Monday, 15 September 2008

Economic Creationism



These things don't always lend themselves to pithy strips.
I'm getting increasingly alarmed, depressed and generally pissed off by the rise of creationism as some sort of "alternative science" that deserves to be considered by sensible people and even taught to our children. Perhaps we should consider teaching Erik von Daniken as well, or maybe Terry Pratchet. It's turtles all the way down, you know. I suppose it's not surprising - seeing as our entire economic system - and therefore our culture - is based on a fairytale that flies in the face of reason. Specifically - Why do we believe we can prize an infinite amount from a finite resource and grow our economies exponentially in perpetuity? Because we want to. Because it's easier to believe that than to face the realities of our situation and because it upsets people to think otherwise. So Bollocks to physics, biology and climatology. They're too difficult. Give us Super Heroes and Father Christmas. Give us cornucopia and abracadabra.
The fact that we persist in this doublethunk mindf*ck under our present economic management - with banks going tits-up left, right and centre - is a remarkable testament to our "faith"

The idea was to seamlessly plait these two threads into irrefutable comic gold. The evidence may point in another direction but, in the spirit of the age, I shall choose to believe I succeeded.


And finally...
Many thanks to Andrew Revkin for pointing readers of his (and the New York Times') DotEarth in our direction. Much appreciated

13 comments:

Save Kent! said...

Brilliant! You have captured the central insanity of our so-called 'real world' propagated by government and business.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious. You seem to be under the impression that economies can't grow exponentially in perpetuity. So I wonder:

a) Do you think economies can grow linearly in perpetuity?

b) Or do you think there is some numerical limit for world per-capita GDP that will be reached?

c) Approximately what is that GDP per capita limit (e.g., $10 thousand, $100 thousand, $1 million, $10 million)?

d) Approximately when do you expect this limit to be reached?

THROBGOBLINS INTERNATIONAL. said...

No, I don't believe economies can grow linearly in perpetuity, as he same restrictions on resource consumption exist as a base line. There are physical limits to what can be drawn from the environment, and economies are built from the manipulation of actual stuff. The idea that money can be played with indefinitely in order to pump up the financial volume has been discredited, hasn't it (Lehman brothers, etc?)

The notion that per capita GDP can describe this state of affairs makes no sense to me. The numbers are essentially arbitrary as any glance at inflationary history will tell you - and one nation's GDP is inevitably tied in to the unsustainable over exploitation of another's resources and bought at the expense of externalising costs and excluding huge demographics from markets (a glance at colonial history will show that.) The levelling of this playing field is at the heart of the crisis. We've got away with it for this long only because of our exploitative histories.
The question seems a peculiarly western one.

THROBGOBLINS INTERNATIONAL. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"No, I don't believe economies can grow linearly in perpetuity,..."

So you think there's some limit on world per-capita GDP.

Approximately what do you think that limit is?

Right now, world per-capita GDP (purchasing power parity, or PPP) is about $10,000, in year 2007 dollars.

What do you think the limit is, in year 2007 PPP dollars?

$10,000 (i.e., about where we are now)?

$100,000?

$1,000,000?

THROBGOBLINS INTERNATIONAL. said...

If you are seriously suggesting to me that $10,000 worth of inflation adjusted spending power is available to the average world citizen, or ever will be whilst the current disparities remain - then we really have nothing to say to each other. We clearly live on different planets governed by irreconcilable mathematical systems. There don't appear to be disnfranchised and oppressed millions on your planet. The kind of economic calculations you seem to favour are in the process of crashing the entire world economy because of precisely the sort of category errors that you seem to be making. Just because an accountant can put a figure on it does not mean that it exists! Harping on the same number question will not alter the fact that these figures can all be wiped out with the brief intrusion of reality.

markbahner said...

"If you are seriously suggesting to me that $10,000 worth of inflation adjusted spending power is available to the average world citizen, or ever will be whilst the current disparities remain - then we really have nothing to say to each other. We clearly live on different planets governed by irreconcilable mathematical systems. There don't appear to be disnfranchised and oppressed millions on your planet."

Oh, please! Spare me your arrogant, ignorant, and self-righteous drivel!

This is what I wrote:

"Right now, world per-capita GDP (purchasing power parity, or PPP) is about $10,000, in year 2007 dollars."

