In today's Guardian, George Monbiot writes that capitalism -- and, most particularly, neo-liberal capitalism -- cannot solve the problem of climate change. It can only exacerbate it:
As Milton Friedman, one of the architects of neoliberal ideology, put it: “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand.” As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation is required. Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided. But there’s a flaw. Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo.
Friedman popularized the theory that the invisible hand of the market solved all human problems. All we need do is to put an appropriate price on a problem, and it will go away. But there are some things you can't price. Some things -- like human life, species and ecosystems . . . cannot be redeemed for money."
Friedman also popularized the idea that market solutions encouraged predictability. But the Greeks knew what Friedman didn't -- that much of life is unpredictable:
Environmental collapse does not progress by neat increments. You can estimate the money you might make from building an airport: this is likely to be linear and fairly predictable. But you cannot reasonably estimate the environmental cost the airport might incur. Climate breakdown will behave like a tectonic plate in an earthquake zone: periods of comparative stasis followed by sudden jolts. Any attempt to compare economic benefit with economic cost in such cases is an exercise in false precision.
We've been living in Friedman's world for the past fifty years. We are now reaping the results.
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