Moose Poop: a Note to the Assembly

The Anchorage Park Foundation (APF) is on the warpath yet again. Last month they released a Google Forms petition that asked just about everyone (but elected officials) to spend money to create something already there (, and I’d like to spend a few of your moments addressing why this is another bad idea.

Who and What

The petition is not addressed to elected officials, but to various MOA staff and to AMATS, which underscores probably the biggest problem we have with transportation infrastructure in Anchorage: planners are not accountable to the public. Specifically, the petition is addressed to

* Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions (AMATS) Policy Committee
* Anchorage Project Management and Engineering
* Anchorage Parks and Recreation
* Anchorage Traffic
* AMATS Staff

and, after some self-aggrandizement (more on that below) the petition makes the following request:

We urge you to allocate funding for a public process to determine a preferred alternative for a safer crossing at this important intersection and work together on a wayfinding plan to make this unique and lovable trail system a destination for all.

One small problem…

A Crossing Already Exists

Yes, a safe crossing has been in place there for decades. A block and a half south of where the creek flows under Lake Otis Blvd is a tunnel. Yes, a nice wide tunnel, much nicer than anything one would see down by Westchester Lagoon. And that raises a handful of very important questions! Questions nowhere visible in the petition!

It gets better, of course. It turns out that the tunnel lies on a line between where the trail comes from and where it goes to; in other words, the trail goes out of its way to a crossing that will never exist, as opposed to taking the route that would employ the existing tunnel.

But take heart!!! Though things would have been simpler to align all those years ago, it is still relatively easy to fix the problem. And yes, I intend to keep you, Reader, hostage as long as I can.

Deplorable Design?

So why would someone design a trail that eschewed the only viable crossing? There are a number of possibilities, but most of them reflect the kind of critical view that most in government are allergic to, so let’s look at giving the question a more positive spin, and that suggests two possibilities.

The first is that at the time no one saw multi-use trails as transportation corridors (lame, yes, but not as negative as most explanations…). Arguably the Campbell Creek Trail would be just that: a narrow band of asphalt that would run the length of Campbell Creek. Of course, who would have expected that another trail following a major water course would be so popular that we would spend almost $1,000,000 redoing it (but not making it any wider over much of its course).  Well, the truth is LOTS of PEOPLE understood that the design was inadequate, but who listens to the public???

The second argument, I suppose, is the “build it and they will come” magical thinking bit that we bought in the movie theaters. The trail followed the creek, and eventually the MOA would have to widen the bridge over the creek to included a bike trail (as money was no object…). Yes, there are such tunnels in some locations, but though the nearby corner has been rebuilt over, and over, and over, and over again, and though we opine mightily about “non-motorized plans” and supporting non-motorized users of our municipal infrastructure, “they came”, but without the buckets of cash needed to build a bridge, or another tunnel.

The truth is that we are never going to build a bridge over Lake Otis at the Creek, and with all the other demands on diminishing (already gone?) funding, who in their right mind would build ANOTHER tunnel under a six lane highway? Can you spell BOONDOGGLE? But what, you ask, is wrong with APF trying to hustle a little interest?

Undermining the Public Process

One of the biggest problems here is that once again APF is subverting a complex and comprehensive process whereby communities feed their capital improvement project requests through the municipal system. Indeed, what APF “does best” is bypass all that by getting a direct appropriation from the State, and thereby making a virtual mockery of the all the work that all the “little people” invest in trying to push their respective projects forward. But, you exclaim, APD is a private, non-profit, non-membership corporation, so how does it have such an outside effect on government?  Well, the answer to that is the partnership scheme that was brought to bear for Parks in Anchorage, which makes partners more important than the public. Money talks.

Yes, I can provide multiple examples of how APF has tried to run roughshod over the public, but since I am trying to keep this short, and some Assembly members get positively red in the face when Ms. Nordlund’s name comes up, we can set that aside for now. But I am happy to appear at any Assembly or Administration work session to discuss such matters…

But back to Moose. People have been riding the loop around Anchorage for years. As part of their little self-promotional branding efforts, APF started calling the loop, The Moose, and started promoting an “initiative”, which in part also celebrated APF accomplishments, while issues that APF does not want to address “under the carpet”  (e.g. “celebrating” Pine St., which has accomplished nothing, while ignoring Boniface and RJSP – safer routes needing extensive work but ignored for decades).

The Fix

What can be done (to address the crossing issue)? Well, for starters, we can ignore APF’s rhetoric and misdirection. We can inexpensively address the current access to Folker from Campbell Creek trail, and create a sharrow to 52nd and the tunnel on the East side of Lake Otis. On the West side we simply need to create a sharrow down Waldron to Cache. And at the tunnel itself, we need only remove the stairs and existing ramp and replace with shallower ramps on both sides. All told the few trail tweaks and the ramps would run substantially less than $50K and does not need “study” so much as some nitty gritty design work: design work that should have been done decades ago and a bit of engineering.

Most importantly, with all the critical infrastructure needs we have, these fixes are NOT critical. Period. I rode the path described above last week and it is MUCH better than a good deal of the “Moose” not being complained of! Let me be blunt: NOT NOW. Identify the fixes, put them in a plan and pass it about for comment – and then put it on the CIP list somewhere near the bottom.

