'Budget for growth'? Wot budget for growth?

When George Osborne and I briefly had children at the same inner London primary school, I used to harangue him every morning over the limp-wristed uselessness of his faux-Tory party.

“Just you wait till we get into power,” Osborne used to reply to me, eyes agleam. “Then you’ll see what real Conservatives we are!”

I’m still waiting. Sorry to disagree with Lord Tebbit on this but I really don’t see how the Chancellor’s bold decision to remove 50p from the (still-rising) price of a tank of petrol (by stealing £2 billion from oil company shareholders), give very small businesses a brief holiday from the insane equality legislation (but not EU legislation) which in opposition the Tories were too cowardly to oppose, and driving up the cost of energy through carbon taxes in any way represents a “budget…

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18 thoughts on “'Budget for growth'? Wot budget for growth?”

  1. Osborne’s pathetic efforts are of course probably a reflection not on his weakness but on the inertia of Whitehall bureaucratic procrastination. I assume that his civil servants are “helping” him to do nothing, spinning up this nothingness as a great budget (in the way the spivs sold the Emperor his great New Clothes, leading him to parade them proudly before the crowd).

    See The Economy Drive (Yes Minister, 1980: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgSmUGnNiqQ ) where the civil service secretly takes on 400 new civil servants in order to organize an economy drive, another fact based tale largely based on the experience of Wilson’s political secretary, Marcia. What the Tory-Lib Dem coalition is now achieving is the worst of all possible worlds: no significant savings, loads of resentment! It’s feeding fuel to Ed Milliband and his Union croonies.

    You can bet that Osborne is being severely restricted by the civil services, in a devious non-transparent way. Also, while Whitehall is cutting back, the EUSSR is squandering ever more money, and we’re the ones paying billions for it, even after rebate. I can’t understand why Cameron defended the EUSSR from a British referendum by saying that it wasn’t in the British “national interest”. We have a massive trade deficit with other EUSSR countries, so in a trade war they’d lose and we’d win. If we pull out and then ban imports of our goods (as Cameron fears), we could ban imports of German engineering and French agriculture. Since we’re the ones with the trade deficit, they would be hit harder. We could go on trading with other non-EUSSR countries, the USA, Canada, the Far East, etc.

    Seeing that the EUSSR dictatorship is exactly the oppression of European Integration we fought to prevent in both World Wars (which were fought to preserve freedom and independence, things then valued), and also deterred in the Cold War at great cost (Polaris and Trident), it’s sickening that we’re actually paying for the priviledge of being robbed and constitutionally mugged by these unelected Strasbourg thugs.

    There is a question how much money we’d save by pulling out of the EUSSR. But I think we must go one way or the other. If we’re going to surrender our liberty, let’s burn our currency and take on the Euro, so we have a common currency instead of having to pay commissions to change money and having that currency exchange factor affect business make business more expensive and complex. Also, the EUSSR recently opened 137 new embassies worldwide. Why all this duplication between Whitehall’s Foreign Office and our EUSSR’s embassies? Why not save money and tell British subjects to deal with EUSSR embassies overseas? Closing the Foreign Office would really save a lot of money. We have the worst of all possible situations right now.

    Britain has more in common in terms of defending liberty, freedom, democracy, and the English Language, with the USA than the EUSSR, so we should strive to become the 51st State, not a non-entity under the thumb of Strasbourg nutters and Brussels. Instead, we propping up failed banks like Northern Rock, which was offering sky high interest rates a decade ago, based on giving doling out mortages on the pie-in-the-sky assumption that it couldn’t lose in because house prices would go on rising. People who invest in most businesses accept they can lose money, and the government doesn’t bail them out in other industries.

    If the government wants to bail out banks using public money (unlike other businesses), it must nationalize the banks and drive away all bonus-seeking fat cats, and tell them to go abroad to some other country to make terrific profits by gambling other people’s money, not ours. If I wanted to gamble, I’d go to Las Vegas, not to a bank. The people at the top of banks should be down-to-earth civil servants, not private sector cowboys. Alternatively, if it doesn’t want to nationalize banks, it shouldn’t bail them out. Banks should not be permitted to have their cake and eat it.

