Truth in [Free] Marketing — does this have to be an oxymoron?

I am currently reading Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. In the chapter titled “The Stone Age Didn’t End Because We Ran Out of Stones” this quotation appears:

“Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth.” – Oystein Dahle, former president of Exxon for Norway.

“What he meant, of course, is that the basic paradigm of modern, industrial-age capitalism, which flowered in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, treated things like pollution, waste, and CO2 emissions as essentially irrevalent “externalities” that could be ignored. As any economic textbook will tell you, an externality is any cost or benefit resulting from a commercial transaction that is borne or received by parties not directly involved in the transaction . . .”

“. . . We have been fooling ourselves with fraudulent accounting by not pricing these externalities. As [Ecologist] Lester Brown put it, we as a society ‘have been behaving just like Enron, the rogue energy giant, at the height of its folly.’ We rack up stunning profits and GDP numbers every year, and they look great on paper ‘because we’ve been hiding some of the costs off the books.’ Mother Nature has not been fooled. That is why we are having climate change. That which is not priced is not valued, and if our open lands, clean air, clean water, and healthy forests are not valued, the earth, when it is this flat and this crowded, will become a very hot, no-cost landfill very fast.”

So, add “Change the direction of the Free Market and the mindset of all those involved in it” to the list of things to do in the next few years in order to save our species and our planet. One more in a long and growing to-do list, each of which would be described by almost anyone who considered themselves rational as “IMPOSSIBLE” . . . but all of which have to be done, and quickly, if our descendants are to have a chance at being born.

Uncoupling From the Dog Train

After 60 or so years of living in the world of the trite, I find it exhilarating to be unfettered, able to think in a developmental way like a 13 year-old. Being a bit like the only dog at the park to be allowed off-leash, one can watch the rest of one’s kind running around with their noses up each others’ butts, looking for answers but finding only worn out mantras; “perpetual economic growth” . . . “jobs, jobs, jobs” . . . “free markets regulate themselves”.

I find this frustration permeating the work of many of the authors I have been reading over the last several years. My current read is Our Way Out by Marq de Villiers who has just observed “But we the people sometimes seem to be the no-brains in the no-brainer of energy improvement”. I find that it helps to be able to look from an objective vantage point to see that most of the drivel in the evening news is just that, and especially to realize that the majority of your fellow beings simply cannot detach themselves adequately to do so.

The recent railway tragedies in Lac Megantic, Quebec and Santiago de Compostela, Spain may be seen as a metaphor for the dangers of crowd based thinking. While it may be comforting to be part of the group, it can be catastrophic to be unable to decouple in the event of a runaway. So turn off the TV or other device of choice, go the the library, used book store, yard sale or all of the above, surround yourself with a mound of good books and start your search for Leonard Cohen’sCrack in everything” because that truly is “how the light gets in”.