Yes we need wayfinding, but APF and P&R ignored public comment on wayfinding, and as a result the little bit that is in place is disappointing and substandard. The truth is, as I noted above, that while we provide everyone with lots of Opportunities to be heard, no one ever actually listens to anything said, nor does anyone ever make any changes as a result of any testimony on any project. Indeed, on a recent project where State funding was killed because APF made such a shambles of the grant (the public DID try to make suggestions, but APF and P&R simply ignored every suggestion made), an MOA Assembly member thereupon ran about claiming that I killed the project off. Really? Considering how much pull I have with you lot, you know how pathetic such an allegation is, but there you go.

Still Here

No, I could not address everything there is to say about any of this here. But lucky you, if you want to hear more all you need to do is ask. No, the various persons/parties being petitioned won’t ask, because they don’t see that as in their brief. They don’t “solve”problems, they kick them down the high speed, incredibly dangerous (and unresponsive to NTSB or FWHA guidance) roads…

Homo Echhhh

I had started to do a piece about where Homo economicus was hanging in 2019. This was in no small part because of the suggestion that I came across that les Mises-erables had now gone full cannibal on Homo economicus 1.  This was hysterical as here we had those who started out by assuming that humans acted rationally, now arguing that the very model of human rationality was a straw man.

But what had statted me down the path was a rather ridiculous piece by Paul Collier 2 in which he made largely the same claims as McMakken, from arguably “the other side”. Collier largely relies on Blueprint: The evolutionary origins of a good society by Nicholas Christakis 3, an intriguing anecdotal book that is, however, far less effective in arguing human eusociality than anything on offer from E. O. Wilson. 4

So, let everyone (other than admitted “orthodox” economists) agree that humans are NOT rational. They are, contra Solnit 5, not universally altruistic. They vacillate between reliance on their forebrains and their inner chimp 6 And those whose seem to have issues with their cognitive inhibitor circuits tend to be fruitcakes who are also outbreeding those that appear rational.

And now. we have come to the great spasm on the crest of COVID-19, brought to our species courtesy of SARS Co-V-2. While many of us are seeing the “better angels of our nature”7 (Pinker really should stick to linguistics) as Solnit argued, one would be blind and deaf not to be aware of the greedy, careless of Phillipa Foote 8, massing like the real zombie apocalypse. And I have to suggest at this point that the claim of rationality, today, most likelt is an admission that the claimant suffers from Dunning- Kruger 9

I am not sanguine about our future.



Preamble Lost

A few comments about HRes 109, the Green New Deal 1

The Western Caucus’ response to the Resolution 2  sounds just like the folk who pushed to end the “war on coal” and enable dumping of spoil in waterways.3

After a parade of horribles (declarations by the paid Congressional shills owned by the energy extraction industries), the caucus makes the bald faced claims that

The Green New Deal would:

  • Intertwine the federal government in every aspect of our daily lives,
  • Overhaul American energy, manufacturing, and transportation sectors,
  • Jeopardize jobs and take-home income of hundreds of thousands of Americans,
  • Expand the power of federal bureaucrats far beyond what our Founding Fathers ever intended,
  • Impede the energy efficiency and carbon capture research and development industry has invested in, moving America further away from our emission goals,
  • Destabilize our electric grid and energy dominance and independence compromising our national security, and
  • Undermine federalist principles our nation was built upon.

Whoa!!!!! As one can easily see, there is no evidence tat the Resolution would do ANY of this. I am waiting to see documentation by the Western Caucus evidencing, well, anything.

I strongly suggest that EVERYONE actually read HRes 109 and if you are seeking to convince others how horrific it is, I would argue that the onus is on you to provide a sectional analysis (that’s what rational folk do). I for one would like to know what is problematic with pledging

(D) to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come—
(i) clean air and water;
(ii) climate and community resiliency;
(iii) healthy food;
(iv) access to nature; and
(v) a sustainable environment;

Sounds very much like what the US Constitution requires of our federal government. The preamble states

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

If you want to frighten yourself, go see a Manoj Nelliyattu “M. Night” Shyamalan movie. In the meantime, unplug from Fox News, try to be critical when you read or hear rants from people trying to suck your life blood and render your community a toxic desert, and do try to behave in a manner that suggests that you are a rational person entitled to enfranchisement.






The Short Shrift: Socialism Versus Social Activism

Bernie Sanders has called out Amazon in the BEZOS Act, and Jacobin Magazine says its time for socialists to organize at Amazon, but I can’t help wondering if this activism misses the soul of socialism as the increase in wages comes at the loss of access to ownership.

Setting aside the rants of the Randian culture warriors,  most have seen ownership of the means of production as the keystone of socialism.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product. 1

Unfortunately, in the US the big union money typically moves in the other direction, with health and welfare funds and pension funds being managed by greedy Wall Street bankers solely on the basis of monetary return (which amounts to workers essentially capitalizing rentiers).

The value of Amazon stock is now about $1800/share, with a market capitalization of a bit over $900B, much of that owned by institutional investors and mutual funds. So, in broad terms all that needs to happen to make Amazon a socialist powerhouse is to finance employee purchase of $450B in stock.

