but he has no concept of his lack of knowledge.

Perhaps he's just taking the piss out of people like us, he's just going to laugh at anybody who rises to it, because it is so plainly rubbish. Sadly I doubt that interpretation, but I can't think of any other.

How do you deal with perfect 360 degree ignorance?

Posted by: johnny bonk | Feb 2, 2006 12:08:38 PM

No he's right (or at least, right in his own context which is pretty clearly Marx's Capital, Vol 1, and since the term if not the word "capitalism" was originally defined by Marx I would say he is within his rights to use it). Capitalism is a system defined by accumulation, which is the practice of extracting a surplus from the production process which is reinvested in further production. Nobody would reinvest a surplus at a negative rate of return, and reinvestment at a positive rate of return results in growth. A non-growing economic system would only be possible if there was no surplus, and a system without surplus is (definitionally in C Vol1) not capitalism.

This is one of the better-supported propositions in Marx, empirically. Okun's Law links employment to growth and it is very well-established; capitalist economies don't do well when they are not growing.

Posted by: dsquared | Feb 2, 2006 12:12:16 PM

Ah, naughty, naughty, Timothy. I presented this article on my drum without comment. But yeah, I do think he's onto something. So Newman wasn't spot on with his terminology. What about his broader point?

I conducted an experiment. I locked a monkey (representing the human race) in a box (representing the planet) with a stack of jam sandwiches (representing the oil reserves). The monkey ate all the jam sandwiches and then died of starvation a few weeks later. Just before he suffocated in his own stink.

I'll admit it's been a long time since Economics A-Level.

Tim adds: Substitution is a good place to start thinking about this.

Posted by: Justin | Feb 2, 2006 12:26:47 PM

"Capitalism is a system defined by accumulation, ..." - duuuhhhh, and there was me thinking Captialism has something to do with citizens using their own capital as they choose.

Posted by: johnny bonk | Feb 2, 2006 12:47:09 PM

"reinvestment at a positive rate of return results in growth"

but not necessarily growth in the consumption of finite resources.

If my investment starts a profitable internet site that puts a physical magazine out of business, where does that leave us?

"Nobody would reinvest a surplus at a negative rate of return, and reinvestment at a positive rate of return results in growth"

Isn't this also questionable dsquared? I mean I might invest the get myself returns that result from putting other companies out of business. There need not be growth in aggregate for individuals to have the incentive to invest.

Posted by: Luis Enrique | Feb 2, 2006 12:54:16 PM

Justin, I've given ALF your address and they're coming to kick your ass.

Posted by: James Graham | Feb 2, 2006 12:56:39 PM

This depends on the definition of capitalism, but if it means free trade and a limited role for the state, then the author is probably correct.

The major economies are not capitalist by that definition andnever have been.


Posted by: james C | Feb 2, 2006 12:59:39 PM

What the eco-freaks really, really, really don't understand is what economists mean by consumption.

It's buying something instead of saving money.

It's not like people literally destroy the steel, plastic, glass and electronics in a car when they buy one: you can't destroy matter (unless, of course, you've got anti-matter), you can only transform it.

So the whole argumentation of "consuming the finite resources" is plain and simply WRONG.

Food is consumed and parts of it are converted into energy via chemical means and waste products, but it's not destroyed, it's just transformed. The same is true for ALL products that people consume: very, very little of products we have cannot be, in one way or another recycled. Steel today is largely made of scrap; aluminium today is largely made of scrap; copper, lead, etc are all recycled (not completely, but that's a matter of wastage (stuff going into landfills) and usage (I'm not gonna recycle my car until I can no longer use).


Posted by: John F. Opie | Feb 2, 2006 1:26:28 PM

If he is basing he arguments on Marx's Capital volume I, then perhaps it would be an idea to send him the works of an economist from the 20th century, instead of his source in the 19th. From there we might in time be able to work him up to the 21st.

Posted by: chris | Feb 2, 2006 2:02:28 PM

...and that's why I stopped reading the Guardian. So much nonsense squeezing out decent journalism and news coverage until there's virtually none left.

