The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Profit Is Just Another Word for Destruction

Here’s the basic proposition of capitalism: If something can be done for a profit, it creates more value than the sum of its inputs.

But here’s the thing: This is an unproven assertion. In fact, in many cases, it is not true.

Worse, over the not-very-long run (a couple hundred years) it is almost certainly false.

You chop down the forests, you kill the animals, you loot and destroy entire cultures, you run your economy on planned obsolesence, and you pollute massively, causing runaway climate change (now effectively unstoppable) and ecosystem collapse.

All the value we have produced will be eaten up by this, and then some. If the carrying capacity of the Earth crashes anywhere between 50 to 80 percent (the current most likely scenario), then what we’ve accomplished is absolutely, almost unbelievably, a huge destruction of value, and nothing we have created is worth it.

Yet that is the current scenario.

It is isn’t all “capitalism,” of course. Communism couldn’t handle industrialization either. Democracy hasn’t handled it. Autocracy hasn’t handled. No one has handled it.

But this is the real situation, the odds that we will run into a collapse scenario are now very high. Because Sanders is the only candidate in the US with an adequate Green New Deal plan (Warren’s is not large enough), there’s only one chance to avoid worst case scenarios, because another four to eight years will put us even further behind. (In Britain, Corbyn is who you want if this is your priority. In Canada, no one is suggesting anything adequate, but Singh is the best candidate.)

Value isn’t just what you create. Value must also be measured by what you consume, what you pollute as a result of that consumption, and what you destroy.

Fools who go on about how this is the best time ever to be alive miss the point, even if they are right (this claim is dubious for billions of people). They are right in the same way as if, you sold everything you owned, then borrowed as much as possible, and then partied until you ran out of money, well, that may be the best time of your life…

Profit is not a proxy for adding value. The correlation is questionable, if it ever held any merit, and since the industrial revolution it has diverged more and more from being true.

We can’t afford “profit” as it is constituted today.

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California Power Company Cuts Power to 800,000 Homes to Avert Wildfires


Open Thread and Preparing for Power Outs


  1. Stirling S Newberry

    – On the announcement that Google funds climate change deniers

    Don’t be evil
    Unless the present profit to be
    And it so tenuous
    for the CO2 to spread,
    from each little pipeline
    to the sun,
    that your children won’t breathe,
    spreading droplets every one.
    A note that rings change
    in a negative direction.
    Once taken from the hoard
    A Googleplex would not bend
    the sliverest of profit from me 
    to disabled you.
    And I the manager will proudly say
    Wheres there’s money
    From the climate change –
    Be evil.

  2. Hugh

    Profit is not an indication of increased value just as production itself is not an indication of value. Externalities is one of those words in economics which exists precisely to be ignored. But what we are seeing is our externalities coming home to roost. As always, it comes down to what kind of a society we want. But whatever choices we make that society must be based on sustainability, not growth.

  3. Short-term v long, Ian. White dogs can’t see past the end of their little pee-pees. And then all they can see is Jesus floating down out of the sky on a flying rainbow unicorn to rescue them.

    From my house: In demographics, the world population is the total number of humans currently living, and was estimated to have reached 7.7 billion people as of November 2018. It took a little over 200,000 years of human history for the world’s population to reach 1 billion; and only 200 years more to reach 7 billion.

    Back of the envelope penciled out exponentially – in a 100 years 21 billion …

    On a ball of rock that can barely sustain one.

  4. “Fools who go on about how this is the best time to be alive ever miss the point, even if they are right (dubious for billions of people) they are right in the same way if you sell everything you own, then borrow as much as possible and then party till you run out of money, well, that may be the best time of your life…”

    Your analogy is instructive, but I question how accurate it is. If I’m not mistaken, Lomborg has done cost/benefit analyses going out about 100 years, taking various IPCC scenarios as given. He is not pessimistic.

    I don’t know the details of Lomborg and his team’s efforts, but clearly he is the sort of person who deserves a seat at the table on serious policy discussions. Those discussions need be technical. They also should be translated to laymen’s language, so that citizens of democracies can vote, accordingly.

    Good luck to all of us ever seeing such discussions/debates seriously conducted, much less the translating, much less the voting options created which reflect the results of such discussions/debates. As long as the plutocrats control things, the public will not have much of a choice, when those choices include options that aren’t already allowed by them.