    Lord Tebbit said on TV when the coalition formed that Cameron should have forced the Lib Dems and labour to make a coalition, and then attacked it from opposition until it collapsed, so he would then have got another general election and possibly an outright majority. The Lib Dem business secretary Dr Vince Cable knows more about business than Brown, but that’s hardly a big compliment. The only good thing about the Lib Dems is the name of their party. Lib Dems must have significantly more coercive influence in Cabinet than Cameron cares to admit publically, because the Lib Dems have the power to end their involvement in the coalition anytime they please, bringing down the government whenever they want.

    So, James, you should be wary of attacking your old school gate friend Osborne. He’s probably got his feet tied together by the civil service, his hands in cuffs behind his back by the Lib Dems, and a gag over his mouth by fellow Conservatives, preventing him from even daring to discuss really effective EUSSR-cost-cutting measures. Anyway, the state of the deficit inherited from Brown gives no power to this government. All they have is talk and spin, the debt is so big that we’re paying immense interest on it and can’t afford any nice budgets; they’re just going to preside over downward spiral and decay of Britain. Tebbit was right to argue they Cameron should have let Brown remain in his hole, digging deeper.

    It’s the old story that by trying to stop the crisis before it was clearly visible in terms of decay to everyone, Cameron was stepping into power at just the worst possible time possible. It’s like General Pershing’s correct 1918 forecast that an armistice before Germany was invaded was a mistake and would lead to another war in 20 years time. The soldiers returning home to Germany saw no destruction, no physical proof that they were defeated, other than by a “sellout” through their politicians. Similarly, all the public sector cutbacks are opposed by the trade union-backed party responsible for the mess, who deny that there really is a problem because they can’t see physically the deficit!

    Lord Tebbit’s argument against the coalition on TV was exactly the same as Pershing’s 1918 argument: it’s worth the price of allowing labour to completely destroy Britain, so that strong opposition could develop to fix it properly. Instead, the worst nightmare has become reality. Osborne and Cameron have taken on responsibility, without having power. I predict more strikes and media pressure on the Lib Dems via Labour spin doctors, until the Lib Dems withdraw from the coalition (which will happen I guess soon after the AV referendum, if union activist increases to escalate), bringing down the government.

  2. As I have said elsewhere, the Limits to Growth hypothesis of Meadows et al (1972, 1992, 2004) – and William Ophuls’ Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity (1977, 1992) have yet to be invalidated because, as Herman E Daly has pointed out, “the Earth may be developing but it is not growing!” (see my comment on the Wikipedia article on “Climate change alarmism “[Subsection “Economic alarmism“]).

    Furthermore, as John Dryzek has said, in response to the Promethean/Cornucopian critique, “The driver of an accelerating car about to hit a brick wall might well say ‘so far so good’ – but that does not mean that the wall is not there” (p.70 Dryzek, 2005).

    The real myth is that perpetual growth is the solution to all our problems. It cannot be the solution to anything; it is our ultimate problem… Therefore, what this country – nay the world – needs to get to grips with is Prosperity Without Growth.

  3. “Therefore, what this country – nay the world – needs to get to grips with is Prosperity Without Growth.”

    Didn’t they try that in the Soviet Block, where the state pretended to pay the workers, and the workers pretended to work.

  4. Martin: the world’s population is growing, so the idea of “Prosperity Without Growth” is just sophistry.

    We must face the facts, instead of concentrating on wishful-thinking which don’t apply to this actual universe we live in. Handing out “family planning” education and devices doesn’t actually help limit population growth abroad where people need large families to earn money in poorer nations, or here to collect maximum child benefit security. You won’t stop problems by “family planning education at ever younger ages to get the message across“. They all get the message, they don’t do what the message says.

  5. Jimmy/Nige – From even the most cursory of glances at “Prosperity without Growth” it would be ovbious that it is not just a piece of Optimum Population Trust propaganda (as you both appear to think). The Earth may well have enough mass-energy to feed 10 billion humans (as Cornucopians believe – according to Wikipedia) but…

    This fails to address the central conclusion of Meadows (et al.) and Ophuls, which was that the Earth is likely to run out of the “ability to cope“, as a result of:
    1. the ever-more expensive business of extracting diminishing reserves of natural resources from awkward places;
    2. “treating environmental capital as if it were income” – E.F. Schumacher (1973);
    3. overloading global pollution sinks with quantities of waste they cannot asimilate or process (e.g. atmospheric CO2) ; and
    4. dealing with the other problems associated with over-population (civil unrest caused by shortages/price rises of life’s essentials – such as that we are already witnessing).