It seems that we have a particularly blinkered neo-marxist and Ricardian bunch of eco freaks. Who haven't done much reading in their lives.

I am sick and tired of seeing commentaries and news items resembling thought-provoking questions in undergraduate and A-level essay and exam questions. Its insulting, wrong, and just a load of lazy rubbish.

Posted by: angry economist | Feb 2, 2006 2:23:32 PM

Hey Dudes,
We're trying to fight religion with truth ... its pointless and they're laughing at us. See my opening post on this.

Let's give up on the argument and throw bags of shit at him.

Fortunately, he's not in power, otherwise we would have to use lorries packed with explosives.

Posted by: johnny bonk | Feb 2, 2006 3:37:44 PM

Actually he's right. The alternative to capitalism is communism. It used up people at a horrendous rate, and could have made our world sustainable if it had won, simply by exterminating the excess.

Posted by: EU Serf | Feb 2, 2006 3:43:52 PM

Remember, the guardian is a commercial product. Mr Rushbridger and Mr Milne don't necessarily believe some of the weirder stuff they publish, but they do have customers to answer to, many of whom do believe anything that comes from "their" side. Treat it as an amusement rather than a contribution to the debate.

I see several posts above actually bothering to answer the points this idiot makes. Why bother ... you can't fight religious conviction with reason and truth. Be amused (and a bit worried) but surely we've all got better things to do with our time than bother to engage with this drivel.

Throw bags of shit at him, and enjoy his article as a comedy piece.

Posted by: johnny bonk | Feb 2, 2006 3:55:12 PM

Every time you see someone advocating autarky and complaining about 'long supply lines' and supermarkets, you know he's spouting fluorescent green eco-pap of the first water, and can be safely ignored. The neo-feudalists are just so stupid as to be unworthy of consideration. Oh, and he believes in peak oil. 'Nuff said.

I actually momentarily felt stupider for reading Newman's droolings. He gives Gorgeous Georges Moonbat a run for his money in the economic-fallacies-per-paragraph stakes.

Posted by: David Gillies | Feb 2, 2006 4:01:42 PM

>Remember, the guardian is a commercial product<
A non viable commercial product cross subsidised by more profitable publications in the stable, such as Autotrader.

This suggests that it's contents may indeed be driven by ideology that the Guardian's contents may indeed be influenced by sympathy to the statist' illiberal ideology it seems to relentlessly punt.

Not that I have a problem with that; I dont buy the Guardian and as one liberally inclined, I tend to thing people should be free to buy and read whatever they choose no matter how full of tosh, be it a Barbara Cartland novel or the Guardian. It's the BBC that is most offensive as it’s funded from taxation, it should have been privatised along with British Leyland, The Post Office and the Utilities – it’s a aberrant legacy of the discredited Socialist central planning model, a model for martialing resources and labour that the author seems to hanker back to. Funny I have little recollection of Warsaw Pact countries or the PRC being particularly up their and trouncing ‘The Great Satan’ on environmental issues!

Posted by: Nick (South Africa) | Feb 2, 2006 4:22:01 PM

Cool, fifteen posts denouncing the ideology of this heretic (including one guy saying three times that he isn't going to bother arguing with it because it's too wrong to argue with). Quite the little revival meeting. I'm gonna look forward to reading this one on the train home.

Posted by: dsquared | Feb 2, 2006 6:59:17 PM

I might be being stupid here but what exactly is Justin's example supposed to illustrate?

The Monkey has two choices: to eat all the sandwiches at once or to ration them over a few weeks. Either way the monkey dies. There is no rational behaviour the monkey could adopt to save the planet except pray to God (Justin) to open the box. The Monkey's best option is go for mindless hedonism in the short term, since the long term is predetermined.

Posted by: JohnM | Feb 2, 2006 7:50:16 PM

If two other monkeys forced their way into the box and confiscated the sandwiches in order to allocate the original monkey's sandwiches along "fair and socially just" lines, they would certainly last longer...

