June 3, 2011

Food Sovereignty and Agroecology (the UN Special Report)


I’m not an expert on farming. [Edit 2015: I’ve done and learned a lot in 4 years.] I’m just starting to learn about it through gardening, saving seeds, working at a farmers’ market, and as in this case reading and writing about it. Probably most of my readers fall into this category as well, although some have more knowledge than I do.
But I think propagating and discussing knowledge is one of the key elements of our movement, so part of the way I’m trying to learn about what we’re trying to do is to educate myself as much as possible on the state of the agronomic science, and report on how the evidence supports Food Sovereignty in every way. That’s why I wrote my earlier posts on farming, and that’s why I want to continue analyzing the best stuff I’ve read.
Today I’m going to summarize the recent Report from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter. This position is not in the UN’s mainstream; the Special Rapporteur is, I gather, more like a marginalized Elizabeth Warren type. It also contains several reformist concessions to the corporatist status quo. Nevertheless, on the whole it presents an alternative to corporatist agriculture. It explicitly enshrines agroecology as the desired paradigm for food production, and implicitly exalts food sovereignty as the desired ideology and mode of social organization. It also does a great job of assembling all the recent science and scholarship on the issue, which proves the superiority of agroecology to corporate agriculture in every way – productivity, nutrition, resiliency, accessibility, stability, democracy.
The introduction describes how, after decades of neglect, the food stagflation which started in 2007 has triggered an increase in agricultural investment. But this isn’t the old style public interest investment which worked so well; it’s neoliberal “investment”. What’s more, investment as such isn’t sufficient to deal with the food crisis, since this crisis is part of a much greater civilizational crisis. The food solution must also be a socioeconomic, political, and environmental solution. It must not only maintain quantity of production but greatly improve quality, be more ecologically sound, and improve the position of small and mid-size farmers. The science proves agroecology can do these.

It is possible, however, to significantly improve agricultural productivity where it has been lagging behind, and thus raise production where it needs most to be raised (i.e. in poor, food-deficit countries), while at the same time improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and preserving ecosystems.
(section 3)

It’s just a matter of political will. This will require a comprehensive transformation, a philosophy and a set of practices which will obliterate neoliberalism. The philosophy is Food Sovereignty and the set of practices is agroecology.
The report starts out describing how even corporations and neoliberal agencies are starting to pay attention to agroecology (2) (which is a bad thing in the short run; but I think in the long run it’s still a good thing when they move beyond the “ignore you” stage to the “try to co-opt you” stage Gandhi forgot to mention). It says that continuing to increase gross yield (if that were possible) isn’t sufficient (3-4). Thus it implicitly admits that the necessary transformation cannot occur under capitalism. Agroecology and food sovereignty are directly opposed to neoliberalism, in philosophy, intent, and practice (3-4).
Schutter gives a Diagnosis (5-11); food systems must achieve Availability, Accessibility, Adequacy. I agree with these serviceable measures, since once we apply the principle, You Will the End, You Will the Means, they sum up what we need.
Availability: Sufficient food to meet human needs. We have more than sufficient physical bounty, but commodified agriculture generates artificial scarcity as its goal. We won’t have this physical cornucopia for long, however, because industrial agriculture will fail. Fossil fuels will fail, and GMOs will fail. So by the availability criterion, we must transform to relocalized smallholder agroecology.
Accessibility: Physical and economic. This implicitly means doing away with the commodification straitjacket. Food sovereignty has to mean access to the land for anyone willing to work it, with no squatting rights (propertarian “ownership”) for those who refuse to work. We must farm what we own and own what we farm. By the access criterion, we must transform to relocalized smallholder agroecology.
Adequacy: Dietary/nutritional, safety, culture. Industrial agriculture has stripped food of its taste and nutrients, while pumping it full of toxins and slathering it with poison. On a more macro level, it has stripped and poisoned the soil, the water, the air, and ravaged natural and socioeconomic systems. It has culturally impoverished us, cutting us off from our land, from knowledge of our earth and our food that grows from it. It has perpetrated sublimated genocide through the forced extinction of most of the cultivars which were bred over tens of thousands of years. Seeds are vectors of culture. To forcibly prevent their cultivation, economically or by other means, is a crime against humanity. By the adequacy criterion, we must transform to relocalized smallholder agroecology. (And jettison the “intellectual property” tyranny.)
The report states (7) that first of all we must transform away from cereal production for animal feed (“nearly half of the world’s cereal production”). This in itself could feed 3.5 billion more people than are fed already, even accounting for less meat in the food supply. (Under corporate agriculture, ten grain calories are required to produce one calorie of beef; think of the vastly greater efficiency of letting people eat this grain. But this would require us to measure things according to a realistic definition of efficiency, not the Orwellian corporate definition.)
There are plenty more economies to be realized through upgrading agricultural practice (corporate ag wastes immense amounts of potential food in the field, albeit in ways which increase its profits and socialize the losses) and eradicating ethanol subsidies and mandates (7).
This transformation will improve the economic position of small farmers (8). To this day, the cause of hunger is never insufficient physical stocks but artificially induced poverty among the very people who grow the food or would be growing it if they hadn’t been illicitly excluded from the land. It’s a self-evident calculus: The more people who redeem their rightful food sovereignty by becoming autonomous and cooperative producers, the fewer who will be hungry. (For the reformists, the report discusses how studies have proven that “GDP growth originating in agriculture” is twice as effective in reducing poverty as any other GDP growth, and that “the multiplier effects are significantly higher when growth is triggered by higher incomes for smallholders” than for any other kind of income increase. So those guys should be on board with food sovereignty as well.)
Section 10 states:

Most efforts in the past have focused on improving seeds and ensuring that farmers
are provided with a set of inputs that can increase yields, replicating the model of industrial
processes in which external inputs serve to produce outputs in a linear model of production.
Instead, agroecology seeks to improve the sustainability of agroecosystems by mimicking
nature instead of industry. This report suggests that scaling up agroecological practices
can simultaneously increase farm productivity and food security, improve incomes and
rural livelihoods, and reverse the trend towards species loss and genetic erosion.

The rest of the report describes how agroecology will accomplish these goals where industrial agriculture failed.

Agroecology is both a science and a set of practices. It was created by the
convergence of two scientific disciplines: agronomy and ecology. As a science,
agroecology is the “application of ecological science to the study, design and management
of sustainable agroecosystems.”

It’s the best for soil, for nutrition, energy usage, integration of crops and livestock, crop diversification, self-sufficiency for farmers and communities, the interaction and productivity of the entire system rather than isolated (monoculture) species.
Agroecology is knowledge-intensive. (We recently talked about the importance of propagating knowledge.) The emphasis is on the horizontal, decentralized development and spread of knowledge. As much as possible it’s farmer-driven (12, 38). Enough practical and scientific knowledge has already accumulated to prove that agroecology is the most productive system and is in harmony with the democratic principles of food sovereignty (14).
Although the Oil Age is ending, the agricultural knowledge we’ve amassed during it is the key to maintaining a higher level of production than in pre-oil times, and doing so in a democratic rather than feudal way. (Of course, neoliberal corporatism wants to restore the worst of feudalism in both the physical and political senses.)

A wide panoply of techniques based on the agroecological perspective have been
developed and successfully tested in a range of regions. These approaches involve the
maintenance or introduction of agricultural biodiversity (diversity of crops, livestock,
agroforestry, fish, pollinators, insects, soil biota and other components that occur in and
around production systems) to achieve the desired results in production and sustainability.