The alternative, no matter how noble it might appear from time to time, amounts to begging or blackmailing, as Amazon’s market power is arguably no match for activists. 2

But is worker ownership of a behemoth like Amazon a pipe dream? Now that is an organizational question  worth pondering. Rather than propose that thousands of militant socialists seek employment at Amazon quietly for the purpose of an October Revolution, why not organize for the takeover of the company; it is certainly just a “doable” as rendering Amazon a union shop, and it makes “labor” management.

Seems to me that if one is going to hitch one’s wagon to Hope and Change, then charging into the fray for the purposes of continuing to be regarded as beggars at the gate is not all that inviting.

Economic Bloviation

Look, do us all a favor and quit using words that no longer really mean anything. If it has not occurred to you yet, let me clue you in:  Capitalism is one of those words. I am not the first person to opine about this. Fred Foldvary has a nice little piece about about abuse of the term and its cognates.

The term is often applied to a system of economics that incorporates private ownership of goods and reliance on markets. But, of course, private ownership of personalty and use of markets for the trading of same have existed since the advent of of the first surplusage Homo sapiens stumbled into. Capitalism in this sense isn’t new, it isn’t recent, it isn’t the reason the “West is best”, and it certainly is no reason for Harvard dons to get excited (unless they are celebrating over the size of their checks thanks to the Scaifs).

The combination of these two elements, instability and inequity, with mankind’s natural proclivity for violence as population increases, result in a a variety of systems that have been invariably disastrous. And these two problems have only been modestly ameliorated through the advent of the “state” or other less comprehensive paradigms for making distribution equitable.

Some argue that the globe is richer for “capitalism”.  But the essence of what people mean when they talk about “capitalism” boils down to thievery. It is almost laughable that libertarians talk about taxes as thievery when the very essence of the concept of property is the idea that one has the “right” by virtue of some supreme dictate, to seize that which is not yours. Imagine the Libertarian at the Bar: “Your Honor, I only took that bike because it was not being used and I therefore had to right to make the bike mine in order to make use of it….”  Indeed.

The financial madness we are being swallowed by today is the result of the attenuation of relations among the parties to transactions, and to the abstraction of what is actually being traded. “Moral Sentiment” has been left to twist in the wind, and one is regularly confronted with a litmus test that still seeks to shame those who refuse to be identified as “capitalists”, whatever that might mean.

And, of course, there are those, having amassed billions by drawing the life force from others (the real vampyres of our age), who use the latest advances of Social Psychology to convince the droolers and knuckledraggers that if we dispose of any attempt to shackle this juggernaut that everyone will be rich.

It is high time to either take back ownership of the term from the Geckos, or to abandon it completely as just more of the wreckage left by our march to oblivion.

Photograph by blickwinkel/Alamy Stock Photo

Eternal Externalities

I recently was reading a comment that went something like, “If you have a *choice* between being a boss or being the member of a co-op, it makes sense to go with being a boss.” This (“boss” vs co-op) is an artificial choice that so many “libertarians” promote (by way of example, a union is simply an aggregate of workers taking advantage of their economic power, so libertarian opposition to unions is based largely on the interest in undermining that economic power, not on any ideals of “liberty”).

The argument goes on along these lines, “Political arguments that rely on people’s altruism are always a losing strategy.” But enterprises like co-operatives are not “altruistic”; in point of fact a very convincing argument can be made that co-operatives and the like are simply more adept at comprehensively addressing the complexity of positive and negative externalities that confront them. Let’s face it, the “real” downside of the laissez-faire capitalism that is the subject of so much concern today is the proclivity such corporation have for eschewing responsibility for externalities. And this practice is the crux of our willingness to privatize gain, and socialize loss.

While it may seem that an increasing number of people are espousing “Lotto Liberalism” (the peddled concept of striking it rich through hard work)it must become just as obvious that these people are frankly delusional. There is no point in trying to confront them with their delusion as it is well known that such praxis merely deepens the psychosis.

In Anchorage we have two electric utilities, one owned by the municipality which serves the urban core, and another, a co-operative serving everything else. The current Mayor proposed a sale of the municipal utility to the cooperative. This is a GREAT idea, but the outpouring of vitriolic rage based on the wholesale ignorance of the nature of these enterprises was dumbfounding. And of course none of the whingers knew anything about the Green Bay Packers or how the Golden Gate Bridge Construction was financed.

We have been conditioned to assume that all corporate bodies are evil, even when we are the corporate body, and that the only sentiment that we can trust is our own greed. And believe it or not, poor Adam Smith gets the blame for that crap, lol.

The manner in which too many of us talk about capitalism falls apart when labor owns the means and production, and there is nothing specifically anti-capitalist about such a practice. The problems lie in both the methods employed to keep labor from such ownership, and in the real underlying aspects of today’s capitalism, the abstraction and attenuation of financial products.

While it might be helpful to rage about capitalism, I don’t know that such rage can ever be converted to adequate regulation so long at those invested in escaping regulation have the power. On the other hand, I think the ouroboros offers a significant alternative; use the system to consume itself. Explain how to move people from complaining about Bank of America and WellsFargo, to using credit unions, and you are well on your way to changing the face of the USA. When we learn how to fund, protect, and employ pension funds as a tool in and of themselves to promotes the future pensioners, we will be on to something.


