Last Monday, I wrote about the global need for us to abandon meat production for food, and, instead take up plant-based diets. Many people interpreted that argument as a personal attack on their dietary freedom, which indicates they fell into a fallacy of composition trap and declined to see the global issue. As part of my series on the Degrowth agenda, the other aspect about food which is important is that we have a propensity to produce too much food and distribute what we produce unfairly. I will deal with the distributional issues in another post. Today, I want to talk about the over-abundance of food in nations which means too much land, water and other resources is devoted to its production with commensurate negative environmental consequences. One manifestation of that phenomenon is food loss and food waste, which are different terms for the segment of the food supply chain where wastage occurs. If we are serious about dealing with the environmental disaster then we have to eliminate or dramatically reduce wastage. This will require significant investments in some nations to improve storage etc and a dramatic change in other nations in terms of attitudes to aesthetics, packaging, and more.
This is Part 6 of a series on Deep Adaptation, Degrowth and MMT that I am steadily writing. I have previously written in this series that there will need to be a major change in the composition of output and the patterns of consumption if we are to progress towards a sustainable future. It will take more than cutting material production and consumption. We have to make some fundamental shifts in the way we think about materiality. The topic today is about consumption but a specific form – our food and diets. Some readers might know that there has been a long-standing debate across the globe on whether a vegetarian/vegan diet is a more sustainable path to follow than the traditional meat-eating diet. Any notion that the ‘meat’ industry is environmentally damaging is vehemently resisted by the big food corporations. Like anything that challenges the profit-seeking corporations there is a massive smokescreen of misinformation created to prevent any fundamental change. New research, however, makes it clear that we can achieve substantial reductions in carbon emissions by abandoning meat products in our diets and the gains are disproportionately biased towards the richest nations. I have long argued that I find a fundamental contradiction in those who espouse green credentials and advocate dramatic behavioural shifts to deal with climate change while a the same time eating meat products. The recent research supports that argument. So Greenies, give up the steaks and the chickens and get on your bikes and head to the greengrocer and start cooking plants.
This is Part 5 of an on-going series I am writing about the issues facing societies dealing with climate change and other elements which come together as a poly crisis. The series will unfold as I research and think about the topic more through my Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) lens. Today, I am concluding the analysis of the questions relating to the ageing society and the resulting skill shortages, that the mainstream narrative identifies as key ‘problems’ facing governments across the Western world. Like any issue, the way the ‘problem’ is constructed or framed influences the conclusions we come up with. Further, the tools use to operationalise that construction also influence the scope and quality of the analysis and the resulting conclusions. As I explained in Monday’s blog post – Degrowth, deep adaptation, and skills shortages – Part 4 (October 31, 2022) – the use of mainstream macroeconomics fails to deliver appropriate policy advice on these questions. But further, when we introduce multi-dimensional complexity – such as degrowth to the ageing society issue – the mainstream approach becomes catastrophic. MMT is a much better analytical framework for drilling down to see what the essential problem is and what are non-problems and thus creating the questions and answers that lead to sound policy. Today, I show why the existence of skills shortages really provides us with the space to pursue a degrowth strategy while not causing material standards of living to collapse. They are better seen as indicator of what is possible rather than a macro problem.
One of the ‘problems’ besetting the world at present, if the commentary in the mainstream press is anything to go by, is the existence of chronic skill shortages. Survey studies of the shifting demographics in Japan, for example, have produced ‘alarming’ results from a mainstream perspective. See for example, this OECD Report from 2021 – Changing skill needs in the Japanese labour market. I was at a meeting recently in Kyoto and it is clear that many firms in Japan are having trouble finding workers and many have even offered wage increases to lure workers to their companies. Further, many small and medium-size businesses are owned by persons who are over 70 years of age and that proportion is rising fast. The skill shortage scenario is tied in with the ageing society debate, where advanced nations are facing so-called demographic ‘time bombs’, with fewer people of working age left to produce for an increasing number of people who no longer work. The mainstream narrative paints these trends as major problems that have to be confronted by governments, and, typically, because of faulty understandings of the fiscal capacities of governments, propose deeply flawed solutions. I see these challenges in a very different light. Rather than construct the difficulties that firms might be facing attracting sufficient labour (the ‘skills shortages’ narrative), I prefer to see the situation as providing an indicator of the limits of economic activity or the space that nations have to implement a fairly immediate degrowth strategy. In the following two blog posts I will explain how this inversion of logic can become a crucial plank in the degrowth debate.