    All of this is do-able but not if we continue to make excuses for the poverty trap in which Africa is stuck; rather than investing in actions that will help it solve its problems.

    You really need to pull your heads back up out of the sand – and that’s the polite way of putting it!

  6. Rich people don’t breed so well. Poor people breed well, but don’t survive so well.

    Your problem, Martin, is to convince the poor of the world, to not aspire to good health, so as to maintain their low survivability, in order to gratify your Malthusian utopia. Alternatively, to make everybody wealthy, without the aid of industry, so they become as childless as the average rich westerner, but without the resource ‘abuse’.

    Since we are all destined to die, I say that the only morally responsible choice to ‘dictate’, is that we optimise the life quality of the living, and disregard the unborn. They will also die if they are spawned, but with wealthy parents, their one life will be better and longer, else miserable and shorter.

    If, or when, the final days occur, it will be better for fewer happier people to meet it, than for generations to rot slowly towards it, in the misdirected policy of making it last for the unborn. As survivors in the last ark, with no hope of rescue, we may as well go down with a bang and a party.

  7. With regard to the impossibility of perpetual growth (in resource consumption) in a closed system (i.e. on a finite planet), you have no answer because there is none.

    With regard to poverty eradication, my point is – and always has been – that we need to help Africa/India get control of their birth rates. Therefore, despite your protestation to the contrary, the evidence is that too many poor people are being born and surviving; thereby ensuring that they remain poor. We can – and should – break this cycle by educating and emancipating women from a life of unnecessary – and now self-defeating -reproductive slavery.

    With regard to climate change, despite my best efforts – both here and on my blog – I must accept defeat; and admit that Greg Craven has said it all much better than I ever could…

  8. “With regard to the impossibility of perpetual growth (in resource consumption) in a closed system (i.e. on a finite planet), you have no answer because there is none.” – Martin Lack

    There are answers. (1) Resources are recycled. Fossil fuels themselves are recycled atmospheric CO2. The atmosphere was flooded with CO2, as I’ve told you before, during the Cambrian. Plants locked up the CO2 in vegetation, which was compressed into coal and oil. Growing plants today for “biofuels” is just repeating the process, albeit more cleanly because you don’t have to burn the dust and minerals that have polluted the coal and oil.

    (2) Perpetual growth is not an issue, because the rate of increase of the population is no longer strictly exponential. It’s slowing down. But Malthus’s argument that resources increase at a slower rate than population, repeated by the Club of Rome in false computer models during the 1970s where the resources were assumed to increase at a non-exponential rate, until population, is fake. In the real world, technology keeps increasing efficiency. There are enormous possibilities for the future. No amount of self-aggrandising doom-mongering by self-deceived dictators at greenpeace will change the future by one iota.

  9. Resources are recycled…‘ I don’t know about you, Nige, but I don’t have time to wait for the next generation of fossil fuels to form!

    Growing plants today for “biofuels” is just…‘ removing vital land from use for food production!

    Perpetual growth is not an issue…‘ I fear that you are focussing on population again (when I have already conceded that it may yet stabilise)!

    So, to re-state the key finding of Meadows et al another way (such that perhaps you cannot fail to see it)… societal collapse is likely if too much of global economic output has to be diverted to tackling environmental problems!

  10. Martin: I don’t agree with your claim that biofuels are a complete waste of time. Until the pagan mongols of Hulagu Khan (grandson of Genghis) invaded Baghdad on 13 February 1258, the deserts of Iraq were used for agriculture. Irrigation canals provided water to turn the desert in Iraq into farmland for thousands of years until Hulagu killed the people and allowed the canals system to disintegrate. We can in the future reverse the process and turn deserts into arable land. What was done thousands of years ago with primitive technology can be done more efficiently today with modern technology.