Do i get top marx?

Posted by: Rob Read | Feb 2, 2006 8:58:05 PM

dsquared wrote:

...including one guy saying three times that he isn't going to bother arguing with it because it's too wrong to argue with). Quite the little revival meeting...

Aren't you engaging in the same behavior you're poking fun at? Or did you simply overlook Luis Enrique's substantive response to your original post?

As for your peculiar definition of capitalism as "a system defined by accumulation": You seem to be suggesting that socialism and "extracting a surplus from the production process which is reinvested in further production" are irreconcilable. Making socialism a system defined by what? Dissipation? Stagnation? If a socialist economy increases worker efficiency in one industry or another and then proceeds to allocate those gains toward further production of some kind (rather than, say, simply rewarding the workers with longer lunch hours) has it ceased to be a socialist economy?

Capitalism is generally defined as private ownership of the means of production--as contrasted with state or public ownership of the means of production. The two terms aren't primarily differentiated by their different production processes, but by who controls those processes. You seem to think otherwise. (Or I've misunderstood you.)

Posted by: dandragna | Feb 3, 2006 12:17:10 AM

Ah, another chance for everyone's favourite mining engineer to rant on about his pet bugbear.

Quite apart from showing a worrying propensity for torturing dumb animals, Justin is engaging the standard Guardianista "we're all doomed" idiocy.

The "limited resources" so lovingly quoted by the enviro-industry actually come from their arch-enemies, the resource companies themselves. Those of us in the business call these numbers reserves and usually they are put in the annual report to show shareholders that the company they own has a future. In the Anglospere the definition of reserves is pretty clear and precise; legislation and stock exchange rules also mean that companies tend to stick to the rules closely (the Axis of Weasil has a more complex system but the result is basically the same).

To put it succinctly, reserves are what has been discovered and can be extracted based on current economic, legal, and technological parameters. Companies generally like to have 20 years of reserves "in the bank" to keep shareholders happy. Any more and the owners start to complain that the companies are spending too much and they'd rather have bigger dividend cheques thank you. Any less and they start to sell their shares and invest their pension money in jackelope ranches instead.

Apart from too much or too little exploration the only times the reserve numbers move radically from the 20 year average is when one of the defining parameters changes. To date there have been no moves due to the earth running out of a particular commodity. The only exception to this rule, to my knowledge, is tanzanite, a rather pretty, blue gemstone found only in a few places in East Africa. Tanzanite is running out (or at least no-one has found any new deposits yet). Unfortunately, from the Guardianista point of view, the exhaustion of the world's tanzanite reserves will not lead to the collapse of the global economy and a return to the happy hunter-gatherer state they so desire.

And as Tim so frequently and eloquently points out, mankind is not the stupidest creature on the planet (certain individuals excluded). We like our advanced standards of living so even if the world's supply of unobtainium does dry up we'll very quickly find a replacement. The alternative, so beloved of the bunnyhuggers, is to return to a life span of 30 years, infant mortality of 50% or more, and the likelyhood that most women would die in childbirth in their early teens.

And while we are discussing the evils of capitalism and the environment; has Mr Newman ever actually visited the industrial regions of the former eastern block? Tasted the air you can cut with a knife? Looked at the pretty colours of the local rivers? I'd posit that socialism has had a far more disasterous effect on the human and natural environment than capitalism has ever managed to acheive.


