Do our global policy makers welcome Scottish Separatism?
As the first exit polls came in after polls closed on Thursday 12 December, one key trend caught my attention. While the working classes in the Midlands and North of England had swung to the Conservatives, many voting Tory for the first time in their lives, Scottish voters had bucked the trend and shifted their support to the misnamed Scottish National Party, who in government have prioritised radical social engineering even more than Labour before them. As the Conservatives look set to win a comfortable majority, I monitored BBC coverage only to notice they displayed vote share for mainland Great Britain alone. Their reporters struggled to hide their glee that for the first time in history a majority of parliamentary seats in Ulster had been won by parties that support unification with the Republic of Ireland, with the moderate SDLP gaining two seats and the Alliance Party one seat. This clearly marks a move towards a secular Ireland detached from both the sectarian divisions in the North and from its cultural heritage. When Boris Johnson agreed a compromise with the European Union on the Irish backstop, did he know that sooner or later the province would merge back into Ireland anyway? It now seems the only distinctive features of Ireland's two jurisdictions, except for strong regional accents, are road signs in miles and prices in pounds Sterling in the North East, but in kilometres and Euros in the rest of the Emerald Isle. So Ireland may regain political unity just as it becomes a lot less Irish.
The SNP only really disagree with Corbyn's Labour on the constitutional issue and look set to emulate the transformative mass migration policies of Leo Varadka's Irish government (known as Project Ireland 2040). If the SNP had their way, Scotland may sever its ties with England but will become a lot less Scottish as is already evident in many parts of Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, unlike Labour, they ran a very sleek campaign that would meet the full approval of Guardian columnists and Blairites alike. Blair's advisors only really supported the Union to maintain social peace and keep alive the British wing of the Anglo-American military industrial complex. Traditional Scottish nationalists are correct in observing that the British Foreign office sees Scotland as a convenient location for their military toys. Now the European Defence Union is a done deal, international NeoCons like Henry Kissenger, Emanuel Macron, Guy Verhofstadt may turn to the Franco-German alliance for their global policing operations rather than the UK. Other big businesses really do not care about the Scottish constitutional settlement.
For the time being, England's new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson (and yes I know he's technically the PM of the whole of the UK), has turned down Nicola Sturgeon's request for a second referendum on Scottish Independence, but it may well only be a matter of time before he announces a policy shift. With growing support for Scottish separatism coming not just from international academics and economists, but from former Scottish Labour politicians such as Kezia Dugdale, the outcome may depend on the unpredictable stability of the British and European banking systems. If Boris Johnson not only passes the Withdrawal Agreement, but successfully agrees on a full divorce settlement with the EU in the form of a Free Trade Agreement by the end of 2020 that would keep Great Britain out of the Single Market and Customs Union, we may just see a run on the pound which may increase the price of imports and cause the markets to panic leading to temporary disruption and hardship. The SNP could capitalise on such a scenario to win a narrow majority in a referendum. However, in the same time frame, we may see the collapse of the Italian banking system prompting a continent-wide recession and widespread civil unrest as governments raise taxes to keep alive the Euro and bail out banks. Other European countries cannot expect German taxpayers to keep subsidising economic mismanagement in Southern and Eastern Europe when they are struggling with their own social problems. In a Europe-wide crisis, Britain may seem a safe haven and support for Scottish separatism may well dwindle. Some recent polls have suggested figures as high as 51%. However, if the central government can manage an orderly departure from the European Union and the UK as a whole outperforms most other European economies despite Brexit, then the case for Scottish Independence falls. The question remains whether our business elites really want to keep the Union or do they think they can play a nominally independent Scotland off against a future Kingdom of England & Wales, e.g. by demanding lower corporation taxes or de-regulations of biotech experiments (something like human closing may be unpopular UK-wide, but may just win the SNP's approval if meant higher investment from biotech giants)?
I think most people on the ground crave economic stability and cultural continuity, i.e. do not want radical economic upheaval, top-down social engineering or rapid migratory flows. The SNP is building its entire case for Scottish independence on continued EU membership and a wishful assessment of Scotland's potential revenues from oil and other natural resources. That would only work if Scotland retained full control of both its territorial waters and banking system. As a separate member state within the EU Scotland would have neither. Norway prospered because it could invest the immense proceeds of its short-lived oil bonanza in education, infrastructure and training for just 5 million citizens.
Would global corporations bankroll a universal welfare system without seeking to control our lives?
Imagine a society that not only provided all your existential needs, but also gave you wide-ranging lifestyle freedoms and did not compel you to hold down a mundane job just to afford the necessities of life. This usually means clean water, food and shelter, but nowadays we could probably add a few more goods and services to our list of bare essentials. In Western Europe a minimum viable standard of living would include a cooker, fridge, washing machine, a shower with hot and cold running water, heating and last but not least telecommunications devices to enable everyone to stay in touch and enjoy 24/7 access to the world's media. In the not too distant past many ordinary Western Europeans had to make do without all the latest mod cons just so we could afford the basics, like food. If you couldn't afford a washing machine, you could always take your dirty clothes to a laundrette. If you couldn't afford a television set, you could always listen to an inexpensive radio or read a book borrowed from the library. If you could not afford to buy or rent a place of your own, your employer might provide temporary digs. Indeed the whole concept of a universal right to a minimum standard of living via state welfare is relatively recent. Until the early 20th century the church would have provided emergency accommodation for the respectful needy, but by and large the destitute only had two escape routes. They could find casual work at the going rate or, in the case of attractive young women, seek an affable husband. In either case the underlings had to show deference to the hand that would feed them. The only way to free oneself from the tyranny of bosses or financially dominant spouses was, and I suggest still is, to have the means to feed oneself. A smallholder may own just a few fields, work long hours to raise livestock and tend crops, but at least he's his own boss and, in a country that respects personal freedom, may lead his life as he chooses provided he respect the privacy and freedom of his neighbours and adheres to common etiquette of decency and courtesy when engaging with the wider community. I use the third person male pronoun here because historically women from humble backgrounds would aspire to motherhood rather than self-sufficiency without a husband. Nonetheless, most smallholdings were family concerns. Husbands and wives worked as a team and although men tended to work longer hours outdoors and do more of the heavy lifting, few could doubt the pivotal role that women played in raising the next generation.
For most of human history, unless you inherited considerable wealth, your only route to greater personal freedom was through hard work and dedication. All most people expected of their state was to safeguard their acquired rights and protect them against raiders who may seize the fruits of their labour. Before the industrial revolution the greatest liberation for most peasants was to unshackle themselves from the burdens of slavery or sharecropping and to cease being in debt to a feudal master. However, with the advent of capitalism and the growth of a working class wholly dependent on their employers, the downtrodden embraced the appeal of collectivism. If technological progress demanded extreme specialisation, growing interdependence and massive infrastructure that only large organisations could conceivably provide, then our future freedom logically depends on our ability to control the levers of power for our collective good. Most early workers' struggles focussed on bread and butter issues of survival, primarily working conditions and wages. Workers demanded the right to withdraw their labour and called on their governments to enforce minimum health and safety standards. Nobody denied that everyone had a duty to pull their weight and contribute to wider society by working to the best of their ability. Few anticipated that the underclasses of the future would not be 8 year old boys sent down coal mines or 13 year old girls working as chambermaids, but workless welfare claimants trapped in a cycle of psychological dependence on external authorities who may regulate every aspect their lives. While workers may always withdraw their labour to reassert their rights, welfare dependents are at the mercy of their benefactors.
Traditionally two main groups of commoners were exempted from the onus of work: the very young and the very old. While children have to mature physically and mentally and learn some core skills before their induction into the adult world, the elderly have earned their keep through a life of dedication to their family and community. Even in primitive societies young children play and the old relax and share their wisdom. As the industrial age progressed, businesses began to rely more on technical and intellectual skills and a less on sheer muscle power. Capitalist countries expanded mandatory schooling not just to appease demands for greater social justice, but to equip industry with a literate workforce better able to meet the challenges of greater technical complexity, which even in relatively low-skill jobs involved reading and understanding detailed instructions. Not until 1921 did the UK implement the Fisher Act raising the compulsory school age to 14. It took another 52 years for the school leaving age to rise to 16. Today over 90% of British teenagers remain in education or training at least until the age of 18, while those advancing to further education, has risen from around 10% in 1970 to 45% today. While the needs of business have changed, the UK has a massive undersupply of engineers and technicians and an oversupply of graduates in people management, marketing, psychology, law and humanities in general. Yet employers still complain about graduates with poor writing or number-crunching skills. Not surprisingly we've seen a fair amount of grade inflation and degrees from all but the best universities have been greatly devalued. As a result most graduates do not pursue their desired career. Not everyone can be a sports journalist or an equality and diversity training officer. Long gone are the days of secure permanent jobs where one could progress from an apprenticeship and work one's way through the ranks to attain well-remunerated senior role. Now many university graduates find themselves in a similar position to that of schools leavers only 30 years ago. They have to try their hands at a series of uninspiring low-paid jobs before they find an opening in a role vaguely related to their degree. Many may have to retrain in something more practical, such as nursing or plumbing, once they become aware of the limited commercial value of their sociology degree. Only a small minority of graduates, and it's hard to quantify just how few, have acquired the kind of scientific excellence we will need in the coming artificial intelligence revolution. We now employ more people to manage other people or to create ephemeral media campaigns than to develop and produce the technology we will need to survive and overcome environmental constraints on human development in the coming century. Today we have more persuaders than doers or more talkers than walkers.
The future of work
Much of Britain's manufacturing base has migrated abroad since the 1970s. Today's factories are more automated and mainly assemble or just repackage components made elsewhere. Owing to rapid technological innovation, product lines tend to have short lifespans and production facilities are regularly retooled along with their workforce, who are now viewed as expendable free agents. This helps explain the rise of agency workers and employers' preference for itinerant workers without local roots. As soon as advances in robotics can automate operations in a cost-effective manner, management can lay off most human workers. Driverless vehicles are already a reality. We merely need to perfect artificial intelligence to ensure their reliability in challenging and unpredictable traffic conditions. The writing is on the wall for long distance truck drivers and for millions of other skilled workers, whose monotonous occupations follow a programmable set of routines and respond to a predictable range of environmental stimuli. I suspect in the not too distant future smart vacuum cleaners will be versatile enough to climb stairs and automatically adapt to different floor types, reach into nooks and crannies and potentially call another robot to move furniture. In all likelihood most robots will not resemble human beings at all, but will be polymorphic with a multitude of attachments and tools for different tasks. Unlike human beings they will be easily serviceable and reprogrammable. Even the world's oldest freelance profession, often not so euphemistically categorised as sex work, now faces competition from lifelike erotic dolls.
However, the main stumbling block to the adoption of robotics is not the theoretical feasibility of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, but the collapse of our underlying industrial infrastructure due to our gross mismanagement of finite resources and our inability to develop safe renewable energy able to meet our growing demands. We have probably already passed peak oil and over the coming 50 years we're likely to hit a peak human population of 10 billion. If we factor in the threats of climate change, clean water shortages in the areas of fastest population growth and insatiable demand for cars and other consumer goods in the developing world, we clearly face unprecedented environmental challenges that can only be addressed by taming human behaviour or significantly boosting industrial efficiency. Short of colonising other planets, the alternative may well be a world war over control of mission-critical resources.