***This essay and others also found at The Intellectual Plane

“It is an acknowledged truth in philosophy that a just theory will always be confirmed by experiment. Yet so much friction, and so many minute circumstances occur in practice, which it is next to impossible for the most enlarged and penetrating mind to foresee, that on few subjects can any theory be pronounced just, till all the arguments against it have been maturely weighed and clearly and consistently refuted.”
– Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population

As with all great thinkers the work of the economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) has been the subject of both praise and criticism. Both in life and long after his death Malthus’s ideas on political economy have been dismissed by both free-market ideologues on the Right and partisans on the Left as either unrealistically pessimistic or even inordinately optimistic.

Much like the work of Adam Smith, Malthus’s ideas on political economy have either been vilified or celebrated. As with Smith, ideologues have cherry-picked his arguments for their own purposes. Malthus has been decried by ideological publications like the Economist magazine as a “false prophet”. With typical corporatist rhetoric the Economist often argues that technological improvements pertaining to the status quo of agriculture and manufacturing will offset the negative externalities caused by corporate capitalism, thus rendering Malthus wrong on all points.

Ironically left wing thinkers like Friedrich Engels shared a similar technocratic contempt for Malthus. Engels, who spent much of his life working in a Manchester cotton mill saw the beneficial possibilities of technology as labour saving devices when combined with socialist practice and argued for sharing the gains of technology across the wider society.

Yet the reality of technological advances over the past three hundred years is that said advances have been largely directionless or employed against the majority of society. Undirected technology has and continues to displace workers and impact the natural environment.

Worse, the gains of technology – in terms of labour saving and wealth creation- have been creamed off by individuals and corporations at the expense of human dignity and environmental destruction.

An honest appraisal of Malthus (or anyone for that matter), his works and his critics must occur by also considering both the context of his time and ours and and to do so in a holistic manner. Also the wider historical realities that occurred after Malthus’s death must be weighed against the abstract thinking employed by both his admirers and detractors.

But first a little about the man himself.


Thomas Malthus was born in 1766 in Surrey in southern England. He was a prize student at Cambridge University and was later ordained into the Church of England.

Malthus had a deep interest in human society and in population growth in particular. His 1798 work An Essay on the Principle of Population argued that the growth in human population was subject to resource limits. In times of plenty, human populations would expand until shortages of food and other resources limited that growth or in many cases reduced the population through starvation, disease or war. He declared that there were two categories of checks on population: positive checks which increased the death rate (hunger) among the population and preventative checks that decreased the birthrate (birth control, celibacy).

At the heart of Malthus’s argument was the belief that the use of positive checks on population would create socioeconomic volatility and misery for the population. He was a staunch critic of the Poor Laws, arguing that they promoted inflation and undermined the purchasing power of the poorest sections of the society.

Malthus was sceptical of the idea that agricultural improvements could expand production without reference to the physical limits of environment. In many cases history would prove him correct.

From a modern sociological perspective Malthus can be criticized for his belief that populations will expand only in times of plenty. In the case of some Third World societies where there is a dearth of social safety nets such as social welfare, pensions and affordable medical care, poor families will have more children in order to ensure more income earners and future care for elderly family members.

Yet Malthus must be viewed in a historical context and in a period of rapid industrialisation and cartel behaviour by English landowners. His was the era of the Corn Laws and the Enclosure Acts. Technological advances in agriculture and industry had forced thousands of agrarian labourers into urban areas and slum housing. He was right to be pessimistic – as we should be today.


“A great emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some kind or other in the country that is deserted. For few persons will leave their families, connections, friends, and native land, to seek a settlement in untried foreign climes, without some strong subsisting causes of uneasiness where they are, or the hope of some great advantages in the place to which they are going.”
-Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population

Malthus died in 1834 but just over ten years later, the commercialisation of agriculture and laissez-faire economic thought led to the single greatest catastrophe ever to befall modern Ireland. Between 1845 and 1852, Ireland lost a quarter of its population due to famine and displacement. The response of the British government and business was largely indifferent. Charles Trevelyan, the civil servant most directly responsible for organising what limited relief efforts were provided by Westminster and Lord Fitzwilliam were among many in government who bastardized Malthus’s idea of positive checks on population control by suggesting that Ireland’s problems were the result of “surplus people.”

The uncompromising, abstract economic model employed in Ireland left the population vulnerable to the harsh realities of the world’s climate. Ireland experienced a series of warmer, wetter summers in the years leading up to and during the Famine. The conditions were ideal for a bloom in Potato blight that wiped out the principle staple crop for most of the population. Despite that, the warmer weather actually led to bumper crops of Irish grain and other foodstuffs, but since these were reserved for the export market, much of the population was left to starve. It is hard to imagine that Malthus, the moral churchmen who held only a lukewarm belief in free trade would have approved of the economic barbarism being meted out in Ireland. Small wonder then, that Engels upon realising the dangerous misuse of Malthus’s ideas would condemn Malthus himself

The British employed the same cruel, moralistic indifference in their other colonies. The Madras Famine of 1877 was responsible for the deaths of between five and ten million people, despite record exports of Indian grains to the world market. Like Trevelyan in Ireland the British Viceroy Lord Lytton and his subordinate Richard Temple held the opinion that relief efforts would lead to moral “dependency”, a view still held by many prominent conservative thinkers today when issues like food stamps and social welfare are considered.

