Who is afraid of nuclear war?

The Economist recently published a series of articles about the potential for a nuclear war between great powers.  A nuclear war is a major threat to the existence of mankind on this planet but it is only one of several threats and some of the others may be greater, in part because they are less well understood.

Other threats  include famine, climate change, overpopulation, uncontrolled migration and disease.  All of these have been a part of human history.  The most intriguing threat comes from the potential for an electromagnetic pulse which could wipe out all of the computer chips in the area it hits.  This could come from a solar flare or from the discharge of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere above the target.  For more on this  read the novel One Second After by William R. Forstchen .

nuclearProbably the greatest risk of nuclear war is that some lunatic will push the button.  My sense is that the current occupant of the White House is more interested in saying things that will please the people who voted for him and are likely to vote for him again and doing things, like opening parks for development, that will please his business friends.  Unfortunately there are other lunatics in this world with different interests.

This writer is not terribly worried about a nuclear war between the United States and Russia because I can not see either country gaining anything.  Both countries have used up their most easily accessible resources and modern technology is such that slaves are redundant.  A few people might get some enjoyment from bullying, terrorizing or raping the losers but would probably not get away with it for long.  In any case there are adequate opportunities at home.  Both countries have considerable social problems and I doubt any leader would want to take on the others problems as well as his own.

Since the end of the Second World War there have been no wars between great powers.  There have been lots of internal and regional conflicts and there will probably be enough more to keep the threat alive and allow the generals to test their toys.

The main benefit of war is in the preparation. A lot of people have well-paying jobs supplying military kit.  Not many politicians will vote to reduce arms spending in their constituencies.
The world economy is on a down trend and lots of spending agencies are competing for funding – education, health, transportation and military.  The military can makes a very strong case with the threat of nuclear annihilation.  It is sad that Canadians and other people around the world are going hungry and sleeping rough so that generals can play games.

Nuclear war is very much a possibility but it is just one of several things that could destroy the world as we know it.  The danger in focusing on any one threat is that another one may sneak up on us.  We need to be watching all of them and seeking ways to protect ourselves.

Let’s put some ‘civil’ in civilization

Over the past few weeks I have been reading some anthropology about hunters and gathers and have decided these so-called primitives are really the most civilized Peoples of all times.  I absolutely do not want for myself or anyone else to go to that life style but I do think we should evaluate their cultures for ideas we could adopt.  We need to put the civil in civilization.

In this post I propose to look at some of the things that make our society uncivilized and contrast these with what we know about hunters and gathers. A lot what makes us uncivilized are sources of in justice –  overpopulation, forcing people to do things according to the values and morals of others and exploitation of people and resources.  Generally these injustices are not a part of the lifestyle of hunters and gatherers.

59889This guy used to think that violence was a natural part of human nature and we  just have to live with it.  After reading about hunters and gatherers I am not so sure.  These people are generally known for being peaceful and non-violent.  One group, when threatened by some war-like neighbors just disappeared into the forest.
It would be interesting if an anthropologist would do a detailed study of this aspect of their lives.

Hunters and gathers must be expert psychologists as they have to teach their young to kill animals while remaining non violent in their human relationships.  There often appears to be a spiritual aspect to their hunting.  Apparently a lot of social control is with verbal tactics such as teasing or ridicule.

In contrast most civilized countries maintain standing armies, sometimes used for social control of populations and in some places it is acceptable for agents of the state to execute innocent people who happen to be in their way. Some people claim the right to force others to live by their values and morals and are often very successful at getting state support in the form of legislation.  Our civilizations are also very tolerant of psychological violence. In spite of all the feminist propaganda we hear, women are very skilled at this type of violence.  Violence is so pervasive in our societies that very few people get through their lives without experiencing some of it.

History tells us that so far all civilizations have failed although many people believe our own will last forever.  As so many civilizations have failed this is a major issue.  One theory is that previous civilizations have failed because they have depleted their topsoil.  If this is true we need to proceed with caution as a lot of our food supply is dependent upon adding chemicals to the soil.  We need to put a lot of effort into studying agriculture.  It is too important to leave to people who make their living from it.

