Letter #3 to Jeremy Grantham, October 30, 2018
The first two parts of this essay series were first, a compliment to and expansion on Jeremy Grantham’s “The Race of Our Lives Revisited,” and second, a development, or “fleshing-out” of that white paper, and Grantham’s “nutshell” version. Those essays can be found here and here.
Both of Grantham’s papers, 43 pages in all, are explosive shatterings of current economic, social, political, and moral operating systems and worldviews. Implications of those shatterings will be considered in this third essay.
Critical explosive implications are covered in Grantham’s introduction and summary of his Race Revisited. Considering two:
1. The US form of industrial capitalism is not working because it is completely dominated by corporations and vast wealth. Furthermore, Grantham explains that it cannot work, and the reasons are many and over-determined:
- A “rapid and complete decarbonization of the economy” is required if we are to avoid the destruction of the planet. (Page 2) But, “Given today’s single-minded drive to maximize profits, it is nearly impossible.” (Page 2)
- “We’re moving so slowly,” the climate system will be wrecked. (Page 3)
- “We’ve created a toxic environment not conducive to live, from insects to humans, as we will see. We must respond by a massive and urgent move away from the use of complicated chemicals that saturate our daily life.” (Page 3)
- Capitalism, because of the tyranny of the discount rate, means that grandchildren have no value. (Page 4) Corporations typically handle externalities badly, if at all. Therefore, “We deforest the land, we degrade our soils, we pollute and overuse our water, and we treat our air like an open sewer.” (Page 4)
2. The many and interconnected crises we face can be dealt with only through government intervention, government regulation, and government leadership (Page 4). “There is no other way” (Page 4)
- While the need for collective action and massive governmental interventions is paramount, “All of this is anathema to the new regime of maximizing an individual country’s advantage and short-term corporate profits.” (Page 4, again)
Thus, the explosive shatterings mean that governance must be instated – good governance that provides for the interconnected crises before comprehensive catastrophe. But only those who have influence (number 1 above) can cause those required transformations. So, what is a plausible route to that “green governance?”
The Remainder of “Race Revisited”
Following the introduction and summary, the rest of “Race Revisited” substantiates and provides the specific data that supports the introductory statements listed above, in largest part.
The remaining thirty pages hammer away at the themes presented, and page 28 holds a succinct summary: “The greatest deficiency of capitalism is its complete inability to deal with any of these things that we are talking about” (the previous 27 pages, and their ramifications) “even though it can handle the millions of more mundane factors that go into producing a workable economy.” Grantham states that our economic system, and the political, social, and moral systems with which our US industrial capitalism system operates, means comprehensive catastrophe.
Grantham has a recommended response to the overwhelming disasters awaiting, as he says, on page 33, in Postscript 1: What Should We All Do?. “Vote for green politicians,” is what Grantham delivers to relieve the burning, shattering explosions detailed and over-determined in the rest of his “Race Revisited.”
Of course, there are zillions of reasons that this recommendation misses the mark, and overwhelmingly so. A few reasons will suffice. First, there are no politicians proposing governmental intervention at the scale Grantham says is required for a viable future for humanity. Second, the politicians, as Grantham explained so well, are in the service of and in the debt to the corporations and wealthy that control the government. Third, there are no politicians even mentioning the consequent issues that Grantham delineated, at anything close to the scale of the crises.
Now, trying not to insult the genius financial adviser Jeremy Grantham, some pertinent things must be said. While Grantham has brilliantly, courageously, and honestly described the crises we all face, he has provided no recommendations equal to the challenges and looming disasters. This just won’t do!
Back to the Beginning
So, at the end of the essay, where are we? Particularly when it comes to adequate responses. If Jeremy Grantham has not given us any responses equal to the scope, scale, or urgency of the interconnected crises he elaborated, perhaps it is helpful to return to the original statement of the crises on page 1 of “Race Revisited.” There he actually points out that “only the biggest most powerful corporations and the very richest individuals have any real say in government.”
Thus, it is up to either corporations or the ultra-wealthy to penetrate to adequate responses to the crises, is it not? And, can we just say that corporations cannot and will not help to control themselves and will not ask for massive governmental intervention, control, and regulation? It is simply not in their nature, as is profoundly obvious.
