The war on science, the war on truth, and our dysfunctional economy

1/20/17 Greg Gerritt

The war on science, the war on truth, and our dysfunctional economy.

The quick and dirty summary

The war on science, since Galileo, since Darwin, since the effect of tobacco smoking upon human bodies started to be known, since the Chamber of Commerce decided to oppose the Clean Water Act, has been directed towards several different but connected goals, all related to the maintaining the power, money, and status of a small number of very wealthy people and institutions/corporations. The effect on American society and planetary ecosystems has been large and powerful and very destructive. The war on science may have started with attacks by patriarchal religions but has taken many forms in the last 150 years including made up phony science created so that it is harder for the public to discern what is truth and what is lie. It breeds mass disbelief and cynicism throughout society, and leaves most policy in the hands of the greediest and most violent. The war on science primarily comes from right wing patriarchal culture and from corporations/industries that do a great deal of harm to the environment and communities in their pursuit of profits. Additionally some of the war on science has come about because the public does not believe the science coming out of for profit corporations, often with very good reason. The corporations have been hiding data that reflects poorly on their work, refused to allow publication of research, and tried to hide inside knowledge of corporate harms to the environment and communities. There is a blatant refusal to practice transparency. Often the public has been harmed and the harm would have been much less if prompt action had been taken to remediate the problem instead of the problems being covered up. How can we believe for profit science about almost anything given the record? Rather than revolting against bad corporate science and its lack of transparency, and supporting science in the public interest, the politicians and captured regulatory agencies just provide cover and coverups in the name of false profits and cut the budget of those doing science in the public interest. How could all this not cheapen the truth?

The history of Climate Denial and stating that it is safe to smoke tobacco point out that if you want to turn truth on its head and get the community to believe black is white it can mostly be done. Even given the power of propaganda in America, the truth can not be completely obliterated, but if attached to powerful memes in American thinking and culture, lies can set us back 30 or 40 years in the struggle to help people and communities be healthier, safer, and more prosperous.

This cheapening of the truth has bled over into the rest of the society, with the effect of allowing economists, politicians, and the business community to make decisions on how to manage the economy on ideological grounds with no corroborating data, They claim justification by saying it is simply common sense that less taxation and little regulation has to be good for the economy, unleashing the power of money and entrepreneurs. The reason we know there is no data to back this up is because if there was, it would be front page headlines all the time. Economists and capitalists have taken the opportunity to create the myth of the business climate despite the fact that there is no correlation between business climate rankings and the health of an economy even with methodologies that are rigged to demonstrate that low taxes, little regulation, and wealthy people noticeably help the economy. When you can mislead the public about what constitutes the conditions for economic success, the result is greater inequality and poverty, with this inequality being used to drive further subsidies for ecological destruction and the destruction of the communities if they are in the way of “Progress”. The obstruction and destruction of truth and facts pervades all policy, and the disgust by the public leads to looking for demagogues who further inequality while promising populism.

The context

We have been promised economic growth forever, but the results have been trending downwards for quite a while. That is a story for another day. When growth slows down, it seems like hard times and it cascades from there.

Recently the headlines were that the GDP growth rate in the 3rd quarter of 2016 was 3.5%, the highest it has been in ages, but less than the fantasies of the zealots for neoliberalism figure it will be if we would just get with the program. It follows a 2nd quarter growth rate of 1.4%. And the quarter to follow will not reach 3% even if Wall St has made peace with the orange haired Toxic Dump. For the 7th year in a row US GDP growth will be in the 2.2% to 2.4% range with RI running 60 to 75% of the national average. (Source is the US Bureau of Economic Analysis which issues updates quarterly and has previous reports on the website) ) The national figure reflects the various mineral booms happening around the country, moving from state to state from one year to the next . Most other places have significantly lower growth rates, often very much in line with that in Rhode Island. I believe President Toxic Dump stated a 4 or 5% growth rate should be about right, though every economist on the planet knows that is a fantasy, The fundamentals are different than when 4% GDP growth was possible in the US. Only emerging economies can approach that number for more than a few months. The conditions for rapid growth do not exist most places partly due to the loss of the global forest, and can not be artificially induced. But we get headlines about how this is possible and policies that never deliver actual community benefits.

