How the Left rejects cheap energy for the Third World and the poor

The TVA provided huge amounts of cheap power to people and transformed lives. Credit:
The TVA provided huge amounts of cheap power to people and transformed lives. Credit:

Progressives used to believe that big projects, like TVA electrification, would help society at large and the disadvantaged in particular by supplying cheap power. Much of that trend has been reversed by environmentalists embracing “small is beautiful” claptrap. Worse, they sanctimoniously preach the Third World must not bother with electrification, running water, and air conditioning because, darn it, it’s just bad for the planet. Therefore, the Third World should be happy with little microgrids, waving at tour buses of ecotravelers, and supplying the West was cheap labor. For their own good of course. As dictated by someone writing his screed on a laptop in a Starbucks.

“Giving society cheap, abundant energy,” Paul Ehrlich wrote in 1975, “would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

What a snobby, nasty, elitist way to look at humankind. And just why would cheap, abundant energy be bad? Presumably Ehrlich took advantage of it himself, yet wanted to deny it to others.

Elaborate justifications were offered as to why poor people in other countries wouldn’t benefit from cheap electricity, fertilizer and roads in the same way the good people of the Tennessee Valley had.

By the time of the United Nations Rio environment conference in 1992, the model for “sustainable development” was of small co-ops in the Amazon forest where peasant farmers and Indians would pick nuts and berries to sell to Ben and Jerry’s for their “Rainforest Crunch” flavor.

Sounds like colonization, doesn’t it? How did environmentalism and progressivism get so twisted and perverted that it champions keeping the boot on the backs of the poor?

When challenged as to why poor nations should not have what we have, green leaders respond that we should become more like poor nations. In The End of Nature, Bill McKibben argued that developed economies should adopt “appropriate technology” like those used in poor countries and return to small-scale agriculture. One “bonus” that comes with climate change, Naomi Klein says, is that it will require in the rich world a “type of farming [that] is much more labor intensive than industrial agriculture.”

Ah, no. Going back to small-scale farming is no solution at all for a society as a whole. First off, millions would go hungry because small farms don’t have the output per acre that agribusiness does. They just don’t. Naomi Klein apparently wants us to move back to the country and labor twelve hours a day. Sounds like serfdom to me. Is she volunteering to go too? Didn’t think so.

Climate change is a reason to accelerate rather than slow energy transitions. The 1.3 billion who lack electricity should get it. It will dramatically improve their lives, reduce deforestation, and make them more resilient to climate impacts. The rest of us should move to cleaner sources of energy — from coal to natural gas, from natural gas to nuclear and renewables, and from gasoline to electric cars — as quickly as we can. This is not a low-energy program, it is a high-energy one. Any effort worthy of being called progressive, liberal, or environmental, must embrace a high-energy planet.

Fundamental flaws in progressive ideology

Cassiodorus details the ways in which progressives fail to provide an alternative to neoliberalism. But what he calls a flaw in ideology is more a flaw in execution, a flaw of will.

Progressive ideology, however, offers only a half-hearted resistance to neoliberal power. Here are some of the ways in which it succumbs:

  • Minimal demands
  • Aversion to the class struggle
  • Incrementalism
  • “Realism”

The problem clearly is that progressives offer no alternative vision and are averse to political combat, hence the continual caving in and incrementalism. Do they want genuine change? Not really.

I am not going to suggest a sweeping abolition of the “free market,” here, as the solution to everything, nor am I going to suggest anything which looks like “Marxist dogma.” We get out of “discussion-on-the-cheap” by real discussion, discussion between actually existing people and not utopian constructs, about what has to happen if the political/ economic situation is to get any better.

Goodness, let’s have none of that socialism stuff instead let’s go to Starbuck’s and talk about what might be done. Sigh. Look, capitalism is clearly in big trouble. What we have now is more a theftocracy than capitalism anyway. The patient needs major surgery not a bandage.

There are a large number of obvious ways in which we can do this: collectives, for instance, and modes of “exchange” (or, more straightforwardly, gift) which are independent of the regimes of corporate production and of money.

This is similar to what John Robb is proposing. But you can’t really live outside the system. Hippies tried that, and found you can’t drop out completely. Plus, the system will intrude upon such modes of exchange. Thus the answer has to include politics and confronting / changing the existing system. That means getting into the battlefield. There is no alternative.

Big Bill Haywood leads march in Lowell MA 1912. He once said "A liberal is the guy who leaves the room when a fight starts." (Library of Congress)

Why progressives should love (some) Tea Parties

The Humble Libertarian notes that some factions in the Tea Party strongly oppose bailouts for the wealthy and that Think Progress found that Tea Party rally participants in New Hampshire supported same sex marriage.