These practices include integrated nutrient management, agroforestry (20), water harvesting, integration of livestock into farming systems, and the push-pull system (19). I’ll add that the full virtue of these will be realized to the extent they’re deployed by the people rather than through corporatism (the report seems to have a temporizing tone in some places).
These are the answer to the scoffers who cite the Maya, Anasazi, Hohokam and others who malfarmed themselves out of existence in the pre-oil age. Their self-defeating practices were the unwise pre-oil equivalent of industrial agriculture. Today we have the knowledge to do much better. Again, it’s simply a matter of political will.
Sections 17 and 18 detail the improved yields to be gained by agroecology.

17. Such resource-conserving, low-external-input techniques have a proven potential to
significantly improve yields. In what may be the most systematic study of the potential of
such techniques to date, Jules Pretty et al. compared the impacts of 286 recent sustainable
agriculture projects in 57 poor countries covering 37 million hectares (3 per cent of the
cultivated area in developing countries). They found that such interventions increased
productivity on 12.6 millions farms, with an average crop increase of 79 per cent, while
improving the supply of critical environmental services. Disaggregated data from this
research showed that average food production per household rose by 1.7 tonnes per year
(up by 73 per cent) for 4.42 million small farmers growing cereals and roots on 3.6 million
hectares, and that increase in food production was 17 tonnes per year (up 150 per cent) for
146,000 farmers on 542,000 hectares cultivating roots (potato, sweet potato, cassava). After
UNCTAD and UNEP reanalyzed the database to produce a summary of the impacts in
Africa, it was found that the average crop yield increase was even higher for these projects
than the global average of 79 per cent at 116 per cent increase for all African projects and
128 per cent increase for projects in East Africa.

18. The most recent large-scale study points to the same conclusions. Research
commissioned by the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project of the UK
Government reviewed 40 projects in 20 African countries where sustainable intensification
was developed during the 2000s. The projects included crop improvements (particularly
improvements through participatory plant breeding on hitherto neglected orphan crops),
integrated pest management, soil conservation and agro-forestry. By early 2010, these
projects had documented benefits for 10.39 million farmers and their families and
improvements on approximately 12.75 million hectares. Crop yields more than doubled on
average (increasing 2.13-fold) over a period of 3-10 years, resulting in an increase in
aggregate food production of 5.79 million tonnes per year, equivalent to 557 kg per farming

Section 21 describes how agroecology helps break the cycle of debt by liberating farmers from synthetic fertilizer, through sound practices of livestock integration (including keeping their manure on the farm) and cover crops (“green manure”). Section 22 cites the Badgley study which proves that “on a global scale, leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use” (Footnote 37). Imagine the economic and democratic savings from that!
Agroecology is labor-intensive (23). While kleptocracy intends to deploy us all as slave labor, a human community could turn this labor-intensiveness into a full-employment boon of meaningful work. Human beings love working the land, growing their own food, where they’re truly doing it for themselves and their communities rather than for some alien boss. Agroecological practices also make for more pleasant work. There’s more shade (from trees planted for many purposes) and no smell and toxicity from pesticides and herbicides. And once we achieve the social revolution, it’ll all be our work. That’s the most important thing of all. (For the reformists, I’ll add that according to section 23 the cost of creating agricultural jobs has been found to be much less than in other sectors. So sincere trickle-downers should also be on board with this.)
Section 25 (not Peak Oil-aware) describes how “agroecological practices are fully compatible with a gradual mechanization of farming”. The need for new machines for no-till agriculture and direct seeding will generate new manufacturing jobs, if societies choose to host these jobs. Agroforestry is also a proven job creator.
Sections 26 and 27 describe how agroecology will solve the malnutrition problem generated by cereal monoculture. Commodity cereals contain mostly carbohydrates; they lack protein and are denuded of vitamins and minerals. Crop diversity, as is provided by agroecology, is necessary for human nutritional needs. Women and children will especially benefit (27). This diversity of grown species will also be resilient in the face of natural challenges and the ravages of our environmental vandalism. Sections 28-30 detail how agroecology will be the most resilient practice in the face of climate change, particularly its increasing incidence of extreme weather events and migration of pests and weeds. (Climate change assists vermin everywhere. I’ll add that corporate agriculture and husbandry in general, GMOs and CAFOs in particular, intentionally drive a biological arms race with intentionally fostered superweeds and superbugs. This is the business plan of these biotech and pharmacological “industries”. It’s obvious that humanity must lose this struggle, unless we purge ourselves of our own indigenous vermin.) This resiliency will be a primary value if the human race is to continue to physically exist at all.
Agroecology also uses less fossil fuel energy (31), which is perhaps the most critical issue of all. Either we’re going to figure out how to feed ourselves without cheap, plentiful fossil fuels, or we’re going to starve. (The report thinks climate change is more important than Peak Oil, but in fact only the latter can possible mitigate the former. Even with my can-do political attitude, I regard voluntary GHG mitigation as a lost cause.) That implies the political solution as well, since neoliberal corporatism intends to expend through starvation as many people as necessary to construct its neo-feudal slave agriculture, while it uses the residual fossil fuels to maintain its luxuries and enforce its police state. Getting back to the importance of knowledge and education, Cuba provides the classic example of the importance of knowledge in transforming food production from an environment where oil is taken for granted to one where it’s scarce.
What can be done to achieve wide application of agroecology, toward food sovereignty? The report emphasizes democratic farmer participation toward dissemination of the best knowledge (32). Section 33 details how farmer field schools have been proven to teach farmers how to significantly reduce pesticide use while increasing yields, and do all of it in an environment which empowers them, helps organize them, and always furthers their education. Sections 32-3 list many organizations involved in this work. Even existing governments like that of Brazil are incorporating agroecology and farmer participation in their investment programs (34). Even where this investment remains predominantly corporatist, wherever it helps gather agroecological knowledge and gives farmers democratic experience, it helps food sovereignty toward its goal.
Section 35 describes two types of “scaling up” of agroecology: Horizontal (acreage) and vertical (expansion of education, finance, distribution networks, etc.). The report focuses mainly on the vertical expansion. (Previous reports, as cited in footnote 66, discussed horizontal expansion, for example issues of access to land, water, and seeds. I haven’t read these reports yet but I’m going to.)
The report calls for old-style public interest investment (37), which I doubt is going to happen. (To give credit where credit is due, the extinct developing-country investment programs were an example of a New Deal-style government program that worked to spread prosperity and freedom. That, of course, is why the IMF targeted those programs for extirpation. And that attrition is why reformism can’t work. Even if we could get such programs back alongside the rackets, they’d just be wiped out again by those rackets. Why do people want to continue fighting this endless fight?) Section 37 does give a good account of how reformist investment programs could work if we weren’t already under the thumb of kleptocracy.
Section 38 returns to the emphasis on knowledge. Again, the report calls for public investment in horizontal agricultural education, which is proven to have the most important impact on poverty in developing countries. While we may not have much faith in governments undertaking this education, we can agree with the need for this education, and the need to find a way to achieve it ourselves.
The report goes on to call upon governments, corporations, and NGO donors to work on all this (43-7). But the meaningful prescription is implied in sections 39-42, which envision a democracy of food emphasizing the primacy of small farmers and co-ops.
I think the importance of a report like this isn’t its intrinsic call for reform, which I think is in vain, but its implicit call for revolution. Physically, morally, politically, the corporate status quo in food stands for the ultimate death of humanity. Certainly politically, as food tyranny is imposed. And probably physically as well, as we shall not be able to withstand the end of oil as well as the incipient pest afflictions, pandemics, and crop failures nature will impose on our unresilient monoculture system.
I add to those the tragedy of our bottlenecked economic prospects.
But there is one path and only one path out of our physical, economic, and political predicament. This is the path of Food Sovereignty and agroecology. These comprise a unit, and they unify with democracy and humanity. Our course is clear.