The root causes of the 1877 Madras Famine were environmental and economic. The years 1876 to 1878 were El Nino years and the monsoons in India failed. The economic and moral causes of the Madras Famine were laissez-faire trade and racist indifference towards the Indian population.

There were other famines in the nineteenth century. The same El Nino cycle combined with inadequate maintenance of traditional irrigation systems and colonial “free” trade in Northern China was responsible for the deaths of twenty million Chinese.

Brazil also suffered appalling loss of life in the Sertão and over a hundred years later the region still suffers the ravages of the El Nino cycle.

The famines that tortured the Russian countryside throughout the 1880’s were also the result of climactic events aggravated by harsh Tsarist policies. The long term result of the famines in Russia was the 1905 Russian Revolution that led to an even more violent upheaval in 1917.


The modern corporatist economist and free-market ideologue still clings to the misguided notion that these events were aberrations and that today’s technology can prevent such tragedies.

Yet the application of agricultural and industrial technology not only exacerbated problems, but ensured environmental catastrophe.

The expansion of railways in India served two purposes. The first was military. The second was economic. Railways were the means for moving massive quantities of grain and other food-stuffs out of famine stricken areas in southern India.

The steam ship enabled the rapid exporting of these goods.

The spread of steam powered tractors during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led to deeper ploughing and the disruption of fragile soils in both the Russian black soils and the American Great Plains.

That the fossil record indicates that these regions are vulnerable to prolonged periods of drought was never considered by the farmers ploughing up the prairies in Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico – the epicentre of the 1930’s Dust Bowl.

Instead in the United States, technology and an irrational, religious optimism pervaded the development of the Southern Plains. Quoting the Bible, many religious agriculturalists in places like the Oklahoma panhandle declared with no scientific basis, that where the plough went, the rains would follow.

When El Nino brought drought to the west of the 100th Meridian in the 1930’s the result was the most significant environmental disaster in the history of the United States. One hundred million acres of farmland was devastated as high winds carried top-soils from Kansas and other southern plains states into the atmosphere before dumping their contents onto neighbouring states and distant countries alike. Recent tests performed in the Himalayas found traces of plains dust on Mount Everest. In some areas up to seventy five percent of the top-soil was blown away.

The Southern Plains was hit by another Dust Bowl in the 1970’s that was an unfortunate side effect of geopolitics. During the Détente between the US and the former Soviet Union, the Carter Administration agreed to supply the Soviet Union with grain in exchange for security guarantees for Western Europe. The result was a boom in US wheat production and exports and the further degradation of the Southern Plains.

Today, technological advances in irrigation wells have been posited as solutions to future Dust Bowls. Yet these wells are reliant on ever decreasing quantities of aquifer, which in turn are dependent on rain for replenishment. Droughts on the Southern Plains can last for decades.


Therefore from a historical context, Malthus was in many ways correct to be pessimistic about the ability of the human population to grow exponentially without limit or environmental intervention.

While critics of Malthus may deride him for suggesting that 19th century Britain would be unable to feed itself a more cynical analyst might point out that Britain’s population growth and food supply in the same period was secured by the deaths of millions in Ireland, India and China.

Similarly the remarkable growth of the United States was predicated on the environmental degradation and destruction of the centre of the North American continent.

A further lesson, identified by Malthus and proved by historic events is the failure of technology alone to ameliorate the condition of society or to safeguard it from food scarcity.

Despite the proliferation of tractors, combines, improved irrigation and ploughing techniques, the underlying soils are vulnerable and require increasing amounts of oil-based fertilizers to produce the food we need.

Neither soil conditions nor crude oil are infinite resources, nor is the amount of available arable land. In fact in parts of the Middle East water shortages have led to a decrease in the amount of arable land available for agricultural production. Rising food prices were a catalyst for the Syrian Civil War that began in 2014 and continues at the time of writing.

Rather than accept that humans are limited by physical reality, the Trump Administration has, in recent days opted to deny reality by choosing to leave the Paris Accords. Like George W Bush with the Kyoto Protocol, Trump and his cabinet of reactionaries are unwilling to accept or adhere to a fundamental humane principle of Malthus:

“I believe that it is the intention of the Creator that the earth should be replenished; but certainly with a healthy, virtuous and happy population, not an unhealthy, vicious and miserable one.”
– Thomas Malthus An Essay on the Principle of Population

Sensible people today would do well not just to comprehend and challenge Malthus, but also to question the assumptions of our technocracy and the irrational optimism that it peddles. Furthermore instead of operating under the assumption that infinite economic and population growth without reference to physical limits is either possible or desirable, we might choose a more sensible socioeconomic order based on reasonable, compassionate stability.

The fate of our population, indeed of our planet depends on it.