Work and Society
Many think of work as drudgery we endure to earn a living. We would rather relax or pursue hobbies that inspire us. Few of us would enjoy getting down on our hands and knees to scrub the kitchen floor or crawling through narrow underground tunnels to mine coal. Yet during the early industrial revolutions millions of working class women and men had to endure these conditions just to fend for themselves and their children. When millions lost their jobs in the great depression of 1930s, the fledgling welfare state offered little consolation. Without work millions felt completely unfulfilled and would go to extraordinary lengths to relieve themselves of the shame and stigma associated with joblessness. The Jarrow March of 1936, ironically as the economy was picking up again in Britain, exemplified social attitudes of the era. Workers did not expect luxuries or endless charity, they just demanded a chance to earn a living to restore their dignity. The post-war boom of the 1950s and 1960s was built largely on a skilled working class whose earnings and leisure time rose as technological advances began to favour intellect and proficiency and over muscle-power and perseverance. It was a short-lived age of full employment, stable families and a narrowing social divide, unfortunately reliant on state subsidies and trade barriers to protect workers from unfair competition and unregulated market forces. Big business soon realised it could no longer boost its profits and expand markets in such a protectionist environment, holding it often at the mercy of militant trade unions. By the early 1970s UK industry had become both outdated and notoriously inefficient compared to their German, Japanese or Korean competitors. As the pendulum swung from protected markets and state-subsidised industries to free market economics, much of British manufacturing moved abroad. While some former manufacturing workers moved to the growing service sector, many were left behind. While material living standards have continued to grow, since the 1980s we've seen a widening gap not just in terms of wealth, but in education and personal attainment. The emergence of the trendy professional classes as the mainstay of our economic and cultural activity may well be but a harbinger of things to come. By 2012 over 60% of workers were tax-negative, i.e. received more benefits and direct services than they paid in tax. If we take into account indirect services consumed, the situation is even more unequal and this disparity is growing. By 2014 the top 25% of earners paid 75% of income tax and the 1% alone paid over a quarter. The only way of closing the income gap is to close the education gap, not in terms of nominal qualifications or years of formal schooling, but in terms of ensuring a much larger proportion of the population acquire the kind of intellectual and social skills we will need in the cybernetic age.
Today the descendants of the old Labour movement not only champion welfare rights, but assume a great many working age adults will never be gainfully employed owing to mental or physical disabilities, concepts which are now much more loosely and widely understood than in the recent past. In the future most work will be either intellectual or social, requiring us to focus our creative and emotional skills and effort on endeavours that serve the wider social good rather just satisfy personal desires. An ideal job is one that you both enjoy and can help others. Your material or financial reward for your effort is a direct measure of its utility to the current socio-economic system. If you possess a rare talent the reward for your creative endeavours may be substantial. Thus an elite of sportspeople and entertainers can earn a fortune simply due to the inertia of market forces. While Premier League footballers may have to train regularly and exert themselves for 90 minutes on the pitch before chanting fans, a hospital cleaner will typically exert much more effort for a fraction of the income. Yet people's lives may depend on clean hospitals, but not on the outcome of a soccer match. Your salary is mainly of a function of your expendability. To what extent is your role mission-critical to your employer? If your employer is a major football club earning tens of millions of pounds in advertising revenue, broadcasting rights and ticket sales, their main concern is your ability to help win games and keep their investors and customers happy. While millions can play football, only a few hundred in the whole wide world possess the kind of rare talent that can make or break a sports entertainment business and a handful can command eye-watering sums, such as the record Â£89 million Manchester United paid for French international, Paul Pogba. That figure could employ around 4700 hospital cleaners on the national living wage and is a staggering 280 thousand times greater than the mean GDP per capita of Paul Pogba's parental homeland of Guinea. A hospital cleaner can be replaced literally at the drop of a hat, while a world-leading football striker cannot. Gone are the days when hospital cleaners could go on strike for more pay. These services are now predominantly outsourced to agencies. Back in the 1960s and 70s public institutions saw it as their duty not only to provide public services, but also to employ local workers who might get a much worse deal in the private sector. These days a hospital does not employ cleaners, it has a contract with an agency, which in turn procures the best human or technical resources for the job at hand. I recall working in the BBC's plush open plan offices in London's White City. At 7pm every weekday evening when most staff had left, a team of mainly Portuguese speaking cleaners would mop up the mess left by higher-paid BBC staffers. I know this because on one occasion their supervisor had to impart bilingual instructions to accommodate an agency worker from Ghana, who didn't speak Portuguese, but this was in the heart of English speaking world. Yet the same BBC struggles to admit the impact of globalisation on lower-skilled native workers (most of whom deserted the capital decades ago and could not afford to return). Currently machine-assisted human cleaners are still more cost-effective than robots, but as robots become smarter and more versatile human workers will focus more on supervisory and engineering roles. That leaves very little for those of us who do not possess exceptional analytical, creative or people management skills.
Most of us are what social researchers might call semi-skilled, i.e. we've acquired many practical skills through hands-on experience, but lack outstanding talents that set us apart from the crowd. In the recent past some semi-skilled labourers, without formal qualifications in their line of expertise, honed their skills to such an extent as to become invaluable to their employers or clientele, but with outsourcing and automation we've lost much of that traditional skills base for good. Many semi-skilled workers may well have much more experience than a someone who has been formerly trained, but their skills can be easily learned not just by millions of other workers, but by machines. Millions of us enjoy cooking from fresh ingredients, but it's often much more cost-effective just to buy a ready-made meal. Once we rely supermarkets to supply food, it makes little difference if a machine prepares an elaborate recipe from fresh ingredients or we do it ourselves from separately purchased ingredients. In many practical instances ready-made meals are both cheaper and healthier as otherwise you'd have to buy much larger quantities of the source ingredients, which may well go off before you have a chance to eat them. Fast food outlets have already automated most aspects of food preparation. In the near future human chefs will be a luxury available only to the affluent professional classes, but with more leisure time many will still prefer to engage in a little culinary therapy.
More disturbingly the two dominant narratives of public debate on economics and employment could both prove wrong. Global optimists keep reminding us how our growing economies, reliant on extreme labour mobility, can provide new opportunities for all, while identitarian populists from Donald Trump in the USA to Marine Le Pen in France pretend manufacturing jobs can somehow be repatriated. In reality outsourcing menial tasks to low-wage workers is just a stop-gap solution until robotics becomes more competitive. However, if big business no longer needs semi-skilled labour and only requires a select group of engineers, creatives, managers and entertainers, who is going to buy their products?
The answer, so the wishful thinking trendy left tell us, is a universal basic income. I fully appreciate its appeal and take on board the argument that by guaranteeing everyone a basic income we remove not just the stigma associated with joblessness and the humiliation of holding down low-paid non-jobs (burger flippers, shelf stackers or call centre operatives), but we also greatly reduce the immense administrative costs of our current welfare system. Essentially the government would just give everyone a basic income that guarantees a minimum standard of living. If you want more you can undertake paid employment or may be inspired to volunteer in the ever-expanding third sector (charities, campaign groups, NGOs etc.), a great CV-booster when you do decide to get a real job. If you just want to take it easy, you can still survive on your basic income with no questions asked. It would also prevent people from claiming disability status due to some perceived relative handicap, which is really just a natural variation in the human condition or the result of acquired behaviour. However, short of a global revolution bringing all multinationals into public ownership and guaranteeing full transparency and accountability of all organisations responsible for our wellbeing, I think we need to take into account human nature. The strongest basic income evangelists insist it would allow people to unleash their creative minds without fear of losing their salary. Such idealists imagine the world as an extended high-tech hippie commune cum university campus. Were we all sandal-wearing bicycling vegans taking time off to write a book on the history of Mesopotamian basket weaving the basic income would be a great idea. Alas deprived of any motivation to focus one's creative efforts on something useful, most adults will succumb to a blend of junk culture and social gaming, no longer competing on skills, but on personality and worthiness. Our aim in life will no longer be to provide for our family through hard work, but merely to ensure we can gain the same emotional privileges. This helps explain the rise of social justice warriors with a bloated sense of entitlement. The great struggles against real injustice of the past (against slavery, imperialism, starvation wages, misogyny, racism etc.) will descend into a farce as most citizens will become mere beneficiaries of corporate welfare enjoying an extended childhood and just like children, their freedom will be at the mercy of their guardians, the technocratic and managerial elites. If the masses remain blissfully unaware of the activities of the regulating classes, they will be lulled into a false sense of security and treated like children, i.e. rewarded for good compliant behaviour and penalised for antisocial behaviour. Until the late 20th century most societies relied on the labour of the underclasses. Without ordinary workers, crops would not be harvested, houses would not be built, machinery would not be maintained, food would not be processed and distributed, infrastructure would crumble and people would starve. If the underclasses cannot produce a surplus of food, housing and tools, the ruling classes cannot accumulate the wealth they need to maintain their power and privilege through a network of administrators and security forces. In theory the working classes could hold their rulers to ransom. If their rulers failed to allocate enough resources, the underclasses could either rise up and overthrow their masters or switch allegiance to a rival faction or neighbouring fiefdom, especially if they possessed superior technology. Parents care for their children not only through strong emotional bonds, but also because of their future role as purveyors of the family's wealth for they would soon become workers and parents themselves. By contrast in the age of robotics, the workless underclasses will be mere consumers whose only duty will be to conform to social norms. We may well retain the illusion of democratic control via online elections for the most affable middle managers, but effectively we will be beholden to a technocratic upper caste responsible for programming and administering our cyberservants. Over recent decades we've seen a steady transfer of responsibilities from viable two-parent families to a maze of service providers. If something goes wrong, we tend to blame external agencies whether they are suppliers, manufacturers, safety regulators, doctors, nurses, social workers or teachers, because we have learned to accept that many aspects of our lives are out of our direct control. We have internalised the notion that one has to have special training to perform any task not deemed safe for laypeople. We have lost touch with mother nature to such an extent we are unable to accept its limitations. As robots evolve to undertake forever more complex tasks, we can expect the range of safe jobs to narrow to all but a few closely monitored human activities performed in controlled environments, such as eating, drinking, exercising, relaxing, playing or making love. For years officialdom has tended to discourage the old do-it-yourself attitude, while encouraging people to seek specialists. This may be preparing us psychologically for a future when robots replace technicians, decorators, builders, cleaners, nurses, police officers and other social surveillance officers. However, if only the gifted intelligentsia have any understanding of the inner workings of our high-tech world, how will the rest of us hold them to account? The people of the future could well split into distinctive castes along the lines the dumbed-down Eloi and Morlocks in H.G. Well's Time Machine. Slowly but surely we seem to be sleepwalking towards a Huxleyan future of human beings genetically engineered to assume different roles in a chain of command that only members of alpha caste understand.