    Water a desert and you can immediately start to lock down the sands (preventing erosive sandstorms) with vegetation, even if there is high salinity in the sand (you can use many of the weeds you find in coastal areas to start with). Once you’ve consolidated the sands in a desert this way, you can go on to grow crops.

    In addition, recycling can include currently wasted abundant nuclear fuels uranium-238 and thorium-232, created in a supernova 5 billion years ago. We can recycle these into fissile nuclear fuels in nuclear reactors, turning them into plutonium-239 and uranium-233 by neutron capture.

    You also ignore my point about the history of CO2: all the CO2 in fossil fuels came from the atmosphere to begin with, as shown by GEOCARB III modelling, http://www.shef.ac.uk/aps/apsrtp/taylor-lyla/geocarbmodel.html

    During the Cambrian the model shows that the CO2 in the atmosphere was 26 times the current level, which is an unprecedentedly low level of CO2 in the history of the planet. As rainforests laid down CO2 in fossil fuels between the Cambrian and the Carboniferous, the CO2 level in the air dropped, but for most of history it’s been far higher than the current level. We’re just re-releasing CO2 by burning fossil fuels. Plants obtained their carbon from the air in the first place! So burning fossil fuels is just a recycling strategy.

  11. Nige, The GEOCARB III model is interesting because the 26-fold CO2 peak you highlight (550 Ma BP) does indeed appear contemporaneous with the flourishing of marine life found in the Burgess Shale. However, it is also interesting because the sudden 10-fold increase in CO2 (induced by the Siberian Traps volcanic eruptions [lasting 1 Ma]) at the end of the Permian (250Ma BP) caused the extinction of more than 90% of all life on Earth.

    Therefore (1) the benefits of excessive CO2 in the atmosphere must be, at very least, debateable; and (2) we cannot dismiss the rapid anthropogenic release of fossilised carbon into the atmospheric as mere long-term “recycling! Here we are back to Greg Craven – who has rightly suggested we should stop arguing about which row our future lies (i.e. is AGW true or false?), and decide which column we want to chose (i.e. are we going to take action or not?).

    Evolutionary biologists argue that the Permian extinction made way for ultimately for Humans (and that 99% of all known species that have ever lived are already extinct). However, that does not change the fact that, as a terrestrial species, we are now at the front of the queue for an extinction event of our own making.

    I think I have already made clear my reluctantly-positive view of nuclear energy and that it is long-term madness not to use the 99% of uranium that cannot be put into a conventional thermal (low eV) reactor. Therefore, I am sure that fast neutron/breeder reactor technology will have its day (circa 2050), as is the DECC apparently.

  12. Martin, as GEOCARB III shows, http://www.shef.ac.uk/aps/apsrtp/taylor-lyla/geocarbmodel.html , the Siberian volcanic eruptions at the end of the Permian increased atmospheric CO2 to about 10 times the current level. Compare that to the factor of 1.4 increase increase in atmospheric CO2 due to the industrial revolution (280 ppm pre-industrial revolution to 388 ppm now).

    Volcanic eruptions don’t kill by CO2 emission, but by polluting the environment with hydrogen flouride in the sharp irritant silicate ash downwind, plus (for big enough emissions) global atmospheric poisoning by hydrogen sulphide (sewer gas) and sulphur dioxide. The volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo on 15 June 1991 expelled 20 million metric tons of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, which absorbed sunlight, causing a 0.5-0.6°C cooling of the Earth’s surface in the Northern Hemisphere. Scaling up to the Permian events, you would have a severe global temperature drop from this effect, causing the extinctions. It’s not a CO2 effect, which isn’t toxic at 10 times normal concentrations.

  13. Thanks for quoting back to me my own statististics (CO2 is now 140% of its 1850 level). I think we are therefore agreed about what the geological record tells us (and I agree that the Permian extinction cannot be blamed on CO2); but not about its implications for complex life forms today (because rapid temperature changes do happen [e.g. 5000BC]).

    If this happens now, as Greg Craven points out, human bieings will survive (although not as many as 6 to 10 billion). Therefore, again as Greg says, we should stop arguing about which row our future lies (i.e. is AGW true or false?), and decide which column we want to chose (i.e. are we going to take action or not?).