There were further headlines recently about a long list of subsidies to very wealthy corporations and speculators to build new buildings and bring a few jobs to Providence at a cost to the taxpayers of over $100,000 a job. The politicians are in their glory and what I have to say will be viewed as a negativity fit by the Babbitts. But we have been here before repeatedly in the last 40 years, and after the burst in subsidized real estate scams, business returns to normal and the inequality grows and the populace is further in debt. Therefore I am going to continue to focus on the long term perspective and call for economic policies based on actual data. Even the IMF and the World Bank have figured out giving money to the rich rarely works out all that well for communities, mostly because society’s and economies with great wealth for the few and great poverty do not work very well, and the environmental degradation created by over consumption harms low income communities more, increasing poverty.

The election of Toxic Dump to the presidency with his contradictory statements about what to do for the economy, and a willingness to lie whenever it suits his narcissistic personality, makes policy based on sound data and experience more important than ever. Forked tongue Toxic Dump went through the campaign talking about trade wars and infrastructure, but his cabinet picks are free traders, Wall streeters, and anti taxers. Truth seems like it will be hard to find, along with policies that actually solve problems rather than just enrich the looting class.

A Central role for Climate Change

The declaration by the Republican party that climate change is not happening, is not human caused, or any of the other stories they are telling, may be among the most repugnant things a political party has ever done. No major party has ever before had a platform that was the equivalent of Harold standing in the English surf trying to hold back the ocean as the tide came in. Eventually reality bites pretty hard. It is condemning coastal cities around the world to going under water, and much of the world to massive upheavals and dislocations caused by storms, floods, droughts, and the wars that accompany them. Remember New Orleans, Sandy, and the recent flooding in Louisiana? How about the droughts in Russia and Syria that are still killing people years after the rain returned? In some ways Climate Denial fits the culture wars, big city versus country economy, pixels versus stuff ripped from the earth. But if there had not been a deliberate war on science as part of a concerted Chamber of Commerce war on the environment and human dignity for 50 years, we would not be in this place.

The science of climate change is well established. Some of the early good work was in the intersection between astronomy, chemistry, and physics. The basic foundations of how the atmosphere worked were being established with the aid of recently invented temperature, chemical and moisture measuring devices, allowing us enter new worlds. Svante Arrhenius delivered quantified data about the sensitivity of global climate to atmospheric carbon dioxide (the “Greenhouse effect”) when he presented his paper “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air Upon The Temperature of the Ground” to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1895. (adapted from Wikipedia)

You can not get much more settled science than the description of how carbon dioxide and other gases that occur in small concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere affect the temperature. We have more and better data now but no one has ever refuted the basic science of the affect different concentrations of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere have on global temperatures. The process by which various wavelengths of infrared are differentially bounced back to earth instead of escaping into space has never been refuted. The amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, like methane and water vapor in the atmosphere, keep the Earth’s surface 30°Celsius (54°F) warmer than it would be without them.

Clearly small amounts of Carbon Dioxide (,028% of the atmosphere prior to the large scale burning of fossil fuels .04% now) have rather large effects on temperature. And adding more than 30% to the atmospheric percentage in a couple of hundred years is going to have an effect.

If some one can not seriously refute the basic information about carbon dioxide bouncing infrared radiation back to earth instead of letting it escape to space, then what is the argument? Or have we just decided to throw reality under the bus in the pursuit of power? I guess we are going to find out pretty soon in court if American corporations can be held accountable for the damage they knew would occur by keeping information hidden behind a wall of denial about climate change. Exxon scientists knew 40 years ago that burning more and more fossil fuels would set off a long term climate bomb. Exxon management made sure the information did not get out. Millions have died and the economic losses from disasters are exacerbated by the loss of greenery and the high energy weather we get from increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests and rivers in the pursuit of ever more fossil fuels.

The corporate approach needs to be contrasted with the academic and government science in which people publish their data and research and there is open debate about what is true, what is not, and how it works, leading eventually to real answers to real questions. Do we shut down NASA and NOAA and all the scientists working at universities because their data shows overwhelmingly that climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, is actually happening. Do we stop peer reviewed science because it does not say what the rich and powerful want it to? That appears to be a potential issue under the new President.