  1. Hmmm … interesting … a lot of knowledge from a very centralized source …

    Growing grain to feed beef is similar to growing grain to feed cars as ethanol – the deception is in the lie in the misuse of resources to build consumer dependency and benefit the supplier and owner of the unnecessary and unsustainable industries.

    Creating super bugs and super weeds is an example of the create a problem to profit from solving the problem deception, it is the ‘public safety’ deception (going on right now with the overblown internet hacker scare so as to impose ever more choking controls on the internet) and builds a similar dependency.

    A thought … the gangster corporate pigs sell Round Up and Ethanol using false premised slick advertising – the need to drive around in a one or two ton car and to have a sidewalk free of vegetation. The advantage that agroecology has is that the process is sustainable and healthful and can be advertised more honestly. Those benefits should be celebrated in counter advertising and sloganeering that celebrates the more healthful life and happiness that sustainability brings;

    • Agroecologists live longer!

    • Agroecology contributes to world peace!

    • Agroecologists have better orgasms and make better lovers!

    • Etc.

    The messages need to go viral to be effective, i.e., go centralized! Yay, yay!

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    Comment by i on the ball patriot — June 3, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

    • Those sound great to me, i ball!

      We just need a cooler term than “agroecology”.

      Hmmm … interesting … a lot of knowledge from a very centralized source …

      LOL. Like I said, I think that guy is marginalized within the system. His predecessor called agrofuels a “crime against humanity”, and we see how far he got.

      Comment by Russ — June 3, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

      • Hi everybody. I’m so happy to see iball back. How about FEED YOUR OWN SELF GROW YOUR OWN FOOD THAT GOD HAS PROVIDED and CORPORATE MAN ONLY POISONS (for the Christians out there)


        Have a slogan contest to find something that can go viral, and while we’re at it, find a substitute for ‘have a good day’ yuk! How about.’ciao.’

        Comment by LeeAnne — June 9, 2011 @ 7:14 am

  2. Russ,

    After staying away from Naked Capitalism for a few days, I had to sneak a look a while ago (after reading it for so long, this could be a difficult habit to break), and so, lo and behold, the first thing I see is yet another Philip Pilkington post.

    As far as I’m concerned this Pilkington is nothing but a fraud and complete asshole. Pilkington seems to be saying that *in spite of everything*, all neoliberal capitalism needs is some reform, and then he goes on to extoll the joys of MMT and public debt seems to be his answer to everything.

    I had to stop short, because to me, reading this guy is what I imagine listening to a two hour Larry Summers speech would be like.

    When I glanced through the comments I landed on one where Pilkington is comparing Robespierre and Reagan. As if the two of them are equal, as if they had anything at all in common. I appreciated you calling him a suck-ass pig and a pro-bankster, because, in my opinion, that’s exactly what he is, only he’s too cowardly to admit it.

    And he goes on to insult nearly everyone on the blog who has ever been concerned with such issues as wealth inequality, class warfare and kleptocracy.

    Anyway, that’s about all I could take of that bastard, so I came here to read your latest post, which I’m about to do now. And thanks.

    PS – No need to respond to this, Russ, I just needed to vent, and I’ll try to make this the last time for that.

    Comment by Frank Lavarre — June 4, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

    • Thanks, Frank, though I hope you’ll also respond to my posts! 🙂

      Phil-of-shit Pilkington is a collaborationist prick. Did you see how the thread brought out others? Fuck them.

      Comment by Russ — June 4, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

    • I too have been taken aback by the sudden appearance of Pilkington.

      If Yves sticks with this guy, which appears to be the case (today is June 8 and she featured one of his posts again today), I believe it signals a hard turn to the right, and also a turn towards dogmatism and irrationality, on Yves’ part.

      But in some ways it may be a godsend, because it raises some serious questions about MMT theory.

      I know very little about MMT theory, and don’t want to issue a final verdict quite yet. I’ve ordered Randy Wray’s “Understanding Modern Money,” which I understand to be the MMT bible, so hope to get up to speed. But it throws up red flags all over the place when the predominant way MMT’s proponents defend it is by shouting down its opponents, or anyone who even dares ask questions, belittling them and making it seem they’re stupid for failing to see the self-evident. Pilkington carries this to such an extreme (see his comments on http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/06/philip-pilkington-debt-public-or-private-the-necessity-of-debt-for-economic-growth.html ), and the other MMTers just piled on, that I now feel compelled to go back and take a more critical look at MMT theory.

      MMT appears to me to be on its face very simple. It divides the world into the domestic public, domestic private and foreign sectors. Consider, for simplicity’s sake, only the public and private sectors. The public sector has only two forms raising money from the private sector, taxes and loans. It spends money back into the private sector. Likewise, the private sector has two forms of raising money from the public sector, through the money the public sector spends and from the money the public sector loans the private sector. And the sum total of MMT theory seems to be the statement that

      Public spending and loans from the public to the private sector = taxes and loans from the private sector to the public sector

      So if the public sector wants the private sector to have more money, it can either loan more money to the private sector or spend more, or it can decrease taxes or reduce borrowing from the private sector.

      So it’s all very easy. In fact it’s too easy, because it misses (or could we say it diverts attention away from?) the two elephants in the room:

      1) It does not challenge the debt money system

      2) It does not challenge the bank’s monopoly of money creation (either via printing currency by the bank-owned Federal Reserve Bank or by fractional reserve banking)

      Also, it has nothing to say about who it is that loans the public sector money, nor where the majority of this money comes from (it’s the banks) or how it was created in the first place. Nor does it have anything to say about to whom the public sector loans money.

      An outstanding challenge to the debt money system is articulated in this film (quite a few quotes from Michael Hudson, who seems to be infinitely more radical than the MMT crowd):

      An explanation of the two ways in which money is created in the United States can be found here:



      All considered, it seems to me that MMT theory is not very radical at all. It leaves untouched the mechanisms by which the banks create debt slaves. The only question that seems to remain for MMT is who the debt slave should be: private individuals or governments.

      Take that with a grain of salt, because like I said I still want to do some more research to see exactly what MMT theory advocates. But something with MMT theory just doesn’t pass the smell test, and I want to find out what’s causing the stench.

      Comment by DownSouth — June 8, 2011 @ 9:39 am

      • Hi, DS.

        I haven’t been to NC in a few days, so I didn’t see Pilkington’s post.

        I don’t have time right now to give a proper reply, but let me link to some earlier posts on money and MMT.




        Comment by Russ — June 8, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

      • Russ/attempter and DownSouth,

        I rarely comment at Naked Capitalism, but have been reading it almost every day for a couple of years. And I’ve also noticed a big change since Pilkington appeared on the scene. It was especially obvious on Sunday’s thread when Pilkington seemed to go out of his way to insult the attempter, Toby, DownSouth, etc, In short, everyone who has been a critic of neoliberal capitalism, or anyone who believes the current system is corrupted beyond reform.

        And today Pilkington is back with another post as well as numerous comments on the other threads. It almost seems like he’s taken over the entire blog, and for some reason, Yves is letting him do it.

        I’m not sure how to interpret this, and I don’t know much about MMT theory either, but to me, it looks like Yves is using Pilkington to take a turn to the right. Or maybe she wants to turn NC into a blog on MMT.

        If that’s the case I think she’s making a big mistake and will end up losing a lot of her regular readers and commenters, as well as almost everything about her blog that has made it unique up until now.

        I hope I’m wrong, but whatever happens, I’ve enjoyed reading the comments from you (DownSouth) and Russ/attempter, as well as Hugh, Toby, Tao Jonesing and a number of others.

        I’ve learned a lot from reading all of your comments, and will miss that if NC goes much further in the direction that Pilkington trying to take it.

        In that case, maybe this blog could become a gathering place for exiles from Naked Capitalism? (just a thought)

        Best regards,

        Michael H

        Comment by Michael H — June 8, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

      • IMO Pilkington is a symptom of Yves’ lax editorial control rather than a hard move to the right. My impression is that she doesn’t vet guest posts- I vaguely remember from a comment thread on one of George Washington’s posts GW indicating that he had posted a guest post basically autonomously (my guess is that some of GW’s more out-there stuff wouldn’t be making it on NC if Yves was vetting everything). As far as MMT, my impression is that it’s just a model of how fiat monetary systems work. I don’t think it’s intended to be prescriptive, nor is it advocating an alternative. I think it has value for more radical critiques in that it seems to be a pretty accurate description of fiat monetary regimes, which both highlights a) the basically arbitrary, state-centric nature of the system, as well as b) how absurd state policies (“austerity” etc) are, even with respect to the internal logic of the state capitalist monetary system.

        Comment by paper mac — June 8, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

      • Hi y’all,

        I’ve been growing more jaded about NC over recent months, since the impression one cannot fail to get, is that those attached career-wise to the financial sector, while they can effortlessly debunk every single element of the mythology that justifies its existence, simply cannot entertain the idea of genuinely radical reform. It is an infuriating blind spot. This is a very deep source of frustration, since it tells us that no logic, no appeal, no reasoned argument, no collection of ‘facts’, can do anything to bring those people professionally invested in the current system round to a fresher, more open perspective. The gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them’ appears unbridgeable, at a time in human history where exactly this is sorely needed.

        I don’t know how to read PPs sudden rise to prominence at NC. My cynical, conspiratorial side suspects TPTB are quietly placing more and more of the eggs in the MMT basket, since it does not challenge debt-money at all, and promises more of the corrupt same.

        DownSouth, I’ve looked into and written about MMT at some depth, and reckon its “net to zero” assertion regarding private, for-profit money creation is its Achilles’ Heel. The “net to zero” part of the thesis says, in short, that private-bank money creation has no telling effect on the economy since debts get repaid, amortized, whereupon the ‘money’ disappears. Money created as debt is not ‘real’ money according to MMT, it is merely credit on its way to being expunged. Therefore we need not fear banking and debt-money, since it is merely a lubricating recycling of economic activity via interest-as-profit. And the profits are bank earnings which get recycled into the economy. Perfect system! Except people and businesses get indebted while ownership of society’s product gets inexorably vacuumed up to the Money Masters, and, of course, because usury forces perpetual GDP growth on us. German-speaking economists like Bernd Senf and Franz Hoermann are very strong on this, as is Bernard Lietaer (Belgian), as are Michael Rowbotham and Richard Douthwaite (English). Douthwaite’s slim and easy to read “The Ecology of Money” is available online for free, if you (and others) are interested.


        Comment by Toby — June 9, 2011 @ 9:24 am

      • Hi everyone,

        Yeah, something appears to be going at Naked Capitalism, not sure what it is though. Giving Yves the benefit of doubt, we can’t exclude the possibility she’s facing some form of intimidation (perhaps from someone connected to the Roosevelt Institute, which if I’m not mistaken is funded by Soros?) Or the possibility that someone made her an offer she could not refuse.

        Today Hugh is complaining of censorship. He said he tried to respond to a Jane Hamsher comment directed at him, which basically accused him of lying, but that his comment never appeared, even after he tried to resubmit it as an independent comment. (And I thought that having Jane Hamsher of FDL respond directly to Hugh, was pretty strange in itself, as I don’t remember that ever happening before.)

        I’m still fighting, mostly with pseudonyms other than Elliot X, but if NC is in fact making a hard turn to the right (for whatever reason) then I probably won’t stick around much longer.


        Comment by Elliot X — June 9, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

      • Follow-up: To Yves credit, Hugh’s comment did eventually show up, and she responded to his censorship complaint with what sounded (at least to me) like a reasonable explanation.

        Comment by Elliot X — June 9, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

      • Russ,

        I wrote a response to Pilkington’s post yesterday that I’d like to share with you.

        My email is glennstehle@yahoo.com.mx.

        If you would drop me an email I will send it to you.

        Comment by DownSouth — June 9, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

      • Hi DownSouth, props to you (I guess!) for trying to figure out MMT!! I keep hearing it referred to, but haven’t been able to grasp what it is, or what the benefits might be of seeing the world through the MMT prism. I freely admit that is through a complete lack of trying!

        I find I can only comprehend things these days when I stick to basic thermodynamics, physics, biology, and rudimentary math. I don’t see how any economic theories can escape the laws of the physical world, so I would consider time expended on them to be time wasted.

        We can invent money, debt and interest, but any interest—beyond the very low percentage increase in energy arriving from the sun that is useful to humans—is unsustainable, so why entertain it, much less expect to base an economic system on it?

        Furthermore, this tiny percentage should be offset by population increases and environmental degradation which makes the earth less bountiful despite constant energy inputs. To look at the situation honestly, interest rates should be negative, and they should have been expressed as negative for a long time. Inflation is just a different way of expressing negative interest rates, wouldn’t you say?

        I’m really not up on the math, here. It’s just my gut feeling that the debt overshoot is a reflection of the degree to which, globally, humans have overshot their resource “due”… it’s a numerical manifestation of the degree of wealth destruction and waste, an expression of deviation, as I see it. If I were a mathematician, I would try to work on a proof for this hypothesis.

        What do you think?

        Money represents claims on future production, and this expectation is only a sane one in a system [previously a nation or empire] which is expanding. Now that the market is global, it is a single system which can’t expand by definition. People are only sort of starting to figure this out, but I think they are all making things more complicated than need be at the same time. Culturally blind to the very simple and monolithic “elephant in the room” (we have no place to go but down), people are only perceiving the legs, the trunk, the tail, etc. The politics of the thing almost seem moot. No one is going to be able to “grow the pie higher”, to challenge the wisdom of a certain Harvard-educated businessman, and Obama’s insistence on getting banks “lending again” is more (intentional?) misguidedness.

        The “necessity of debt” that Pilkington talks about seems just the necessity to maintain and increase the trajectory imposed by an abstract conceit—time-based interest— having nothing to do with the real world except to maintain—worse, accelerate—the rate of unsustainable extraction in an increasingly disastrous fashion. There is only “necessity” for public debt to step in where private debt falters, precisely because the exponential debt-money system is breaking down: already grotesquely unhinged from tangible reality, this debt-money expansion needs to express itself in ever more phantasmagorical concepts, beyond derivatives to special drawing rights and the new carbon market. Those truly global ‘currencies’, if implemented fully, will then implode in turn, I have no doubt. There is only “necessity” to expand debt if you want the Ponzi scheme to collapse tomorrow instead of today.

        It’s just mindboggling to me the arrogance that would sacrifice the real economy on the alter of a false one. That the false system can be more compelling than the natural one, and not only more compelling but carry the weight of law…!! That concentrations of fake money can drive discourse and strip people of their rights. We mistake money for power, but perhaps we should disabuse ourselves of that notion. First of all, people with all the money in the world can’t buy things that don’t exist anymore (wild-caught fish, let’s say), and second, why should we play a rigged game where the majority can only come out losers by design?

        Money only has the power that WE give it. I want to explore the possibilities of living a decent life having the least possible contact with money. I think it should be our natural right to reject money entirely, in fact.

        Comment by Lidia17 — June 13, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

      • Hi Lidia,

        MMT means, in a nutshell, that if the economy is operating under capacity then government deficit spending needs to take up the slack, and there’s no realistic threat of inflation in this case.

        (For my extended discussion of its implications, see the pieces I linked a few comments above.)

        You’re right that centralized government action as a whole, including its “money”, is pernicious.

        The best to be said about something about MMT, a reformist concept in itself, is that if we’re stuck in such a system, then it represents the best policy.

        But like I said in those posts, if its full implications are drawn out, it could be made part of a radical package.

        Comment by Russ — June 13, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

  3. Frank; You must realise that many if not most of the posters on Naked Capitalism are involved in the financial services industry. While these people often decry the lack of morality, there is no way they will support a solution. The system is so thoroughly corupted that a total reset is required. But, they do not wish to start over and learn new rules.

    Comment by Paul Repstock — June 4, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

    • Paul,

      I understand it’s always been like that. But to me, things have gotten a lot worse ever since that shithead Pilkington started guest posting two or three articles a week.

      Russ is right to call him a collaborationist, he should be nicknamed Collabo Phil.

      Comment by Frank Lavarre — June 5, 2011 @ 1:25 am

    • Yes, you have that right Paul (and Frank).

      I don’t think it’s possible for them to learn new rules.

      Comment by Russ — June 5, 2011 @ 4:41 am

  4. Hey Russ, good post. This looks like an interesting report. A couple things came to mind while I was reading your description.

    “(which is a bad thing in the short run; but I think in the long run it’s still a good thing when they move beyond the “ignore you” stage to the “try to co-opt you” stage Gandhi forgot to mention)”

    In a sense, having big ag try to coopt permaculture techniques would be great. At that point, they have to compete on per-acre yield with smallholders. Smallholders obviously are providing much of their own labour, so they have an advantage there. Democratic organisation of farms could provide an additional productivity benefit, giving democratic workplaces an edge. Also if the corporations got serious about permaculture laws against using composted human waste in agriculture would be revoked overnight.

    “(The report thinks climate change is more important than Peak Oil, but in fact only the latter can possible mitigate the former. Even with my can-do political attitude, I regard voluntary GHG mitigation as a lost cause.) ”

    It seems that climate change is proceeding at such a pace that it may mitigate peak oil as well (dustbowled farmlands, idled transport and machinery). If BAU in terms of fossil fuel use continues for much longer, we are totally fucked. I was talking to Strieb today about this map:

    This is an NCAR prediction of atmospheric moisture changes for 2060 in a BAU scenario. The dustbowl of the 30s was -3 spiking to -6. This model is actually fairly conservative (we’re already seeing dustbowls forming in Texas and China). Voluntary GHG mitigation is, as you say, a lost cause. We have to get enough people out of the gov’t/corporate fiat racket economies and into democratic economies that they can’t keep the racket going. Otherwise, I guess I’ll be seeing most of you Americans up here after your country becomes an uninhabitable wasteland.

    Comment by paper mac — June 4, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

    • Thanks, paper mac. I’ll check that out.

      I hope that’s right. But I’m not sure about it.

      Comment by Russ — June 5, 2011 @ 4:45 am

  5. Hey have you seen this?

    Comment by Strieb Roman — June 6, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

    • No, Strieb, I haven’t seen it. But I’ll check it out, thanks.

      Comment by Russ — June 7, 2011 @ 8:57 am

      • Yeah its a guy who has been developing ways to cheaply manufacture farm tools that can be easily replicated with local materials in order to empower people without access to capital.

        Comment by Strieb Roman — June 7, 2011 @ 9:51 am

    • Hey Strieb, that’s the Open Source Ecology project I was talking about. I’m a little skeptical that some of their projects are easily implementable (the 3d printing stuff seems slightly absurd to me), but the basic stuff like the compressed earth block press and the tractor look doable with a decent machinist. Hopefully they can get to the point where it doesn’t take a mechanical engineer to put these things together.

      Comment by paper mac — June 7, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

      • Oh, right on. I had recently received that video from a friend of mine! What a coincidence. Either way it is pretty interesting.

        I have read through the fish farm idea and I what especially caught my attention was that competition like chicken has been made ‘more efficient’ in the last decades in terms of food production. From what I understand about the types of efficiencies the broiler industry has gained, they have been at the quality of life of the chickens involved in the now assembly line process in which they are made. Have you given any thought to the quality of life that the fish would experience in a fish farm if the same efficiency gains were actualized by making them live closer together? How much space does a fish need to ‘be’?

        More generally I wonder what people’s opinion about animal ethics would be. For it is worth considering that a society that is willing to treat animals abusively would be much more likely to transfer those attitudes to the treatment of the humans within the society.

        Within the philosophy of Food Sovereignty and the set of practices of agroecology, does anyone have any thoughts?

        Comment by Strieb Roman — June 11, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

      • I haven’t thought about it (the “being” of a fish) philosophically, but the answer that comes immediately to mind is that two clear metrics correlated with animal cruelty are:

        1. Whether the facility can recycle the bulk of its waste on site. (Growing Power’s tilapia tanks, for example use the fish manure as ferilizer for greens.)

        2. How well workers are treated – wages, work conditions, etc.

        Look at how those stand (and maybe there’s some others), and I bet you’ll seldom go wrong on judging a type of facility according to how well the animals are treated.

        Comment by Russ — June 11, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

      • The ethical side of things is part of why I’m really uncomfortable with the broiler chicken model being used for high-intensity aquaculture operations. I do believe that high intensity recirculating aquaculture is both an efficient way to convert low-quality nutrient sources (algae, duckweed etc) into high quality protein, and also probably the only way to have a human population anywhere near the size of the one we have continue to eat fish on a regular basis without the total global collapse of fish populations. But I think we need to clearly address the QoL issues for the animals that you raise. I don’t have a complete view of this yet, but there are a couple points worth considering when thinking about this:

        1) Our understanding of the moral value of a fish’s experience is primitive. Most fisheries industries are still faithfully repeating the decades (maybe longer) old dogma that a fish doesn’t feel pain, that they have a memory of a few seconds at most, that they’re stupid, asocial automatons. The scientific evidence unambiguously contradicts this view. We know that fish feel pain, suffer, and remember. Many species form complex social hierarchies that involve kin recognition, persistent relations between individuals, etc. The use of abstract logic has been demonstrated in cichlids. So we’re just now beginning to realize just how sophisticated the internal lives of fish actually are.

        2) The regulatory side of things is woefully behind the times. I work under the most strict set of domestic governmental guidelines for ethical fish husbandry (Canadian Committee on Animal Care, CCAC), which are laughably lax by comparison to the guidelines for, say, rodent husbandry. The CCAC doesn’t define larval fish as animals, so there are literally no regulations on fish for the first month or so of life, depending on species (personally I treat them as adults as soon as the nervous system is wired). Juveniles and adults require anaesthesia before procedures are performed (generally, tricaine), but there aren’t any clear guidelines for acceptable or unacceptable procedures, metrics of pain response, or anything like that, so we pretty much use our best judgement in trying to minimise suffering. As far as I know, there are effectively no real guidelines for husbandry of food fish. My thinking is that it’s worth coming up with and trying to promulgate a voluntary set of strict guidelnes (CCAC guidelines updated for our current understanding of how fish suffer, perhaps) that would provide a feel-good label for the consumer as well as make it more difficult for the factory-farm type operations to compete.

        3) We need to do some experimentation to understand how particular species respond to different conditions in captivity. It’s worth noting that fish don’t necessarily respond in an intuitive way to varying conditions. Many species require the close presence of conspecifics in order to function normally (they’re basically psychologically obligate school/shoalers), and so prefer to be kept in high density conditions- they’ll actually get really agitated and freak out if they’re kept at too low a density. Keeping a few different groups of tilapia under different crowding conditions and testing them for cortisol levels, or another readout of stress, would not be particularly difficult. Likewise some thought will need to be applied to whether or not we can meaningfully enrich the environment that food fish on a recirculating system are in without signfiicantly compromising our ability to keep their environment clean and safe, or our ability to harvest the fish. Zebrafish get very interested in computer screens displaying pictures of other fish placed close to their tanks, and seem to like to “school” and otherwise interact with simulated conspecifics, so I’m thinking it might be possible to give tilapia or another food fish some interesting things to look at/interact with without necessarily putting things in the tank that would interfere with the operation of the system.

        Russ’ point about a well-maintained, closed loop system with dedicated, properly treated workers is well taken, as well. A democratic workplace is unlikely to compromise the health and wellbeing of the animals raised there, particularly if the staff are eating those animals as well.

        Comment by paper mac — June 11, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

  6. Russ and everyone:
    This article, brought to my attention by the uni-dimensional but sometimes informative Karl Denninger, sent chills up and down my spine. I know it’s not about agriculture, so I apologize, but it really seems to signal a change in tactics, just as Russ predicted, on the part of the PTB. But it seems to be happening sooner than I thought possible:

    The US Department of Education brought in a SWAT team to serve a warrant regarding a defaulted student loan. The debtor was not there, but her estranged husband and three young children were. Their door was broken down, the father was grabbed by the throat , and even the children kept in a cop car for six hours.

    I’m still having trouble believing that the criminalization of debt has gone this far this fast, such that people and their children are having their lives put at risk, as they always are when militarized police are around. WTF??

    Comment by Publius — June 8, 2011 @ 10:22 am

    • That’s horrible, Publius. They’re really trying to stick it to us.

      Comment by Russ — June 8, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

      • Russ, again I quote Pogo, “I have seen the Enemy and he is us.”. “They”, might be promoting the restrictive and punative actions, but the people are demanding it.

        Fear of change and the unknown in general is causing ordinary people to seek conformism as some sort of refuge from what they cannot see. The most outrageous demands of the beuracracy are not only accepted, but in many cases promoted by ordinary people because of the false sense of security they afford.


        Comment by Paul Repstock — June 8, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

      • Russ, thanks for the reply, and also Paul’s reply to your reply. Paul is right about the people themselves (some of them) welcoming the punitive actions. I went to the article Iinked to and read some of the comments. I couldn’t believe it: there were people who were cheering on the Dept. of Education’s use of the SWAT team! Something like, “they weren’t paying back taxpayer dollars, so they are getting what they deserved.”
        First of all, the estranged husband wasn’t even the borrower! Secondly, the poor ex-student borrow was sold a fraudulent bill of goods.
        But Paul is right: those who still identify with a failing system start to gain the majority of their satisfaction not from what the system can no longer provide, but from seeing those who reject it suffering punishment.
        Will there, Russ, be enough people rejecting it to form enough of a nucleus to provide a haven and refuge and new way of life for the debt refugees who will otherwise just languish in hell on earth?
        I hope so.
        My garden is doing well, at least… I am even contemplating growing beans on vacant unused land near us…. I suspect most people won’t notice a few extra bushes around. And even if homeless people or someone else finds and eats the beans, the world will be better off…

        Comment by Publius — June 9, 2011 @ 1:06 am

  7. Russ, great post (and great site – I’m new here). I’m always happy to see de Schutter get some love – he does some great work. I’m doing some research of my own into the food crisis and have found his episodic special reports to be enormously helpful. This one on the destabilizing role of trade and the WTO on food markets from 2009 was particularly good:


    Publius, I completely agree about that story, it is outrageous. There was a bizarre follow up later that day that got posted on the Huffington Post (I landed there through a link from somewhere else, which unfortunately I don’t remember) where the Dept. of Ed. said the raid was not actually for overdue loans but rather fell under some nebulous category of “ongoing investigations” for fraud, embezzlement, etc. That makes not a bit of difference to the insanity of the tactics (and of course allows them to claim they can’t comment further for legal reasons), but I did want to pass it along in case it’s of interest.

    Comment by Anchard — June 10, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    • Thanks for the link, Anchard, and welcome. Sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier.

      Comment by Russ — June 12, 2011 @ 6:17 am

  8. Hey everyone, sorry I wasn’t around for a few days. Thanks for the words of praise.

    That’s weird about NC. I didn’t really notice it the way you guys did (I saw Pilkington as a typical jerk who pops up there from time to time; although it’s true that Yves is giving him lots of cross-posts), but I haven’t really been there in a week or so.

    Comment by Russ — June 10, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

  9. Russ,

    I’d just like to add one thing, if you don’t mind: I’d like to apologize for using your blog several days ago to criticize certain things that bother me about Naked Capitalism. And also to emphasize that this was intended as constructive criticism, in the way we sometimes have of wanting something good to become even better.

    And so, any criticism of NC that followed my comment should be considered my fault and I accept full responsibility for that, as it was not encouraged by you, or due to anything you said.

    I think a number of us were caught off guard by the sudden appearance of Pilkington, but it’s probably like you said, just another one of those jerks who comes along from time to time, rather than any change of direction on Yves’ part.

    Since most of us found your blog through NC, I think everyone here appreciates the fantastic job that Yves has done in diagnosing the problem.

    This is already a huge achievement thanks to hard work on her part. To go further than that, to go beyond diagnosing the problem and towards finding a solution is not up to Yves or the Naked Capitalism blog, it’s up to each one of us. (“The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass.”- Adorno)

    And so I’d like to thank you once again for all the work you’re doing towards that goal.

    Comment by Frank Lavarre — June 11, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

    • No prob, Frank. I said I didn’t mind if you want to criticize anything. That’s part of what we’re doing here as well. Like I said, I haven’t been at NC much in a week. (I did post one comment there today.) So I don’t know the scoop on the Pilker, or if that’s really indicative of an ideological shift. I’ll get caught back up with it this week.

      I will say that Yves has always posted pieces from New Deal 2.0, and those pieces were often criticized, by me and others. So I haven’t personally seen yet what the change is supposed to be, but I’ll be on the lookout for it.

      Thanks for your kind words. You’re right, even at its best NC or other established blogs aren’t going to lead the way toward solutions. The best blogs have done good educational work and helped people find each other, like you said. But I think the real blogosphere activism (propagating the true movement ideas and organizing toward offline, real world actions, as described in this post


      and others), if it’s going to happen, will come from a new wave of action blogs.

      Comment by Russ — June 11, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

      • I think Yves and even some of the better commenters at NC are invested in the status quo (a cleaned-up, more lawful status quo, of course) but are still not at the point of wanting to recognize that we need to start living according to completely different paradigms, or perish. (We may well perish anyway, but I’m determined to try something a little different before I kick the bucket, just out of cussedness.)

        Comment by Lidia17 — June 13, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  10. Russ, I had mentioned a trip to Vermont, where I tried to check out what some people were doing with small farms, so I might as well attach it to this recent food post of yours. We went to “farm stays”, B&Bs that are analogs to the Italian “agriturismi” which have been subsidized in various ways by the Italian government. From my experience in Italy, most “farm stays” are often just small hotels with conventional restaurants, with the farming aspect having become vestigial in the face of the tourism boom of the last couple of decades; the profits all come from the hospitality angle.

    I found that about half of the “farm stays” in VT were places with just a couple of rooms, in one case just a single room, in houses that were the site of hobby farms. Besides the income from renting rooms, I found that the owners usually had at least one other source of income which was NOT the farm, but an outside job or pension(s) coming in. I didn’t end up seeking out farmers who were actually making a commercial living at it because I didn’t really know what I wanted to ask of them. I was more interested in the day-to-day work rhythms and chores on a small, diversified holding.