    CO2 may not be toxic; and it is only a significant pollutant now because we are pumping it into the atmosphere faster than either it or the oceans can assimilate it. In “Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity Revisited: The Unravelling of the American Dream“, William Ophuls points out that, “The liberal ideas of [John] Locke and [Adam] Smith have not gone unchallenged but, with very few exceptions, liberals, conservatives, socialists, communists, and other modern ideologies have taken abundance for granted and assumed the necessity of further growth.” (Ophuls 1992: 191-2). Then, a bit further on, referring to Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” (1969), he re-casts the analogy like this: “The cows are standing almost shoulder to shoulder, many are starving, and the manure is piling up faster than the commons can absorb it“(ibid: p.204)

    Hardin correctly identified the core of what the Club of Rome would later call “the human predicament“; namely our inability to voluntarily exercise self-restraint. Thus, the ‘tragedy of the commons’ is equally visible in the failure of the EU’s fisheries policy; and in the failure of the UNFCCC process. Both are mired in a multi-faceted blame-game – wherein nobody is willing to take responsiblility for the consequences of their over-consumption; or willing to act alone to reduce it (because they will be disadvantaged if others do not act).

    We are all behaving like the rich man trying to justify himself to Jesus by saying “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29).

  14. Martin: while its still April 1st and you’re feeling agreeable, can I just try to quickly establish agreement with you that the rate of population growth is slowing down. The rate of world population growth peaked at 2.06% per year in the interval 1965-70, but fell to 1.74% per year in the interval 1985-90, and is now 1.14% per year.

    Currently the population is 6.5 billion, so it will take 61 years to double if the rate remains 1.14% per year (1.0114^61 = 2). But the rate itself has been falling. Since the rate of increase seems to be falling exponentially, extrapolating from the fall from 2.06% annual growth in c. 1968 to 1.14% 42 years later suggests that the annual rate of population increase halves every 50 years, so the future rate of population growth will be 1.14exp(-0.014Y) % or 1.14 [0.5^{Y/50}] %, where Y is the number of years into the future. Hence, if this extrapolation is true, in 61 years time the rate of population growth will be 0.49% per year, which implies a population doubling time of 142 years (1.0049^142 = 2).

    My point is, there is no “population bomb” threat. The population increase timescales are such that we can adapt to the rate of change of population, without racist eugenics to cut population growths in deprived areas, or fascist liebestraums about lebensraum.

  15. Hi Nige,

    Happy April Fools Day to you too! Did you hear Rob Brydon impersonating Ken Bruce for 2 hours on Radio 2 this morning? (I just caught a snippet of it in the car this afternoon – being repeated by Steve Wright)… It sounded very funny (if you like that sort of thing!)

    I am sure you have told me before – and I have conceded the point before as well – that, for all the reasons you state, global population is not projected to go above 10 billion. However, I find it easier/quicker to estimate doubling time by dividing 70 by the percent growth rate (because the natural logarithm of 2 is approximately 0.7).

    Far more importantly though, none of this changes the fact that, as a species, we have already exceeded the safe carrying capacity of the planet; especially if everyone aspires to live like we do in “the West“. Therefore, if we accept that everyone has such an aspirational right, then we must live more frugally. Otherwise, ecological collapse awaits us.

    Why? Because AGW is only one of the consequence of our failure to differentiate between environmental capital (i.e. finite resources) and income (i.e. solar radiation), oh yes, and our failure to recognise that the Earth’s ability to recycle our wastes (including CO2) is also finite. [See E.F. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” (1973)]

  16. ” I find it easier/quicker to estimate doubling time by dividing 70 by the percent growth rate (because the natural logarithm of 2 is approximately 0.7).”

    Martin: as I said, the annual percent growth rate is falling. It’s been falling since 1968. If you use the current rate, therefore, you’ll overestimate future populations.

  17. As I think I have made clear, most analysts accept that the falling growth rate will lead to a stabilisation of global population in the latter half of this century. However, your silence regarding the rest of what I said is truly deafening.