We are left with one option, and that is the ultra-wealthy. Those like Jeremy Grantham. Grantham is trying to do his part; he is speaking the truth and he has endowed two philanthropies. One in the US and one in the UK. A few other philanthropists are trying to help confront the crises – Tom Steyer immediately comes to mind. Steyer’s organization, NextGen America has been trying to elect “green politicians,” but none mention, much less campaign on the issues Grantham details, or the massive governmental interventions required.
If one does decide that the ultra-wealthy, especially the ultra-wealthy philanthropists and philanthropies are our last best hope, then how do they aggregate their power and money to move the US in the direction, and at the speed required?
How Could Wealthy Philanthropists Do What Is Necessary?
Suppose wealthy philanthropists and philanthropies are the last best hope. What would you ask them to do, in order to get the results Grantham states are required?
Two areas of consideration immediately arise.
First, it probably is not enough to count on a couple of philanthropists like Grantham and Steyer, because their money, while formidable, is simply not enough to cause the vital transformation. So, a lot more money is necessary, in the order of tens of billions per year. And if one would not believe that such funding is available, then they would have overlooked: (1) the Giving Pledge billionaires, and (2) major philanthropies who give to the kinds of issues Grantham is discussing. In those pools of funds, well more than a trillion dollars is available to be tapped. And a trillion is one-thousand-billions. So, one or two percent, less than an annual return on their bulk wealth, is available and can be readily brought to bear – if it was seen as necessary.
Second, it would be simple and sensible to conclude that if one were to suggest that the right kinds of politicians could move the US in the right direction fast enough, then the public would have to know the scope, scale, and urgency of the crises. That is, the public would need to know the existential crises in order to elect politicians who would direct the nation toward habilitating them.
In the fall of 2018, it is obvious that the public does not know the scale, the scope, or the urgency of the crises we all face. And the public does not know that it does not know. The public is much more engaged in their Facebook fun, and personal life-style issues, by orders of magnitude than the looming collapse of civilization. That critical disaster is unseen and unknown. Even at the height of the 2018 election season, during which the IPCC has issued its most dire warning yet, climate and ecological issues are scarcely on voter’s minds.
The funding available to the same philanthropists and philanthropies is enough so that the public could not avoid understanding the existential threats to themselves and their families if philanthropies were to engage in a concerted campaign to educate, illuminate, and warn US citizens. Various broadcast mechanisms would assure that outcome. In election season, one sees the power of unfettered broadcast. It is a matter of funding the mechanisms so that the public knows, and knows they know.
Anyone completely skeptical of public acceptance of facts and reality – given the denial and delay we see in the political system and weak media responses – would at least need to consider the myriad ways that information could be disseminated. And once one accepts that the situation is dire, then would that same “anyone” believe that the society would not listen to, and then fail to respond to threats to their lives, their families, and to everything they hold dear? Even if one would believe that the public is not able to move out of their ignorance, or their trance, or their distractions………… or whatever one would believe would block public knowledge and resulting public conversation about survival, wouldn’t it be critical at least to try to illuminate, inform, and warn?
We cannot hope to achieve the difficult and required steps, many of which Grantham explains, without an informed, alarmed, and aroused public.
So, perhaps this is the right place to leave this third essay. The argument is that the right amount of money, time, and effort – far more than current levels – brought by the right group, i.e., philanthropies and philanthropists may be the last best hope for humanity and our civilization.
Jeremy Grantham may just have the analysis right enough so that he could lead philanthropies and philanthropists in funding and founding the broadcast, the warning, and the information that the American public must absorb. Then, once the gravity and urgency of the crises are realized, it is possible that coordinated and cooperative efforts – leading to the government interventions that must enable effective policies and actions – is possible. Without that philanthropic intervention, the public will not participate in any “green politician” political system. Without a green political system, supported by a public that understands it is necessary, then no effective remedial action related to the severe crises we face and the inevitable disasters coming will result.
Jeremy Grantham is on the right track. Can the rest of us who understand the scope, scale, and urgency of the crises ask him to lead, and ask the rest of philanthropies to follow that lead?
Time is fast running out. A livable future is evaporating as we hesitate. So, let’s ask
Grantham to lead, and let’s ask the rest of philanthropy to respond in kind.