Wednesday Night #1350 – with Peter G. Brown

16 January 2008
We have a special treat for all those interested in a triple-e topic: ethics, the environment and economics, which may at first glance appear to be an odd troika.
This package comes in the form of our friend and Wednesday-Nighter, Professor Peter G. Brown, author of THE COMMONWEALTH OF LIFE Economics For a Flourishing Earth, which has been described as “A pioneering work in ethics and economics for the new global era raising all the hard questions…and proposing a radically new way of thinking about how the global community should function”. Peter’s style has been described as ‘robust’ and his theses ‘controversial and challenging’. “Particularly critical of the growth model of mainstream economics … and the ‘morality of states’ approach to international relations, … he develops a theory of stewardship economics which takes proper account of the ‘commonwealth of life,’ and a theory of trusteeship and transparent sovereignty in which the role of governments is to protect the basic rights of all, including those falling outside their respective political communities.
In an unusual Wednesday Night scenario, Peter will be interviewed by writer Alex Shoumatoff about this political and economic model for a new world order that would put the stewardship of our planet first. Questions from the Audience will be encouraged by Wednesday Night’s own Charles Gibson aka David Nicholson.
It seems to us that both the format and the topic are timely in light of political and geopolitical events in the U.S. and elsewhere.
And we shall not neglect events elsewhere.
The U.S. presidential primaries continue to fascinate (we read that Europeans are watching with interest and we know that the British media are following avidly); and the more unpredictable, the more we shall watch and attempt to record the better informed (or more outrageous) commentaries – see “U.S. primaries 2008”.
While few of us are hazarding guesses as to outcomes, one early Wednesday Night punter hypothesizes: “If McCain can derail Huckabee in N.H. and Obama continues to win, McCain (fatherly, presidential looking) might take it. If it turns out to be Clinton vs. McCain after all, I would bet on Clinton. My most likely scenario is still Obama vs. Huckabee.”
We welcome counter offers and meanwhile will at least have the results of the partial Michigan poll to dissect this week.( Michigan has been hard-hit by the country’s economic woes and at 14%, Detroit’s unemployment exceeds the national average, with at least a third of local people living below the poverty line.)
Does anyone else find that President Bush’s trip to the Middle East is being highly under-reported? The wire services tell us that he made a keynote speech in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, warning Gulf Arab allies of the threat from Iran and calling for their support of Washington’s policy goals in the Middle East. We note that he referred to Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, then flew off to see his friends in Saudi.
[(The Economist) GEORGE BUSH rounds off a week-long trip around the Middle East with a visit to Dubai and Saudi Arabia before ending up in Egypt on Wednesday January 16th. Mr Bush has used his first trip to Israel and the West Bank during his time as American president to push for a peace treaty. Critics suggest is far too little, far too late.]
The situation (or at least the leaders) in Kenya continue(s) to defy quick solutions. And on top of other problems, the World Bank seems to be implicated in having contributed to the instability. The African Union president having failed to get anything accomplished, has called on Kofi Annan to intercede. We are following the situation closely and welcome additional information or analyses.
Pakistan is menacingly quiet, despite Musharraf’s refusal of a UN probe into the death of Benazir Bhutto.
And what of this week’s talks between Indian PM Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao – as ties increase on issues like energy security and climate change, and trade is growing [although India is unhappy that the balance is increasingly skewed in China’s favour, and China complains of barriers to direct investment], it seems unlikely that there will be any resolution to the border dispute over Indian lands China claims belong to Tibet.
[Update: Jan 15 China, India strengthen ties on trade, UN
China and India, bickering neighbors for decades, said they will enter a new era of cooperation as their respective prime ministers signed a “vision statement” for closer ties on matters including trade and the United Nations. The plan includes developing a regional “high quality” trade agreement, China backing India’s efforts to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and India endorsing the “one China” doctrine that sees Taiwan as part of that country. More on Bloomberg]
The outlook for the U.S. economy looks worse and worse. Poor Ben Benanke saying “The outlook for real activity in 2008 has worsened,” has presented a bleak picture of a deteriorating national economy, suggesting that the Fed would cut interest rates soon, perhaps by a large amount. If Alan Greenspan were still Chairman, we wouldn’t have understood his announcement and therefore might not feel so uneasy.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg suggests that “China is starting to gain control of its turbocharged economy, just as a U.S. slowdown raises the risks of doing so.
A narrowing trade surplus and declining money-supply growth are among the first signs that the world’s fourth-largest economy is pulling back from its fastest expansion in 13 years. The government has raised interest rates six times in a year, restricted credit, frozen some prices and let the currency appreciate to damp growth and inflation.
The risk is that, with months of effort to cool off China finally taking hold when the U.S. is already flirting with recession, both main engines driving the global economy may power down at the same time.”
India and China bring us to last week’s hot topic (will be posted shortly) of emerging markets , which we will likely revisit this week and many more times.
The rest of the world does seem more exciting than Canada , which in many respects makes us very fortunate. The only national topics we can suggest are the proposed Mulroney-Schreiber inquiry and the not-very-productive gathering of the premiers at 24 Sussex last Friday. RCI reports that “the premiers of Ontario and Quebec said they got nowhere with Mr. Harper on proposals to help struggling manufacturers. Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty said Mr. Harper was cold to ideas for employment insurance reform and targeted business investment. In a statement following the meeting, Mr. Harper touted his $1-billion job retraining program announced Thursday, but offered no new ideas for propping up the economy as the country faces a potential downturn.”
We should, however, be paying attention to the rumored sale of AECL and the announced sale of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.’s satellite and space businesses.
There is indeed much to think about, especially if we do so in the light of ethics, environment and the economy!