Visions of the Future
The current rapid pace of technological and economic progress could lead in two apparently divergent but equally dystopian directions. One the one hand technology fails to meet the insatiable demands of a growing number of consumers either through limits to growth, such as peak oil or climate change, or through cataclysmic technical failures such as nuclear power plant explosions, or indeed a combination of both. Such a scenario may kill hundreds of millions of people, but may also forestall a cybergenetic dystopia of complete submission to technology out of the control of ordinary global denizens. On the one hand technology may evolve so fast to control the excesses of human behaviour and thus render both itself and humanity compatible with our planetary life support system. In other words technology will determine our living standards and, indeed, our procreative potential. Arguably it already does. Only last week the London Telegraph reported that Motherless babies are now possible as scientists create live offspring without a female egg. As always the neoliberal press presents the next step in human genetic engineering as a great advance enabling more couples, such as gay dads, to conceive. The next logical step is an artificial womb, whose development is no longer mere science fiction (See Men redundant? Now we don't need women either ). No doubt artificial uteruses will liberate women from the pain and responsibility of pregnancy, but soon biological genders may become obsolete binary categories that belong to a past age of primitive dependence on messy and inconvenient organic procreation. The affluent cyber-managerial classes will inevitably be able to afford better fertility treatment leading all too predictably to the emergence of a super-race, meaning the underclasses will simply lack the intellect to outsmart their rulers, whether humanoid or not.
The Alternative to Basic Income
If you thought the basic income sounds too good to be true, you're probably right. That's what a majority of shrewd Swiss voters concluded earlier this year. They understood that unless you contribute to the functioning of society, you cannot expect to have any meaningful say in the way it's run. You may well have the illusion of democratic control, but it will more like children choosing which flavour of ice-cream they want or which games they want to play during their birthday party. If they misbehave their true masters will drug them or confine them to their bedrooms. If their life support system fails, all they can do is follow instructions to wait for cybernetic technicians to repair the faults. However, a Huxleyan dystopia is not an inevitability if we wake up to its very real likelihood early enough and ensure all working age adults are directly involved in developing and regulating human-friendly technology. In other words robots should serve us and not vice versa and bioengineering should only ever assist natural human beings as we've evolved over eons. This means preparing the next generation for a high skill future where everyone will have a part to play in the development of our engineered environment. We must be fully aware of the consequences of new technology as the toys of today may become the prison wardens of our near future.
In less than 5 years, the Labour left seemed to have forgotten the sheer treachery of the last Labour administration. Rather than focus their attention on the real ruling classes sitting in corporate boardrooms or relaxing on Caribbean yachts, they prefer to demonise the bunch of overgrown public school boys and girls in the current governmental management team. You see national governments don't really have much power these days. Big decisions are made elsewhere. More important, to any rational and emotionally detached observer New Labour and the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition are just two brands of the same product marketed at different sections of the voting public. The Conservatives like to appeal to the common-sense middle classes, a demographic that has shrunk considerably since the 2008 banking crisis. While Labour hold on to some of their core traditional working class vote in Wales and parts of Northern England, they appeal increasingly to the Guardian-reading managerial classes as well as ethnic minorities and welfare dependents who feel uneasy about Conservative rhetoric on tougher immigration controls or welfare cuts. Ironically the LibDems share much of the same demographic, but are tarnished by their support for the ConDem Coalition government. This leaves much of the tradional working and lower middle classes without a voice. Their jobs have been outsourced and their wages compressed, while their taxes fund massive corporate largesse and social engineering. For now, UKIP is filling this vacuum, but are unlikely to challenge the hegemony of the same bankers who corrupted New Labour or address the fundamental economic imbalances that causes much unbalanced migration. The Greens appeal mainly to wishful-thinking Bohemian intellectuals disaffected with New Labour, but offer an unworkable mix of high-tax and high-spending neo-keynsiansian and environmental measures that could only work in a zero-growth steady-state economy unable to fund the welfare state in its current guise. Let's just look at the some of the policies the last Labour government forgot to detail in its 1997 manifesto.
Tuition fees, within months of being elected Labour reversed its previous opposition to replacing university grants with loans. The old system worked when only 15â€“20% of school leavers went to university, but the employment market now requires most office workers to have a degree. Indeed as the further education sector grows, degrees are devalued, but without a degree many young people cannot even get on the career ladder, unless they turn their minds to practical manual jobs. It would have made much more sense to keep grants for STEM and Medicine students and for top-performing students from poorer backgrounds in other academic subjects, while withdrawing subsidies from non-essential degrees while encouraging more to learn practical trades.
Bombed Serbia (1998). Throughout the 1990s we witnessed ongoing civil war in the former Yugoslavia. The Western Media had decided to blame it on the Serbian leadership, which served as a convenient test case for the new humanitarian interventionism, especially as many of the alleged victims of Serbian nationalism were Muslims, whose votes Labour would later rely on. Blair could then pose as the saviour of Kosovan Albanians. We now know the death toll between rival groups was much more evenly balanced than presented in mainstream Western media and the purported Kosovan freedom fighters (KLA) were armed and funded by the CIA.
Supported US destabilisation of Middle East with regular depleted uranian airstrikes on Iraq. The Blair government remained loyal to US foreign policy in the Middle East, joining regular airstrikes over Iraq to enforce the No-Fly Zone imposed in the aftermath of the first Gulf War.
Let banks issue loans to low-paid and unemployed to boost consumer spending while manufacturing migrated abroad.
Sold gold when at its historical low in 2001 to boost US dollar
Allowed massive expansion of retail and entertainment sector.
Failed to train millions of long-term unemployed people to do all those essential jobs that any country needs.
Subsidised low-pay through working family tax credits.
Hid real unemployment by broadening definition of disabilities and encouraging more young people to undertake useless degrees. Since since 1997 we have seen a proliferation of pointless non-productive managerial, marketing and surveillance jobs. Few jobs are directly associated with the things people really need. If you want to have your imported washing machine fixed, in our brave New World you'll probably call a service company who will dispatch a ready trained technician authorised to identify and possibly replace an inexpensive component. For every hand-on tradesperson or engineer, there appear to be many more pen-pushers and client relations managers. Official unemployment may be much higher in Spain, but at least Spain not only exports more food and cars, but has a booming tourist industry. However, if we look not at the official jobless count, but at the number of people with a real full-time job, then over 8 million UK adults of working age are not in employment, education or training or classified as stay-at-home parents. The UK also has the highest number of part-time employed workers who rely on tax credits to make end meet.
Allowed a massive rise in unbalanced immigration leading to a huge oversupply of cheap labour and a population rise of 5 million in just 13 years. Since the end of WW2, the UK had accommodated many immigrants from its former empire. However, with many Britons migrating to Australia, Canada or the USA, net migration averaged under 30,000 a year and for a few years in the mid 1970s and early 80s was subzero. Since 1997 these numbers changed rapidly, as migratory pressures and cheap travel enabled millions to seek their fortunes in wealthier countries. At the same time, British workers lacked both key practical skills such as plumbing, bricklaying or catering and incentives to accept low-paid jobs, leaving a gap in the market for keen young labourers willing to work antisocial hours on little more than the minimum wage. This set the scene for Labour's 2003 decision to allow workers from Eastern European countries the same rights as any other EU countries. Since 2004 net migration has consistently topped 200,000 a year, dipping only briefly 2008 and 2011 and the country's population has risen from 58 million in 1997 to 64 million in 2014. Whole employment sectors, especially catering, construction and food processing, came to be dominated by new migrants. Yet New Labour pretended nothing had changed. Immigration had long been a side issue. While most politicians agreed balanced and gradual migration could benefit society, they now had to defend rapid and increasingly unbalanced migration, i.e. although many Britons migrated to the rest of Europe, they were either skilled professionals, English language teachers or retirees. As the New Labour decade progressed, more and more ordinary voters began to realise a disconnect between politician's rhetoric about building a new global future, and reality on the ground where whole neighbourhoods were transformed and job security became a distant memory. While the metropolitan elite discussed equality, diversity and anti-racism, the marginalised indigenous working classes were more concerned with job security and social cohesion.
Allowed property prices to rise exponentially to over 10x average salaries. While official retail inflation remained low, housing accounted for a growing percentage of people's outgoings. Indeed Labour continued to sell off council housing stock to housing associations. As the number of low-paid and under-employed households continued to rise, the government's housing benefit rose to over Â£20 billion a year. In much of the South East of England, a married couple on average wages (approx. 25 to 30k) could no longer aspire to buy a house worthy of calling home.
Obsession with growth led the UK to increase its carbon footprint largely through consumption of goods manufactured elsewhere. While British consumers continued to buy cars, washing machines, furniture, electronic entertainment gadgets and other household accessories, manufacturing jobs drifted abroad as UK workers proved unable to compete with East Asia. However, the service sector, especially retail, media and entertainment, kept expanding. Every week would bring news of factory closures and supermarket openings.
Supported US occupation of Afghanistan in 2001. Within months of the tragic 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, New Labour joined forces with the US to attack Afghanistan, initially to hunt down the perpetrators of this dastardly act of terrorism, but latterly to promote women's rights and democracy. While they succeeded in killing tens of thousands and capturing eventually Osama Bin Laden in neighbouring Pakistan, the Afghan civil war continues to rage with much of the country still controlled by the Taliban.
Deregulated booze and gambling. While Labour banned smoking, they made it much easier for people to get drunk and gamble away their devalued salaries. Indeed, not only did New Labour allow a massive expansion of casinos, they allowed the gaming industry to advertise on prime time TV.
Enforced PFI contracts in the health service. Labour has long claimed to be the party of the NHS, yet under New Labour, the preferred way to fund new hospitals and facilities was through Private Finance Initiatives, which for short-term financial gain will burden future generations with Â£200 billion of debt.
Expanded surveillance and tried to introduce identity card
Supported US occupation of Iraq. Despite the largest demonstration in British history, with some 2 million travelling to Central London to protest the imminent US-led invasion of Iraq, the Labour government sent British armed forces to
Oversaw massive rise in prison population. While nowhere near US levels of incarceration, England now has the highest imprisonment rate in Western and Central Europe.
Passed 2007 Mental Health Act leading to massive rise in number of adults sectioned (detained) without consent. Note how mainstream politicians of all hues have championed mental health awareness, while in reality mental illness spending has continued to rise apace with the diagnostic rate for personality disorders. Yet few have linked this trend with other forms of invasive surveillance.
Economic growth: Once people have clean water, a healthy diet, adequate housing with plumbing and electricity, meaningful employment, access to modern healthcare and a few other essential personal possessions, all additional consumption does very little to improve life expectancy or happiness. Yet our GDP growth drains many finite resources that could be better used by others suffering real poverty or be saved for future generations. Overconsumption, generating vast oceans of rubbish, is currently the biggest threat to our eco-system. We should focus on ensuring eveyone has the basics rather than artificially boosting the economy through superfluous retail therapy.
Buying a more fuel-efficient car: If you really can't live without a car you may feel buying a newer and more fuel-efficient model may help save the planet. Unfortunately two thirds of the pollution that an average European vehicle creates takes place in the multistage resource-extraction and manufacturing process. By buying cars more regularly, you may well boost your country's GDP but for a marginal gain in fuel economy, you contribute to massive environmental destruction thousands of miles from home. Worse still, a more fuel-efficient vehicle will encourage you to drive more rather than consider other options like walking, cycling, public transport or simply avoiding unnecessary journeys.
