The Green Urbanization Myth

Suburban Sprawl and Self-Driving Cars May Reverse Land Sparing Efforts

Once a fringe idea, the notion of using technology to allow humanity to “decouple” from nature is winning new attention, as a central element of what the Breakthrough Institute calls “ecomodernism.” The origins of the decoupling idea can be found in 20th century science fiction visions of domed or underground, climate-controlled, recycling-based cities separated by forests or deserts. A version of decoupling was promoted in the 1960s and 1970s by the British science writer Nigel Calder in The Environment Game (1967) and the radical ecologist Paul Shepard in The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game (1973). More recent champions of decoupling include Martin Lewis, Jesse Ausubel, Stewart Brand, and Linus Blomqvist.  

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The Myth of America’s Great Stagnation

The Age of Innovation Isn’t Over

Is the great age of American economic growth over? You’d be forgiven for thinking so. Despite recovering job growth—the US economy added an estimated 203,000 jobs in November—the United States is likely to experience slower GDP growth in the decades ahead. Since 1960, the rate has been 3.3 percent. But the Federal Reserve predicts a rate of 2.1 to 2.5 percent in the future, and JPMorgan even projects a rate of less than 1.75 percent. The longer trajectory is grim: US economic growth has been gradually decelerating for decades, from a 70-year average of 3.6 percent (1939-2009) to a 10-year average of just 1.9 percent (1999-2009).

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Elites Are Ruining America

The Hype Market Dominates US Politics

If America’s bipartisan establishment is agreed on something, you can be pretty sure it will be a disaster. That is my reluctant conclusion, after nearly three decades of involvement in politics and journalism, in Washington and New York.

I say “reluctant” because I am not a populist by temperament. I respect academic training as well as expertise based on personal experience. I think that institutions are, or should be, less likely to make mistakes than individuals. I detest people who pose as “contrarians” for the sake of controversy. I would happily be an establishmentarian, if there were a US establishment worth belonging to.

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Dark Age Politics

Energy Austerity A Return to Feudalism

Of all the fantasies that entrance neo-Malthusians, none is more dangerous than the idea that a low-energy, low-consumption, locavore world could be organized along egalitarian lines.

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Neoclassical Mythmaking

How Not to Think About the Economy

This article was coauthored with Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a public policy think tank in Washington, DC.

In the Middle Ages, people looked to the Church for certainty. In today’s complex, market-based economies, they look to the field of economics, at least for answers to questions concerning the economy. And unlike some disciplines, which acknowledge that there’s a huge gap between the scholarly knowledge and policy advice, economists have been anything but shy about asserting their authority.

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The Desecration Paradigm

Environmentalism's Antihuman Strain

Among the paradigms that structure discussion of environmental policy are what Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, among others, have called the pollution, depletion, and conservation paradigms. To these, I think, another must be added: the desecration paradigm.

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Libertarianism’s Apocryphal Past

The Triumph of Hamiltonian Liberalism

My previous Salon essay, in which I asked why there are not any libertarian countries, if libertarianism is a sound political philosophy, has infuriated members of the tiny but noisy libertarian sect, as criticisms of cults by outsiders usually do. The weak logic and bad scholarship that suffuse libertarian responses to my article tend to reinforce me in my view that, if they were not paid so well to churn out anti-government propaganda by plutocrats like the Koch brothers and various self-interested corporations, libertarians would play no greater role in public debate than do the followers of Lyndon LaRouche or L. Ron Hubbard.

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The Failure of Libertarianism

Why Economic Freedom Alone Cannot Deliver a Better Future

Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early 21st century is organized along libertarian lines?

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The Solar Energy Bubble Bursts

Why Germany’s Solar Miracle Failed

My recent post about the costs of Germany’s policy of subsidizing solar energy inspired predictable attacks by true believers in a future powered by solar energy. I was criticized for citing the German magazine Spiegel, a center-right popular magazine. Well, I cited Spiegel for certain facts, and if you don’t believe Spiegel, perhaps you will believe the reputable environmentalist writer Mark Lynas, whose sources are German government statistics. (And if you think Lynas is discredited because he supports GMOs and nuclear energy, even as he thinks global warming is real and dangerous, then you cannot be reasoned with.)

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Germany and the Solar Revolution

The Slow Death of Green Ideology

During the Cold War, the radical anti-capitalist left (a group quite distinct from mainstream capitalism-taming liberals) was perpetually searching for a country that would prove by example the viability of socialism, defined as government ownership of all industry and major enterprises. The socialists in the West who had not already soured on the Soviet Union mostly turned against it by the mid-1950s, following revelations about Stalin’s atrocities. From that point until the end of the Cold War in the 1980s, the dwindling numbers of true believers claimed to find a successful socialist experiment in one country after another:  Mao’s China, Tito’s Yugoslavia, Castro’s Cuba, even, for a time among, some Western militants in the early 1970s, North Korea. They didn’t deny that these countries had certain, ahem, problems—police-state repression and mass exoduses by fleeing citizens, among other minor defects. But they wanted to believe that, whatever its faults, the utopia du jour proved that you could successfully run a modern economy along the lines of Marxist-Leninist theory.

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Why Economists Don’t Get Technology

Beyond Behavior Change

The gap between the cultures of technology and academic economics was on display at the 2013 meeting of the American Economic Association in San Diego last Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, January 5, Rice University’s Kenneth Barry Medlock moderated a panel entitled “The Future of Energy: Markets, Technology and Policy” that featured Jim Sweeney of Stanford, Dale Jorgenson of Harvard, and Adam Sieminski of the US Energy Information Administration.