Select Bibliography:

Thomas Malthus – An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)

One of the most biased articles in mainstream publication against Malthus in recent years can be found in The Economist – “Malthus, the false prophet” May 17th 2008

On Friedrich Engel’s criticism of Malthus see Friedrich Engels, “Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy” (1844)

On the Irish Famine and Lord Fitzwilliam see Surplus People: From Wicklow to Canada by Jim Rees (2014) and This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine, 1845-52 by Christine Kineally (1994)

On 19th century famines in India, Brazil and China see Mike Davis Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (2002)

On the Dust Bowl see Donald Worster Dust Bowl : the southern plains in the 1930s (2004)

US/Soviet relations, detente and the Carter Administrations agreement to sell wheat to the the Soviet Union are described ibid and in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy (1988) and Richards Rhodes Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007)

On the Russian Revolution and the impact of the populists in addressing the famines in the 1880’s see Orlando Figes A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924(1997)


Part one of this essay can be found at Chris O’Connell’s Intellectual Plane and Pardon me, but… .

As mentioned in my previous blog, the average person spends more time with work colleagues than they do with their friends and loved ones.

Furthermore we live in a society that is increasingly managerial and obsessed with abstract concepts of professionalism.

There’s a big difference between being professional and getting your work done to a high standard versus the appearance of being professional. Since the former is hard to do, most people tend to attach great importance to the latter.

It’s easy to appear professional. You wear the correct uniform. You keep workplace conversation revolving around banal topics and you pretend that what you are doing is serious business even if it amounts to pointless paper-pushing.

To show just how much you’ve sold out to corporate artifice, its best to talk about corporate brands.

True story.

I once walked into an office where the conversation concerned which store-bought frozen French fries were best: McCain brand or Green Giant.

My initial response was “Who gives a flying fuck?” Even if I did care about the quality of French fries I hardly consider it a subject worth discussing in a corporate environment! What does it matter? Furthermore, if you’re attempting to sound like a food connoisseur, why the flying fuck would you buy pre-made frozen fucking French fries?! If you’re serious about food quality, by goddamned bag of potatoes, cut them up and fry or bake the motherfuckers until they satisfy your palette.

But that might be too difficult for most “professional” people.

Regarding the workplace conversation in question, my attitude was deemed “unprofessional” as was my response to that rebuke. When I pointed out that while human characteristics like humour, joy, hard-work and efficiency were frowned upon in that particular workplace, jaws dropped open like marionettes. If we were so “professional” I argued, why were we not discussing the company’s future prospects? Why were we not formulating ways to improve our processes so that we could better achieve our goals as individuals and as a company? There, where humour was viewed with suspicion, why in such a supposedly serious work-place were my daily goals and targets being impacted by straight-faced discussions about irrelevance?

No one could give me an answer. To be fair, looking back at that episode, it occurred to me that my colleagues might have been trying to make the best out of a shitty situation – but I doubt it. Lacking in imagination as most “professionals” are, my colleagues had mistaken process and etiquette for substance and productivity.

I don’t consider myself the smartest person in the world. Like everybody else I’ve done some pretty dumb shit in my time and chances are I’ll probably do more dumb shit throughout the course of my life. I’m also a goal-oriented person. I go to work so that I can achieve something banal so that I can earn money and have available time to spend with friends, loved ones, my many interests like writing – all of which are far more important to my life than wage slavery. My vision of the workplace is more humanist than professional and I think it makes me a better leader.

Yeah, you read that right. The guy mouthing off about motherfucking frozen French fries holds a position of authority at his job.

But bear with me for a moment. Which is better: actual achievement or the appearance of achievement?

Some might argue that true professionalism calls for a balance between the two but I simply call that common sense. On top of that most professionals in recent decades don’t really achieve anything concrete. Managers especially.

The late Peter Drucker in his seminal work Principles of Management argued that managers are key to the healthy functioning of a business. But he wrote that book back in the 1950’s when managers actually knew shit! In fact they knew a lot of shit because they did a lot of shit! Most CEOS in the 50’s and 60’s had engineering degrees. They could actually build things, unlike the dense motherfuckers with MBAs found in most boardrooms today.

The process of building something useful, especially when that construction involves contributions by other people forces the individual to learn about humanity- theirs and that of others. Management training courses treat human beings as abstracts and while I’ve met a lot of unimaginative, stupid and soulless people during my life, none of them were abstract! They had flesh and bones, hopes and dreams, prejudices and vices. The best people I ever worked with and for were first human and humane, and professional second. More importantly they got shit done and I never recall having conversations with them about frozen fucking French fries.

I don’t take myself all that seriously and I’m baffled by anyone who takes themselves seriously. Serious people are usually seriously fearful people. They seriously distrust those around them and in a workplace that leads to serious discord and unhappiness for everyone involved. Serious people claim to be realist but above all they are obsessed with abstract protocols that don’t matter for shit in the real world. In every job there are people who believe that the process of the company is more important than the company’s goals. They place a huge emphasis on numbers and methods, particularly when those methods suit their delusions of importance. There’s something pathetic about someone ascribing moral virtue to pointless protocol. I know I’m being harsh here, but if you are someone whose life revolves around basking in the reflected glory of abstract nonsense not of your own making, then you’re a fucking loser!