The Report (Photos)

The Report (Photos and more)

The hydra-headed topic of the economy, environment and ethics attracted an SRO and highly diverse group that included a number of new faces including Melissa Holland, Professional Clown and Program Director of Dr. Clown; Huguette Allard, formerly of IATA and now a consultant in fund-raising and management issues; Nicolas Bertrand, Business & Biodiversity Officer of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with his wife, Cherryl André de la Porte who recently completed her Doctorate in water resource management; Kathy Fazel, Vice President of Phillips, Hager & North. Returning after a long absence were Sandra Meehan from the CBD’s Implementation and Technical Support division and her husband Dr. Ashraf Ismail of McGill’s Food Science Department and the supervisor of the Infrared spectrometry project whose interests relate to Biosafety.

“Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” Genesis 1:28

In viewing the rather frightening, current snapshot of the only known spot in the universe where life exists, whether the Bible is viewed as immutable truth or beautiful literature, Man’s stewardship of the earth has proven to be self-serving and in the longer term, self-destructive. Whether it be the fish in the sea, the fowl in the air or fellow creatures on earth, none has developed Man’s skill at acquiring physical wealth in the current generation at the risk of leaving a barren, lifeless planet as a heritage. It is becoming increasingly accepted as factual that Nature’s climate cycles are being affected by Man’s abuse of the planet.
All life on earth is dependent on energy, the sole source of that energy being the sun’s rays, absorbed and transformed into usable energy on Earth by plant life, as well as the legacy of reserves of latent energy in such forms as petroleum and coal. In the final analysis, this system remains the sole source of all life and wealth. Unfortunately, despite the work carried out by Schweitzer and Leopold, there is no ethical framework within which to work in order to get ourselves out of the problems that we have created.
It is well to remember that the word “economy” comes from the Greek for “one who manages a household”; derivations had not only the sense “management of a household or family” but also senses such as “thrift”, “direction”, “administration”, “arrangement”, senses that are singularly lacking in terms of management of our environment.
The maintenance of Earth’s ecosystem is not compatible with our economic system. We are or overrunning the earth systems, causing desertification, rising of sea levels (80 vertical meters over several centuries) due to melting of land ice, depletion of carbon reserves, especially petroleum, and the elimination of animal species.
As is currently evident in Canada, it is possible for income to rise as wealth declines (as we export our natural resources). There is a battle between human ethics and unbridled human greed, the latter appearing to be the current winner. What is required in the economy is that social and economic stability, be subordinate to the availability of resources.
In the 1930s Keynes sought to level out the economy in order to diminish the number of unemployed males and smooth the business cycle. Following World War II emphasis was placed on continuous growth, reasoning that the economy should stabilize social and economic activity of the ever-increasing population, however this is increasingly to the detriment of our natural resources as we refuse to plan to live within the envelope. We must not continue attempts to solve problems of poverty by economic growth and inequitable distribution of wealth.
Population size might possibly be attenuated by the disastrous effects of the anticipated higher water levels due to global warming and melting of land ice, but could be more effectively and humanely attained by improving education and wealth in the poorer populations of the world.
It is not necessary to return to a pre-agricultural revolution lifestyle to reduce the pressure on the system and maintain Earth’s balance. There are three variables that can give a framework for figuring out how we can survive prosperously, without pushing the envelope, and harmoniously with other life forms: the number of people, the richness of the people and the technology used.
Such proposals as collecting energy on the moon to be transmitted by microwave to Earth, or populating other planets are not feasible with today’s technology and will not be so for some time.
We currently emphasize the lowering of carbon emissions as a solution, – an important step, but just one part of the solution to the problem. A number of scientists believe that there is both a natural cyclical and an anthropogenic component to global warming. But in any event, limiting carbon emissions is only one part of the picture; we must address overfishing, forest and water management, the explosion of the populations of the cities.
Consumption due to increasing world population is certainly a factor in environmental deterioration. However, individual efforts to cut back on their at times considerable impact (see Alex Shoumatoff’s “An Ecosystem of one’s own”) although somewhat helpful, cannot possibly replace public policy, enforced by global governance. The Russian communist experiment of a planned economy proved to be a dismal failure. World government on the model of the European Union looks promising but remains only a distant dream. Certainly the U.N. has proven incapable of managing current world problems. This will require new institutions to introduce and enforce global guidelines. And there is reason to be hopeful regarding the innovative thinking about what form these institutions might take. For example: the form of trusteeship proposed for climate stabilization by Peter Barnes in his provocative book Capitalism 3.0
What this requires is a change in attitude on the part of the entire population of the planet – how can one accomplish this?
No growth is against human nature
Economics has traditionally been based on the Divine Right to Exploit
Funds for teaching environment science/natural history in the schools are being cut. If our children don’t know about the environment, how can we expect them to protect it?