Having more than two children (per woman): Many countries may have undergone a demographic transition from traditional large families to one or two child families, yet the world's population is still rising. Most estimates predict a peak global population between 8 and 10 billion human beings sometime between 2050 and 2100. The rapid rise from just 1 billion in 1825 to 2 billion around 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 6 billion in 1998 and now over 7 billion has happened largely due to two parallel developments. First huge advances in sanitation and medicine have dramatically lowered infant mortality, so most children now survive even in the poorest African countries. Second the fossil fuel revolution has provided a plentiful source of cheap non-renewable energy helping us overcome previous constraints on the earth's human carrying capacity as envisaged by Thomas Malthus. We have witnessed two centuries of rapid technological progress, but until recently only 10â€“15% of the world's population participated in mass consumerism. While we may be able to survive with a low-consumption Tanzanian standard of living, hundreds of millions of Chinese, Indians, South Americans and even Subsarahan Africans are transitioning towards more Western European consumption patterns. Car ownership is currently growing at a much faster rate than human population. Nigeria alone now has 180 million inhabitants, mainly in a few large conurbations. Yet its fertility rate is unlikely to drop to replacement level any time soon without Chinese-style coercive one-child famility policies. If its economy and population continue to grow at their current rate, then the vast oil reserves in the Niger Delta may just suffice for local needs. Some claim education and female emancipation can reduce the birth rate to sustainable levels. However, greater per-capita consumption usually accompanies such a transition. Some fear an ageing population, but with increasing automation and growing unemployment, this may well be an opportunity to build massive care sector that can almost guarantee employment for millions of jobless young adults. We should welcome a natural decrease in population, but fear only the disastrous human consquences of our failure to deal with two-edge sword of skyrocketing consumption and a record global population.
Obessing with cleanliness and presentation: Yes, we all need to wash to keep our bodies fresh and prevent diseases from spreading, but our modern obsession with appearances often does more harm than good. Not only do washing machines and irons consume vast amounts of electricity (typically 2kWh each), mostly generated by gas, coal or nuclear power plants, but your washing detergent along with 50 litres of water per full load ends up in a local sewage plant, where it has to be treated before being dumped in a natural body of water.
Holidaying abroad: We all love to enrich our lives with a taste of foreign cultures, stunning scenery, historic architecture, good food, sunny weather, beautiful beaches and exciting nightlife. However, cheap long-distance travel is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until recently, most working class Europeans just went to the nearest seaside resort or embarked on a brief excursion to the rural hinterland away from urban pollution. Air travel has made the world a smaller place and transformed thousands of kilometres of coastline and thousands of small fishing villages into monotonous open-air shopping malls, tanning lounges and nightclubs. As a result many areas of Spain, Portugal, France and Greek Islands have been colonised by bland global consumer culture and bear little semblance to their host countries' traditional cultures.
Unbalanced mass migration: While many of us pay lip service to cultural diversity, the trend is clearly towards cultural homogenisation. The more people migrate from one cultural region to another, the more they lose contact with their cultural heritage and embrace global consumer culture. Most pro-migration arguments focus on short term economic growth rather than long-term socio-environmental stability. If people were migrating away from overburdened high-consumption regions to live a simpler life in a more environmentally sustainable way in a low-consumption country, we may be able to temporarily justify unbalanced migration. Likewise, positive immigration can be sustained for a limited period in spacious and resources-rich countries, like Australia, Argentina, Canada, Russia or the USA (before it became a net importer of energy and food), as long as the growing population does not unduly endanger delicate ecosystems. However, most recent migration has been away from relatively poor countries to spendthrift countries. Worse still much has been from warmer to colder countries that require greater indoor heating for much of the year. As long as migration is driven by artificial economic incentives, it will lead to greater per capita consumption, while promoting the wrong kind of development in countries of mass emigration, i.e. a brain drain and greater dependence on trade with wealthier countries. Yet current levels of immigration to richer countries cannot address the fundamental socio-economic imbalances that caused people to migrate in the first place. Ironically, growing consumer demand for imports from richer countries leads to greater environmental depredation in poorer countries with lower environmental standards. While many trendy lefties consider any opposition to mass immigration racist, many pro-migration arguments are incredibly prejudiced, e.g. assuming cheap third world workers should care for the elderly and disabled in wealthy countries because locals loathe such menial jobs. One wonders who should look after the old and sick in poorer countries. In an ideal world we would have a balanced cultural exchange between different communities. Indeed the technology exists for us to share life-enhancing ideas with other communities around the world without having to leave our home region. Ironically, tougher immigration controls are not the only way to redress this imbalance, shrinking overheating economies may be a better long-term solution. If we fix the underkying economic imbalances and remove the need for economic migration, we could let people move freely. Alas we are a long way from such an ideal world.
Outsourcing industry: We all hate oil refineries, chemical processing plants, gargantuan assembly lines, pollution, inhumane working conditions and child labour, at least in our immediate backyard. Unless you retreat to a low-tech self-sufficient farmstead, which would require a lot of hard work, your lifestyle depends on a colossal industrial complex. The short-term economic gains of cheaper goods due to lower wages are offset by greater environmental cost of shipping goods half-away around the globe and the loss of key skillsets essential to our modern way of life. Worse still, as factories have closed in the UK, retail outlets have mushroomed everywhere from Lands' End to John O'Groats. Consequently our activities cause more pollution than they did in the grim 1960s, but it largely been transferred to the Asian Pacific Rim and Africa.
Health and Safety Regulations: Common sense goes a long way, but many health and safety regulations actually obstruct simple maintenance tasks and waste finite public resources. I have been prevented from climbing on a desk to change lightbulb in a local council office where I worked temporarily, because their insurance policy for such tasks only covered trained electricians. As a result, a council technician had to drive 10 miles to change a lightbulb and the council paid me for two hours in which I could not work.
Stupidity: Yes, I know stupidity is fun. Why walk to the shops, when you can show off your new car? Why watch a movie at home, when you can drive to a new cinema complex twenty miles away? Why cycle in wet and windy weather, when you can drive to your local gym? Why install a filter to purify tap water, when you can buy bottle water? Why wash nappies, when you can buy disposable nappies? Why drink coffee from a reusable flask, when you can advertise your favourite caffeinated milk brand in a disposable paper cup? Many people know their actions damage the environment, but other social pressures take precedence. Now try explaining to a 19 year old lad that he should not drive his new girlfriend to a restaurant, but rather they should both catch a bus or cycle.
Ignorance: This has never been quite as trendy as stupidity, but is still surprisingly widespread. However, the worst form of ignorance is credulity, especially when it comes to the kind of eco-friendly advertising clearly geared to pseudo intellectuals. These trendy ignoramuses like to believe they can help African coffee growers by choosing a fairtrade brand at Starbucks or tackle clean water scarcity by buying Volvic-branded bottles of flavoured water. Their actions merely help the marketing of trendy brands and further subjugate the developing world to foreign multinationals.
Once again I feel constrained to write to you in defence of cool-headed rationalism rather than vapid emotionalism. I refer of course to your recent piece in the Guardian on peak oil. I would really welcome any hard‚ facts that led you to change your mind since the concept gained public awareness in the late 90s. Geologists have long known of huge reserves in Alaska, the South Atlantic and even deep under the Antarctic Ice. We have long‚ known of vast reserves of tar sands. Peak oil refers to the maximum commercially viable extraction rate of easy oil, as present in‚ the Middle East, Venezuela and formerly in Pennsylvania and Texas. Once we start drilling 3000 metres below the Mid Atlantic seabed, as Brazilian surveyors already are, the EROEI‚ a concept‚ with which‚ I hope you are familiar, will diminish very fast in any currency and oil will lose its relative advantage over alternatives, which unfortunately either yield much less (biomass), are unreliable (wind), require enormous infrastructure and maintenance (solar and tidal energy) or are downright dangerous (nuclear). However, don't take my word for it, Richard Heinberg has dealt with your assertions much more eloquently than I could:‚ Peak Oil Denial.
I had previously written about your refusal to attribute‚ our ruling elite's support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq to control of the oil supply. You seem to have a‚ wonderful knack for pandering to our establishment's self-righteousness (namely we did it for democracy‚ freedom and human rights). You also expended considerable literary resources on your condemnation of 9/11 truthers, likening them to climate change deniers. To the best of my knowledge, nobody denies the destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 or the murder of around 3000 office workers, although many Americans and others fail to believe the official explanation for this terrorist act. So why would you join William Engdahl and others in denying the reality of finite resources on a finite planet? For the environmental movement, the timing could not be worse, only two week's ago James Lovelock admitted overestimating the scale and consequences of man-made climate change. While our collective overconsumption has undoubtedly affected our planet's ecosystem, I remained somewhat sceptical of some of the more extreme predictions, mainly because the so-called scientific consensus has frequently been wrong on so many issues. Continued human hyperactivity is‚ very likely to disrupt natural climatic cycles, but maybe not before other technological constraints begin to thwart our suicidal drive for growth at all costs. Indeed the message climate change and peak oil deniers have been getting is quite simple: The enviro-fascists were wrong, the party can go on. We can keep expanding markets and place all our uncritical faith in the next generation of technofixes. Remember in geology a century is but just a split second, yet in this period our‚ population has quadrupled and our per capita consumption sky-rocketed. We are indeed treading unchartered territory and may not be fully aware of the consequences for another 50 to 100 years.
I suspect it's because you fear the consequences. Indeed I also note your disagreement‚ with Jonathon Porrit on the population issue. You simply fail to recognise it and accuse, albeit diplomatically, true‚ environmentalists of wanting to depopulate the planet through Draconian measures such as sterilisation and‚ eugenics.Yet any rationalist would distinguish science from ethics. If we get the science right, we can then consider its ethical implications and act to avert suffering. If we get the science wrong, through misplaced faith in dangerous‚ technology or overreliance on finite resources, then the ethical consequences can be catastrophic. Yet since the mid‚ 1980s, and increasingly since the advent of New Labour, the trendy left has been enamoured with the neoliberal‚ Globalist project, its growth mantra and its imagery of multicoloured happy consumers sipping lattes and fondling their iPads. Humanitarian intervention, outsourcing and mass migration were key tools‚ of the new globalist world order. Yet the left seems to have confused the noble causes of International solidarity and‚ humanism for an economic system that thrives on hyper-competition and hyper-consumption addicted to growth at all costs. Its advocates in the British media stop at nothing to accuse its intellectual opponents of authoritarianism (green fascists), racism (anyone opposed to cheap labour and free trade) or conspiracy-theorism (anyone refusing to believe orthodox propaganda)‚
In short, I suspect you changed your mind on peak oil, not because of any new evidence, but because of peer pressure to embrace growth and remain politically correct on immigration and‚ population. Well done! So as 1.3 billion Chinese, 1.2 billion Indians and 700 million Africans strive to emulate Western European living standards, will they kill each other in the process? Will we ever learn from experience?
I'd prefer to see tens of billions more human beings over the coming millennia than destroying the ecosystem on which our civilisation depends just to squeeze in a few billion more here and now.