Sometimes you wonder if the only way the corporados and Wall St can continue to get richer as the Earth’s economy slides towards slower growth, especially with robots exacerbating the unemployment problems, is to keep people in the dark so they can loot faster and faster from both communities and the planet. The corporados seem psychologically incapable of responding appropriately to the evolution of the economy and planetary ecosystems. It is clear that societies experience slower economic growth as they become fully consumerist. Fast money then goes to where there are new opportunities to rip wealth from the earth, which harms communities while making the dangers from ecological collapse ever more clear. Maybe the appropriate response is to design plans that increase community prosperity in slow growth environments, but that does not seem to be on the radar screen.

Obviously climate denial is the part of the answer under the circumstances of climate change if the fossil fuel club and the patriarchs want to hold on to power. And that means finding liars for pay. They find few in the sciences, enough to be noisy, but essentially not in the game. But the politicians have lucratively jumped in to defend fossil fuel interests, profits, and jobs at all cost, including the deaths of their constituents. Despite abundant evidence that a transformation to Green energy would be an economic boost while massively reducing our carbon footprint. Facts appear to be relegated to some dark closet.

The liars have been successful in the US in that they have swayed the majority of elected politicians, though clearly not the public. It has become another Know Nothing American issue.

And that brings us back to the war on science.

The war on science

The war on science goes at least all the way back to Galileo, when the rich and powerful sought to destroy the truth because the truth threatened their power, and power is way more important than facts. But the Earth still goes around the sun. As a person with a strong ecological/evolutionary bent, it appears to me that the modern war on science goes back to the beginning of the science of evolution in which the conservatives and the patriarchal religions railed against Darwinian evolution.

These days the attacks on science are multidimensional and often use bogus science instead of religion to make the case, though religious zealots still lead in the war on evolution. The big problem with bogus science is that it undercuts science as a whole and even the use of actual facts and information as tools for communities to use in making decisions. Then again, the actual point may be to disempower communities. Informed communities stop bad projects, and the oligarchs really do not want us to know how they are rigging the system. This last point is a big reason why Congress continues to cut funding for science in the public interest.

I realize that often facts are inconvenient, they may cause the public to push against the desires of the powerful, and often can be construed as undercutting community values in a variety of ways. Knowing how dangerous the mining and burning of coal or fracking for gas and oil is to communities and the planet is a threat to mining communities as well as the owners of coal mines and gas wells. It takes away some of what makes a community what it is. And this kind of change is always hard and almost inevitably mishandled in a way that benefits the powerful and harms the community as well as the ecosystem. Making a case that women, who hold up half the sky, deserve full citizenship and opportunities can also be seen as undermining the community values of places where old men sell and trade the fertility of 14 year old girls (which is the classic definition of patriarchy) .

Science also affects communities in that many new innovations and technologies when they are not poisoning communities and ecosystems, are causing massive job losses and the shrinking of incomes. The industrial revolution created millions of jobs, and amazing tools, but in many of the places that the industrial revolution peaked about 100 years ago, like Rhode Island, the jobs machine and the growth machine are slowing down. The constant promises to revitalize the working class economy do not bear fruit, even if they sound good to displaced workers. Robots are going to take a lot more jobs, leaving fewer and lower wage jobs. The 10% in the “knowledge industries” are among the few who will have secure jobs, at least until the singularity when robots start producing and programming themselves and all humans are put out to pasture.

The biggest part of the war on science comes from industries (aided by their political protectors) that truly harm people, communities, and ecosystems with their products or processes. A bit comes from industries that have yet to understand how to make regulation a source of innovation and efficiency, and even the industries with a history of dealing with regulations with innovations that improve the bottom line like to complain. The complaint that regulations cost the overall economy money has been shown to be untrue, but is a big part of today’s policy agenda. Communities are part of the war as they push back against facts and science when they are losing their jobs to robots while being told it is immigrants and globalization that is destroying their work. When truth is hard to find and times are uncertain, it is basic human nature to seek protection with a strong man. Goes back millions of years in our history. But it is also clear that democracy works better and gives us a much better chance of keeping our communities strong. We know better, but those seeking power often use our community solidarity against us. And in troubled times when strong men are successful, they usually run societies into the ground enriching their friends and fighting colonial wars. Big trouble for those who stand for justice and protecting communities and the planet so the children can eat and the overstimulated climate can be calmed and adapted to. Big trouble for communities and the planetary ecosystem.