The Economy
There is a difference in reaction to the generally unanticipated sharp drop in the stock marked following the financial difficulties in the banking sector , largely due to the foreseeable collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market. There is no doubt that the recovery will be a long process and that it was this collapse that led to the rapid decline in the stock market indexes. The majority of Wednesday Night mavens viewed this event as a six-to-nine-month opportunity for cherry-picking, acquiring shares of currently undervalued, solid enterprises. As we read daily of bailouts of banks and financial institutions by foreign interests, one credible expert expressed the view that the effects of the derivatives problem have yet to hit and that banks facing financial difficulty tend to act defensively by conserving their capital, making loans more difficult to obtain, thereby causing recovery to be a long, painful process. Until and unless banks return to their original business, investors should be very shy.
It is anticipated that during the current year the emerging markets will again outperform the developed markets. While North American economies will grow at about 1 – 1.5%, developing economies will grow at slightly above 6%; their populations are young and this is why infrastructure is being developed and consumption is rising.

Peter’s book is a book of humanism. It’s about people, not about profits. It’s about ethics, not about ecology. In this politically correct time, those in public office will not speak that truth to power and to vested interests. Too much money is concentrated in too few hands … our main ecosystem is being destroyed and the species that is being hurt most is the hungry child — and none of that is necessary.
It is sad that the public debate has moved so very far away from an understanding of very serious problems of overpopulation, of lack of technology being sent to the Third World to solve the very problems we have created.

2 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1350 – with Peter G. Brown"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson January 17, 2008 at 12:58 pm ·

    Bush In Kuwait Blasts Iran, Kuwait Blasts Blast
    As President Bush concluded his Middle Eastern voyage with a short stay in Kuwait, he used the occasion to make another of his continual claims that Iran is “the world’s leading state supporter of terrorism.” His Kuwait hosts were polite and may even have nodded a head to give the president some encouragement they actually listened carefully to his words. But, within days of Bush’s departure, Kuwait’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed, visited Iran where he made it clear to the world, “My country knows who is our friend, and who is our enemy and Iran is our friend.” He is currently working with Iranian diplomats to resolve several issues between the two nations related to the continental shelf boundary.
    One can only wonder if George Bush pays any attention to people when he visits another country. Didn’t anyone on his staff alert the president to the fact his hosts had favorable relations with Iran? Did he discuss with Kuwait officials the gist of his tirade against Iran prior to making the speech? Does George Bush have any grasp on what other nations think about issues of concern to him? Just asking a few questions. The Impudent Observer

  2. Diana Thébaud Nicholson January 17, 2008 at 7:56 pm ·

    What a great event. The exchange I loved the best was: well not to worry we will just move on to another planet! Not to mention that: 1) we don’t know if there is one; 2) if there is one it is not near by; 3) even at the speed of light it would take perhaps millions of years to get there; 4) we don’t know how to propel something to that speed; and 5) the energy required would be immense — and if done on earth extremely polluting. And by the way who is WE? I assume upper middle class people from Westmount—obviously a couple.

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