I’ve never formally studied how to be a leader because truth be told, I don’t care for authority. I accept that some authority must exist in the world, but I demand that said authority be wielded with kindness, generosity and vision as well as resolve and common sense. If that doesn’t occur, I’m inclined to tell said authority to fuck off.

Tyrants tend to be fearful people who distrust others. A practical dimension of management leadership is the ability to delegate. But how can you delegate effectively if you don’t trust the people you work with? In addition how can you ensure that the work you delegate will be done well, if you’re an asshole to your staff?

Call it laziness on my part, but I’d much rather work with people who want to work with me and who will own their responsibilities without bullshit, then work with people I have to micromanage. I’ve got better shit to be doing with my time!

Another important dimension to successful leadership is one’s acceptance that from time to time you’re going fuck things up. I make mistakes because I’m human and flawed. Consequently I’d rather have my staff feel that they can make their voices heard before letting me lead them down the road to Fuck-up-istan and its capital, Disaster-Town. As Master Splinter would say, the teacher must also learn from the student.

At the end of the day, we need to hold genuine respect for one another first as human beings and as employees second. I’ll never be a parental figure to any of my staff or liked by everyone, but I’m pretty confident that even those who dislike me understand that I try to be fair, even when I’m less than perfect.

Over the years I’ve been told by others that I need to moderate my work-place conduct and in some cases they were right. Overall, I aspire to an approach that would please both Peter Drucker and the cartoonist Scott Adams: I get my work done but I have fun doing it because when it comes to work, you have to get your life back any way you can.

Though I’m nowhere near as intense as the fictional character Malcolm Tucker from BBC’s The Thick of It I must confess that a small part of me views him as spirit animal. It’s not the psychotic anger or the bullying aspects of the character that appeal to me but the no-bullshit approach concerning etiquette combined with his cynical understanding of the shallowness of work and society resonates with me. Most of all, I find him hilarious.

A warning to anyone about to view the following link: There’s a lot of adult content so for the sake of nearby children and snowflakes, you might want to turn the sound down a bit.

Or not.

I don’t really care!

    The Best of Malcolm Tucker

Work: Serious and Absurd

**Below is the first in a two part series of essays about work and life. The second installment, much less serious and NSFW (not safe for work),  is also available on this site.

Such is the screwed up nature of our society that most of us spend more time with people we work with than then we do with our loved ones and friends. Sadly the nature of modern employment is that much of what we do, be it at the office, the store, or on the road is largely pointless.

As the anthropologist David Graeber correctly points out, most of us are employed in “bullshit jobs.” There are many reasons for this, but the two principle causes are technological determinism and the moral and political failure of governments and societies to sensibly integrate and offset gains and losses caused by technological advances for the well-being of society.

Japan is one of the few countries to have attempted a balanced approach to technological changes. Prior to their amalgamation in 2001 into the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, state agencies such as the Industrial Science and Technology Policy and Environment Bureau were influential in seeking sensible solutions to problems caused by technology. The ISTP worked in concert with many private and public agencies to identify prevailing economic trends and developments in manufacturing and science. With this knowledge the Japanese gradually wound down industries that were becoming obsolete and provided retraining to displaced workers in order that they could find jobs in new areas of employment.

Consequently, many socioeconomic problems caused by technology were mitigated against or ameliorated. Combined with extensive funding for research and development, Japan’s cohesive approach to science enabled the Japanese to overtake most world powers in the economic sphere during the post-World War II period.

Critics will argue that Japanese socioeconomic policies aren’t without their faults and in many cases they are correct. However, it can also be pointed out to those same critics that most western societies in the same period endured considerably more social unrest, higher unemployment and slower economic growth. This occurred because western societies allowed technological advances to be implemented without consideration for wider consequences.

Worse, these sweeping technological changes have been brutally aggravated by political attitudes. A historic case in point is the Thatcher government’s treatment of coal workers during the 1980’s. In fact since the 1970’s concerning technology and economic changes, most western governments have out of lazy ideological convictions outsourced these problems to the marketplace with disastrous consequences. The free-market reforms implemented by the IMF and World Bank in the former Soviet Eastern Bloc resulted in enormous hardship to those populations.

Richard Nixon’s destruction of the Bretton Woods Agreement contributed to massive world-wide inflation. The collapse of the US/Canada Auto Pact – the bedrock of Canada’s postwar industrial growth – and its replacement by NAFTA has led to high unemployment, inferior and costly telecommunications, reduced public transport and an increase in illegal drug imports across North America. Many Mexican farmers, forced to compete with subsidized US counterparts have turned from corn production to the cultivation of cash crops like marijuana, heroin and cocaine.

Protest groups such as Occupy Wall Street and far right populist movements are as much a response to political problems as to socioeconomic changes caused by technology. Writing in 1995, the philosopher Jeremy Rifkin accurately predicted the rise of such protest movements in his book The End of Work.

There isn’t a blanket solution to these problems but sensible points made by Rifkin and John Maynard Keynes are worth discussing. To start Keynes predicted that technology would reduce the work-week to fifteen hours by the beginning of the 21st century and as David Graeber correctly notes Keynes was right.