It is mostly industries that want to hide things that resort to pseudo science, ( I do not call museums with people in the picture with dinosaurs anything but fantasy) But in all cases the use of pseudo science and phony science harms communities long after the specific lie is snuffed out.. It is a flat out lie that smoking tobacco does not damage lungs and shorten lives. To say tobacco was safe was clearly a lie, and the industry knew it. It is also now settled science. Smoking tobacco harms bodies in many ways. But despite knowing the truth, the tobacco industry commissioned phony study after phony study. This harmed science and public belief in it, as well as contributing to the early deaths of millions of people even if the courts will not award damages. Climate change is the same thing, and from the same playbook, including the same PR firms. The playbook says try as hard as you can to cloud the real science, deny the real science, and claim there is nothing we can do. Millions will die because the fossil fuel industry wants to lock in profits even when they know how much damage they are going to cause. Millions also die because controlling fossil fuel supplies is worth going to war over according to those in charge of policy in the US. You have to wonder how many of the climate change denying elected officials in the US could even pass High School Chemistry and Physics with their intentional disregard of the science of climate change. I guarantee that none of the deniers could explain in English how carbon dioxide blocks infrared radiation from bouncing off the earth and back into space, and we have always been told that if you want to actually refute an argument, you better be able to articulate what the other debater is saying so that it can be actually refuted. Without that it is all public policy based hot air.

Two issues that are used as examples of how communities are anti science are when they question the safety of genetically modified organisms (and the other claims of the giant agro chemical corporations) and nuclear power, but I would argue that the communities are properly skeptical of the pseudo science being peddled as science in these cases, as the questions the public has have never been answered properly and often the industries have done everything to hide data and prevent research on harms. This is America, the land of advertising, in which even snake oil salesmen have had successful runs. If genetically modified organisms were that good for us, and the long term security of the food supply, you would see company after company proudly labeling “Made with Genetically Modified Organisms” instead of food companies fighting labeling requirements. How can the public not be skeptical of an industry that hides data, hides ingredients, refuses to allow independent testing of their products, sues farmers who’s seed has been contaminated by escaping genetically modified organisms, and has been shown to vastly exaggerate the benefits to communities of their products without even acknowledging that there can be unintended consequences (the destruction of bird populations because of DDT is an early example) from the release of their products into the ecosystem. We are supposed to believe such folks?

I read an article about a scientist at MIT who is proposing to genetically modify mice to eliminate Lyme disease transmission. He proposes a new rule for science, especially at for profit businesses. Practice transparency. Real Transparency. Show all your data, show your methods, show the results, acknowledge the potential for unintended consequences and how you are working to prevent those. And do not continue with projects in the community if the community is opposed. Under this kind of transparency the entire society would benefit, by helping to stop hazardous events, and by reinforcing the value of transparency and community participation that can be useful in many disciplines and in solving many community problems. More good science and information from those who tinker with the planet would benefit communities too, as well as going a long way towards calming down the war on science and facts.

There has probably never been a golden age of funding for science, it has always been underfunded compared to what it brings to our communities, But it must be mentioned that at about the same time the right wing in the US started to lose its concern for the environment ( and our economy started to slowly unwind and slow down due to global forces as the western world recovered from the effects of WWII) and push back against legislation like the Clean Water act, or the Endangered Species act, the Republicans in the Congress started an effort to defund science as well as social services. Not all at once, but the funding for basic research in most fields started drying up in the 1970’s. Today most science funding is for medical research and for military applications, where it can lead to big profits for the favored few. It was much less top heavy in the past and included funding for the social and biological sciences until the Chamber of Commerce thought that too radical and dangerous. What this has left us with is corporate science and its deceits. Imagine a fully funded FDA that was not controlled by the drug companies or the revolving door looking at drug safety and the effects of chemical agriculture on kids. How about an EPA that could really protect communities? Or real funding for endangered species or clean water research. Imagine universities with geneticists not dependent upon Monsanto to explore gene splicing and testing to find out the effectiveness and health hazards of all the new chemicals produced each year and how they interact in the environment. The world might be a different and much better place. Maybe it is time we started to push harder for science in the public interest, especially at the nadir we have now entered.
Nuclear Power

The Nuclear Power industry is another one where community activists asking for proof of safety are labelled as anti science, anti progress, and now a days, against the stopping of climate change. This is one where we need to begin at the beginning.