    In the meantime – as the world burns, or doesn’t burn – we will have our Greta Thunbergs. Gary Null, an investigative journalist sympathetic to Thunberg’s message (which he says doesn’t go far enough), views her as an innocent, being manipulated. Including by her own parents.

    “Here are some of the top reasons why Greta Thunberg is a pawn and a fraud, manufactured by PR firms and used by an army of globalist climate change alarmists that seek to gain more financial and political control. They are creating an apocalyptic death cult that obsesses about the end times.”

    Irony alert: Gary Null often shares the most dire predictions of the “climate science” crowd, including some that even embarrass fellow CO2 catastrophists, in short order. So, him criticizing a “death cult” seems a little lacking in self-awareness….

  5. Dan Lynch

    “Sanders is the only candidate in the US with an adequate Green New Deal plan.”

    Bernie’s Green New Delusion, while it contains a few good line items, would actually increase emissions, as proven by China’s GND. Like the other Green New Delusions, it was conjured up by economists, not engineers.

    All human activity has a (bad) impact on the environment. To reduce the impact, you need fewer humans, doing fewer activities. Any climate plan that does not start on that basis cannot be taken seriously.

  6. Eric Anderson

    I’ve often stated in my ramblings over the years that the best measure of a sound economy would function on the inverse of GDP. Call it the Gross National Savings (GNS). Also, that if we accounted for ALL externalities capitalism would cease to exist because we would then have a steady stay economy.

    Really, capitalism is nothing more than government sanctioned monopoly control over externality accounting.

    Think about it …

  7. anon y'mouse

    i am with Eric on his definition.

    profit would not be possible at all if the externalities (all of them) were accounted for. but people still want toaster ovens.

    are we still worried here about the delusions Capitalism (as an ideology) claims for itself?

    underpants gnomes vs. things that are useful to humankind. and we are just now realizing that things that may be useful to us, in our present civilizational incarnation, are not at all useful to the rest of the planet’s ecosystem.

    i think money is alchemy. it takes the idea of utility and commutes different forms of utility into others, and adds time delays and all sorts of things. what we really seem to need is a subsistence economy–producing just enough for our own needs to sustain ourselves, with as few inputs as possible. but who is going to sign up for that kind of existence? under such an civilization, “profit” would be seen as those things which allow continuity into the future (ex: building a house that is still standing in some form, providing vital shelter, 500 years later which can and has been done ) and provides a buffer for “bad times” which happen regularly but unpredictably. that is all the profit one can imagine. the monetary kind is just a redistribution of power to whomever presently has control of the system–of law, money, government, and vital inputs.


    It’s time for a new form of accounting. An accounting system that factors in ALL costs. When and if that’s ever done, what was once considered “profitable” will be no longer since it never was.

    Another word, aside from destruction, for profit is theft. Profit is a scam. Profit is a rationalized abstraction. It’s a shell game.


    A new economic indicator that we must live by, not yet developed so I’m proposing it presciently well in advance of its promulgation, is Gross National Contraction or GNC if you will and also Gross Global Contraction or GGC if you will.

    Let’s propose and promulgate a new & improved economic system that rewards people for contracting the economy. Those who waste the least, are esteemed and rewarded the most but here’s the catch. We have to rethink what constitutes a reward. A reward can no longer be money that is used to spend in a way that destroys the planet further.

    It will be a challenge for sure but we’re clever apes afterall, right? The cleverest, in fact, or so they say. Considering that, and considering all we’ve achieved including the decimation of our life-giving living planet, surely we can meet this most-important challenge.

  10. ponderer

    There’s no better way to understand capitalism than a game of Monopoly. The important point of that learning process isn’t finding out what advantages the person being the bank gets, how the rentier class gets ahead, or even bankrupting your little brother so he quits the game in rage. The most import point is that it is a *game*. A game someone made, with made up rules, all organized to lead to a certain set of outcomes. The made up rules make “sense” as you’ve been conditioned to follow them since you asked mom to buy you candy at the convenience store. It’s much like the society we live in, where there are also made up rules, designed to lead to a certain set of outcomes. That’s probably because it was originally intended to teach children about capitalism before a business found a way to make a profit spreading discontent among families and friends.

