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Climate Change and the Social Contract

Summary:
Marcellus Andrews I am sorry to say that I am about to confirm my marginal status in the economics profession by digging into a most unpleasant aspect of the already far too scary matter of climate change. I am going to consider why climate change will inevitably shred the contemporary American social contract – that evolving mix of markets and violence that creates knowledge and wealth, billionaires and prisoners, opportunity and social death in ways that fascinate and horrify the rest of humanity. I want to explain why climate change will force the United States, and every other market society, to abandon the practice of creating disposable classes of persons whose primary function is to serve as blood and bone buffers who absorb the risks of life at the cost of their bodies and

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Marcellus Andrews

I am sorry to say that I am about to confirm my marginal status in the economics profession by digging into a most unpleasant aspect of the already far too scary matter of climate change. I am going to consider why climate change will inevitably shred the contemporary American social contract – that evolving mix of markets and violence that creates knowledge and wealth, billionaires and prisoners, opportunity and social death in ways that fascinate and horrify the rest of humanity. I want to explain why climate change will force the United States, and every other market society, to abandon the practice of creating disposable classes of persons whose primary function is to serve as blood and bone buffers who absorb the risks of life at the cost of their bodies and souls. I am suggesting that the market fundamentalism of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, the inspirational twin intellectual dynamos of the profession for the past three decades or more, will soon slip into oblivion because climate change will push all of us to understand that unlimited capitalism is, in the end, inextricably connected to the disposability of human beings.

First, climate change destroys market fundamentalism by showing why market based inequalities necessarily lead to hierarchies of pleasure and suffering where the well-off regularly sacrifice the well-being and lives of the poor and vulnerable. Second, climate change poses such severe collective risks to societies that polities must explicitly choose whether to reorient national and local economic policy in ways that share these risks in an egalitarian manner or to deliberately shift these risks to the bottom of society, even at the cost of escalating the degree low-intensity civil conflict by broadening the American race/poverty/prison complex beyond the hard black/white color boundary.   read more

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