A plea to the profession of Ecological Economics

[This is a post that I wrote to an email list that is subscribed to by those interested in the field of Ecological Economics. This field has personally inspired me to return to teaching economics — but only environmental economics, because it represents a crack in the door to let the message of Ecological Economics get through to our existing institutions — which sorely need to hear its message.]

Thank you Mr John Veitch.

Your reply is, to my mind, what this email list is for: to inform and educate each other, and I appreciate this quick sketch of the milestones in the background thinking that underlies modern thinking in ecological economics.

While I don’t wish to discourage easy camaraderie among its subscribers, the more I see uninformative posts that simply take up cycles of my time, the less inclined am I to take this list seriously; but I see Mr Veitch’s post as an opening for a plea that I have been wanting to post to this list for some time.

I am just a beginner in the field of ecological economics myself, and much appreciate these kind of sincere efforts to challenge each other to stimulate new and original thought, which I genuinely believe are needed — especially within the emerging profession of ecological economics. My (quick) background is that I am going into teaching environmental economics at a local community college in Colorado (frontrange.edu) for my fifth semester. I attempted to introduce a course in Ecological Economics there, but have given up, due to lack of support within my department; otherwise, I earn a living primarily as a database programmer in an academic research center (at CU Boulder).

Given the dark clouds on the horizon, I believe the small band represented by ecological economists has a certain list of duties to perform (and here I will reveal my own activist bent): (1) to develop the new ideas and empirical studies with ecological economics to mature its stature as a scientific field of knowledge to be taken seriously, (2) to challenge the existing economics profession to fully embrace ecological economics for its advancement of the overall field of economics and accept that reality, (3) to thoroughly reexamine old ideas (particularly the prominent examples among classical economists who long ago challenged the premises of basing an economy on unlimited growth or materialism) so that we can point out to the ‘old regime’ where they have ‘gone wrong’ but were warned earlier, and (4) develop new bridges of thought between mainstream economics and mainstream ecology (a truly new area of investigation).

The further challenge will be to (5) communicate this to the public and to the policymakers. In these charged political times, I do not expect this to be a high priority for the field; but perhaps there are those among us, young and indomitable, who would wish to take on that duty. For myself, at age 57, I am focusing on my own professional development as an ecological economist, at my level, and working on other political change.

In these pressing times, when we, as economists, can perceive a bit more into the future and know what lies ahead, while uncertain in its exact dimensions and form, portends certain harm unless action is taken, dictates a certain moral responsibility. I much admire figures such as Paul Hawken and Bill McKibbon who are some of the more leading moral figures in our times, who attempt to point out the need to change our economic ways.

I look forward with interest, and expect to learn, from others’ replies.

Respectfully submitted,

Rick Casey

Boulder, CO

[Below is Mr Veitch’s original message….to give my reply some context….]

The new economics has to deal with these facts. (Which I listed with links in a previous post.)

Keynes had no idea what long term damage his theory would create. We do have that knowledge.

Our New Knowledge

In the 1970’s Nicholas Georgescu-Roegan, demonstrated that an economy didn’t depend on money at all. All economic processes involve a transfer of energy. Whatever we do, we take some high quality energy and we dissipate it into the environment. There are real limits to economic practices, that are determined by the rules of physics, not the rules of the market place.

In 1972 Dennis Meadows and associates published Limits to Growth. This book was widely ridiculed at the time, but it’s proven to be a remarkably good guide to what’s happened in the last 40 years. Meadows understood nothing about climate change, but he did anticipate peak oil, and shortages of water.

In 1992, with Agenda 21, the nations of the world agreed to save the biodiversity of the world and to take active steps to protect the environment. But since then little has been done. In the USA, attacks on the principles of Agenda 21 (more American irrational madness), were widely supported.

In 1980 the Brandt Commission reported that there were serious problems the world needed to address. Four areas: Environment, justice, economics and social conflict.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has now produced four reports. The bad news is that the way we have developed our economies is destroying the planet’s climate system. We MUST, reduce and where possible STOP our use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. No effective action so far.

The Stockholm Resilience Centre has identified nine planetary boundaries that are likely to have tipping points that when crossed could have devastating consequences for the Earth. They believe that we have already crossed three of those.

We now have a problem called jobless growth. In modern economies, new businesses employ very few people. This is particualrly evident in high unemployment for young people.

Keynes and Hayek knew nothing about any of the new knowledge above. Keynes and Hayek produced an economic proposal for the 20th Century, and those ideas served us well. But like Keynes and Hayek, themselves, those ideas are now inappropriate (dead). Why are we still debating those principles? Here’s James Gustave Speth’s proposal for Eight Necessary Transitions, to solve our 21st Century problems.