I sometimes enjoy Peter Hitchens‚ antidote to mainstream trendy Neo-Liberal thinking, but fear he is on some subjects in bad company and a tad ill-informed. No rational person could deny volumes of hard evidence showing the exponential rise in humanity's collective impact on our planet's delicate ecosystem, both in terms of our numbers (rising from just 750 million at the start of the industrial revolution to 7 billion now) and our per capita consumption. Our population will probably peak in the next 10 to 30 years, but at the expense of adopting modern high-consumption lifestyles. And now 2500 million Chinese and Indians are preparing to join the mass consumer frenzy, resources that previously seemed almost unlimited, are nearing depletion.
The fact that scientific forecasts have so often proven wrong should lead us to take a more rather than a less cautious, and thus conservative, approach to future development. Climatologists know full well our climate is subject to multiple natural and, dare I say, anthropogenic factors, but man's impact on our environment has reached unprecedented levels. But climate change is just one of many potential side effects of our rapid overdevelopment. James Lovelock has merely conceded that some of the more alarmist forecasts made 20 years ago have not been supported by subsequent observations. So what! They were just forecasts. Meanwhile, other forecasts, such as available oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, have also turned out to be gross exaggerations. That's why Brazilian geologists are busy surveying fossil fuel deposits 2 miles below the surface of Mid Atlantic Ocean, the Chinese are sealing deals with Nigerian businessmen and Western Oil companies see Libya as a mere gateway to oil in Chad and Darfur, despite the huge costs of building pipelines and other infrastructure.
Wishful thinking cornucopians would like to see the current era of cheap mass motoring for all continue without drastic consequences and place blind faith in scientists to find to magic techno-fixes. Climate change denial, so popular in Neo-Conservative circles, has little to do with any understanding of the actual climate (which may get warmer, colder, wetter or drier in different parts of the globe) and everything to do with the same culture of entitlement Mr Hitchens so rightly denounces in his columns. Claiming to have a god-given right to drive your car to a suburban shopping mall, funded by your non-productive marketing job, is just the same as claiming a right to welfare handouts to subsidise your hedonistic idleness. If we are to tackle our very real environmental challenges and avoid unprecedented loss of life resulting from a grotesque overconsumption, we need to power down.
Information Clearing House recently republished extracts from the late Robin Cook's diaries, in which Blair concedes that Iraq could not strike the West or even nearby Israel with weapons of mass destruction. It also reveals how the initial scepticism of some New Labour Cabinet ministers in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq soon turned into loyalty as Blairite rhetoric morphed into crocodile tears over the human rights of oppressed and disenfranchised Iraqis.
Some analysts insist the likes of Blair, Brown and Bush remain happily oblivious to their serial mendacity over foreign policy. Only recently Seymour Hersh, noted for exposing the criminal activities of his government at home and abroad, reiterated his belief that Bush and, by implication, actuals means what he says. Consider a human resources manager imparting the news that owing internal restructuring your services are no longer required, but thanking you nonetheless for all your hard work during your tenure at the company and appearing very concerned about your future. By their nature HR managers have excellent skills of self-deceptive false altruism. Their job is to manage a situation, ensure a trouble-free transition from one human resource to the new one avoiding any ill-feelings or recriminations and maintaining a faÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â§ade of good employee and public relations. This is especially important with key technical staff who are likely to find employment elsewhere with one of their competitors. The last thing they want is for word to get out that they routinely stab loyal workers in the back. For the duration of the private meeting the HR manager may temporarily believe her own rhetoric, but deep down knows that only an hour earlier her line manager had told her to sack you and replace you with a less experienced, but more manipulable human resource. Indeed if the HR manager ever met you after your dismissal, she'd probably feign concern about your wellbeing and appear genuinely delighted that you've found a new job or devastated that you're still between jobs. The same principle applies to politicians. They're little more than project managers with excellent client-facing skills.
"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Alan Greenspan in his memoirs.
Why did the US and UK invade Iraq? Theories abound, but here are the top four:
To get rid of weapons of mass destruction.
To overthrow an evil dictator and extend democracy to the Iraqi people.
To aid Israel in its quest for global domination.
To secure control of strategic oil reserves.
If you've read any of my previous musings, you'll know which I think is the correct answer. The real question is why so many liberal lefties and antiwar activists choose to believe variants of the first three theories. Let us suppose Iraq did have deployable nuclear missiles, as Iran might have and Israel certainly has, would this not prove the first theory right? Never mind the failure of inspectors to find little more than remnants of past chemical weapons projects in a country devastated by sanctions, that is not the primary reason why the US administration has spent over US$ 200 billion invading and occupying Iraq. If they cared about the WMDs of other countries, then presumably China, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Brazil and North Korea should be of greater concern and let's not forget the nuclear arsenal of France and UK that the US usually deems friendly countries. Not even UK government ministers believe WMDs were the real reason for Britain's support. It served as a mere pretext to secure a UN rubber stamp for Anglo-American geostrategic aims.
However, many pundits have lent credence to the second excuse. Some would have us believe that even if the US and UK did it for their own self-interest, the Iraqi people benefited through their first multi-party elections and greater freedom of expression. This version of events assumes democracy can exist without any effective control over the economy of the country over which the elected officials nominally have jurisdiction. From a psychological standpoint I'd suggest most leftists who pretend Iraqis have somehow benefited from the invasion are simply in a state of denial. While they criticise the neocon elements behind the Bush Junta and Brown/Blair subsidiary in the UK, they somehow believe the US and UK are progressive forces for good, largely because they see progress in terms of the value system prevalent in trendy upper middle class circles of San Francisco, New York, London and Sydney. I can just see the likes of Peter Tatchell lecturing Iraqi students on sexual politics in a newly opened Starbucks in downtown Baghdad with Bono's U2 music in the background. Bono and Tatchell may have voiced their opposition to the invasion, but their idea of progress is very much the consumerist dystopia that made Bono rich or bankrolled Peter's lifestyle campaigns.
The third reason has certain appeals both on the hard left and within the Muslim community. To entertain this theory, we need to distinguish three groups, which many critics confuse, the Israeli government, the Israeli people and anyone with Jewish connections. The three are not the same, except many in the third category will tend to sympathise with policies and actions of the first, but that is not a given. Beyond doubt many of the key instigators behind the US/UK invasion had close ties with the Israeli government. I need not name names as this ground others have covered extensively. I'd consider this alliance little more than a marriage of convenience, but the inevitable Iraqi insurgence and growing instability hardly benefit ordinary Israelis of any faith. Not only does the conflict lead to greater migratory pressure to Israel's neighbours, but it fuels the civil war against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian terroritories. Some variants of the "They did it for Israel" theory claim Israeli business interests have their eyes set on acquiring vast quantities of real estate in a dismembered Iraq in alliance with Iraqi Kurd leaders. Now why would Israel want to extend its borders to include territory inhabitated by a largely hostile population in which Jews would be a very small minority? More likely is the thesis that Israeli military and business ventures acts a proxy for a wider axis of US, UK and other global interests. That Kurdish and Shiite distrust of the traditionally Sunni-dominated Iraqi regime has been manipulated is beyond dispute, but to extend its borders Israel would need an army much larger than the 200,000 odd US and UK troops currently stationed in Iraq. Israel is currently one of the most dangerous places in the world for practising Jews. Indeed many Russian Jews prefer Germany and most Iranian Jews have turned down large financial incentives to relocate to the Promised Land.
There are two ways to analyse power structures. One is simply to look at the ethno-religious composition of the world's elite and assume they act in the best interests of poorer members of their respective groups. However, a quick look at the world's leading bankers, oligarchs, multinational CEOs, corrupt politicians and other power brokers may reveal the over-representation of some groups and the other under-representation of others, but the gulf between this group and the rest of the world is several orders of magnitude greater than that between middle class Western Europeans and ordinary Ethopians. This elite comprises both the likes of Alan Greenspan, cited above, and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia as well as the CEO of Russia's Gazprom, Japan's Sony Corporation and India's Mittal. They owe no more allegiance to their countryfolk than is strictly necessary for public relations purposes.
However, there is another reason some prefer this Israeli connection theory to the much more obvious oil motive. They fail to believe the resources on which our high-consumption economy with a record human population are becoming scarcer, thus threatening civilisation as we know it. Many politcally correct utopian dreams rely on continous growth to accommodate unrestrained immigration to high consumption countries while others countries catch up with Western European living standards. Currently such a lifestyle depends on fossil fuels and the only realistic alternative that could hope generate anywhere near the same capacity remains the nuclear option. Faced with hard ecological facts, many leftists enter a state of denial, which in its extreme form may even lead them to refute the evidence linking human activity with climate change. Why? Because if we have to rethink our model of development and adapt to much lower levels of aggregate consumption, then, as Richard Heinberg puts it so succinctly, the party is truly over. While it's easy just to urge a reduction in consumption in wealthy regions, the obvious consequence is that the earth record population of 6.5 billion human beings risks rapid implosion. What is certain is that the more the wealthy few continue to indulge, the greater the resultant die-off.
Another analytical error common on the wishful-thinking left is the notion that the US/UK invasion of Iraq has somehow failed. This could only be true if we assume they wanted to bring about a stable and notionally democratic Iraq. They need the spectre of a civil war between rival ethno-religious groups, of an emboldened Al Qaeda and of the involvement of a Islamic Fundamentalist Iran to justify their continued presence. Indeed with the passing of the Petroleum Act and agreements for permanent US bases on Iraqi soil, the US presence there is very much for medium to long term.
They didn't do it for oil, but....
That leaves just one theory. It comes as no surprise that in BBC and CNN discussions on Iraq, oil is seldom mentioned in this regard. The Israel theory suits them fine, because they can then paint opponents as paranoid antisemites, who'd blame Israel for everything from global warming to cultural decay. They no longer entertain the first theory, preferring a mix of ill-defined geostrategic (national security) motives and selfish altruism. Many intellectuals in the public eye have long recognised this reality, but tend to qualify any oil motivations in terms of strategic control, i.e. "They didn't invade Iraq because of oil, but o gain a foothold in the Middle East so they stabilise the region in line with interests of US and UK multinationals." This is like saying "My wife doesn't work as a nude model for the money, but to stabilise our joint financial situation.". However clever such obfuscatory reasoning may appear, gaining control of oil producing regions is the same as grabbing oil, even if you do not use it yourself, but sell it to your competitors. Right now the US economy can source most of its oil from Mexico, Canada, Coolombia, Venezuala and Nigeria, but sooner or later without control over Middle East and Central Asian fossil fuel reserves the US economic model will flounder. Believe me if they could solve the problem by converting thousands of square miles to rapeseed plantations for bio-diesel or 4 metre tall Miscanthus elephant grass, they would. What peak oil deniers fail to recognise is the concept of EROEI or Energy Returned On Energy Invested. If you need to invest immense energy and reallocate vast swatches of farmland to grow fuel crops, it becomes little more than a temporary fix. The same applies to the nuclear option, it requires huge investment and hard-to-obtain uranium. It may be feasible for advanced countries like France with cosy deals with Uranium exporters like Niger to generate 80% of their energy this way, but if we used atomic power to replace fossil fuels we'd soon run out of uranium that can be easily isolated, all this without considering long-term storage, radioactivity, security and potential catastrophic accidents.