Nuclear power was developed to provide a cover for the nuclear war industry. The killers were desperate to find some peaceful use so they could continue to make enough high grade material to make lots of bombs. If the nuclear power industry was not intimately related to the nuclear war industry, why was Iran sanctioned so hard for trying to use nuclear power to generate electricity? And why are the war hawks still trying to get sanctions reinstated after the concessions made by Iran?

The second lie of the nuclear power industry was too cheap to meter. Since the early days the nuclear power industry has suffered from cost overruns and all sorts of design and safety issues. Every business in the USA gets insurance on the private market except for the nuclear power industry. Based on the Price-Anderson act, the Federal government is responsible in case of disaster. Is this because the costs of cleanup after a disaster would bankrupt the insurers? These days the highly touted nuclear power revival goes no where without massive subsidies and has yet to demonstrate that it is economically viable on its own as the price for solar and wind electricity continue down. Added to this, no one has ever figured out how to safely store nuclear waste for 10,000 years (longer than cities have been around on earth) and the industry is still in denial about all the miners and communities that got sick mining uranium. The industry continues to blame the activists for the industry’s demise without ever looking at what the industry does. And the way the industry and government have worked together to hide information undermines community decision making based on the best possible information.

GMOs and nuclear power are a perfect example of why science and industry should use the precautionary principle as a guiding light, and a perfect example of the corporate playbook that pushes against anything that protects the public in the false name of jobs and the economy. Currently we have to prove a substance is directly dangerous by showing that it has already harmed people before anything can be done. If the precautionary principle was adopted the process would be that the producers of something to be released into the environment and our communities would have to prove it is safe, and discuss fully the implications of its release into the ecosystem, including how it might interact with substances already found in the environment, and how it might cascade through life forms, as well as what they are doing to minimize the chances of harm and the process by which the corporations and our governments will keep us informed. That the US needs a Superfund program, and the obstacles corporations throw in the way of the polluter pays principle, only reinforce the need for real transparency in corporate science and an effective counterweight.

The war on biology and the bio medical sciences

I strongly oppose the use of the medical industrial complex as an economic engine for our communities because of how it drives up the cost of healthcare. (Which is part of why it is a growth industry) While the war on the medical industrial/bio tech complex has to be looked at as a part of the war on science because of its relationship to biology, it is sort of a special case. Let us start with the war on biology. The war on biology always seems a bit strange to me because biology is how we understand life on earth, and since we are alive, knowing how we tick is critical. The religious fundamentalists who have not yet reached the 20th century, let alone the 21st, have a problem with evolution, despite the fact that most religions have made peace with evolution and all that implies. The war on biology from the anti evolutionary perspective has serious implications for the future of the biological sciences. Biology faces a direct challenge to its future work force and ability to study how the world works driven by religious Know Nothings who cause school system after school system to refuse to properly teach evolution. Modern biological sciences are grounded in the understanding of life from an evolutionary perspective and on the teasing apart and rearranging of the genetic code. You can not look at the long term changes on the planet or in genomes and understand how they work without understanding Darwinian evolution. Pushed by the zealots politicians then attempt to restrict what scientists can study. Places that teach creation science put their kids at risk in the knowledge economy, and their communities at risk from a variety of hazards such as quickly evolving flu viruses. Or are they expecting liberal cities will provide the vaccines if needed?

Some of the war on the biological sciences is self inflicted by the giant corporations. We are told genetically engineered foods and the chemicals sprayed on them are safe for eating and the environment. But it is quite obvious that not all of the claims of safety are true. Even if gmo corn pollen is not directly killing monarch butterflies, it is making their lives much more difficult as it leads to a disappearance of their habitat. How phony science works here is that the makers of toxic substances say they are safe.(Think Roundup) When a substance is shown to cause immediate harm, like DDT, it can usually be removed from inappropriate use or marketing, though removal can take many years. But if the effects are subtle and slow, thinly spread in ecosystems, or part of a very profitable industry, the claims of safety persist despite a slowly accumulating body of evidence that says that is not true,. The way corporations and politicians suggest we manage this issue is by not testing and not studying. Gives you a real warm and fuzzy feeling about corporate science and captured regulatory agencies. The situation is likely to worsen under a President Toxic Dump administration despite all he said about how people need clean air and water to stay healthy