If you question the accuracy of that statement, you need only consult wonderful Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita

What does that webpage say about the world per-capita GDP (purchasing power parity)? Does it not say that the world per-capita GDP (PPP) is about $10,000, in year 2007 dollars?

“The kind of economic calculations you seem to favour are in the process of crashing the entire world economy because of precisely the sort of category errors that you seem to be making.”

Pish-posh. How would you like to put your money where your mouth is?

How would you like to bet any amount up to $100 that the world per-capita GDP in 2010 will be 5 percent lower than it was in 2007? I will even give you 2-to-1 odds. That is, if the world per-capita GDP in 2010 is 5 percent or more lower than in 2007, I’ll give you twice what you’d give me if the per-capita GDP is higher in 2010.

If you really think the world economy is “crashing,” you should be happy to make this bet.

I propose that we use the same Wikipedia webpage that I referenced above, and use the average of the World Bank and IMF values (i.e., neglect the CIA, since I’m sure you think they’re the devil incarnate). So for 2007, the value would be $9,980 (the average of 9,900 and 10,060). Let’s round up to $10,000 for simplicity. So the value in 2010 would have to be less than $9,500 for you to win.

Do we have a bet? Or do you admit you were just spouting nonsense? That “crashing” was simply a cartoonist’s caricature of the real world?

"Harping on the same number question will not alter the fact that these figures can all be wiped out with the brief intrusion of reality."

Oh, that's precious! It's hilarious how people like you love to pretend that *you* are the ones practicing science! But your actual statements and arguments reveal nothing more than historically ignorant, empty-headed mysticism.

You say that the figures can be “wiped out”. But what does that even mean? Do you mean that the figure will go down significantly (i.e., by 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent, or 50+ percent)? If you truly think that the figure will go down significantly in the future, I’m merely asking you to put forth the most modest bit of science, and make a falsifiable prediction of what the peak will be, and when it will occur.

Or do you instead mean that *your* reality can insist that the GDP figures don’t exist or have no meaning? In other words, that *your* reality trumps the reality that the rest of us experience?

THROBGOBLINS INTERNATIONAL. said...

Ok Mark. You've had a fair shout. If you're happy to accept the figures and projections of the World Bank - you go ahead. If you're happy with Wikipedia as a primary source, Fine. 2 years, 10 years, 20 years doth not perpetuity make.
You're a little obsessive aren't you. Good luck with that. Personally I'm a bit too busy to keep this argument going.
I won't be taking your bet because I'm not 12 years old and because figures can be made to say anything (which is no doubt your reasoning also, when it suits)
Make of that whatever you want. By all means please log it for future gloating should the opportunity arise. I know I would.
I've been as polite as I could reasonably be expected to be, and your personal abuse, though amusing, has marked your card.
Bye now.

Anonymous said...

“Ok Mark. You've had a fair shout. If you're happy to accept the figures and projections of the World Bank - you go ahead.”

No, Marc. If you are UNhappy with the figures of the World Bank and the IMF (and the CIA), YOU find some figures for world per capita GDP that you *do* agree with. That’s the way science works. One person thinks the truth is “A”, another thinks the truth is “B,” so they sift through evidence that supports and conflicts with their positions. I provided you with a website that shows 3 different estimates for world per-capita GDP (purchasing power parity). All of them were very close to $10,000. If you think the world per-capita GDP (purchasing power parity) is NOT close to $10,000, find a legitimate estimate, and show it to me.

“You're a little obsessive aren't you. Good luck with that. Personally I'm a bit too busy to keep this argument going.”

Yes, you’re too busy doing foolish cartoons that impress a lot of ignorant/prejudiced people, and then moving on. I’m interested in finding the truth. Finding the truth takes longer and requires more effort. One needs to be a bit "obsessive," in fact.

