Inequality vs Sustainability

What do you think?


  1. First off, I think the accent is great.

    I liked what he said about the upper class/elite/oligarchy defining the cultural model for all of society.

    Still I missed the words 'perpetual economic growth'. If you want people to stop accumulating material wealth, so that you can spend more on education, culture, etc, you have to change the economic concept that lies at the heart of your policies, change the definition and measurement of GDP. That's key.

    Then you'd have to introduce hard limits on how much someone can own, in money terms and in land terms. There is nothing wrong with the inequality per se, but rather with growing inequality. So connect wages within a company. If the CEO gets a 100% increase in increase, then his secretary gets one too, and the guys on the workfloor get one too.

    Like Hervé says: it's all so simple. In theory.:-)

  2. I think a limits to growth attitude is so burnt in to Herve's position that he doesn't need to mention it explicitly. The idea that everyone in the advanced economies will have to reduce their impact is a consequence of limits to growth - without such limits why worry about it?

    My concern with this approach is the implicit Catholicism of it - that we have sinned and we must suffer. The crucial thing is that we reduce our impact; on the carbon axis drastically so. It is not obvious that we must reduce our comfort or well-being.

    However, such things as the competition between public and private interests for parkland become grossly distorted as the amount of capital available to the rich grows exponentially in comparison to the mean. This is why I think it is correct that inequality must be reined in to approach sustainability, but in this interview the reason is not explained.

    Perhaps it is addressed at greater length in his book, How the Rich are Destroying the Earth ("Comment les riches détruisent la planète") is a best-seller in France.

    But the Amazon blurb focuses on what I would consider not incorrect but incomplete (" despite environmentalists' emphasis that "we're all in the same boat," the world's economic elites--who continue to benefit by plundering the environment--have access to "lifeboats" that insulate them from the resulting catastrophes").

    The fact is that the rich, while celebrating the power of the marketplace, are immune to its corrections in proportion to their wealth. My suspicion is that as a consequence, the greater the spread in wealth, the less effective pricing mechanisms are in controlling aggregate consumption.

    If we rely on pricing alone to get to carbon zero, we have to get pretty ridiculous prices before ultrawealthy car or boat collectors are affected. True, there are only so many billionaires. But the shape of the consumption curve is adverse. Once we have carbon prices high enough to restrain the dominant users, in an unequal society barring other policies we will make an unacceptably harsh impact on the poor.

    The American corn harvest will largely fail this year, and wheat and soy will also be impacted. Food prices have shown volatility in the last couple of years. This is arguably an impact of carbon emissions. The middle class will only be slightly impacted, but continued disruptions in poor countries are a likely outcome.

    An explicit policy could increase the price of meat while leaving a consistent supply of cheap grains. Nobody would starve. The impact would move from the very poor to the lower-middle classes. McDonalds eaters would be severely challenged. Their shareholders will take a "haircut". But their hair will still look fine.

  3. I picked up on the 'being duped into consumerism' part of the story, which I'm always a little dubious about. That said, here's a nice little piece about false consciousness worth considering: "That's the phrase I hear all the time. People aren't stupid. It sounds egalitarian, but it's actually reactionary. It's an attempt to silence anyone who tries to expose the sneaky ways in which inequality is sustained in our society and culture."

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