Posted by: The Remittance Man | Feb 3, 2006 7:08:58 AM

Bush lied – people died, Lies Lies lies WOMD Bush = Hitler, Bush = Chimp, Orang Utan…insert your primate of choice here (Bush babies excluded as they are rather cute). Halliburton Cheney, Rummy Wolferwits evil Zionist one…(Oh, some of my best friends are Jews), John Evil Bolton evil bad, evil, evil one, very evil. Nice sweety pie put upon suicide bombers, no tanks or F16s so out of love and selflessness they use their own bodies. Lovely freedom fighting insurgents, America bad hamburger, Mc Donalds, Military industrial complex, Coca Cola. Bush is stupid….don’t like……more… hate, Hate, HATE Bush…..visceral. Clittorectomylovely cultural norms, Michael Moore told you so Caans honoured, Democratic party podium hero. Reverse culpability yes… yes Yes YES. Yasser great geeser…cried when he died, Insurgents in Iraq lovely….terrorists = US forces. No weapons of mass destruction, no terrorism link, 100,000 Iraqi civilian dead, must be true, ‘twas in the Lancet…..Bathist Iraq most progressive regime in the Middle East. Fisk (OBL endorsed him as neutral, so he must be), Chomsky, Daily Kos, George Monbiot, Moveon.org, Pilger and award winning documentary maker Michael Moore….brilliant! BBC, Indi-Guardian Channel 4 yup; told you! Did I say Bush is stupid and Blair is a poodle? Claire Short yummy, yummy. Right on Ken, got us the Olympics bless; Condolessa plantation working stupid puppet, tokenism. Bush STOOPID. Torture Guantanamo = American Nazi Gulag, Abuh Garaib. Sweet Palestinian loving culture (kissy, kissy) rather put upon by evil Holocaust Zionists (but some of my best friends are Jews). London bombing ‘root cause’ = Blaire’s fault, England’s fault…get out of Iraq NOW, give Palestine a state and all will be Nirvarna. Islamic women’s rights cultural relativity –they love it (I do to). Iraqi quagmire, America will loose (yeah baby kick their arse) Gay feminist atheists, lovely Islamists really love them kissy kissy…Chimp = Bush (and supid). No Al Quaida Iraq connection lies …lies ……lies AND illegal war (Kofi said it, so there). Defending their country against Neo Cons (which is neo Nazi) colonisation. How could you be SO STUPID. Iranian A bomb lovely …super balance for the murdering nazi Zionists, Bush fascist Hitler Blaire’s fault. Bush stole the elections AND did I say; he’s Stupid. Americans stupid, insular, FAT, nasty, materialist…how could they be so stupid. Bush = stupid.

Posted by: Nick (South Africa) | Feb 3, 2006 11:41:41 AM

I think Nick is having a bad day and needs one of my special smarties. I'll get Nurse Cindy to e-mail him some along with a couple of her artistic photographic self-portraits. That should calm him down.


Posted by: The Remittance Man | Feb 3, 2006 3:37:00 PM

I've just read Nick's comments about Claire Short and I believe I shall not be sending any self-portraits under any circumstances. (I'm not sure where Mr Remittance gets the idea I would have such things from anyway).

I will, however, send a double dose of the red, "extra-special" smarties as soon as I've given Mr Remittance his evening medication. I shall also be contacting Nick's local social services department as he is clearly in need of help.


Posted by: Nurse Cindy | Feb 3, 2006 4:14:02 PM

Does communism = socialism?

Is the opposite of capitalism socialism or is it communism? or is it something else?

Communism was a particular variant of socialism and fascism, and control of the means of production by centralised state machinery.

Don't forget that there's other ways of social ownership of production that are active, and they make a big difference in countries such as the USA (e.g. NGOs/Non Profits).

I am not a particular advocate, but communism is an attempt at socialism, but does not represent the totality of socialism, whatever that is.

However, the Guardian does lean on statist approaches to everything doesn't it? so maybe it is in fact a communist newspaper.

Posted by: angry_economist | Feb 3, 2006 6:19:03 PM

dsquared - "Cool, fifteen posts denouncing the ideology of this heretic (including one guy saying three times that he isn't going to bother arguing with it because it's too wrong to argue with)."

Yep, you got me there dsquared - there comes a point where one has to draw a line under reasoned argument and start throwing bags of shit instead. He doesn't want to know, that's clear. I make the point that there's no point trying to reason with him and that we've got better things to do with out time (like throw bags of shit at him).

Now I've said it four times.

Posted by: johnny bonk | Feb 4, 2006 12:36:46 AM