“I won't be taking your bet because I'm not 12 years old and because figures can be made to say anything (which is no doubt your reasoning also, when it suits)…”

No, you won’t be taking my bet because:

1) You’re dishonest. You know that that you would lose. (And note that I’m willing to go down to as small as a dollar, or even a penny. Because I’m not interested in your money. I simply want you to admit the truth.) You know that your statement that the world economy is “crashing” was a complete crock. But you don’t have the honesty to admit it. If you honestly believe the world economy is “crashing,” it should be no problem for you to bet a small amount of money that the world per-capita GDP will be 5 percent lower in 2010 than it was in 2007. (After all, that’s HARDLY a “crash”! A 5 percent drop in 3 years!) In fact, I’ll sweeten the offer: if I win, I’ll give all my winnings to the (Nobel Prize-winning) Grameen Bank, or the (Nobel Prize-winning) Doctors Without Borders. (Your choice.) So if you really care about reducing human suffering (as you insinuate), you should be happy to lose.

2) You’re ignorant and unscientific. (And dishonest. Did I mention that?) You say that, “figures can be made to say anything” simply because you don’t like all the figures you’ve been presented, and you know you couldn’t find any figures that you would like. So like a religious fanatic, you simply dismiss the evidence (the figures), because the evidence is inconvenient to your world view. (Look who’s the real “Creationist”!)

3) You’re hypocritical. You write, “…which is no doubt your reasoning also, when it suits…” because you presume that, simply because you’re dishonest, I must also be dishonest. You assume that because you disregard evidence when it doesn't support your position, that I must do the same.

“I've been as polite as I could reasonably be expected to be…”

Ho, ho, ho! Maybe you’ve been as polite as *you* expect yourself to be! But it’s hardly “polite” to ridicule people as engaging in “Economic Creationism,” simply because they say that economies can continue to grow. It’s ESPECIALLY impolite to ridicule them when your ridicule is dishonest, as yours is.

If you honestly believe that the world economy (per-capita GDP) can’t continue to grow, you should be willing to offer an estimate--at least a broad estimate, such as to within a factor of 10--of what you expect the limit to be. But you haven’t, because even you think the limit doesn’t exist.

And it’s also hardly polite to write things like:

“We clearly live on different planets governed by irreconcilable mathematical systems.”

Or: “There don't appear to be disnfranchised and oppressed millions on your planet.”

But you appear to have a different (i.e., lower) standard for yourself.

You write, “…and your personal abuse, though amusing, has marked your card.”

As Harry Truman used to say, “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” Or as is also good advice, “Don’t dish it out, if you can’t take it.” If you don’t want “personal abuse,” don’t write things like, “We clearly live on different planets governed by irreconcilable mathematical systems.” Or, “There don't appear to be disnfranchised and oppressed millions on your planet.”

THROBGOBLINS INTERNATIONAL. said...

Jeez, but your a persistent little fucker. Ok. I'll take your bet. Even if it does entirely miss the point of long term sustainability and the nature of financial bubbles. We'll split the difference and make it $50 (or equivalent). I have no doubt that over the short term you're obsessing about the money markets will rally and the rich will generate wealth (in various Damien Hirst type ways) for themselves and a few others. Government interventions previously verboten will pick up the slack in the medium term. The long term is quite another matter. But you don't seem too interested in that.
By the way - I don't know if you've noticed, but the basis of the topical cartoon genre is (precisely) to make a point and move on. It's humour. You should try it some time.
There are a thousand scientific, economic and NGO sites making this same point, so you must be a very busy man in your great selfless quest for truth.
I'll leave it to you to monitor the outcome, seeing you have such a lot of time on your hands.
Now fuck off.

Russ Nelson said...

But ... economies CAN grow exponentially in perpetuity. If you don't know that, then you don't know anything about economics. Value is relative. When two people trade, NOTHING is consumed, and yet both people are wealthier than before. Trade makes the economy grow. Manufacturing is what consumes resources.

THROBGOBLINS INTERNATIONAL. said...

Here we go again. Yes. It's all going swimmingly. The people whose knowledge of economics you prize so highly are right on the money, aren't they? Let's leave it all to them, shall we. They're doing so well. Smart as yeast.

Russ Nelson said...

You're confusing weather for the climate. If I said that it was hot today and that proves that the world is warming, you would rightly call me an idiot. When you say that our government's economic policies have caused a short setback, and thus all economics is crap, I have to call you an idiot. One data point does not a series make. It's an anti-scientific idea ... I call it "economic creationism" ... the idea that economies are created (by government regulation) rather than evolved (by customer activities).