Rifkin suggests that a twenty hour work week where employees are paid for forty hours would sensibly reduce unemployment, stimulate demand for consumer goods, increase workplace productivity, reduce poverty and unburden overstretched health care systems. The result would be a happier, more socially engaged citizenry and a wealthier society.


The Real Theft: taxation versus the volatization of money

Like other silly ideologies, libertarianism excels at creating slogans. Like libertarianism itself, slogans have the strength of an inflated balloon: there is an appearance of something solid but once the pin of logic is applied, what emerges is a lack of content.

One of the most common slogans of right-wing libertarians is the phrase “Taxation is theft.”

The phrase conveniently ignores the fact that in modern times what is allegedly being “stolen” isn’t private property to begin with. Neither is what is being allegedly “stolen” even real. More about that in a moment.

The phrase confirms the basic ignorance behind the purpose of taxation which isn’t to raise revenue. For that to happen, the government would have to charge the taxpayer interest on the money it created. What is the point of producing something for profit and loaning it out without charging a fee? If the government was engaged in that practice, we wouldn’t be talking about government taxation. We’d be talking about usury, an activity performed by every private commercial lending bank on the planet.

The purpose of taxation is to regulate aggregate demand. Since most people, (and we should assume most libertarians) are unfamiliar with the phrase let me put it another way.

When a government requests that each citizen provide a certain amount of a good or item each year, the effect is to create demand for that item. That item need not be money (which isn’t real to begin with). The item could be bananas, rubber, tin or diapers. If you think I’m mistaken consider the hut tax employed by the British in their African Colonies during the 19th century.

More importantly in modern times where tax is paid in currency (cash) the money that is being requested by the national treasury originated in the treasury in the first place. As the businessman and academic Warren Mosler succinctly puts it, “…the funds to pay taxes, from inception, come from government spending.”

Since the government issues the currency and requests that taxes be paid in that currency, the government has created a demand for that currency.

But why create the demand?

Because when there is a demand for an item, value for that item is created. In the case of money, demand for money creates a symbolic value for that currency. Taxation therefore is an intervention in the market-place for the public good.

And I say symbolic because as previously mentioned money is not real. It is a conscious agreement on measuring an abstract value. It can take many forms however the underlying value of money is determined by the abstract notion of trust. Here the history of Ireland provides a useful example.

In 1970 during a six month banker’s strike in Ireland where cash was in short supply, the Irish resolved the short term problem of cash-flow by creating their own currency. As journalist and historian Rutger Bregman notes the Irish:

… started issuing their own cash. After the bank closures, they continued writing checks to one another as usual, the only difference being that they could no longer be cashed at the bank. Instead, that other dealer in liquid assets – the Irish pub – stepped in to fill the void. At a time when the Irish still stopped for a pint at their local pub at least three times a week, everyone – and especially the bartender – had a pretty good idea who could be trusted. “The managers of these retail outlets and public houses had a high degree of information about their customers,” explains the economist Antoin Murphy. “One does not after all serve drink to someone for years without discovering something of his liquid resources.

In no time, people forged a radically decentralized monetary system with the country’s 11,000 pubs as its key nodes and basic trust as its underlying mechanism. By the time the banks finally reopened in November, the Irish had printed an incredible £5 billion in homemade currency. Some checks had been issued by companies, others were scribbled on the backs of cigar boxes, or even on toilet paper. According to historians, the reason the Irish were able to manage so well without banks was all down to social cohesion.

In essence what the Irish public did in 1970 is the same thing that governments do on a daily basis with banks: governments issue bonds which commercial banks lend to the public at interest, thus expanding the money supply. Taxation ensures a minimal level of demand for the currency, thus adding symbolic value to what is otherwise worthless paper. As a medium of exchange, money has value. However as the Irish demonstrated, it holds an abstract value.

Since money is neither a private good nor real, the argument that taxation is theft is nonsense. It is symptomatic of the poor health of a society when it starts believe that money is a concrete good. The result is cash hoarding and rent-seeking behaviours which undermine the practical value of money as a vehicle for meaningful investment in areas of the economy that promote growth. As economist and finance expert Rana Foroohar points out:

…only around 15% of the money flowing from financial institutions actually makes its way into business investment. The rest gets moved around a closed financial loop, via the buying and selling of existing assets, like real estate, stocks, and bonds.

In essence, most financial exchanges in the money markets are concerned with spinning paper to no practical use in the wider economy.

Like other narrow-minded ideologues, libertarians are either consciously or unconsciously blind to the greater injustice that occurs in the money markets: the volatilization of money.

For those unfamiliar with the term this occurs when a bank takes its customers (those who deposit money in their bank accounts) funds and uses them to invest in abstract assets like stocks bonds and real estate, while simultaneously avoiding investing those deposits (through loans) to the businesses that create concrete goods services and most importantly jobs.

As noted earlier, only fifteen percent of the money from financial institutions ever reaches the real economy. The rest is creamed off in dividends and interest – rent seeking – by the non-productive sectors of society.

Not only does this represent real theft but a wider violence towards society.

But that might not fit so well into a libertarian sound-bite.

Further Reading:

On Warren Mosler and money supply:

On taxation in Africa during the Colonial Period :

On Ireland:

On Investment: