What we learned this week

Three articles on population for you. First, Ethiopia is countering rural depopulation to avoid unsustainably large cities. Cities like Fred Pearce describes here, asking if the way we think about population is racist. Meanwhile it’s 50 years since Paul and Anne Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, and Paul discusses what he thinks he got right with the Guardian.

Don’t aim for utopia, those can be dangerous. Aspire to a ‘protopia’ instead, says Michael Shermer.

I’ll believe it when I see it, but the signs look good for Britain’s long-awaited plastic bottle deposit scheme.

With one of my other hats on, I wrote a little essay this week on mythology, heresy, neoliberalism, and Kurt Vonnegut. Just in case anyone might be interested.

This week I’ve been reading the news from Germany, though there doesn’t appear to be a English speaking news service online and I don’t feel like I’ve learned anything much. This coming week I’m turning to the staple of Kenya’s news-stands, the Daily Nation.


  1. Have you tried http://www.dw.com? It’s the web site of Deutsche Welle, which has an English language version. In the past I’ve watched their TV station via satellite (I have a big steerable dish, so I’m not restricted to Freesat)

  2. It’s a pity that you take George Monbiot’s strawman description of neoliberalism over people who actually describe themselves as such

    View at Medium.com

    If you only take the opposing sides description of what their opponents believe you will never get beyond strawman and error. That’s not serious scholarship but foolish cheerleading.

    1. I like Sam Bowman. I debated him on Radio 2 once, and I’d agree with a lot of what he says. The problem is that when he says ‘we’ in that article, who is he referring to? Because much of neoliberalism has been dogmatic, often with little interest in whether something works or not, and hasn’t got a great track record of caring about poverty. It’s all very well for Sam to say that “usually an extra £100 makes a pauper better off than it makes a millionaire”, but the economy doesn’t reflect that. Some of Sam’s comments are contradictory – I would need some convincing that a free market for education and healthcare would improve the lives of the poorest.

      In particular, I’m thinking of neoliberalism once institutionalised, so it’s nothing personal. The IMF for example, operated on neoliberal principles for 20 years, and their structural adjustment programmes were frequently disastrous. Their approach was called the ‘golden straitjacket’, so what are to make of sam’s point 6, ‘we try not to be dogmatic’?

      Monbiot’s critique is based very directly on the roots of neoliberalism, on The Road to Serfdom and the Mont Pelerin Society. There are more compassionate and reasonable people who have built on their work since, including in the IMF, and one might argue that Monbiot doesn’t engage enough with those voices. But it’s certainly not ‘foolish cheerleading’.

      There is a lot of mud-slinging about neoliberalism, on that we agree. You’ll notice that I rarely use the term. As far as I’m concerned, there’s little point in trying to finesse a term that’s past it’s sell by date. Like socialism, people have made up their minds about it. Move on.

      1. Neoliberalism has a poor record of caring about poverty? So the greatest fall in absolute poverty ever was under the neoliberal Washington Consensus. 1980 40% of the world population in absolute poverty, today 8%. So much for not caring.

        1. Are you really going to include China as example of Neoliberal capitalism with all those state enterprises and government interventions?

          1. Sure. For one thing the success came from the non state owned businesses which provided taxes Which are used to subsidise them.

            Also at the macro level China needed Western capital and markets to develop at the rate it did. They were open because of the neoliberal free market consensus.

          2. There are many factors that have allowed the Chinese economy to grow including foreign investment, firm sharing and access to foreign markets but is that strictly neoliberalism or just capitalism? Some forms of Socialism don’t exclude the market but do interact with it with certain controls. BTW even early on the USSR had planned a mixed economy until Stalin came along and crushed those plans. Again you can hardly say it is strictly neoliberal to have so much state ownership and intervention so your points don’t invalidate what I said before.

          3. Simon. What is Neoliberalism? It is a very wide term, especially since it has basically been defiend by its opponetents to mean anything they don’t like. It has pretty much become a term meaning free market capitalism. I use the two pretty much interchangeably. In that case it is exactly what China imported from Hong Kong, first to Shenzen then the rest of the country.

            If the existance of state owned enterprises mean a country isn’t neolberal then there aren’t any neoliberal countries in the world. But is you consider the Washington Consensus to be neoliberal then it certainly suceeded. Reducing trade barriers and the WTO is pretty neoliberal. That greatly helped China. Removing international capital controls allowing free movment of foreign investment is pretty neoliberal and that certain was essential for China.

            Lenin considered the New Economic Policy an interim meansure to recover from the civil war and his initial disasterous communist policies. He didn’t want a long term mixed economy but a full socialist one of some kind. I find it concerniong that people are forgetting the reality of Communism and are excusing or romaticising one of the 20th centuries two terrible totalitalian systems.

      1. It is very interesting to see the spin and what is omitted. I used to think I was pretty well informed about international affairs if I watched and listened to our national broadcaster in Australia but was sadly disappointed to that wasn’t the case. Chomsky is right about Manufactured Consent as far as I’m concerned.

  3. On poverty reduction DevonChap, we’ve been over this a dozen times. To recap:
    – The majority of that decline is China, which did it’s own hybrid thing.
    – In Sub-Saharan Africa things went backwards.
    – Half the world still lives on less than $5 a day.

    You’re entitled to your own opinion on whether that’s a glowing success for neoliberalism, but it isn’t in my book.

    1. Neoliberalism has been more successful than any other method tried at reduction of poverty globally. Going from 90% of the world on less than $5 a day to 50% in 40 years is a huge success. Never in the history of the worls has there been anything like it. What do we have to do to impress you?

      The idea of China being able to sustain such fast export lead growth in a protectioinist world that we had prior to 1980 is a pipe dream.

      Comparing reality to imagined perfection is always going to leave reality coming up short but I prefer the real world.

  4. Interestingly Devonchap, you’ve just done exactly what I described in my article. If anyone criticises neoliberalism, they are accused of being soft on totalitarianism. As if those are the only options.

    The biggest failing of our current economic system, whatever we choose to call it, is that it cannot lift the rest of the world out of poverty without destroying the environment in the process. I’ve yet to hear a solution on that front.

    1. So if someone applauds Nazi environmental policies you would think that’s fine?

      Criticising neoliberalism is fine, making favourable reference to a murderous totalitarian system should not be. The current Labour debacle trying to excuse anti-Semities because they support the Dear Leader is a small scale demonstration where that moral free thinking goes.

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