    If you want to address the challenges we face instead of framing it as capitalism or communism I suggest a different game. Perhaps D&D. If we roll enough straight 20’s we might get to have clean water or air, but there’s a better chance of winning the lottery while being struck by lighting. The rules of the game make sure that is nearly impossible. As Bernie sticks to the rules, he has no more chance than my little brother in Monopoly.

    My brother was actually smarter than most Democrats/Leftists. When I taught him how to cheat at the bank and work together to defeat the other players he took the opportunity. He partnered with an enemy (me) to get a shot at the top spot. He nearly got it. I never cheated at other games and didn’t think much about it at the time until I got older. Then I realized a couple of things. The point of the game is to cheat firstly. That is, to get people to cheat who would not otherwise do so. Otherwise failure is as arbitrary as a roll of the die no matter how long/hard you work. Next, if you don’t want to lose everything you are going to have to compromise and give others a reason to do the same. Third, you have to change the rules to make an unfair game fair and understand that “fair” shouldn’t mean losing everything at random. So I don’t play monopoly any more. YMMV.

  11. Eric Anderson

    I like it Sterling.
    Anyone know of a poetry publication that focuses on the intersection of environmentalism and capitalism?
    I’d buy it.

  12. anon y'mouse


    we all play monopoly, every moment of every day unless we are living Kaczynski style and even then, we are probably still playing it. and yes, everyone who is able to is also cheating at it, while condemning all of the other players for cheating. whatever we can get away with, while casting blame outward in all directions. and most of us do learn that we either become very good at cheating, or we will lose. it is only slightly above the naive “but i worked hard and kept my nose clean, so why am i not rewarded?” level. no matter, we are all going to hell in this D&D eco-handbasket together while arguing about how to keep “the game (monopoly)” going.

    how to step out of the game? the only answer i have been able to come up with involves living like the Amish.

  13. bruce wilder

    the doctrines of economics, from before Adam Smith, were always rationalizations and flattery for the bourgeoisie.

    the key move in neoclassical economics is the initial “what if . . . ” presumption, putting all that follows into a counterfactual fantasy-land. the most general such presumption/assumption is that we know enough, that we are certain — or if not exactly certain, certain enough to be able to play the odds in our favor.

    the reality is uncertainty: we do not know, and we especially do not know what we do not know; we cannot usefully play the odds.

    It’s time for a new form of accounting. An accounting system that factors in ALL costs.

    we do not know all the consequences of anything we do. we will learn some of the consequences and their costs only after we have acted. this is always true, in relation to all actions. reasonable precaution does not prevent this.

    Externalities is one of those words in economics which exists precisely to be ignored.

    exactly right. the rhetoric is designed to persuade you to dismiss the externalities as exceptional or manageable.

    the actual analytic theory (of neoclassical economics) is faulty at its core, because it denies uncertainty and the second law of thermodynamics. it is completely at odds with reality.

    All human activity has a (bad) impact on the environment. To reduce the impact, you need fewer humans, doing fewer activities. Any climate plan that does not start on that basis cannot be taken seriously.

    Yes. This is basic.

    It is kind of a litmus test of basic comprehension of the problem. I am often amazed at how many pundits and commentators (and commenters, too) and activists just do not seem to have grounded their thinking in this basic fundamental of reality.

    One implication is that fairly radical energy conservation measures have to take the lead, for there to be any, slim hope of limiting greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and CO2 in the oceans to proportions that do not induce a great die-off. (and, that does not even touch on all the other crazy things we are doing to the global environment: pesticides, plastics, et cetera).

    Smart people, apparently, are not willing to be smart when the implications displease. When stupid people begin to truly grasp the equation, it will be too late and it may also get really ugly.

    . . . cost/benefit analyses going out about 100 years, taking various IPCC scenarios as given . . . serious policy discussions. Those discussions need be technical. They also should be translated to laymen’s language, so that citizens of democracies can vote, accordingly.

    Without evaluating Bjørn Lomborg’s integrity or expertise, I would agree that the necessary effort to work out the economics of IPCC change scenarios simply has not been done properly or in the required degree of detail; and, of course, the necessary effort to distill the same into the intuitive language of popular politics cannot proceed without it.

