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Labor, Environment, Neoliberalism



I did this podcast with the environmental historian Michael Egan last week on the relationship between environmentalism and neoliberalism. This is actual neoliberalism, not the current definition of “someone in the Democratic Party who does something I don’t like” so commonly used on the left. The whole last half is a discussion on the relationship between the labor and environmental movements. Check it out.

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  • Very interesting discussion! My thoughts, for whatever they’re worth:

    1. In terms of creating a global middle class, India and China alone represent about six times the population of the United States. Even if government and corporations get out of the way and magically become committed to recreating the U.S. middle class lifestyle in just India and China, we would soon run up against the physical limits of the earth to support it. The earth cannot physically support the American middle class lifestyle on a global scale. So if we are to work towards that, we also need to radically rethink what that lifestyle means.

    2. It seems to me that the old robber barons were doing quite well for themselves a century ago when the average worker was living a lifestyle that was below what we would consider middle class. So while we can focus on the purchasing power of a strong middle class in terms of economic growth and stability, I’m not all that certain that our oligarchs really care. They can do just as well without the middle class, and will given the chance.

    3. While I agree that the immediate focus of driverless cars is getting rid of millions of truck drivers, the longer term focus is getting rid of all workers. And it will happen quite quickly once driverless cars become a reality. The AI behind driverless cars can easily be repurposed for any task that requires real-time situational computing, and capital will not use this power to merely reduce labor, but replace it entirely. This is why capital is willing to spend billions of dollars pursuing it. Not to provide their workers with a better, more productive lifestyle, but to do away with them, period.

    4. Politicians are quite adept at finding solutions when their livelihood depends on it. Currently they have more to fear from the radical right and the oligarchs that fund their campaigns than they do from moderate voters representative of the public at large. Until this changes, nothing will change. So I agree that things are going to get much more radical before they get better.

    5. From an environmental aspect, the wild card is going to be global warming. We can discuss scenarios for rebuilding the middle class, but we have to discuss how to do that not just in a political environment controlled by oligarchs and corporations, but in a physical environment where large sections of the earth literally become uninhabitable; where climate refugees are not just a global problem, but become a problem within the U.S. as people escape Florida and desertification of the mid-west; where storms happen so frequently and disastrously that we literally cannot afford to rebuild lost infrastructure; where sections of the U.S. may be abandoned and anarchy/martial law become the rule. Whatever we think our problems are now, the collateral damage inflicted by global warming is going to start dominating our collective attention pretty soon.

    6. Finally, in terms of creating a partnership between labor unions and environmentalists, again, pretty soon the discussion is going to move from how to protect the environment, to how to survive it. So any partnership is going to be one of survival in a world fundamentally different from our own. So sure, I think these types of partnerships are important in the short term, but long term we will need to focus on how to adapt to survive.

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