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Tales of Two Earths

...As sheep, that step from forth their fold, by one,
Or pairs, or three at once; meanwhile the rest
Stand fearfully, bending the eye and nose
To ground, and what the foremost does, that do
The others, gath'ring round her, if she stops...

Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, Canto 14

Most economists make it all too easy to bash them. When I think of how eerily detached from reality the main stream of economics is, I also recall the situation with corn ethanol in 2005.  Only two U.S. faculty, Dr. David Pimentel and I, went public against the nonsense that was being propagated throughout the society by the ill-informed greens, scientists, lobbyists, economists, venture-capitalists, lawmakers, and almost everyone in the media.  We were both savaged at the time and for a few more years.  Now everybody shrugs their arms and says pretty much what we were saying all along. 

Today, Chapter 2 of the same nonsense, or the "second generation biofuels," is being closed at a great cost to the society and the environment.  Shell finally pulled the plug on Iogen in Ottawa, 5 years after I had presented ample evidence against Iogen in the presence of the highest Shell management.  Amyris in Berkeley, an offspring of the BP-Berkeley-Monsanto-DuPont bout of greed, is in its final death throws.  Again, 5 years ago, I was on record showing the nonsensical assumptions behind that deal.  In no small measure my opposition to the doomed yet harmful GMOs-for-biofuels hastened my departure from the biotechnology-crazed, irrational Berkeley.

Here I'll use but one of a multitude of recent examples that illustrate what's wrong with main-stream economics implemented with vengeance by nation-states, IMF, and the particularly harmful World Bank. This example is  "Never Mind Europe. Worry About India," by Dr. Tyler Cowen, published by the New York Times in the Sunday Business Section on May 5, 2012. I have picked this particular example, because Dr. Cowen's arguments are identical to the talking points used to neutralize my public activities over the last 8 years. I guess there must be a single master list of standard arguments of the Free Marketians.

According to Dr. Cowen's auto-panegyric in Wikipidia, he occupies the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics as a professor at George Mason University and is co-author, with Alex Tabarrok, of the popular economics blog "Marginal Revolution." He currently writes the "Economic Scene" column for the New York Times, and he also writes for such publications as The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Newsweek, and The Wilson Quarterly. Cowen is also general director of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In February 2011, Cowen received a nomination as one of the most influential economists in the last decade through a survey by the Economist. He was placed #72 as the most influential Thinkers of 2011 by Foreign Policy Magazine.

Try to imagine over 7 billion people, who are at once less thoughtful and mean less than Dr. Cowen to the prosperous future of the ever-growing Global Economy. What an unbearably heavy weight to carry on one's economic and political shoulders!

The foundation of Dr. Cowen's argument is that

"China’s population is likely to peak relatively soon while India’s will continue to grow, so under even modestly optimistic projections the Indian economy will be No. 1 in terms of total size."

But, while nicely exploding her population, India has made some fatal missteps that slow down her progress towards economic bliss:
  • They did not let Wal-Mart in.
  • The glorious green revolution has eluded them.
  • They do not mine enough coal and do not generate enough electricity to grow the economy even faster.
  • They ceased growing their service economy because "call centers, for example, have succeeded by building their own infrastructure and they often function as self-contained, walled minicities." 
  • And so on...
Unfortunately, Dr. Cowen never mentions the physical Earth and her ecosystems that no longer can save the bulging Indians from themselves:
  •  A population explosion to 1.5 or 2 billion people tests the carrying capacity of the Earth, not just the Indian subcontinent - with or without Wal-Mart.
  • Using intensive and sustainable agriculture, India, China and Japan were able to feed themselves for two thousand years before anyone could spell "Monsanto."  Today, the 800 million people who live off of land in India are more than the populations of Europe and North America combined. They cannot be replaced by huge machines, Monsanto's patented self-destructing GMO seeds, and lots of water and chemicals.
  • Groundwater and river water are running out in India, and no longer support people's lives, agriculture, and coal mining.
  •  Indian coal generally has a high sulfur content and is not suitable to use for power generation.
In summary, Dr. Cowen is a card-carrying member of the powerful, omnipresent Society of Flat Earth Economists (SOFEE) that now controls most if not all departments of economics in the U.S. His arguments for growth would hold only if the Earth were flat and infinite, her resources were infinite, and her capacity to absorb and process human-made toxins were also infinite. Unfortunately, none of these conditions obtains on our physically observable planet.

Comments

  1. lol yes indeed!
    It is like economists say this about India because they want to claim they 'called' the next China. They will fail simply because they can't recognise the physical limits that currently restrain 1 billion Indians reaching Chinese (let alone Western) consumption levels.

    It will be interesting how the perspective of economists change (or don't change) with the peaking of Chinese coal production. We will hear endlessly about the 'Chinese debt bubble' and 'too low levels of domestic consumption'. The cause will be much simpler: they hit physical limits.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I just joined. I'll try to read your blog regularly. In a way, classical economists are to the people who live in industrial societies what the theologians on Easter island were to its residents. As a culture we are awash in illusions some of which are regarded as orthodoxy.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Tad, I agree strongly with the main thrust of this posting, but I do disagree with one point you made:
    "Using intensive and sustainable agriculture, India, China and Japan were able to feed themselves for two thousand years before anyone could spell "Monsanto.""
    I don't have a reference readily at hand, but I think that you will find that the 2000 years of agricultural history of China (and of most of the rest of the world) was characterized by frequent, recurring famines and starvation.
    Roy Hagen

    ReplyDelete
  4. Indeed, Roy. There was hardly a year without famine in one or more provinces in China. However, we now know more about storage and transportation, as well as meteorology and pest control. Thus, I would hope, we would be able to do better than the ancient Chinese.

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