What if the US hadn't invaded Iraq?
In the short term the invasion of Iraq has cost the debt-ridden US economy dear. An estimated 250 billion US bucks squandered on one military venture could theoretically save millions of lives if diverted to third world aid. With over 300 US soldiers dead and certainly hundreds of thousands more Iraqis slaughtered, the left falls into the trap of considering this venture a failure. It may seem odd that just as the US prevented Iraq from selling its oil in Euros, the US dollar has fallen from â‚¬1.30 in 2001 to just â‚¬0.71 in September 2007, while the currency of resource-rich and sparsely populated Canada has gained significantly and for the first time in 30 years is about to overtake the nominal value of the US dollar. At the same time Russia is rising from a financial abyss. Suddenly world leaders from China, France, India to the United Kingdom, are courting Vladimir Putin and turning a blind eye to his government's human rights abuses, which actually pale into insignificance when compared to the true horrors of recent US military crimes or those of the former Soviet Union. What's more former Russian Oligarchs are fuelling the artificial property boom in London with their untold billions. Why? what's going on? How can supposedly advanced countries like the UK and US be at the mercy of Russia, Canada, Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia? Could it be because the immense financial wealth of the City of London and New York Stock Exchange will soon be worthless unless it can be translated into the commodoties we need to drive our high consumption lifestyle? Just think by 2010 Russia will be the primary provider of gas to UK homes. These countries hold the keys to the survival of the global economy because they are only ones remaining with a substantial surplus of material resources, but they comprise only a tiny fraction of the world's population. The big consumer nations, China, India, USA, Japan and the European Union will vy for these prized resources. If the US had not acted promptly to prevent its competitors from striking favourable deals with Iraq, it would have lacked the necessary military might in the region to prevent Saudi Arabia and Iran doing the same. The mounting chaos in Iraq provides a pretext for the long-term presence of US troops next door to Iran and Saudi Arabia with troops already stationed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Anyone denying the oil motive is guilty of the worst pedantry to avoid admitting the obvious. The US and UK have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians to acquire control of liquid black gold to maintain, at least temporarily, their economic power. That makes New Labour politicians not just liars, but as they were no doubt aware of the true reasons for the invasion, guilty of greed, death and destruction.
Bird and Fortune couldn't have put it more succinctly
"The modern plague of overpopulation is solvable by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not the sufficient knowledge of the solution, but the universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem for billions of people who are its victims."Martin Luther King quoyte on population
Consumption per capita:
(Max. sustainable total consumption / population) x efficiency factor
(Max. sustainable total consumption / consumption per capita) / maldistribution factor.
Max. sustainable population level
Tthe number of human being planet earth can support. The carrying capacity is reached when a sizable proportion of the population falls below the minimum requirements for food, water and shelter. Therefore more equitable distribution raises the carrying capacity.
Max. sustainable total consumption
Max. sustainable depletion rate of non-renewable resources + Max. sustainable regeneration rate of renewable resources
This accounts for the greater per capita availability of resources to the poorest through better and more equitable distribution, technological advancements and greater reliance on renewable energy and food supplies.
This accounts for low carrying capacity as maldistribution of resources causes many of the poorest to fall below minimum sustenance levels (i.e. starve or die of easily curable diseases associated with poverty and crowded living conditions) long before theoretical mean levels of food and drinking water per capita falls below the minimum daily intake.
Our ability to regenerate or to recycle resources essential for sustaining our aggregate rate of consumption over several generations without destabilising planet's earth fine environmental balance, on which agriculture depends.
The single biggest issue facing humanity is the availability, control and distribution of vital resources. All other issues pale into insignificance for the 5 billion individuals who do not live in one of the prosperous enclaves of the consumerist world. Even many of the 1 billion citizens of the wealthy world struggle to make ends meet in an interminable rat race. Goods considered luxuries in some of the poor regions such as cars, mobile phones, refrigerators etc. are viewed as necessities by most workers in Western Europe, North America, Japan and Australasia. Yet many anti-capitalists of the anarchist, ecologist and socialist traditions choose to downplay the importance of demographics, as overpopulation inevitably heralds an era of depopulation either by natural or planned means and would inevitably restrict reproductive and migratory freedoms.
Availability of potable water
Availability of fossil fuels essential for transport, distribuition and high-yield farming
Availability of raw materials for machinery, vehicles, transport infrastructure, renewable power plants etc.
Rate of depletion of fertile soil due to high-yield farming
Capacity of technology to extend natural limitations
Various factors point towards a human overload. Little arable land is left unfarmed, little hospitable land is untouched, few accessible resources are untapped, other species are increasingly subservient to the human economy and their distribution and migratory patterns have been disrupted. Four to five decades of mass automobile use combined with rising demand for raw materials has led to recent predictions of manmade global warming. Even the great battle against disease has witnessed reversals as bacteriologists have shown how the overuse of antibiotics not only defeats the purpose of the drugs, but encourages virulent drug-resistant strains that may pose a greater risk to human health than older strains prevalent before the advent of antibacterial medications.
However, many of the same researchers depend on direct or indirect grants from multinationals, and are reluctant to challenge the profit motive head-on. In a world where human need and long term environmental planning were prioritised the pros, cons and long-term effects of antibiotics could be weighed rationally.
Antibiotics would be prescribed in life-threatening situations and in cases where their use would significantly reduce pain or limit the after-effects of debilitating bacterial diseases. They would not be prescribed for any viral diseases or transient bacterial diseases that the body's immune system could deal with. However, today while antibiotics may save millions of children who die of diseases such as Loma in many poor hot regions, their overuse or incorrect administration is triggering new drug resistant strands that only infect regular antibiotic users, but anyone who comes into contact with them. Wealthy medicine addicts may have other options, such as expensive new antibiotics and gene-therapy in a clinically clean environment. However, most human targets of superbugs have few such options available, able to afford only the cheap mass-produced drugs least likely to be efficacious against new virulent strains. Tuberculosis, malaria and cholera are back with a vengeance, as the West blames increased mortality solely on HIV.
Many economists such as Lester Thurrow an Michel Chossudovksy have highlighted the link between growing poverty, IMF and World Bank policies, the ever-expanding hegemony of transnational corporations and the withering self-sufficiency of most countries. However, when presented with data on the growing impact of 6 billion human beings on the world's environment, the radical anti-capitalist left views distribution as the only problem. Many internally deny the potential for a demographic crash for three other psychological and ethical reasons.
First the notion of overpopulation implies many people are superfluous and a depopulation program would inevitably affect the weakest first.
Second an unsustainable demographic burden implies we should stop migration to high-consumption areas, thereby condemning would-be economic migrants toa life of poverty in their homelands.
Third Marx claimed technological advances under capitalism will raise the earth's carrying capacity to meet human needs and as Malthus was a reactionary opposed to wealth redistribution his ideas will set back the struggle for a more equal society. Ironically as we shall see below the opposite may be true.
Let us assume an ideal world would allow all individuals to achieve their full potential, enjoy a prosperous and stable standard of living, practice a rewarding profession, lead a pleasant private life, participate in grassroots democracy whether at work, in the community or at a higher level, feel free of irrational prejudices, tolerate diverse lifestyles and have unhindered access to all information and views about society and science. The nearest approximation to such a utopia is probably found in upper middle class enclaves of North America and Western Europe, residential areas inhabited by high-income and high-consumption professionals actively involved in the local community. However, the social problems caused by our undeniable inequality often lead residents' associations to be bastions of reactionary thought when it comes to crime and antisocial behaviour associated with the lower classes. If everyone enjoyed the same high living standards, cultural diversity would be so much more tolerable. Lovers of open-air parties could move to communities where such practices were not only tolerated but enjoyed by most inhabitants. Lovers of quiet suburban life could move to quiet suburban neighbourhoods where everyone understood the importance of privacy.
How can we achieve such a world for everybody? i.e. How can we defeat poverty, ensure long-term prosperity for all and thus eliminate the root cause of hatred and wars? The one beautifully obvious answer is simply dismissed as heretic fantasy. But first let us consider one main objection to the solution. Are most people in the developing world so poor because we depend on their cheap labour, i.e. do 1 billion mass-consumers depend on 5 billion low-wage workers? If we're talking about Indonesian workers in a Nike factory, this statement is certainly true. Despite automation and computerisation, many goods are much cheaper because brand name companies can outsource from remote suppliers in low-wage economies. However, sadly poverty sinks to much lower levels than Nike workers earning $50 a month. Multinationals have no use whatsoever for severely malnourished Indian teenagers who are so weak they cannot operate machines and cannot be easily trained for other jobs. Severe malnutrition in early childhood condemns victims either to early death or a life of physical and mental disability, and the limited resources of many third world countries rule out any treatment that enables the disabled to live a partially rewarding life in more affluent countries. The bleak truth is most people in the world's poorest countries do not work at all or struggle to survive on primitive subsistence farming despite expanding deserts, polluted rivers, degraded soil and shrinking available arable land per person due to a rising population. What's more many third world countries fail to produce the staple foods their people have long relied on and can ill afford to import from food exporters. Through China and India grow and produce masses of food, it is almost exclusively for domestic consumption. Europe is nearly self-sufficient but heavily overfarmed. The only real bread-baskets with massive surpluses are the US, The Canadian Prairies and Australia. Zambia, sparsely populated by European standards, imports increasing amounts of foods from South Africa, so Zambians pay more to eat older fruit.
Another factor many have ignored is that technology is developing at such a fast rate that unskilled or even many semi-skilled manufacturing jobs will simply vanish. A fully automated toy factory with a handful of technicians may need more investment than an overcrowded sweatshop, but is entirely strike-proof, more efficient, more reliable and can be located closer to the target market.
The answer is of course planned depopulation. The fiercest advocates of this radical solution claim it's better than forced or natural depopulation. Why should libertarians and Marxists alike disagree with this proposition? Enforcing it would mean curtailing individual freedoms, libertarians and religious fanatics can both condemn forced sterilisation campaigns. Smallgroups of overpopulation activists concentrated in the United States, Canadaand Australia (i.e. the very countries least effected by the world's economicand environmental woes) such ZPG, NPG and the Sierra Club advocate simplisticsolutions like one child per family. The problem is they also advocate tougher immigration controls on the basis that new immigrants from low-consumption countries would consume more in the United States than back home. There is some truth in that, but it doesn't solve any of the immediate problems that afflict millionsof poor third world citizens. In its most reactionary form the depopulation lobby blames the victims - it's their fault for having too many kids.
Even a cursory knowledge of recent demographic history can dispel the myth that our environmental woes are caused by African overpopulation, though this situation would soon change if all Africans consumed as much as North Americans. Europe's population grew rapidly in 18th and 19th centuries, North America's skyrocketed in the same period. The original 13 states totalled just 3.9 million inhabitants in 1792. Just consider the British Isles.