People who express a great deal of concern that the substances and genetically modified life forms corporations are releasing into the environment, as products, byproducts or waste, could be causing various health issues are often dismissed as cranks, but most of why activists have been able to persist is because the corporations have hidden the data about failures and problems and harm to the community behind various legal walls. When sunlight shines, misdeeds are found and harms uncovered. Repeated violations tend to reinforce the distrust of corporate science, which becomes a distrust of all science for all of the reasons discussed earlier. To mitigate the war on science corporations ought to make sure all data is available to the public and other scientists for reproducibility and testing. To report what actually is going on without walls to hide behind. You have to ask why in America an innovative company would want to hide its products behind a no labelling wall if it did not have things to hide? If there was no smoke and fire, the activists opposing GMOs and pesticides would have long since drifted into irrelevance.

The medical industrial complex, while closely tied to the biological sciences, is sort of a world of its own, with very powerful lobbying arms for the most profitable sectors like pharmaceuticals and the giant hospitals. The problems start with the fact that the American health care industry is among the strangest in the world. It has the highest prices (by any measure and by a wide margin) while delivering the 37th best health care in the world. No other country has such a gap between cost and delivery. But we have the best and most fabulous cutting edge medicine.

The disconnect between what the medical industrial complex is capable of, and the delivery of health care to Americans mirrors the craziness of a research and manufacturing system that delivers great benefits to the favored few while becoming more and more unaffordable for the many. What is the point of doing research if it harms and bankrupts families and communities instead of helping them? Or creating a health care system unaffordable to a society? Burdening communities with subsidies to the high tech health care industry is part of what makes health care unaffordable while creating only a few jobs, most of which are inaccessible to the communities being taxed to subsidize them. Why subsidize research that will produce products we shall never be able to afford? A little honest discussion about the relationship between using health care as an economic driver, and providing health care to all of the American people might go a long way to help us control of the increases in the cost of health care as well as helping our communities develop their economies. But with the high profits hidden behind intellectual property laws and walls, and the power of the drug companies to buy Congressmen and legislators, I am not seeing it happen any time soon despite a desperate need and a continuing call for change by many.
The Economy

Leaving the sciences that are under attack, lets go to the dismal science. Economics has tried so hard to be a science that sometimes it appears that their “perfect” models of homo economicus are more important that what happens in the real world. In other words they are not interested in what works, but rather what fits the ideology, specifically neo liberalism.

The economy we are being sold by the politicians and the Chamber of Commerce types in Rhode Island is exactly the same neo liberal plan that gets top billing everywhere the wealthy can get away with it. The innovation economy, meds and eds. Services, software, and finance. Deregulation, a better business climate. Remember how much the pundits and politicians touted the FIRE (Finance, Real Estate, Insurance) industries that burnt down the economy in 2008 and are today setting us up for the next crash? The innovation economy pretends to be climate friendly, but they are just pretending as no large increase in consumption can be climate friendly in consumer societies. What we go forward into is a future in which about 25% of the people being left behind (90% of us, but only half vote and the rest voted for other candidates) by the innovation economy voted for the demagogue who will sell them out even huger, but talked about bringing manufacturing back despite the fact that it is impossible for manufacturing to create millions new jobs in the US considering modern manufacturing technologies, the inability of people to buy all that new stuff, and the continuing depletion of the Earth’s resources. The world is just different and the old strategy does not work except in the zealots minds. In Rhode Island the road away from this madness, the road away from an economy that keeps leaving folks behind, is one based on ecological healing and economic justice, but what we get is tax breaks for millionaires, fossil fuel power plants that no one wants, weakened environmental and consumer protections, ever more folks being left behind, and no evidence that tax breaks for the rich or making it easier to pollute do any good for 90% of the population.

More and more it is obvious that our communities would benefit more, poverty would be alleviated more, people would be healthier, if we accepted that the long term growth trend was down and that something other than neo liberalism was the best way to serve our communities and keep them strong in the new circumstances. Neo liberalism makes no sense in a slow growth world, and despite massive efforts to preserve it, neoliberalism is failing communities and ecosystems world wide.