Here’s the brutal truth. No modern economy can employ all it’s people. Gross Domestic Product, is a poor measure of economic performance and the pursuit of GDP, is the prime cause of climate change and environmental destruction. We cannot solve 21st Century problems with 20th Century economic principles. We don’t need to be trapped in the past. That’s a choice we make.

Regarding the referendum on corporate personhood

[This is an email I wrote to the Boulder City Council on July 12, explaining to them why I hope they will vote in favor of putting a referendum on corporate personhood on Boulder’s fall ballot.]

Dear Mrs. Osborne, Mrs. Becker, Ms. Ageton, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Applebaum,

I am writing you all to voice my support for the referendum on corporate personhood, as I have not seen that you have taken a public stand on the issue. Perhaps you are waiting to hear from the public before making up your mind; I hope this email will help you to realize what broad public support I believe this measure will have.

I’d like to believe I possess some qualifications and credentials to address this issue. I am the primary organizer for the Boulder chapter of Move To Amend (see our website here) I’ve been following socio-economic and environmental problems all of my adult life. In college, I was inspired by the teachings of Buckminster Fuller, attending his last World Game Workshop at the University of Pennsylvania in the summer of 1975. This ironically foreshadowed my later attending graduate school there, graduating with a master’s in Regional Science in 1981. This is a specialized field of economics, focused on the location of economic activity, and with providing policy makers with analytical tools to solve practical economic problems. Problem solving, then, has always been my bent; and undoing corporate power in our political process will be a tough nut to crack.

Most of my professional career has been spent as an analyst of some type, first in economics, then later in programming, solving analytical problems for companies or institutions. I tried teaching micro and macro economics at Front Range Community College (FRCC) from 1988 to 1992, but gave it up because I had become cynical over the direction of global economic change, and the power of the global corporate state; so I gave up on economics, and became a self-taught programmer. Since 1999, I have worked at two different research centers at CU Boulder, first at the Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems (CADSWES), and currently at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics (IBG). The academic environment agrees with me. Along the way, I earned a second masters in telecommunitions at CU Boulder, while working part-time, graduating in 2002.

However, I returned to teaching economics part-time at FRCC in 2009 (and still teach there); but only environmental economics. I am as deeply concerned over the environmental impact that our economy is having on the world, as I am distressed over its overtly unfair treatment of individuals, communities and the disadvantaged. But I was inspired to return to teaching environmental economics because I had learned about ecological economics, which is an entirely different beast. If you are not aware of this field, I highly recommend it to your attention; I am convinced it deserves to become the economics of the 21st century, as it has answers for the tough environmental and social problems that the neo-classical paradigm has created, and will only make worse, if this new paradigm is not allowed to displace it.

I am doing my best to try and advance this new paradigm. It’s foremost lesson is that basing economic policy purely on unlimited growth is insane; worse than insane, it is environmental suicide. I’m sure you are aware of this, and of the host of lucid analyses of various researchers about the dangers of the economics of business-as-usual, such as David Korten, Paul Hawken, Riane Eisler, and Annie Leonard, among many others.

And if there is one thing all these authors agree on is that the most prominent, common and overbearing theme of these web of intertwined problems is the role that corporate power plays behind the scenes in creating them. Of all these authors, I most recommend David Korten’s book, The Great Turning, not only for its brilliant and penetrating analysis of the history of the corporate model and the devastating aspects of its influence on society, but because Korten offers real suggestions for real solutions. And the conclusion of all this research points to a common culprit: the domination of our political and financial system by Wall Street, multinational corporations and the aristocratic, disdainful, attitude of the super-rich.

But how will we, the people, ever hope to begin to change this situation? It cannot be done at the national level, not with the vast resources of the controlling powers that be. Change will have to come from below; it is useless to think that change will come from above. And change will come — this is inevitable. But will come by design or by default? If by default, as a result of the unsustainable path that the corporations are attempting to force us, I think we’ll agree the danger in that path, which is leading us over the looming cliff of global climate change and the final phase of peak oil.

Or will we attempt to have change by design? By taking a stand for positive change, for rational change, for change that calls out for humanity to regain its common sense, and its heart? We must take that stand — and Boulder has a real opportunity to help in boosting this awareness, and giving others real hope for real change, by taking this stand.

When I learned about the actual legal origins of corporate personhood, which is lucidly laid out in Thom Hartmann’s Unequal Protection, I was outraged. Corporate personhood has only been established by court precedent, by corporate lawyers (or by Supreme Court clerks, spinning the headnotes) pushing the limits, little by little, bit by bit, over the past 125 years, culminating in the Kafkaesque logic of the SCOTUS’s Citizen’s United ruling. The American revolution was fought, to a large degree, to resist corporate domination and control of our economy. It is now time to take up this fight again, as corporate control is not only ruling our economy, dominating our judiciary and legislatures, it is destroying the very environment in which we all live, besides poisoning our environmental resources, our bodies and the food we eat.