The Tea Party is not a monolith. The original Tea Party, the one founded by Karl Denniger, was and is about outrage at the bailouts. As a left-wing populist, I totally agree with that. And he’s not racist. (Yes, some factions of the Tea Party are racist and / or focused on social issues. Denniger calls them “the usual pablum: guns, God, and gays.”)

Thus, there is common ground between some on the Left and some Tea Partiers. As for the omnipresent demonization of the other side by the talking heads:

Yet opposition to the Tea Parties from establishment “liberals” has been vicious and deranged. Why? Maybe, just maybe, most allegedly liberal talking heads don’t care at all about the policies they profess to care about, but instead, like their allegedly conservative counterparts (i.e. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity), simply parrot the party line and will oppose anything at all that threatens the influence wielded by a gang of policymakers with the “correct” letter next to their name.

American progressives need a Tea Party of their own

Socialist Unity

The democratic ideal of empowering the ordinary citizen cannot be achieved without addressing the problem of corporate power. A centre-ground president like Obama will never engage against powerful vested interests without there being an external pressure to do so from trade unions and progressive civil society. The left needs a Tea Party of its own.

The change can and must come from across the political spectrum. The problem of corporate ownership of the political system is a non-partisan issue, it’s not about Republicans vs. Democrats. Our political system itself is rotting and corrupt. That’s the problem

Having said that, then yes, progressives absolutely need a Tea Party of their own. One of the biggest problems that liberals and progressives have now is their bedraggled hope that Obama will somehow do the right thing if he only gets the correct facts. This is illusion. The Tea Party on the right doesn’t ask politicians if they could please do something. Instead they bring about pressure to make them do it. The left needs to do the same.

The next two years: war between the parties, and war within the parties

Major schisms are forming within both major parties, and last night’s election makes this all the more obvious. There will now be open warfare within both parties, as the factions vie for dominance.

On the Republican side, Tea Party candidates did well enough that they can no longer be ignored, denigrated, or cynically exploited by party insiders, much as they might want to. Instead, GOP leaders now want to stop Palin, and by association, the rest of the Tea Party. It’s not just that Palin is unelectable as a presidential candidate; it’s more that her insurgency, along with the Tea Party, is a direct threat to the power base, funding, and influence of the Republican elite. A rambunctious Tea Party simply cannot exist within the current confines of the Republican Party. Something will have to give. What Palin is attempting is precisely what netroots wants to do too: storm the citadels of their party then seize control. But, the Empire will strike back, make no mistake about that. (So far, Palin has been more successful in her attempts than netroots, why is this?)

Progressives and the left are in revolt against Obama. This is certainly a major reason the Democrats did badly in the midterms. “The base was demoralized, not because the Dems went too far left, but because they went too far right.” says Ian Welch. The Democratic Party abandoned, ignored, and back-stabbed its left flank only to find they needed those votes. Oopsie. So what did they do to win them back? Why, they insulted progressives and mocked them for their supposed stupidity. Bizarrely, this tactic appeared to have alienated those it wished to attract. Who could have predicted such a thing could happen? Certainly not the Democrats. On the other side of this are those who want the party to be ever-more centrist and accommodating. As with the Republicans, these two factions can no longer co-exist, even semi-peacefully.

The battles within the parties will likely lead to splits and to the formation of third and independent party runs in 2012. This will happen on all sides of the political spectrum, and maybe in the center too, if Bloomberg runs for president. We are living in highly unstable political times. The implosion of the economy and the resultant unemployment and anger will not be going away soon. That’s what’s fueling the schisms in both parties, along with the belief that elites in both parties are remote, isolated, and don’t have much of a clue about what to do, and that they’re old and in the way.

Of course, with the Democrats getting clocked in the House races, it’s a whole new gridlocked-filled day in Congress. There will be much sound and fury, signifying nothing, as the parties go at each other. Well, the Republicans will certainly go at the Democrats. Whether the Democrats will ever learn to return a punch remains to be seen. But they still control the Senate and Obama has veto power, so in all likelihood, not much will be accomplished in the next two years. But it needs to be. The economy is ailing, the infrastructure crumbling, and can you hear it in the distance, the sound of peasants with pitchforks?

So, what changed in this election? Sure, the Republicans picked up a big victory, but whether they will be able to get a legislative agenda through remains to be seen. Both parties will have to deal with internal revolts. Given such an unstable landscape, long-term predictions are pointless. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

(crossposted from CAIVN)