Manifestations of the anti science agenda in the economy include the constant complaints that having to meet new and stronger environmental and safety standards costs jobs and the economy. I include this in the anti science agenda because new technologies are often involved in community up-wrenching activities. But a lot of the questioning of the science is self inflicted pain in the contortions of the greedy to get more. The comments that strong environmental regulations harm economies has repeatedly been disproven both in general and specifically. I am sure you can find a few industries in which clean up meant close down and a community became poorer, but the overall effects are massively positive. I talked to a state senator once and told him that it had been repeatedly shown that environmental regulations have a net positive effect on the economy and he just could not believe it. He had bought into the lie completely. It was sort of pathetic to see a supposedly educated person (a lawyer) who was so taken in by the lie. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts have been a boon to the American economy far beyond what implementation of regulations and standards has cost, in terms of innovations that can be exported around the world and the economic improvements based on healthy ecosystems and better health. But the new cabinet of President Toxic Dump and the Republicans in Congress will do everything they can to dismantle these laws. Maybe we need to invite them to the beach and ask them about the benefits of Clean Water?

The lie of a good business climate being critical to economic success is heard every day and constantly in the editorials in the newspaper, but you never see evidence that it actually works. Have you ever seen a legitimate academic study demonstrating that a good business climate correlates with a higher economic growth rate? I guarantee that if such a study existed it would have been front page headlines everywhere and on all media. That you never have seen such a study is because there is no proof that the neoliberal Koch brother financed formula works. The academic studies that compare business climates and economic performance have come to the conclusion that the effect of the business climate on growth rates is almost too small to measure and a minuscule proportion of the factors that go into economic performance. The Kansas Inc study cited below is no longer on the web for reasons I will get to shortly. But I have a copy available electronically and if you contact me I would be happy to send it to you so you can read it for yourself.

This is the study

Business Climate Indexes:
Which Work, Which Don’t, and What Can They Say About the Kansas Economy?
June 2005
George Bittlingmayer, Ph.D. Wagnon Professor of Finance University of Kansas School of Business

Liesl Eathington Industry Specialist Office of Social and Economic Trend Analysis Iowa State University

Arthur P. Hall, Ph.D. Executive Director Center for Applied Economics University of Kansas School of Business

Peter F. Orazem, Ph.D. Koch Visiting Professor of Business Economics University of Kansas School of Business

Prepared for: Kansas Inc

The great irony about this study is that after it was published a Tea Party Republican governor was elected in Kansas and implemented the whole neo liberal agenda of low taxes and little government. The economy dropped out of the bottom in Kansas to the point where schools were closing early, Despite natural resource based state economies in the US mostly growing faster than old industrial economies in the various states, Kansas experienced one of the worst economic performances among the 50 states for several years, and this report was taken off the web site as the Kansas government had to downsize.

Here is a summary of key conclusions

“Table 4 reveals several facts about business climate indexes:
1) None of the business climate indexes can explain a large proportion of the variation in growth across counties. The best performing business climate indexes explained at most 5% of the variation in relative growth at the borders, suggesting that most of the variation in economic performance is due to factors not captured by state-level business climate measures. This would seem to suggest that business climate is unimportant in driving relative growth among the states. We conclude that the majority of the variation in growth is due to local business factors that affect comparative advantage, local policies, or state policies not reflected in the indexes . ”

I do not think it could be clearer. Low taxes and deregulation do nothing to improve economic performance. You want to be Mississippi or California? Playing the business climate game and claiming environmental and safety regulations are onerous is bogus, and not based on real data. But despite this the politicians follow the corporate paymasters and tout neoliberal agendas that have not proven to work in the real world.

The auto industry is always cited as an example of the costs of regulation. The car manufacturers claimed that seat belts were too costly and people would stop buying cars. Big lie. Who did not buy a car because they had to spend $100 on seat belts? They claimed clean air regulations would put them out of business and cost communities. Detroit ran itself into the ground, but it was not because of the innovations it produced that made cars cleaner and safer, and if you add up all the benefits to the society the balance sheet is overwhelmingly on the side of public health saving us way more than the upgrades cost. And this has been repeated in industry after industry. The innovations to meet the new standards have benefitted the bottom line. There is an old story, that may simply be an urban legend but provides insight into American corporate mind games, about how when the clean car standards came into being Toyota hired 1000 engineers to design new cars that met the standard, while General Motors hired 1000 lawyers to fight the standards. Guess who came out ahead?