    There were two couples who were serious about marketing their products locally and making that a significant part of their income, but were farming more or less traditionally, albeit organically. I have to say that I found just one enterprise, out of the 7 I visited, which aimed at a different paradigm altogether. The “Green Mountain Girls” have been operating for 3 years, they told me, and have embarked on a permaculture route (which is only slowly evolving as they plant more trees and further sculpt and develop the site each year), with attentive crop and animal rotations to the desired effect on their soils, similar to what I had read about Joel Salatin doing in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. They are simultaneously running a year-round “omnivore” CSA (the usual number of weeks for CSAs in VT is something like 15-18 weeks because of the short growing season). Growing spinach and salad greens in hoop houses during the winter, providing parsnips, carrots and potatoes, canned items from the summer like tomato sauce and salsa, in addition to goat milk, eggs, pork, chicken and goat meat, bacon and sausages, etc., they open their farm store one afternoon a week, 52 weeks a year, for pickups, and —this was amazing to me— it’s free-range… people can take as much as they like, of whatever is available, for their share. They do try to keep a record, and not let people run off with 50 packages of bacon a week… I think they are serving 20 families at the moment, and they want to double that, roughly. I don’t know what percentage of food people end up having to buy from outside (there weren’t any bread, cereal or grain products, for example). What was slightly disconcerting was that they had in mind to make a “regular” salary at this, which one of the “girls” told me was “$30,000 or $60,000 or $90,000” (that’s how she expressed it to me, twice!). Whether they do or don’t make a salary like that, I think community-supported agriculture will go from being a luxury or a feel-good or healthier option to a necessity.

    The “Girls” do put out a weekly newsletter, which they said they were going to try and archive online. They have printouts at the farm, and it’s interesting to see what had been available food-wise, as well as what they had been working on, week-to-week. But I don’t see that they have had the time even to update their blog since I was there: http://vermontfarm.blogspot.com/ They really are busy bees, and are trying hard to make connections within the larger community, hosting yoga classes and musical events in the barn space (already swankly re-modeled when they had purchased the farm)

    Another aspect perhaps worth mentioning is that none of the “farm stay” folks were native Vermonters.

    A figure that kept cropping up in reading about VT agriculture was how 3% (or 5% I saw in one place, but usually 3%) of VT’s food supply came from VT. I thought this was an astonishingly LOW number, but come to find out that this is the highest percentage of any state in the US! (Don’t have a link for that but read it in one of the local newspapers that I’ve since tossed.) And it’s winter half the year there… So clearly there is a long way to go on the food re-localization front, which in some ways is good because if that’s the case we can only make progress, right?

    Comment by Lidia17 — June 13, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

    • Thanks for that great stuff, Lidia. There’s a lot to assimilate there. I’ll have to go look up those in-state % numbers myself.

      One thing that comes to mind is that the vast majority of grains goes not to food, but to animal feed, processed crap, agrofuels, and so on. And then the edible results of that (good stuff like factory farmed beef and soda sweetened with HFCS, all of it shipped to and then from centralized packing/processing centers) is shipped all over the place. The same process is enfolded in complete food globalization.

      So I can well believe that the end result is that each state consumes an extremely low % of in-state produced food.

      Comment by Russ — June 13, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

      • Russ, I hope their “honor system” model survives… it was the most remarkable aspect of the program, in reality, although it makes perfect sense: there is a limit to how much a single person can consume in calories each year.. so in the Big Picture consumption per person should always even out the long run. I will say also that one of the other two more “serious” farmers maintained a store off the barn, “open” to the public 9-5, that was self-service: as they produced mainly meat, you’d come in, take something out of one of the freezers, weigh it, use the provided calculator to figure the price of your item. register it in the log book, and leave cash or a check in a cash box provided for that purpose.

        When I told Italians about this, they thought I was putting one over on them, and assumed the owner to be retarded.

        “Retardation” may be just what is needed, but it will be a real challenge going forward in reinforcing the bases for future communities. I’m sure there are many parts of the US where un-watched freezers of meat would not last a half-hour.

        Either we decide conscientiously to give primacy to a culture of “enough” over the culture of “as much as you can grab”, or we don’t survive… and such a culture does not deserve to survive.
        Either we decide conscientiously to give primacy to a culture of honesty over the culture of theft, or we don’t survive… and such a culture does not deserve to survive.

        Comment by Lidia17 — June 13, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

      • Re. the globalization, I think one of the more horrifying diagrams I came across was in the wake of a ground-beef contamination episode, whereby it was revealed that a single lot of food-service ground beef might have meat scraps from various countries and even various continents, all mingled together. I couldn’t—and still can’t—figure out how that “makes sense”.

        It only “makes sense” in the world of abstract money; in the real world of real, physical, resource accounting such a thing could never happen: health issues aside, it would be rightly seen as pointless and stupid to move meat around from meat-producing country to meat-producing country.

        Comment by Lidia17 — June 13, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

      • Thanks for the reports, Lidia! How does the CSA program work? Do the people taking the food pay a fixed fee/yr and then take what they need? That seems reasonable enough to me.

        Comment by paper mac — June 14, 2011 @ 2:53 am

      • That’s an interesting revaluation of the term retardation. Nietzsche would approve.

        Of course it’s still a retardation only according to the measure of “growth”.

        See below on “enough” vs. “as much as you can grab”. (And also on the domination of terms, since below you seem intent on letting the enemy control the terms.)

        Comment by Russ — June 14, 2011 @ 6:01 am

      • papermac, yes, there was a flat per-person fee that could be paid per week or per month (per month being slightly cheaper). $50/week or $200/month, $2400/year per person was the current rate. At this point, though, you probably could not fulfill all your food desires solely through the CSA as it stands. I’m going to keep an eye on them to see how they expand their offerings. Their store was “manned” (or rather, “girled”) so that presence would deter taking more than one needed. Also, the fact of being a “member” in something ongoing, that you would want to see thrive since that would benefit you as well, and having the possibility of meeting and knowing other members (as opposed to the anonymous honor-system store) would help deter hoarding.

        Comment by Lidia — June 14, 2011 @ 7:15 am

  11. Russ, I’m replying to your MMT indications in a fresh comment so as not to bother DownSouth who ended up at the premature end of the earlier chain.

    Thanks for pointing out your posts on MMT. I have scanned them, and I have a major contention: what is the definition of, and role of, “productivity”? Whether it is measured in nominal dollars or real, extracted, goods, increased “productivity” is something I think we should avoid, rather than aspire to.

    What is it that one might perceive the need to have more of? Most Americans and Europeans, at least, are not involved in “producing” primary goods. Their “productivity” is strictly a drain, as they produce more video games and more home-equity loans, in order that they may buy more plastic shoes, and so forth, more eating out at restaurants instead of meals at home, more waste, in sum.

    I kind of got lost in the “A” “B” “C”-ness of your description. The key, and the key problem, is where you assume—like the majority of opiners—the desire to re-start a “productive” economy. To me, the sad reality is that virtually ALL of what we conventionally register as “productivity” is—in real terms—an effective net negative, for us and for our environment, most painfully and obviously at this point. Productivity must plummet, and our population must plummet, to have a chance at a world worth inhabiting a generation from now. As one aspect of a steady-state, “productivity” should be zero… non-zero “productivity” is just one face of the coin whose other face is unsustainable resource extraction. They are inseparable concepts, as far as I can tell.

    You talk about “capacity under-utilization” but to my mind this is just (hopefully) the recognition that the capacities planned for were never sustainable in the first place: what’s the point of building a twenty-six-lane highway? How many pairs of shoes does a person need to own? Should we “take advantage” of slack construction “capacity” to build each American two homes? Three? Where does it end?