This is the third part in a on-going series that I am writing about Deep Adaptation, Degrowth and related concepts, all of which are designed to provide some sort of pathway beyond the current mess that the world is in with respect to climate, inequality, poverty, excessive consumption, and excessive population growth. Today, I consider how Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) fits into the transition agenda and discuss the labour market dislocation that will accompany the transition to degrowth.
This is Part 2 of a series on Deep Adaptation and MMT that I am writing. The first part – Deep Adaptation – Part 1 (August 22, 2022) – introduced the concept. I have recently written about the coming together of a number of crises which I consider to be all linked and part of the end of normal business as we have known it. See – The global poly crisis is the culmination of the absurdity of neoliberalism (July 18, 2022). Thinking about the social aspects of that conjunction of crises, we understand that advancing material prosperity is still a goal that we should seek to achieve for millions of the globe’s citizens, who live in abject poverty with little food and housing security. But then, when we consider the ecological dimension we see immediately how the social goals have to be solved within a constrained envelope of overall material deprivation. The question then is how can we move forward towards achieving that duality. There are various propositions out there – Green New Deals, Green Growth, etc. I think they are all flawed and that proponents tend to become captured by the power relations that have created the current mess. That is where I think the concept of Deep Adaptation comes into play. Which brings me to a starting point in understanding where these institutionalised ‘green’ conservations have lost their way. Today, I am writing about growth and degrowth, because there are a lot of misunderstandings out there about this apparent conflict.
I am now in a very hot and humid Kyoto having left Australia yesterday in weather that was in some places 20 or more degrees Celsius above the norm for early Spring. The heat here and back home at this time of year is rather scary given what it portends. I also do not have much time today given I have been contending with various ‘moving in’ requirements. But I read an article on the plane last night which I think marks a divide between what ‘green’ progressives think and what I think is needed. I was talking to a friend the other day who remarked he was enduring what he termed ‘ecological anxiety’. In the week that followed, bushfires across Australia have started burning some months earlier than has been the typical pattern over a long period. There are massive ‘weather’ events now all around the globe and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the sceptics to dismiss these conjunctions as random or ‘we just haven’t had data long enough’ type ruses. Some ‘green progressives believe the solution lies in governments inducing the financial speculators to shift funds into ‘green’ investments so that profitability can be safeguarded. They also believe that governments will get more money to invest this way (through providing inflation-indexed sovereign bonds). Talk about a vision for increased corporate welfare. My starting point is that we should do everything possible to keep the speculators out of our policy moves to decarbonise. It will end badly if we rely on the gamblers for the solution.
Today, I am heading to the airport for travel to Japan. For the next several months I will once again be working as a professor at Kyoto University as part of the research team concerned with integrating the macroeconomic principles in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles into a broader framework to build national resilience in the face of climate change, demographic challenges, transport and housing challenges and more. So from tomorrow I will be in Kyoto and depending on commitments my blog posts might be a little less regular although I think I will be able to continue the usual output. I will have more to say about what we are working on, including the release of a book we have been completing from last year’s collaborations. There is also a major event planned for later in November in Tokyo to launch our latest work. I will provide details later when I know them. We are also talking about hosting an Modern Monetary Theory symposium in Kyoto next April to welcome in the Spring and the cherry blossoms. When I know more I will relate the details here. I am also working on my next book which will traverse the topics of degrowth, the sustainability of capitalism and more. Japan’s shrinking population presents an opportunity to lead the world in reducing the society’s reliance on economic growth and exploring more substantial aspects of human existence. I mapped out that argument in this blog post – Degrowth, deep adaptation, and skills shortages – Part 4 (October 31, 2022). Anyway, until I resurface tomorrow beside the Kamo River, we can listen to some music.