This blogger believes the major threat to our way of life is that we have used up most of the easily accessible energy and mineral resources on the earths crust.  Yes, there are lots of resources left but cost of extracting them is such they are mostly useless unless we have some major technology breakthroughs.
In  contrast there is archeological evidence that the bushmen of the Kalahari desert have maintained their civilization for up to 200,000 years.  They did this by living hand to mouth, seldom  having more than a day or two of food on hand and not over exploiting resources.

A significant feature of hunting and gathering is that most decision-making is by individuals.  Leadership is low-key and individuals can easily move from one small group to another. The bushmen’s  time came to an end when their territory was taken over by farmers and herders with the help of modern technology such as boreholes to provide reliable water supplies.

It is not clear if there was a natural transition from hunting and gathering or if farming and herding developed independently.    What is significant is that the latter made for different social dynamics in that some people could make decisions that affected others.  As these other types of food provision involved food storage they also led to residence mostly in one location, more and more complex tools and a more material lifestyle.  This was probably the start of the decline into our uncivilized history.

Probably the most important of all freedoms is the right to make decisions according to our own values and morals. In our society this is a complex issue with many limits.
The first limitation, shared by hunters and gatherers, is the need to provide ourselves with food and shelter. We must spend some time on this although most hunters and gatherers devote far less time to this than we do. Anthropologists have found that a lot of them devote only 15 to 20 hours a week to this basic activity. The rest of the time they spend socializing, performing rituals, doing crafts or sleeping and being lazy.

The rest of the limits on freedom to make decisions follow from our economic organization often with religious sanctions. Modern technology and the use of oil in agriculture probably means we only need to work two or three hours a week but the work ethic requires us to work 40 to 60 hours a week. If one does not do this much work one is a deadbeat on not doing ones share. This is great for those people who want others to support their empires but not so great for the environment and the resource base and our right to decide for ourselves what we want to do.

Possession of money gives us freedom to make decisions but the way in which it is created is a limitation. Most of the money used in our exchange of goods and services is created when banks make loans in what is known as fractional reserve banking. This is a complex but easy to understand process that is fully explained in many places on the FunnyMoneyArtPowell-finalinternet including this weblog and the e-book by this writer, Funny Money: Adapting to a Down Economy. As money is created by bankers they determine who gets it and what projects are undertaken. Creating money with an income scheme and national exchange trading scheme as proposed in my book would mean a major transfer of decision-making power to individuals.

Another limit on our ability to make independent decisions is the extensive use of marketing techniques by major corporations. I have often thought the best psychological insights come from marketing people and they do not hesitate to use their knowledge to influence how people think and what they do. Sadly, we have got to the point where a lot of people consider exploitive marketing to be normal, legitimate and even desirable. Some major Canadian companies have recently made the news because of the pressures put on their sales people, like to sell expensive internet or phone services to people who will never use them.

It is amazing how easily so many people get hooked into agendas set by others. It is easy to avoid being influenced by the marketers; just avoid television and social media. It is also easy for me to say that as I left home before my parents bought a television.
Not only are hunters and gatherers known for their peacefulness, they are also known for their equality. If people are not trying to aquire lots of material things, then economic equality becomes natural.

In our own culture we are aware of increasing inequality as more people suffer from the falling economy but we do not know how to change things. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to have the same standard of living as everyone else. It is painful to see people homeless and having to rely on food banks.

This writer believes inequality could be corrected with an income scheme and a true market economy. One of the features of a market economy is that competition wipes out the profits that allow some people to become rich.

The books I have read say little about sexuality but it appears most hunters and gathers are casual and accepting. Nor do they appear to have the sexual problems which plague so many people in our societies. It could be that we have something to learn from them about sex .

The key to what we call civilization is the agricultural surplus which is the food production in excess of what the producer needs for his own survival. Generally hunters and gathers do not have an agricultural surplus because once they have enough food for a day or two they stop working knowing that more is easily available when they need it.