The 1088 doomsday book estimated 1.5 million in all of England and the combined populations of Scotland and Wales doubtfully exceeded 0.75 million, meaning for much of the middle ages Britain accommodated less than one twelfth of the current 56.5 million (Northern Ireland excluded). In 1770 mainland Britain had approximately 8 million, the first census in 1801 recorded 11 million inhabitants, but by 1831 the population had risen to 24 million, nearly 35 million by 1870 and then the growth rate began to sag with 40.6 million recorded in 1911 (excluding Ireland). If we take the period of fastest growth 1770-1870, Britain's population more than quadrupled despite significant emigration to the new colonies. Let's look at it from another angle. In 1770 the world's population was probably around 800 million, so Britain had around 1% of the total, by 1870 Britain's share had reached 3.5% and as the population has boomed in the developing world over the last 6 decades, Britain's share has returned to just under 1%. If we include the descendants of British emigrants in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa (a complex calculation because English, Scots and Welsh emigrants interbred widely with other Europeans and their percentage of the blood pool or contribution to the regional genome can only be estimated), the percentage of biological Britons is still greater than it was in 1770. More shockingly this was achieved by phenomenally high birth rates in the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century with depressingly high infant mortality and life expectancy comparable with that of the poorest African countries today. Great Britain's wealth and power was not built merely by the ingenuity and shrewdness of its ruling élite, but by blood, sweat and breeding of its subjects. The advent of the industrial revolution saw an increase in child deaths and lower longevity before better sanitation, higher safety standards and technological advances began to reduce the death rate.
The British ruling class needed a sizeable core of cultural Anglo-Saxons not only to man their industries and but to populate their colonies.
However, Europe's rising population was matched not only by increasing agricultural yields and industrialisation, but also by greater exploitation of colonial resources and eased by emigration. The rest of the world has been playing catch-up ever since, but with no new territories to conquer and exploit.
Asia's population grew rapidly from the turn of the 20th century,but has recently slowed significantly. China adopted its famous one-child policy, though it never applied to members of ethnic minorities. While India's birthrate has slowed, its infant mortality rate is still very high, poverty and chronic malnutrition rampant, but is still projected to top 1.2 billion by 2020 while farming yields per capita have actually started to decline. On the face of it, most of Africa is not overpopulated at all, 650 million inhabit an area nearly ten times larger than India with 1 billion citizens. If Africans had pioneered the era of industrialisation and colonialism, it could be the world's richest continent with immense natural resources, but if we exclude inhospitable deserts, semi-arid grasslands and mountains, the potentially arable area, even harnessing the most advanced technology, is much smaller. Outside North Africa, South Africa and Kenya very few Africans produce cheap goods for consumption in high-income countries, though African mineral and fossil resources are essential for the global economy, i.e. big business needs raw materials rather than human resources, except for a few travel guides and mineworkers. With widespread unemployment, a mass migration to the cities and dwindling traditional agriculture, hundreds of millions of Africans are superfluous to the globalised economy, too poor to consume or be retrained and lacking the infrastructure that attracts multinationals.
There are some anomalies. Zimbabwe has a plethora of articulate English-speaking high school graduates with requisite writing and typing skills who could easily be trained to work in call centres. £4 an hour may seem peanuts in British terms, but even a quarter of that rate would suit many Africans fine.
A little training and experience could soon help new Zimbabwean customer service managers cope with the incompatible British accents. However, not only in Zimbabwean telecommunications infrastructure appalling with standard calls to the UK costing 70p per minute, but the British call centre boom may itself be short-lived as technology progresses. Likewise some of the brightest programmers live in India.
Many software developers outsource the nitty gritty of code writing to third world programmers working for a fraction of wealthy world rates, but these programmers are a drop in an ocean of abject poverty. More Indians starve each day than receive pay checks from software firms every month.
Approx. Population in Millions
The notion of carrying capacity is inherently unfair in a consumerist world. The more we consume, the fewer people our environment can sustain. As wealth is distributed so unevenly, in its starkest terms that means the more the rich consume, the fewer poor people are likely to survive.
Before the industrial revolution Britain's carrying capacity was around 5 to 8 million. Otherwise the population would have naturally increased to fill the gap. One of the greatest myths of modern history is the idea Europeans discovered relatively underpopulated lands in the Americas and Australasia.
The area of North America currently occupied by the US and Canada could have easily accommodated 15-30 million Native Americans with the technology available to them before the European invasion. It is also wrongly assumed that the cultural and technological influence of a community is relative to their initial population.
Had the English Royal family not sent Italian navigator Cabot to claim a chunk of North America for the crown and had the industrial revolution started on mainland Europe, which it nearly did, the British Isles might well have played a very peripheral role in the world's subsequent cultural development. In 1750 mainland Britain was home to barely 7-8 million, less than 1% of the world population and English was spoken by only 6-7 million in various dialects. French, Italian, German and Spanish all had more native speakers at the time and arguably a richer literature. Latin and French were the main lingua francas. 250 years later around 380 million speak English as a first language, around 400 million more speak it proficiently as a second language and probably another 1200 million have learned school English to varying degrees of success (We should be very sceptical about statistics for non-native English speakers as proficiency is very hard to quantify, but that still leaves 4 billion with no knowledge at all of English).
From a collection of Anglo-Saxon dialects that had only just gained recognition as the official language of administration, English evolved into the de facto global tongue with few apparent rivals except on a regional level. Even standard Putonghua Chinese with over twice as many native speakers poses little immediate threat. Indeed we may liken the role of English today in much of Asia and Africa with the role of Norman French in England between 1066 and 1400, for it is viewed as the vehicle of technological progress. However, the speed of technological change and increasing interconnectivity of the global economy poses the greatest threat ever to cultural diversity.
Let's face it mass immigration to the wealthy regions of the world will not solve the world's demographic and environmental problems. However, calls to isolate Fortress Europe and Fortress North America from the outside world will backfire or require even tougher border controls and the denial of basic human rights to millions. We cannot exploit the resources of the whole world and only allow 1/6 to indulge in hedonism. On the one hand it makes little sense to overburden high-consumption regions and encourage a brain drain, on the other merely erecting walls around consumerist paradises will create a global apartheid in the rest of the world, while transnational corporations retain control of key resources in the developing world. However, immigration may be debated, because big business itself is divided
There are few better examples of governmental duplicity than the UK. Until Indian Independence in 1947 the British Empire covered 1/4 of the world's population. How many actually migrated to these shores? 1%, 2%, 3% maybe? No, just over 3 million, i.e. 0.5% of the 600 million plus inhabitants of the British Empire in 1947 and an even lower percentage of these countries' populations in the years of greatest immigration. Natural growth also means fewer than 3 million immigrated. More important the first immigrants were positively encouraged through advertising campaigns in the West Indies to fill low-wage jobs that native Britons no longer wanted. Despite low unemployment throughout the 1950s racism was rife and in 1960s the Labour government responded to growing racial tension by sidelining proponents of repatriation such as Enoch Powel and tightening immigration controls. However, there is a big dilemma as the powers that be are highly unlikely to redress the growing imbalance between the opulent and impoverished worlds. The problem is not just the demographic burden on the target countries, but the socio-economic instability that masses of poor immigrants would bring. The British establishment is well aware of these facts, but poses on the international stage as the champion of a tolerant multiethnic world in which new immigrants are welcomed with open arms. British Foreign policy has for three decades been to export emigration from its former colonies, first to Australia, Canada and the US, but more recently to mainland Europe. Britain and France absorbed large waves of immigration in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s,but over the last 20 years Germany and Austria have accommodated a higher percentage of first and second generation immigrants and Italy and Spain are quickly catching up. As the UK closed the floodgates in the 1980s and 90s, the migration burden shifted. Recent suggestions that the UK liberalise its immigration laws to allow more highly educated immigrants to make up for the shortage of British engineers, exemplify the real issue. The problem, as the government sees it, is not immigration per se, but poor immigrants. Since the late 1990s, immigration numbers have steadily increased with rising unemployment in Eastern Europe, civil wars raging in many corners of the globe and a shortage of skilled workers in the building, catering and care sectors in the South East of England. This trend has further exacerbated the housing crisis and alienated a large section of the native working class, whether of traditional Anglo-Saxon or Celtic stock or more recent Afro-Caribbean descent.
Some analysts talk of fortress Europe and Fortress America, while others talk of the globalisation of poverty - a future of wealthy enclaves intermingled with lower class districts and shanty towns. Post-apartheid South Africa epitomises this reality, but at what price? Wealthy families inhabit luxurious bungalows surrounded by 4 metre high walls, electric fences and rapid armed response, and drive their children to exclusive schools inaccessible to low and middle income families. Every niche of wealth represents a prosperous region with strict border controls, the only difference is proximity to unaided abject poverty. In today's globalised world the real distinctions are no longer white versus black, developed world versus developing world, but rich versus poor. Border controls merely afford greater security for the middle classes, while the upper echelons of the business class can always afford secluded residences.
As a result we will see a diversification in the distribution and density of the moneyed classes. Some regions will have tough border controls and some degree of social cohesion, i.e. a limited social safety net, education and health services available to all etc., while others will have laxer border controls, but limited government intervention to offset socio-economic imbalances. Britain is likely to retain some of the toughest immigration controls, other European countries will follow, but are less able to stem the tide as much of Eastern Europe evolves into a third world economy. Unable to challenge corporate power, the left has little choice but to weigh the social consequences of accommodating more economic migrants and the human consequences of denying the desperately poor masses the right to emigrate. In true duplicitous British style the onus will be on other countries to accept more immigrants. Over the last decade Austria, with a mere 7.7 million citizens, has taken on 1 million immigrants. How would the UK have coped with 7.5 million new immigrants in the 1950s? Austrian politicians wishing to emulate British immigration controls are branded Neo-Nazis by the Anglo-Saxon press, i.e. do as we advise not as we do!
In an ideal world people would not need to travel far and wide to ensure themselves a decent lifestyle, but some, probably a tiny minority, will always benefit not only themselves but the new community they adopt by migrating, however, such migration would be balanced and only be overtly unidirectional if environmental and technological changes allow it.
We take our consumerist lives for granted. A public relations executive earning 60K per annum doesn't stop to ponder the fact that she has never actually produced anything before she drives her 4WD off-roader to the supermarket to splash out on goodies. Instead we might consider who pays PR execs, account managers, lawyers specialised in corporate law and other seemingly superfluous tertiary sector workers? Why is one PR officer in the UK worth a hundred shop-floor workers in Indonesia? The answer is simple: to maintain not only the market share of a given company, but to secure corporate power.
In the unlikely hypothesis that a benign superpower imposed strict sanctions on the UK. We would need to change our diet probably with rations (tea, coffee, wine, citrus fruits, rice, olive oil etc. would be in very short supply) and rely on increasingly outdated equipment no longer manufactured in the UK, before oil from the North Sea runs out within 10 years and gas within 30 years. Our whole economy reliant on petroleum-based agriculture, transportation and power generation would grind to a halt. How many wind turbines would we need to build to replace the generating output of all fossil-fuel thermal power plants? Would we have the resources to make so many wind turbines? Where would we get the silicon needed to make solar panels and the masses of concrete, steel and plastic to build tidal power stations? How would a generation of Britons dependent on the service sector adapt to mundane tasks like farming and manufacturing essential goods?
