Environmental Politics, Think
Greta Thunberg should study economics.
And U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin should study morals.
Last month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in response to a reporter’s question about whether Greta Thunberg’s proposal to end fossil fuel investment would threaten U.S. economic growth, cleverly dodged the question by saying that the kettle wasn’t black enough. Which was what most of the media focused on, never mind Mnuchin not answering an important question that the reporter asked Mnuchin, not Thunberg. Mnuchin’s time at Goldman Sachs as Chief Information Officer served him in good stead when, by way of further diversion, he cited health and nuclear proliferation as “more important issues” than the environment and global warming.
That’s ironic because most of modern society’s health problems stem from an economic system that treats environmental concerns such as global warming and pollution as externalities, thereby ignoring critical factors in what should be an ivory tower economist’s perfect equation of costs and benefits.
And one of the threats of nuclear proliferation is a result of our economy’s addiction to oil.
Capitalism may just be the greatest perpetual-motion machine hoax ever invented. From a scientific perspective, physical perpetual-motion machines are impossible. Every idea for a physical perpetual-motion machine has been roundly discredited by scientists, who inevitably tease out the trick. The capitalist perpetual-motion machine hoax (e.g. Ponzi schemes) relies on the same tricks. Usually, the trick is ignoring friction (making disbenefits externalities) by supplying a hidden source of momentum (subsidies, tax breaks and favorable regulations).
Capitalism doesn’t work, or doesn’t work well enough (at least a 10% Return On Investment), without monopolies, rigged markets, false or misleading advertising, externalized costs, tax breaks and political/regulatory favoritism.
If Greta Thunberg studied economics, maybe she could find a way to make capitalism compassionate. Over the centuries, untold thousands of economics students have failed. They’ve sharpened its fangs and silvered its tongue. They’ve taught it to bully and lie and subvert democracy.
What’s interesting about Mnuchin’s response is that, as a trained economist, he should know very well whether fossil fuel divestment would hurt the U.S. economy. But he chose not to answer. Was he afraid that his answer would unsettle the markets and reveal the truth about the moral corruption that characterizes capitalism as practiced in the 21st century?
An end to fossil fuel investment would hurt parts of the U.S. economy, but it would benefit other parts of the economy, such as the wind, solar and mass transit sectors. It might even have benefits for household budgets. It’s a matter of whose ox gets gored. Mnuchin was Trump’s chief money raiser, the fossil fuel industry gave generously to the Trump campaign, so you know whose ox will get gored this round.
Get thee to a seminary
Maybe Steve Mnuchin should study morals. Economics and MBA students don’t have to study morals. Students would have to take time away from the business school campus and walk all the way over to the philosophy department, which wouldn’t be economical or efficient, and might lead to the economic disbenefit of business students changing their majors and wasting their business education when they discover how morally corrupt 21st century capitalism really is.
John deJong is the associate publisher of CATALYST.