  18. Martin,

    What’s interesting is that you keep avoiding responsibility for exaggerations, such as the example immediately above. I’d suggest that you try reading Julian L. Simon and Herman Kahn’s The Resourceful Earth: A Response to Global 2000, for historical perspectives on green scare-mongering, plus James Delingpole’s How to be right for vital updates on key issues. My position is that your content-less arm waving assertions like

    “Therefore, if we accept that everyone has such an aspirational right, then we must live more frugally. Otherwise, ecological collapse awaits us.”

    is missing the whole point that Red China is not us. It’s a heresy you won’t hear from the BBC, but sadly we’re not the main problem in the world, and we’ve signed up for eco-eugenics anyway. The money we’re paying into the wallets of green carbon traders will offset our tiny contribution. Your attitude reminds me of the CND propaganda during the Cold War, where it was our nuclear weapons that threatened freedom, not the USSR which had invaded Eastern Europe. I recommend a reading of Janis’s Victims of Groupthink. Even top politicans like President Kennedy made serious mistakes. (His Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 by 1,400 all-talk-no-guts Cuban exiles firstly failed, and secondly worked as leverage for Castro to pressurise Khruschev into supplying 42 nuclear IRBMs to Cuba.)

    Science is supposed to be critical, in contrast to politics. Dissent is supposed to be the basis of science, after the trial of Galileo for heresy. Instead, we’re living through a retreat in which the modern Galileo’s are again being dismissed as unqualified outsiders, data is avail being hidden (despite the data protection act), obfuscation is becoming the language of science, and politics by contrast is becoming relatively democratic. Science is redefined as an occult club of experts that uses peer-review not to boost objectivity and quality, but as old-fashioned “blackballing” censorship.

    In the January Horizon documentary, Sir Paul Nurse spends almost the entire program “defending” as consensus the errors in orthodoxy, then at the end he delivers a pretty good sermon saying the exact opposite, that “theories must be tested to destruction”. The contradiction in appeal at the last minute to win over precisely the people who have been repulsed by the groupthink of main part of the documentary, is vital in politics. The politician who is successful is full of contractions (we’ll cut taxes and improve services). So Nurse was using political tactics, trying to say the different things different people wanted to hear. Think of professional science as a trade union, and Nurse’s position as union secretary makes a great deal of sense. He’s defending a profession from media criticisms. His token gesture towards science at the end, as distinct from “scientists” (union members) is just what you’d expect.

    If you look at the science correspondents in the media, traditionally they shy away from skepticism, treating science with kid gloves or as a high-and-mighty form of religious genius to worship. Most scientific news reports are written in awe and praise of the research, provided it comes from the right places. This is a perfect recipe for breeding elitist corruption based on institutions, not quality. Science is more likely to become a cult dictatorship than politics, because it relies on criticisms and has no parlimentary mechanism in place. Directors of research are simply dictators under another name. Reading peer-refereed journal articles is the whole cause of this problem, because you have to trust the data reported. No peer-reviewer repeats the research before passing it.

    The actual basis for peer-review is not checking data by repeating experiments, but checking that the paper follows current fashions, i.e. is politically correct and not damaging to the research funding contracts that other scientists of the discipline depend upon.

    I’m not bashing peer-review where it’s valid, which is within a peer-setup. Where it breaks down is obvious: where a critic writes a paper and doesn not have any “peers”. He then gets an enemy who doesn’t want to know or understand the criticism, acting as a “peer” reviewer who blocks publication. Galileo didn’t have any peers when invented the first telescope and found himself censored before arrest:

    “Here at Padua is the principal professor of philosophy whom I have repeatedly and urgently requested to look at the moon and planets through my glass which he pertinaciously refuses to do. Why are you not here? What shouts of laughter we should have at this glorious folly!”

    – Letter of Galileo to Kepler, 1610, quoted in Oliver Lodge, Pioneers of Science.

    http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/science/sc0043.html

    Refusing to look at the NOAA evidence for negative feedback from H2O vapour on CO2 injections since 1948 is the modern equivalent to refusing to look through Galileo’s telescope. The professor of Padua used his authority status to censor science; the Pope used his political power to arrest Galileo. In 400 years we haven’t quite come full circle, since religion has weakened, but the censorship role of peer-review and political backing for fraudulent science remain as strong as ever.

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