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Monday, March 31, 2014

Ethics and Morality At The End of History

Ethics and Morality At The End of History

By Pete Dolack
Information Clearing House
Tuesday, March 31, 2014

"Systemic Disorder" -- Strange, isn’t it, that the system supposedly
representing the apex of human development — even the end of
history — has no place for ethics or morality.

Perhaps this becomes inevitable when an ideology develops to
the point where the economy is considered to be outside the environment.

From that dubious, to put it overly modestly, vantage point, the
journey to seeing the environment, and the natural resources and
life it contains, as nothing more than a cow to be milked at will is
not a long one.

A forest counts as nothing unless it can monetized, which often
means knocking it down.

Clean air? Clean water?

Luxury items for those who can afford them, and thereby profits
for those who can bottle it and create a market for them.

A thoughtful article in the May 2009 issue of Monthly Review
caused me to think more about this.

The authors of this article, “Capitalism in Wonderland,” written
by Richard York, Brett Clark and John Bellamy Foster, discuss the
models used by mainstream economists, which vary only on the
degree to which they discount future life.

Yes, that is as cold-blooded as it sounds.

Neoclassical economists base their increasingly insane conclusions
that global warming is no big deal and, at worse, will cause little
economic damage, on the convenient, self-serving assumption
that future generations will be wealthier and therefore it will be
cheaper for our descendants to clean up our messes than it would
be for us.

The authors write:

“Where they primarily differ is not on their views of the science
behind climate change but on their value assumptions about the
propriety of shifting burdens to future generations. This lays bare
the ideology embedded in orthodox neoclassical economics, a field
which regularly presents itself as using objective, even naturalistic,
methods for modeling the economy. However, past all of the
equations and technical jargon, the dominant economic paradigm
is built on a value system that prizes capital accumulation in the
short-term, while de-valuing everything else in the present and
everything altogether in the future.” [page 9]

From that, orthodox economists slide down a slippery slope in
which some humans are valuable and others are without value.

Such a mentality is exemplified by Lawrence Summers’ infamous
memo when he was chief economist for the World Bank, in which
he wrote:

“I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste
in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up
to that. … The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as
the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost.
I’ve always though that under-populated countries in Africa are
vastly UNDER-polluted.”

Summers’ attitude, although usually not expressed in such a direct
way, is not out of step with his profession.

The “Capitalism in Wonderland” authors lay bare the ramifications
of this type of thinking:

“[H]uman life in effect is worth only what each person contributes
to the economy as measured in monetary terms. So, if global
warming increases mortality in Bangladesh, which it appears likely
that it will, this is only reflected in economic models to the extent
that the deaths of Bengalis hurt the [global] economy. Since
Bangladesh is very poor, economic models … would not estimate it
to be worthwhile to prevent deaths there since these losses would
show up as minuscule in the measurements. … This economic
ideology, of course, extends beyond just human life, such that all
of the millions of species on earth are valued only to the extent
they contribute to GDP. Thus, ethical concerns about the intrinsic
value of human life and of the lives of other creatures are
completely invisible in standard economic models. Increasing
human mortality and accelerating the rate of extinctions are to
most economists only problems if they undermine the ‘bottom
line.’ In other respects they are invisible: as is the natural world
as a whole.” [page 10]

This is the irrationality and immorality that underlies industrialists’
and financiers’ drive to allow the “market” to make all social

Markets are nothing more than the aggregate interests of the
largest and most powerful industrialists and financiers.

They in turn, through their stranglehold on the world’s economic
heights, are able to have decisive sway over governments, which
are not disembodied entities somehow floating above society but
rather are a reflection of the relative strengths and weaknesses of
social forces.

The modern corporation has a legal duty only to provide
the maximum profit for its shareholders.

In other words, it is expected to act to further its own
interest without regard to anything else.

The corporation is considered a legal person under U.S.
law — one that has no biological limits nor barriers to its

Joel Bakan, in the introduction to his book The Corporation: The
Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, summed up capitalism’s
dominant institution this way:

“The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue,
relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest,
regardless of the often harmful consequences it might
cause to others. As a result, I argue, the corporation is
a pathological institution, a dangerous possessor of the
great power it wields over people and societies.”

Even without “corporate personhood,” however, the relentless
competition of capitalism would induce this behavior, and the
winners of that competition are those most willing to crush all
obstacles, human, and environmental, while foisting the costs
onto others.

Really, we can’t do better than this?

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