This also applies to all of the ways we try to keep water clean. Maybe it is cheap to dump sewage in the river instead of treating it, but the public health improvements over the years more than pay for themselves in community health and access to resources. In fact the death rate in cities were always higher than the birth rates until the introduction of sewer systems. The regulations that protect wetlands are one of the biggest bug a boo’s in America. The data is clear, protecting water benefits communities and adds to the bottom line. Protecting watersheds against fouling the water, and damaging wetlands and watershed capacity to absorb rain provides massive benefits to communities. But there is always a push by “developers” and industrialists to build along rivers, next to ponds, on top of filled swamps. People like to be near the water, to have access to the water, even if it means destroying the water the community wants to be near. And wetlands in the woods are just in the way. Private profit overwhelming public good based on the myth of deregulation boosting the economy. And they want it cheap.

In other words all of our economic development policies are based on myths and lies. The myth that we can grow the economy, the myth that subsidies to the rich grow the economy, the myth that undoing regulations that protect the environment and public health and destroying the ecology is good for the economy, and the myth that the business climate determines how fast the economy will grow. All lies. Is it any wonder that the politicians are getting crazier, you can only live a lie so long before it rots your mind. The economy can not deliver any of the benefits it is supposed to deliver, and no one will talk about what is actually going on. The policies get stupider and the demagogues get weirder.


We are in a pickle. Truth is not relevant. Corporations lie with impunity, millions die to preserve their profits. The state of the world, the collapse of ecosystems, the long term trends in the economy, instead of being factored in to our calculations about what to do, are considered irrelevant at best, a lie in the darker days. Promises of growth are made but are undeliverable, what growth is seen in old industrial economies is mostly wealth stolen by the rich from the poor or the planet, depletion considered profit. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Climate change is the existential crisis of our times. The work we all do to get through the changes is going to require the best information. The best science. Public policy based on actual facts. But we live in a land in which the war on a science by the most rich and powerful to preserve profits has just become the dominant theme of government instead of a sub-theme Welcome to a strange new world, the end times of democracy or the new rebirth of a climate smart community as we recover from being trumped and demand sanity again? All I know is that the more truth we have about what is going on, the more we live in a place in which facts matter and coverups stop happening, the more likely we shall have more prosperous communities and communities with better understanding of how to govern themselves for the greater good. And since all of us are smarter than some of us, if we have transparency and justice, communities will be able to protect ecosystems because that is what helps them to be prosperous and healthy.

I have looked at environmental issues around the world for 50 years. My determination is that the only thing that EVER protects the long term integrity of communities and ecosystems is democracy. If the voice in the public square is only that of the rich and powerful, the odds of a community actually solving problems is near nil. If the community can not legally or in solidarity stop bad developments then democracy is a sham. If we can not produce community economic and scientific/ecological data that actually reflects what is going on how can we tell what is actually working, Transparency is a work in progress with some places requiring more effort to get things to see the light of day, Even so, 99% of the time, the places people want to live are the places with the most open and transparent policies, democracies in which the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness are most respected.

The struggle in Rhode Island is how much subsidy for real estate development is necessary or even warranted and how much tax cuts for the rich will harm us. The problem is that in a society in which economic inequality is growing and more folks are being left behind, we are being told that we should subsidize the already wealthy for doing something that supposedly is a profit making enterprise, despite a complete lack of evidence that it actually helps us. There is something clearly wrong with this picture. If we are subsidizing something, then we are at least pretending that it has some public benefit So why does the public benefit end up in the pockets of the few instead of the entire society? We are told that regulations to protect the public are an impediment , again without any evidence that it is true. Our economy is completely out of balance, with the rich getting richer and everyone else falling behind. And only the worst things we can do for our communities make it to the top of the policy agenda.

I do not know what it will take to bring good science back. I do not know what it will take to get the lies out of the center of the public policy agenda. All I know is that I am going to continue to fight for truth, justice, healthy prosperous communities, and the forests, and do everything I can to help us muddle through.