    You’re right that calls for austerity fall disproportionately on the non-rich, but even the non-rich among us consume too much in the aggregate, AND there are too many of us. This has to be confronted in an adult fashion; any political solution that does not entertain drastic birth control measures is craven and intellectually bankrupt.

    >>”Productive people” DO NOT “create all wealth”… that is a false and Trump-worthy statement. << Those whom you call "productive people" pretty much just EXTRACT existing wealth and re-distribute it. Wealth exists around us, and it is entirely natural wealth. No human has created it, nor has the power to create it. Similar to the talent of capitalists, the talent of humans is to move wealth around from one place to another, changing resources in time and space, but we don't *create* anything, to my way of seeing. Bringing future consumption into the present = what we think of as a salubrious increase in "wealth".

    MMT may be "subversive of the status quo", but the status quo cannot hold—by any means—regardless… new theories or no new theories. Creating money out of thin air versus as a multiple of deposits is only a matter of degree.

    I would love to see full employment, but I have come to the conclusion that "public sector jobs" is not the answer. Instead, we have to invent our own employment within localized communities, an intentionally LESS-PRODUCTIVE and LESS-EFFICIENT employment, or else we will be lost. If we don't need "money", if we reject it, then we simultaneously reject the "degrading make-work", along with the enforced exponential expansion we have to chase, that comes with the "money" territory.

    As a case in point, think of all the artists, musicians and players who were employable prior to globalized "efficiencies". Now all we need is one Lady Gaga, or George Clooney or whomever, to satisfy the whole world: their individual "productivity" is prodigious, yet we are all the poorer for it.

    Take that book, "Your Money or Your Life", which made the case that, after a certain point, conventional employment led to diminishing personal returns. I'd take that idea to its natural conclusion and argue that conventional employment ALWAYS leads to diminishing personal returns in the aggregate.

    I agree with you here: "But in a human community there would never be any need or justification for unproductive hoarding." If MMT argues against the hoarding of "money", it may be because it explicitly or implicitly recognizes that what we conceive of as "interest rates" should, by rights, be negative. Can you explain whether that is the case?

    I really have a split opinion as to your posts on MMT. I see where you may consider it a solution, or a partial solution, because it has a more egalitarian bent, but "MMT" also seems to propagate the delusion of an ongoing aggregate increase in prosperity (material wealth per capita, or even in the aggregate) that just is not realistic, no matter how the world's spoils are divided. MMT seems to want to make the fight over lifeboats on the Titanic fairer, in other words… while maintaining the notion of false future increases.

    A "fully productive steady state economy" will "rationally and prosperously proceed" only after an enormous (biological, not fiscal) cyclical contraction and die-off. If then. A piece in the Oil Drum about soil microbiology (where I came across this link I cannot remember; it may have even been here at "Volatility", but could have been at the Archdruid Report or elsewhere) posits a "steady state" only when humans have regained the comportment of hunter-gatherers: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6048

    I know this is depressing, but we need to follow the real math and the truths based on real resource consumption, and where those truths inexorably lead, and not fiddle around with competing nonsensical fantasy theories of infinite production which serve only as political Nerf-bats, changing nothing as the real world grinds down our expectations apace.

    Marginally-related rant… Expectations: Seeing as his beauty-pageant-entering niece was marrying a marginal “film-producer” slash construction-speculation heir, my husband and I were convoked, two weeks ago, to a wedding in—of all places—Porto Rotondo in Sardegna, an epicenter of obnoxious, boring wealth and waste constructed expressly for the yachting set. Sardonic Italians call it “Morto Rotondo”. It’s a place with no center, literally NO center, like being lost in a smaller, more-fragrant open-air mini shopping mall, but with less-interesting stores. Instead of Cinnabons there are bars selling $600 bottles of Cristal, and instead of Toyotas in the parking lot, there are million-dollar bits of fiberglass tied up at the docks. Another thing that struck me was the international-yet-generic nature of the English-speaking Asians. Italians, Americans and Swedes all mixing without border controls, metal detectors or pat-down searches. No fears of Al-Qaeda attacks at Porto Rotondo, apparently. The truly rich belong to a separate and ‘superior’ nation, leaving us plebes with the fundamentally restrictive and inadequate constructions of nation-states which thwart, rather than guarantee, our individual liberties. The yachting folk assume, no doubt, that the global party will continue on their behalf in some way or other. However, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, with the Tyrrhenian waters lapping at our feet, the wedding luncheon we partook of featured farmed mussels and farmed smoked salmon from who-knows-where, despite the inestimable sea-front setting ($5 million? $10?). The “rich” really do pretend not to notice the utter degradation of the world they themselves inhabit!!: they’ve access to no provisions better than I can get in inland Tuscany at the Costco-equivalent, however they apparently are mentally-defective enough to pay five or ten times the going rate for them.

    Which silly mark-up, for someone, registers as “productivity”, btw, just to bring things back to the original discussion.

    It’s very hard for me to make it through a discussion with a “regular” person these days, much less have to deal with these delusional folks. :-/ … Are any of you finding that your social lives have suffered due to your having lifted the veil? [Apo-calypse: the lifting of the veil, the revelation of truth.]

    Comment by Lidia17 — June 13, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

    • Enjoyed reading your comments, Lidia. I pretty much agree with everything you said, although with respect to MMT I honestly don’t know enough about it to have an opinion one way or the other, so I’ll defer to Russ on that one.

      You, as well as Russ and anyone reading this might appreciate the following quotes from Ivan Illich:

      “Homo economicus was surreptitiously taken as the emblem and analogue for all living beings. A mechanistic anthropomorphism has gained currency. Bacteria are imagined to mimic “economic” behavior and to engage in internecine competition for the scarce oxygen available in their environment. A cosmic struggle among ever more complex forms of life has become the anthropic foundational myth of the scientific age.”

      And this;

      “Any industrial product that comes in per capita quanta beyond a given intensity exercises a radical monopoly over the satisfaction of a need.”

      Comment by Frank Lavarre — June 13, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

      • Thanks, Frank. I was going to cite Illich on the paradox of energy expansion and a diminution of effective speed (Energy and Equity) but I figured the comment was long enough!!

        Everyone would do well to seek out what they can find of Illich’s writings (many available free online). He is rather chewy, as he expresses himself in several languages and is translated into many, as well. It’s not always easy going linguistically, though his concepts are so interlaced and repetitive that it’s hard not to get the gist over several volumes.

        Comment by Lidia — June 13, 2011 @ 11:10 pm

    • By productive I never meant more or less than:

      1. Enough production of necessities for everyone to have basic, decent food, shelter, etc.

      2. Beyond that, any surplus is shared among the productive people.

      By productive people (a term you want to deny me because others may have tried to steal it), i.e. workers, I mean nothing more or less than those who work directly to produce those necessities.

      I envision a society where everyone must do his fair share of this work. As for there being sufficient resources to produce enough food for everyone post-oil, if the right political and economic changes are made, that’s been the argument of this and several prior posts.

      As for MMT and some other things, I place discussion of that within the context of my Bridge strategy:


      I am, after all, a political activist, trying to effect political change. That means, in my estimation, that I have to engage with the more “radical” among the reformist ideas along the path toward revolutionary ideas.

      Like I said, I tried to use discussion of MMT to draw thoughts along the line from reformism to more radical implications.

      (I’ll discuss this more if you want, but I’m having yet another WordPress commenting problem here, so I’ll wrap this up now. Incidentally that’s part of the reason I haven’t had a new post in some days.)

      Comment by Russ — June 14, 2011 @ 6:24 am

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