And the beginning of that fight needs to be an amendment to the United States Constitution which states, once and for all, that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights, and that money is not free speech. Similar resolutions passed in Madison, WI this April by 84 per cent, and in Dane County by 78 per cent. This was a direct result of an intense campaign run there by Move To Amend starting the previous fall.

I do hope the Council will also take a stand on this issue, and let the community of Boulder vote on this as well.

Rick Casey
Lafayette, CO

Corporate Personhood: It’s False History

[The following is a Letter To The Editor that I sent to the Daily Camera, Boulder Weekly and the Denver Post on June 21, 2011.]
Since the Boulder City Council may be deciding at their July 19 meeting on a fall ballot resolution about the issue of corporate personhood, I thought the community would be interested to learn more about the
origins of this legal fiction, and its bearing on current politics.

Corporate personhood is the claim by corporations that they have constitutional rights equal to Americans. This legal fiction was established only by court precedent since the post-Civil War era. “Corporation” is not mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, nor has “corporate personhood” been voted on by any legislative body, anytime, anywhere.

So how did it start? After the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868 to grant citizenship to all persons born in the United States, lawyers for the railroads (the biggest corporations then) crafted a brilliant scheme: could they claim rights as “corporate persons” under this law, and thereby escape laws seeking to restrain them? The result: between 1886 and 1910, there were 307 Supreme Court cases involving this amendment. Of these, 19 involved black men seeking to protect their rights; the other 288 were corporations seeking to expand their “rights” as “legal persons.” (from Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann, page 105).

This began 125 years of steady expansion of the rights of “corporate persons” — solely through court precedent — culminating in the disastrous 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United,
saying money is equivalent to speech, and allowing corporations to spend unlimited money in politics. This is a clear and present danger to our democracy. It must be reversed. I hope the City Council will put
a resolution on the fall ballot to allow Boulder citizens to vote on it.

Rick Casey

A Success in Fighting Wall Street

Gretchen Morgenson is a business columnist for the New York Times. I enjoy reading her articles in the Sunday Business section for their relentless focus on the criminal activities conducted by Wall Street — criminal in the moral sense, as they are usually legally defensible.

But that’s changing: in last week’s article (April 24, 2011), titled A Crack in Wall Street’s Defenses, describes how two investors (who are neighbors in Aspen) successfully battled Smith Barney (a Citigroup subsidiary) and were recently awarded $54 million in a securities arbitration case, $17 million of which was for punitive damages. This was decided by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (or FINRA), an industry sponsored self-regulatory board that is approved by the SEC.
These investors were told that a complex arbitrage portfolio involving municipal bonds would provide above average returns between 2002 and 2007. In reality, it was providing Smith Barney guaranteed profits at investors’ expense. I’ll spare you the details; it’s a story we all know too well…don’t we?
But the award is highly unusual, Ms. Morgenson notes, because the usual lame excuses (um, excuse me, I meant to say ‘usual defenses’) which Wall Street typically hides behind did not work this time, namely:
1. We didn’t blow up your portfolio, the financial crisis did.
2. If you’re wealthy and sophisticated, you should have understood the risks.
3. The prospectus warned that you could lose your shirt, so don’t come crying to us if you do.
I found this highly encouraging; and if Ms. Morgenson is putting into her Sunday Times column, you can be sure she thought so as well.
I also found the final comment by the principle investor, Gerald Hosier, pretty telling as well: “Instead of the financial world being the lubricant for business, they are out there manufacturing products with no utility whatsoever except for generating fees. Somebody’s got to do something about Wall Street. It is destroying the country.”
Join the club, Mr. Hosier; this is what David Korten has been telling us for years now. We need to mobilize as a society, take back our economy from the Wall Street by reregulating that self-serving and criminally damaging industry, and make it start serving Main Street again!

Intel’s tax holiday is a sheep in wolf’s clothing

[This is a comment I had to make at NPR on March 15, 2011 after hearing a disgustingly self-serving interview with the CEO of Intel, Paul Otellini, by a sycophantic NPR reporter. When I made my comment right after I heard it, there were about five posts; when I returned to npr.org about 11pm tonight to post this to my blog, there were 39 comments — all of them slamming the falsehood and hypocrisy of the statements by Otellini. It was heartening to see there are a lot of other pissed off Americans out there who are tuned into the economic class warfare going on in our country — and that they’re not afraid to let NPR know about it!]