    As a technical matter (speaking as a recovering economist now), cost-benefit analysis is not what is appropriate to the case. (See my remarks about “externalities” and the uncertainty of “cost” above.) Ultimately, what is needed is a Grand Strategy of constraint on all energy use, all human activity, which leaves some possibility, some scope for a decent life for humans and the rest of life on the planet. Almost certainly, that will mean accepting very long-term goals for population reduction (or, of course, if humans choose to wait for the stupid and malevolent to grasp the problem, either some very short-term measures of reduction or acquiescence to mass immiseration. (plenty of historic precedent for both courses)

  14. Herman

    Even some mainstream sources recognize that economic growth is not a very good indicator of human well-being, not to mention the well-being of animals, plants and the planet in general. The problem is that the system feeds on this sort of industrial growth and it has come to form the main rationalization for not only democratic regimes but authoritarian regimes like China. Consumerism is the backbone of modern political systems. It keeps the population just content enough to put up with miserable conditions in other aspects of their lives.

  15. Tom

    As I like to point out. Rome was a Capitalistic Nation. It built up a large industrial military complex, extensive freeways for military movements that benefited the economy as a side effect, and when ran competently, was unstoppable.

    Then it got stuck in forever wars, their elites looted the public goods and stopped paying taxes, it started outsourcing its manufacturing, hired mercenaries in ever larger numbers, and wracked up large trade deficits with China and India. And they wrecked their environment. The strains eventually caused the Western Part to fall.

    The same occurred to the Mayans and Minoans, and almost to the Tokugawas before they implemented a strict protection of Forests laws and enforced them judiciously.

    Say what you will about the Tokugawas, they protected the environment during their reign.

    Well in other news. YPG defenses collapsed overnight and SNA forces cut the M4 road.

  16. Keith in Modesto

    “Rome was a Capitalistic Nation.”

    As the pundits are wont to say, that sentence is doing a lot of work.
    You’ve got to at least add some major qualifications to that, was my initial reaction.
    Did a little search on “Was ancient Rome capitalist” and came up with some hits, but nothing really authoritative off the bat. Here’s one short take though, pointing out some of those qualifications. I don’t have time now to delve more, as I got a surprise invitation to work my day off and must get ready.

  17. Keith in Modesto

    This link showed up on Naked Capitalism today and it directly applies to the subject of this post. I’ve started reading it, but haven’t finished. So far, so good. Might comment later after I get off work, but I offer it up now for those of you with some free time to burn.

  18. anon y'mouse

    that article is poor. it is almost an example of wrong-way thinking, from the opening sentence on down (diamonds are not actually that scarce, and de Beers controls the market. plus, water that is clean enough for humans to drink IS incredibly rare considering the amount of water on our planet. i believe the water cycle is a closed one, yes?). tinkering with the lightbulbs on the deck of the titanic. pricing power correctly? there is no way to do that and actually make any money out of it. power is a cost, and its generation is a cost to all of society, and the byproducts of all power generation is a near permanent tax on the environment. the most you can do is recognize this, and then perhaps choose which things about our living situation are worth the costs. hospitals, food and sanitation? yes. 1 billion cars driving anywhere from 20mins-3hrs each way every day? probably not. shipping nearly all items humans need for daily living halfway around the world? also, probably not. which only reduces the environmental costs of making such items, and doesn’t eliminate it.

    there is no way to “internalize the externalities” from an ecological standpoint, and no way to alter market mechanisms in our favor, or price things correctly which solves the problems created.
    everything humans have ever done has caused carbon and other waste byproducts. one would have to take an approach similar to NASA or the biodome researchers (all of whom have failed, i believe), and then there is no “profit” in it. there is only cost, of some kind. and problems with what to do with the effluents.

    greater technological management over these processes gives us the illusion that we are controlling and containing them, but that is also a cost in time, energy and resources. i don’t think changing pricing or regulating “markets” can even begin to address such things, and represents just another way to fool ourselves that what we are doing is working to contain these costs/effluents. ecology is a different paradigm entirely.