For a foretaste of what the world could be like go to oil-rich Iraq, where basic infrastructure such as water pipelines has been bombed and strict sanctions imposed, in just 10 years over 500,000 children have died of otherwise easily curable diseases. Just imagine the consequences of sanctions against Zimbabwe, not the fictitious sanctions allegedly imposed during Ian Smith's rule between 1964 and 79 when the country was still called Rhodesia, the sanctions currently proposed by the US Zimbabwe bill. A country 1 1/2 times larger than the UK with a 11 million inhabitants and plenty of prime farming land could be reduced to a shadow of its former self, as wealthy white farmers leave, oil prices sore, new technology and investment fail to arrive and soil erosion spreads. More shockingly the US Census Bureau has already revised its forecast for Zimbabwe's 2050 population to 9.2 million, i.e. a decrease in a country where 50% of the population are under 15 means a very high death rate.
Can higher death rates caused by HIV/AIDS and other renascent diseases like malaria and tuberculosis explain such a significant drop? Do they know something we don't?
The increased efficiency of the globalised economy and our reliance of advanced technology also raises our dependence on transnational corporations and/or foreign governments. Freedom has always been a relative concept. Does it mean the freedom to partake in love fests on pristine beaches?
The freedom to indulge in narcotics? The freedom to drive Jaguar E-types onsemideserted 8-lane highways? The freedom to carry a gun? The freedom to walk the streets safe at night? The freedom to enjoy unpolluted tranquillity? The freedom to speak one's mind? The freedom to enjoy unprejudiced friendliness in a socially cohesive community? The freedom to watch Hollywood movies replete with gratuitous violence? The freedom to a local cultural identity and minority language rights? The freedom to access dissident views on the Internet? The freedom to enjoy a childhood free of commercialised sex? Inevitably freedoms conflict. Local democracy and globalised interdependence conflict, although you'd never believe that from the rhetoric of many politicians.
Democracy is only worthy of its name if people can actuallycontrol the distribution of resources. If a region is self-sufficient in food, energy and the raw materials required for housing, transportation and essential infrastructure, its people can opt out of global trade and stay alive. In the pre-inustrialisation era the threat of sanctions would have been meaningless for most countries, today it's a matter of life, death or a dramatic decline in living standards. A country's economy depends on inward investment, exports and technology developed abroad. However, we need massive diversification to maintain our high living standards. Britain and France would not have been able to sustain their economic growth without exploiting resources from their empires. The US had the enviable privilege of a relatively self-sufficient high-consumption economy until its own petroleum supplies ran out and it relied increasingly on its stranglehold on key Middle East oil wells. The whole global system is geared to the dominance of a tiny élite of investors and corporate executives through the mass consumption of 1 billion human beings and the exploitation of a further billion low-paid workers (including extended families and local businesses dependent on their wages) and the total neglect of the other 4 billion.As automation and computerisation render unskilled and semiskilled superfluous and big business begins to realise aggregate consumption must go down to ensure long term profitability, hundreds of millions of workers will be laid off.
Assuming all other factors are equal: the more people the more we depend on technology controlled by transnational corporation and international trade and the less any given region or even countries the size of Britain have any independence at all.
Higher aggregate consumption:
Greater adverse effects on our environment and more dependence of advanced technology to solve short-term problems
Lower aggregate consumption:
Smaller adverse effects on our environment and longer-lasting sustainability
Bigger total population:
Higher demands on our environment relative to aggregate consumption
Smaller total population:
Lower demands on our environment relative toaggregate consumption
Greater sustainable consumption per capita
More arable and hospitable land per capita
Less reliance on large organisations for distribution of essential food and water supplies
Organisations can be held more accountable as local communities are more self-sufficient
Individuals can enjoy greater personal freedoms without restricting the freedoms or fundamental rights of others
Forced Depopulation Theories
One of the most potent arguments used against any conspiracy theory is to dismiss it as such. We should at least distinguish those based on irrational prejudices or religious conviction from those based on empirical evidence. The mendacity of politicians, corporate executives and military chiefs can lead us to some startling conclusions. If the CIA is behind narcotraffic in much of the world, is this not a case of planned populationcontrol? Why did Britain not only fight for free opium trade, while encouraging its consumption among the Chinese fully aware of its addictiveness?
Much of this site exposes the agenda of globalisers as control freaks intent on managing all resources and controlling all governments in an interdependent world and thereby reducing democracy to plebiscites over remote bureaucrats. Any humane alternative to the current world order can only build on solidarity with other peoples, gain inspiration from reciprocal cultural exchange and seek to redress the imbalances created by greedy colonialism.
A strain of conservative thought sees the world run by a shadow government, the Bilderbergers, with their own agenda to wrest control from national societies. Most followers of this sect tend to be deeply religious, Catholic and Protestant, but also some adherents of other creeds. Unsurprisingly they oppose abortion, contraception, homosexuality and extramarital sex because sexual intercourse evolved solely for procreation. Divine nature wants us to go forth and muliply with god-fearing offspring, while governments want to stop you having more kids. Overpopulation is, so they say, a myth perpetrated by the liberal intelligentsia. How do we explain growing poverty and the emergence of new drug resistant strains of infection diseases? Of course, it's all a plot by the New World Order to reduce the excess population and promote hedonistic consumerism.
At least this theory recognises the tangible problem. Others, chiefly journalists for establishment media outlets, dismiss the problem. The demographic growth rate is slowing and new technologies will help us increase the earth's carrying capacity, so we can all enjoy an environmentally friendly high standard of living.
Indeed we have already faced the stark alternative of genetically modified organisms or mass starvation, that's right accusing opponents and sceptics of profit-driven farming yield boosting techniques of being Luddites at best and mass murderers at worst. Some interesting population lobbies are countering scientific concerns about our growing impact on our environment, Marxists join ranks with free-marketers and Papists. Papists oppose population control because contraception and abortion are against their religion and they favour large families of faithful worshippers.
Free-marketers such as the CATO Institute oppose such measures because they limit freedom of choice. Marxists usually favour contraception and women's right to choose on abortion, but oppose neo-Malthusian analysis. They believe maldistribution and exploitation alone explain poverty, radical depopulation measures are inevitably reactionary and communism can guarantee plenty for all. However, we have conflicting models of communism. Is it a world government run by democratic centralism for the benefit of the masses or is it a commune run by all its members for their long-term survival and prosperity? The first vision leads inevitably to a state apparatus that seeks not only to control resources and technology, but also the populace as a whole. Dissenters are ritually accused of disrupting the established order and jeopardising the wellbeing of all. The power structure needed to manage a world-wide command economy does not actually differ very radically from corporatism.
If we had relied strictly on Adam Smith's vision of free trade, the world would be a very different place. Adam Smith would have allowed population to reach its ideal level within commercial and environmental constraints. The history of capitalism has shown that upholders of free trade tend to be market leaders, while protectionists are merely advocating the same tactics that enabled wealthy nations and powerful corporations to amass vast fortunes. A consistent "free-market" libertarian would have opposed colonialism, which grew from mercantilism, and all imperialist wars. If the British wanted Transvaal gold, they could have merely offered their technical expertise to local entrepreneurs and buy it at market value. Instead they fought two brutal wars against the Boer Republics, with hundreds of thousands of needless deaths. If the only justification is the alleged racism of the Boers, why did the British not treat black mineworkers as equals and let them prosper from the mineral treasure chest? No prizes for answering this question, the native population was treated as pawns in a game with the sole purpose of profit. Had Buddhist monks inhabited the area and refused to relinquish their territory, Lord Kitchener and Cecil Rhodes would have fought them too. Would Anglo-American capitalism be so dominant today, if the British had not had such a large empire and the United States had not pursued protectionist trade policies with high import tariffs and antidumping laws for so long?
19th century imperialism laid the foundations for modern globalism and let the world population rise six fold and aggregate consumption many times more. To maximise efficiency, we have had to renege on economic independence.
If we lack the self-determination to control the gathering, cultivation, production, distribution of vital resources in our own territory democracy is utterly meaningless.
First we have to assume no alternative economic system is likely to replace corporatism or the fusion of vested big business and superpower interests.
Production will continue to serve the profitability of transnational corporations and consumption and rely increasingly on surplus value generated by virtual products.. Information technology and automation will lower the demand for cheap unskilled labour in low-wage economies with a relative increase in the demand for skilled staff. Fewer bucks are spent on factory floor workers, and more on design, advertising, marketing, financial services etc. These jobs are inevitably assigned mainly to people educated and living in high-wage consumerist regions.
The growth rate of aggregate consumption has already begun to wane and oil extraction will peak in 2005, leading to a decrease in global consumption. While this may seem good news to environmentalists, the bad news is the wealthiest 12th of the world's population (the middle classes in prosperous countries and a few enclaves dotted around the globe, around 500 million, but excluding the lower working classes and underclasses) may actually consume more, while poverty spreads elsewhere slowing demographic growth. The wealthy benefit from new cleaner technologies and acquire surplus produce that the rest of world can no longer afford, while the poor lack the means to adapt, but cannot return to their forebears' way of life.
site with extensive analysis of the coming oil crisis. This is probably one of the most radical environmentalist, anti-government and anti-corporatist sites with an emphasis on survivalism in the post-oil world.
Our species has evolved a curious form of opportunistic altruism, in short the notion that we benefit by caring for one another, while each individual strives insofar as possible to enhance his or her own social status, personal security, wealth and power. Thus much political debate concerns the dichotomy between the common good and individual freedom. Idealism merely represents a set of beliefs in an optimal world, where individuals attain the greatest measure of happiness, satisfaction, affection, personal freedom, physical and material wellbeing. Propagandists like to pepper their speech with frequent references both to our aspirations and to the political ideals dear to our culture or doctrinal system. In much of the world today we have been conditioned to view abstract concepts such as democracy, freedom, antiracism, tolerance, crime-prevention, material wealth as ideals worth fighting for, often with scant regard to their feasibility and the immense contradictions and conflicts of interest that their rigorous enforcement may engender.
An idealist may simultaneously advocate greater economic growth, campaign for a cleaner environment and welcome migration from poorer to wealthier regions, as we all want to enjoy a higher material standard of living, surrounded by uncontaminated, but tamed wildlife and extending such privileges to an ever greater number of world citizens. An idealist can espouse tolerance for diverse lifestyles and intolerance for all kinds of prejudice, without considering whether one's lifestyle conflicts with rights and freedom of others.
Empiricism relies on the morally neutral application of the scientific method. Only ethics tell us that actions such as planting an incendiary device outside a busy restaurant or firing missiles at densely populated neighbourhoods from helicopter gunships are wrong. An empiricist is interested only in establishing the facts and in understanding the motivations of the perpetrators. An empiricist may want to estimate the Earth's long-term human carrying capacity, within verifiable physical technological restraints, regardless of the millions who may die if it proves significantly lower than world's current population. An empiricist may seek to establish whether cold fusion is both technically viable and safe irrespective of any ideological preconceptions or rigid interpretation of the theory of thermodynamics. More important an empiricist can change her or his view on the basis of new scientific data. For instance, if one could prove global oil reserves could last another 300 years without any adverse climate and/or ecological effects, one may need to revise one's view on sustainability of our current petroleum-driven economic model and seek alternative explanations for conflicts over oil supplies.