While I enjoyed most of what Mr Otellini had to say about creating more jobs in America, his remarks about how a ‘tax holiday’ would help create jobs tipped his hand as a wolf in sheep’s clothing — which I wish the NPR reporter would have pursued.
“A tax holiday costs us nothing!”, Mr Otellini asserts; this is wrong. I teach economics, and know full well the disingenuousness of that statement. This is the typical comeon of so many corporations that beg for tax relief, promise much, and deliver little, often pulling up stakes well before the length of time they promised to stay in a community is up; there are many, many examples of this, and it has only become worse as globalization has increased over the years. If Intel truly wants to create jobs in the US, then why don’t they invest in the US as they’ve done in Vietnam over the past five years, where they’ve invested millions in not only their own factories, but even in schools in those communities. Why? Not out of the goodness of their hearts, to be sure, but because of the cheap labor Vietnam can provide — and, I would bet, a tax holiday! No, tax holidays are a race to the bottom, and communities should stop giving them!

In Support of Wisconsin

[This is a speech I gave on the steps of the Denver capital building on Saturday, February 26, 2011 to about 1,000 to 3,000 people (estimates varied) who had gathered in response to MoveOn’s call for a Saturday protest rally in support of the Wisconsin protests. I was the last of five speakers, and the crowd had been led in some group chants in between the speakers, so they were pretty primed by the time I spoke. At many points in my speech, I had to stop until the crowd’s yelling in support had quieted down. It was a brisk, sunny Colorado day, with the snow capped peaks of the Rockies in the distance to the west — it was a beautiful and inspiring event!]
In Support of Wisconsin by Rick Casey February 26, 2011

Hello to all you protesters out there standing in support of Wisconsin! It’s a great day here in Colorado to be taking a stand for democracy, isn’t it?
I want to say a few words today in support of all those brave people in Wisconsin that are also taking a stand for democracy.
I want to stand in solidarity with them to take a stand against the insane policies of the Republicans and the Tea Party.
I call their policies insane because what they do is the definition of insanity: they keep repeating the same action and expecting a different result. That’s exactly what Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and the Republicans in Washington, are doing: they want to do exactly what they did before, and they are telling us the same lies again: that their policies are good for us, and that if we just go along with their policies, that it will be better for us, and for the economy, in the end.
Well, my friends, I want to ask you: why is it, do you think, that Wisconsin…and Colorado…and New York…and California…and just about every other friggin’ state in our country is having a budget crisis? Why is it that Scott Walker had to even draft his “Budget Repair Bill” in the first place?
I’ll tell you why we’re having this crisis: because it was the insane policies of the Republicans that caused it! For eight years the Republican Party under George Bush got exactly what they wanted for economic policy. The REPUBLICANS passed the laws that made it easy for Wall Street to get exactly what they wanted. The REPUBLICANS enacted the policies that tore down the financial regulations that were created back in the 1930’s in the depths of the Great Depression, and gave us a stable financial sector for 50 years. It was the REPUBLICANS who told us during the housing boom just a few years ago that “everything was different now” and the “innovations” that Wall Street was coming up with was going to lead the way to global prosperity and everybody was going to get rich!
And look where those policies got us: the 2008 fincancial meltdown that brought the global economy teetering on the edge of collapse. And now America and Europe are both suffering the consequences.
I want to ask you: do you think unions are responsible for the recession that was caused by the 2008 global financial meltdown?
I want to ask you: do you think unions are responsible for the loss of millions — MILLIONS!! — of manufacturing jobs that have been outsourced from America for the last 30 years?
NO THEY’RE NOT!! It was the Republican Party and Wall Street and their failed economic policies that caused this financial crisis! It is THEIR fault, and we should not let them forget it!
It is the insane policies of the Republicans that have rewarded the rich and eroded the middle class over the last 30 years, that caused the housing crisis, and now these state budget crises. This began with the deregulations that started during the Reagan administration, and snowballed in the 90s, and reached a crescendo in the last decade, and has brought us to this present sorry state of affairs.
But does Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans have the integrity or the moral character to accept responsibility for their actions? No! They want to point the finger at unions, at teachers, at policemen and firefighters, at anyone or anything EXCEPT themselves. They act like they have no memory of how we got into this financial crisis. They want to tell the American people to let them take control, and just let them repeat their failed policies of the past. Are we going to let them do this to us — again? No, my fellow citizens, I say let us stand in definace against this insanity. Let us stand in solidarity with the proud people of Wisconsin, who have a long history of politcal action that supports their own people, and which had been a shining example of democracy — until now. I say NO WAY to Governor Scott Walker and the insane policies of the Republicans — and I hope you will too! Go Wisconsin!!