  19. Parr for the source. Yes, “Rome was a Capitalistic Nation” as a sentence could use a little work – I would have went with “Rome was a Capitalist Nation” but … whatever. None-the-less, Rome did built up a large industrial military complex, built extensive freeways for military movements that benefited the entire economy as a side effect, and when it was run competently, it was unstoppable. But it got stuck in forever wars, the elites looted the public goods and stopped paying taxes; it started outsourcing its manufacturing, hired mercenaries to service its aggressions, and wracked up not just huge trade deficits with but a dependency upon China and India. They wrecked their environment, their empire, and they failed. Just as the Mayans and Minoans, and have others we no doubt don’t know about. Let’s have rabbit for dinner, aeh?

    Are you the Keith in California that posts frequently on 4chan?

  20. Paul Blart Mall Cop

    This (and the commentary) is word salad serving only to comfort geezers with one foot out the door. If we go down, it’ll be in part due to folks sitting with their thumbs up their ass mouthing angry tropes in an effort to place the blame.

  21. bruce wilder

    RE: Rome as “capitalist”

    As to the question of economic Type that applying a label like “capitalist” implies, I suppose it matters what one thinks defines, “capitalism”. If “capitalism” means the political systems of bourgeois law, money finance and the application of scientific knowledge to problems of organizing industry, especially manufacturing, including such institutions as legislative parliaments, central banks, business corporations, then, no, it makes little sense to assert that Rome was “capitalist” in the modern sense of the way political economy was organized and invented in 17th and 18th century England.

    We know that the Romans had a financial system, but know almost nothing about how it operated. Roman science and invention certainly occurred, but never seemed to progress very far, especially in application to practical problems of production. Conquest, looting, pillage and enslavement seems to have been major economic drivers, just as they were for pre-modern Europe in its quest for World domination through exploration and conquest for religious and commercial gain. In Marxist terms, the Roman Empire never seems to have gotten past pre-capitalist “primitive accumulation”.

    I tend to think the critical issue over the whole period of the rise of Hellenic Civilization and then the Roman Empire thru the subsequent Fall of the Western Empire and the descent into a Dark Age was declining fertility of the soil. There was an explosive expansion of the Hellenic world in the first centuries after the earlier Dark Age ended around 800 BCE. Population increased ten times and a readily exploitable surplus existed that could be diverted into colonization and warfare. Agricultural technique was nothing to write home about, but apparently the population crash of the post-Mycenaean Dark Age had left large areas of virgin territory with high fertility. Just as the motte and bailey castle led to an expansion by conquest in the late middle ages, the organization of the phalanx and the Roman legion led to wars of conquest. But behind those innovations at the sharp end of the pointy stick lay agricultural productivity, that created a surplus that could feed soldiers and an urbanized administrative superstructure. Conquest and road-building and expanding merchant navies brought more and more land into vast trade networks. As the end of the ancient world approached after 200 CE or so, the need to extract the surplus from an agricultural populace that was becoming less productive as soils were exhausted led to famines, plague epidemics and de-population as the unfree peasants were squeezed to the point of near-starvation. Eventually, urbanism in most places became impossible and elites, such as they were, settled into semi-nomadic lifestyles just to avoid completely exhausting any locality where they settled for a time. Rome rather famously went from a city of over a million to a conglomeration of villages among the ruins totalling as few as 15,000.

  22. Stephen

    It’s not capitalism. It’s civilization. Civilizations tend to cause ecosystem collapse. Doesn’t matter how they are organized.

  23. Eric Anderson

    Well, isn’t this a fun little thread!
    Hugh, spot on.
    Ten Bears, f*ck’n parking the ball.
    Stephen nails it.
    Bruce’s long-form inciteful and well sourced per usual.
    Dan & meta stirring the pot and sounding insane. That’s fun.
    450 and anon y’mous — lovely.
    And to boot, I’m pretty sure Ian’s prose is teaching most everyone here to write better.

    And I’ve also noticed Webbie is still having caustic fun over on twitter:

    Wait, where’s Willie?

  24. Keith in Modesto

    “Are you the Keith in California that posts frequently on 4chan?”

    I do not frequent 4chan and have never gone by the moniker “Keith in California”.

  25. Mike Barry

    Too much theorization and not enough observation in this thread.

  26. Eric Anderson

    How observant.

  27. Mike Barry

    Cool sarcasm, bro. And yes, that was an easy one.

  28. Eric Anderson

    Ok. For real.
    Can you point to some relevant observations that are going unobserved?

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