The agricultural surplus is a two-sided coin. It releases people from food production to do other things some of which are positive and some of which are destructive. It can be the start of the decline onto the slippery slope into uncivilized behaviors,
The agricultural surplus presents a people with two questions; what to do with it and who makes the decision. These questions open up opportunities for people whose personality is to tell others what to do. This writer believes each of us should have to right to decide how his/her share of the surplus should be used.

Some economists like to tell students consumers control the economy in their spending decisions. This is correct so long as we make the right decisions. Many people want to go off the grid and live the simple life in the bush but that is not easy to do. The people who create the money want the rest of us to work at their projects rather than our own.

We have good material standards of living because our economy has been labor intensive and the demand for bodies has allowed us to extract from the elite a nice portion of the agricultural surplus. As technology increases and robots do more and more of the labor we are losing our bargaining power. The rich get richer and more people become poor. Frightening and uncivilized.

There is a slight ray of hope in our two or multi party electoral system. Some politicians are realizing tha to get votes they have to allow voters some share of the agricultural surplus.

There are lots of anecdotal evidence that our economy is on a down trend. Lots of people are suffering and lots more are likely to suffer. There are many unknowns in the future and most of them are frightening. Our goal should be to minimize the suffering and maximize the enjoyment of living.

We are unlikely to ever get consensus on how to deal with this situation as many people have a strong vested interest in the status quo. However, if we do not try, there will be no progress.

I once heard an engineer say, “If it is working, it is not complex enough.” I was not impressed with his engineering and I do not want to apply his principle to economics. Let us keep it simple. The challenge is to get the best out of technology without the technologists telling us how we should live to meet their goals.

This post has focused on some of the negative features of our civilization. I want to continue to enjoy the positive things, like being able to write this weblog, but I also want to correct some of the injustices and uncivilized behaviours. Genius is 90 per cent plagiarism and we should look for good ideas wherever we can find them.
The hunting and gathering lifestyle appears to be a lot simpler than what we have and it also appears to be a lot more civilized. Let’s put the civil back in civilization.

Note: Once upon a time this blogger took a course in Economic Anthropology and since then I have frequently read books on anthropology and especially economic anthropology. Prior to writing this post I read the following books:

Affluence without Abundance: The disappearing world of the bushmen, By James Suzman, 2017.

Hunters and Gathers: History, Evolution and Social Change, Edited by Tim Ingold, David Riches and James Woodburn, 1988.
Politics and history in band societies, Edited byEleanor Leacock and Richard Lee, 1982

Why we have unemployment

We have unemployment because our agricultural surplus is such that we don’t need for everyone to be “working”.  More important issues are who decides how to use the surplus and how is it distributed.

This post was prompted by a question on Reddit asking why we have unemployment.  It’s an important  question because unemployment can be devastating.

The agricultural surplus is the food produced by workers which exceeds their own needs.   This surplus means some/many people can do things other than produce food.  In our society we have used this surplus to produce a wide range of goods and services which have themselves become a part of the surplus.  Unemployment is an indicator of how rich we are.

Think of a small group of hunters/fishers and gathers on a small island where the living is so easy food and shelter requires only and hour or two a day.  By our terms these people would have a high unemployment rate.  Distribution of food would probably not be a problem as they would probably share their produce but they would have to decide what to do with all the spare time.

This model could get  complicated if they had lots of children and increased their population to the limits of the available food.  It would still take only an hour or two a day to harvest the food even though there wasn’t enough for everybody.

In such a small society distribution of food would be by sharing.  I know an anthropologist who did his field work in such a society and he said you could not buy food there.  Whatever one needed was shared.  What to do with the “free” time would probably be up to individuals with collective activities partly by consensus.

Modern technology, especially that applied to agriculture, gives us the same magnitude of surplus.  We too could be approaching the limits of our ability to produce food.

We too have to decide how to share the produce and what to do with the time. So far these decisions have been influenced by our commitment to the work ethic.  Everyone should spend most of their time working and their share of the surplus should come in the form of wages.