In 1978, during my postgraduate studies at the University of Melbourne I came up with the idea of a Job Guarantee – although I didn’t call it that then. I have written about it extensively since then and you can see some of the non-academic work published in this blog under the category – Job Guarantee. Among the many blog posts is this one – Some historical thinking about the Job Guarantee (February 25, 2021) – where I discuss some of the provenance of the idea. It is hard to get people interested in this idea because they dismiss it as just another public sector job creation scheme and then make all sorts of claims about inefficiency, ‘make work’ and all the rest of the ruses that are used to divert attention from the substance of an idea or proposal. In fact, the way I conceived the Job Guarantee and the way it has subsequently become a central part of the body of knowledge now known as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is not as a job creation program, but, rather, as a comprehensive price stability framework exploiting the dynamics of buffer stock mechanisms. Anyway, it seems that the UN might be interested in the idea of guarantee employment now after the special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights published – The employment guarantee as a tool in the fight against poverty – in April 2023. The question is whether this is a job creation program or closer to the concept of a Job Guarantee.
We kid ourselves when talking about change. I see a lot of Op Ed material recently from the so-called Left that seems to suggest, for example, that those concerned about climate change are really just handing the keys to capital who will use the appetite for ‘change’ to impose punitive policy shifts that will damage the poorer households and communities, while at the same time, strengthen the elite control over income distribution and governments. There are elements on the Left that also think we can ‘heal’ Capitalism – somehow by redefining what ‘capital’ means. This morphs into an assertion that the major problem is that private banks can create credit at will such that we have allowed ‘allowed the credit commons to be privatised’, which in turn drives an unsustainable need for growth to continue to pay interest. I will comment more on that idea in another post – as part of my Degrowth series. But the relevant point here is that Capitalism has created institutions that work to perpetuate the power relations that define who owns capital. These institutions extend to the multi-lateral, government funded organisations such as the IMF and the World Bank, who now function quite differently to the way they were originally conceived. I was thinking about that while reading the latest World Bank publication – International Debt Report 2022 (released December 6, 2022) which captures what is really wrong with Capitalism and leads one to conclude that ‘healing’ requires killing the patient!
Today, I am skipping my Japanese language class and heading to the airport. I am taking up a position at Kyoto University under a JSPS Invitational Fellowship. I am working with the team in the Resilience Unit there on a project studying the design of fiscal policy for building national resilience using Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles. Resilience is an important part of the degrowth and deep adaptation agenda and I will spend some months there working on with other researchers. The – Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) is ‘Japan’s sole independent funding agency dedicated to the advancement of science’ and is overseen by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. I am very privileged to receive one of the invitations. So from tomorrow I will be in Kyoto and depending on commitments my blog posts might be a little less regular although I think I will be able to continue the usual output. Now, it is time to put my Tuesday languages class into action – along with Google translate! Some travelling music follows.
As part of the my research on the concept of a ‘poly crisis’, which is the focus of my next book, I have been reading a lot about urban systems, building codes, and other facets of the climate problem. In that vein, I have been considering the concept of – Deep Adaptation – which emerged from the work of British academic Jem Bendell in 2018. His seminal paper – Deep adaptation: a map for navigating climate tragedy – was updated in July 2020 as – Update. The author has a background in geography and makes it clear he is not a climate scientist. His work on deep adaptation came up against a harsh refereeing process because it ran counter to the Groupthink surrounding how we should deal with the climate issue. Most of the resistance I suspect relates to a view that the crisis can be solved within Capitalism. In that sense, his work was dismissed as being overly pessimistic. However, the initial work on deep adaptation is rather scant on how it fits in with the ideas of class conflict within the current economic order. Jem Bendell admitted that is his original essay “the power of capital in keeping us compliant is implied” rather than explicit. His defense was that he was “writing for the sustainability profession” and he was thus “embedded in that system” (Source). This is where I am interested in the concept – to fully embed it within a more radical, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) focused paradigm. This is Part 1 of a series of unspecified Parts at this stage where I explore the concept of Deep Adaptation and try to extent it into the MMT world.