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The Progressive Case for Modernization

Against the 'Infantile Left'

It is virtually impossible to discuss manufacturing, energy, infrastructure and related subjects from what I consider a center-left perspective without being challenged by anti-industrial or post-industrial Luddites who claim that the genuine progressive position is an amalgam of Mathusian anti-consumerism and energy austerity, often combined with support for old-fashioned, premodern methods of making artifacts and growing food.  I had thought that this debate was limited to the liberal left, and was surprised to learn, from an interview with Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa, that a similar debate occurs within the less familiar (to me) circles of the radical left.

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The Future of Food

Ending Agriculture to Feed and Re-Wild the Planet

I have criticized him before for investing in projects like sovereign libertarian island-states, but I am glad to see that Paypal founder Peter Thiel is investing in the worthy cause of in vitro food production. The sooner we manufacture most of our food from stem cells or chemicals, rather than grow it, the sooner vast amounts of land on the earth’s surface can be partly or wholly “re-wilded.”

 

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Hurricane Sandy and the Case for Adaptation to Climate Change

Mitigation Alone Is Not Enough

In the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, many commentators are arguing that global warming is causing increasingly severe weather events in the Northeastern United States. I am not qualified to judge assertions about the link between global warming (the accurate phrase I prefer to the weaselly euphemism “climate change”) and worsening weather in the Bos-Wash corridor where I live. For the sake of argument, let us stipulate that it is correct. It does not follow that the most cost-effective response to climate change along the Atlantic seaboard is mitigation alone, rather than a mix of adaptation and mitigation, or even adaptation alone.

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Cut-and-Invest Is a Death Trap

A Better Way to Finance Public Investment

If Obama is re-elected as president, there are indications that his administration will try to work with the lame-duck Congress to pass a “grand bargain” to reduce long-term deficits, in order to avert the “fiscal cliff” created by the expiration of George W. Bush’s ten-year tax cuts together with the steep automatic cuts devised last summer in order to provide lawmakers with an incentive to negotiate. As part of this national conversation, some neoliberals are likely to revive an old phrase from the 1990s: “cut-and-invest.” The idea is classic Clintonian triangulation—progressives can increase public investment in R&D and infrastructure, and at the same time prove to the business and financial community that they are serious about deficit reduction, by cutting entitlements for the elderly.

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The Myth of the ‘Capitalist System’

The Persistence of the Mixed Economy

One of the indices that mark the retrogression of public discourse since the 1970s is the fact that we now take it for granted that the United States and other, similar nations have a “capitalist system” or a “market economy” instead of a “mixed economy,” the term preferred by mid-century American thinkers for the typical blend of public good provision, social insurance, and private enterprise in advanced industrial nations.  Equally misleading is the idea that the Cold War, rather than being a great-power struggle, was an ideological battle in which “capitalism” won and “socialism” lost.  To the extent that economic models were involved, state socialism was discredited by comparison with the economic performance of variations of the mixed economy in which government typically accounts for 40-50 percent of national GDP.

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The Great Cosmopolitan Stagnation

The Marriage of Technological Pessimism with Geopolitical Optimism

To the extent that the American elite shares a consensus, it is a combination of pessimism about technology and optimism about politics—particularly world politics. In my view this synthesis provides a picture that is the opposite of reality, in which amazing technological progress will continue to take place on a planet whose politics is characterized by national and sub-national conflict, irrationality, and ignorance. This seems so obvious to me that I don’t understand why most educated and thoughtful people in the U.S. and the world generally hold perceptions that are exactly opposite mine. In the words of the eighteenth-century British poet Christopher Smart, who was confined to London’s infamous Bedlam asylum: “I said they were mad, and they said I was mad, and damn them, they outvoted me.”

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Friedrich List and Economic Nationalism

A Personal Credo, Part III

In my two previous posts, I argued that Epicurean ethical theory and Lockean political theory are the most useful guides to ethics and politics in a universe that scientific discovery has emptied of magic and divinity. I’ll conclude this personal credo by explaining why I think that economic nationalism, in the tradition of Friedrich List, is the tradition of political economy most compatible with the republican liberalism of John Locke.

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John Locke and Republican Liberty

A Personal Credo, Part II

See Part I here.

By explaining everything in nature, including the evolution of humans and consciousness, as the result ultimately of impersonal forces working on atoms, materialists like Democritus and Epicurus swept away all moral and political systems justified by appeal to the commandments of supernatural beings. Although he had much to say about ethics in the world that science has revealed, Epicurus had little to say about politics, other than defining justice as agreements about people neither to harm one another nor do harm.

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Epicurean Ethics in a World Without Magic

A Personal Credo, Part I

T. S. Eliot described himself as "classicist in literature, monarchist in politics and Anglo-Catholic in religion." Daniel Bell said that he was a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics and a conservative in culture. For what it is worth, I would describe myself as an Epicurean in ethics, a Lockean in politics, and a Listian in economics.

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Where New Ideas Are Born

“The old is dying and the new cannot be born:  in the interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms will appear,” wrote the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.  “Morbid symptoms” is an apt description of the state of politics and public philosophy, at this crisis in American and world history.

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About Michael Lind

Michael Lind is the Policy Director of the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., editor of New American Contract and its blog Value Added, and a columnist for Salon magazine. He is also the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States. Lind was a guest lecturer at Harvard Law School and has taught at Johns Hopkins and Virginia Tech. He has been an editor or staff writer at the New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, the New Republic and the National Interest. Lind has published a number of books on US history, political economy, foreign policy and politics as well as fiction, poetry and children’s literature.

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