As our exchange of goods and services is facilitated by money the decision-making goes with the money.  To the extent that a person has money one can decide how the surplus will be used.  So the more equally money is distributed the more decision-making will equal. The ancient Egyptians did not use money and it appears the pharaohs decided the surplus would be used to build burial chambers.

In the industrial economies we do not need full employment but we do need a more equitable way of distributing the surplus.  With the ups and downs of the economy full employment may not be a realistic goal.  There are lots of things people could do that would be satisfying but which do not contribute to gross national product.

I believe a universal income scheme would give us a more equitable distribution  of the agricultural surplus.  If we are approaching the limit of our ability to produce food, it might provide a more equitable way of dealing with shortages.   It would also spread the decision-making among more people.

Unemployment can be financially and psychologically  devastating for the people who experience it.   But it is not the real problem.  The urgent problems are an equitable distribution of the agricultural surplus and how it is to be used.

 

If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

 

Is our civilization about to collapse? Not yet.

“Not yet.”    This concept applies in first aid and it would be prudent to apply it when evaluating the numerous threats currently facing our civilization.

This may have been the most important concept I  learned when I took an industrial first aid course some years ago. The course was focused on an examination and the instructor repeatedly told us, if the examiner asks if a seriously injured  patient requires immediate transport to hospital the appropriate answer could be “not yet.”    This recognizes that the patient’s condition could deteriorate and requires constant monitoring.

We know from experience that when people have been injured they sometimes die and first aid people know that some of their patients need to arrive at a hospital within an hour.  When dealing with civilizations this is not quite so obvious unless one looks at history over several millenia.

There are numerous threats to our civilization including overpopulation, climate warming, agricultural collapse, resource depletion, nuclear war or an electromagnetic pulse from the sun which could fry all computer chips

Some people take these threats seriously and others dismiss them.  A favorite argument is that predictions have not come true therefore they are invalid.   For example, look at this put down of  Paul Ehrlich for his overpopulation prediction.  Just because a prediction doesn’t come true in a time frame does not mean it is invalid.  Sometimes predictions do not take everything into account.  For example higher prices for resources increase the supply of those resources as more difficult deposits become available.  One needs to monitor the continuing supply of resources and the consequences of the higher prices.

Sometimes people have difficulty with things they don’t want to hear and one’s hearing may depend upon the color of hat one is wearing.  A person with a good job that appears secure may find it more difficult to accept negative predictions than a person who is without a job and in danger of becoming homeless.

Through the millenia all previous civilizations have collapsed.  Is our’s going to be the first to survive forever?  Perhaps ignorance is bliss and we should ignore the warning signs.  On the other hand if we say “not yet” then we can monitor the situation and plan how we will cope if it does get worse.

 

If you liked this post your are invited to comment, press the like button and/or click  one of the share buttons. If you disagree you are invited to say why in a comment.  While I like the idea of sharing this platform, my personality is such that I don’t reply to many comments.

Economics and environment in Rwanda and for us.

I believe there is a basic conflict between the way our economy is organized and the need to protect the environment.

An interesting perspective is given in this article about the conflict in Rwanda.  Here the resources needed to maintain the poor people are rather basic – firewood and wetlands.  It may be that environmental degradation is more of a short-term concern than it is for us in industrial countries.

For us the short-term concern is to keep our jobs and maintain a standard of living.  For most of us most of the time short-term priorities win over long-term priorities.

The solution to this economic and environment  conflict is the deal with over population and to reorganize our economy.  One way we could rearrange our economy is suggested in my essay “LETS go to market: dealing with the economic crisis” which is here.

Wages on Labor Day

This being labor day it may be a good time for some observations on wages.

People and their wages are subject to  supply and demand. Thus when there is overpopulation then somehow or the other wages will decline.  For example there has been contracting out or  importing of goods made in counties with cheaper labor,

The exception (so far)  is in fields where there is a strong union providing a monopoly service which includes most civic employees.

Overpopulation

With the world’s population about to reach seven billion, famine in the Horn of Africa and reports we are using 150 per cent of the resources required for sustainability, we have to be sensitive to overpopulation.

Probably there are too many people on this planet and as individuals the only thing we can do is to limit the size of our own families.

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