Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. See main page for full contents

September 23, 2009


By Ralph Nader

Sam Smith - It had never crossed my mind that Ralph Nader might be more optimistic than I am. Not in a thousand years would I have thought of suggesting to him that he recruit Warren Buffett to straighten out the remains of the First American Republic.

Yet in his new novel, Nader not only recruits Buffet but sixteen others of the super rich to do just that, albeit only in a virtual sense based on his dream of what such an exercise might produce. Nader walks them through the project and describes in detail how they come together and get things rolling.

It's not as weird as it sounds. We have been taught that one can either make money or engage in selfless service. The two are considered almost mutually exclusive.

In fact, there are plenty of models to the contrary. For example, it was once said of the Quakers that they came to this country to do good and they did very well. The Quaker business ethos simply concocts a decent, workable compromise between the selfish and the selfless. Fishing and agriculture do the same. Lobstermen understand that tossing catches that are too small or have eggs back into the sea is not just a matter of law but of self preservation. Long before the ecological movement, farmers understood that the soil was something that had to be served as well as used. And there are large co-ops that produce millions of dollars but also consumer satisfaction you don't find in the ordinary marketplace.

Still, and especially since the disaster of Reaganism and pandemic MBAs, conscience is often treated as expendable and not cost effective.

So for Nader to toy with the contrary notion is not only a relief; we can learn something about how we have allowed our own conceptions to be packaged by the corporate mind and what an alternative might look like.

It is, thus, a fictional artifice but a worthy one because it takes us places we would otherwise not even imagine could exist.

Still, I did get a little worried because, as I was reading Nader's novel, I was visited by a friend who spends a good deal of time in the company of conference-hopping aficionados of ideas that most haven't even considered.

The example he offered this time provided a strange and somewhat scary twist on Nader's vision. What, he asked, if the world reached the state of no return in climate change, a state in which the only conceivable solution would be some form of untested geo-engineering?

What if the politicians of the world could not bring themselves to try it, but one of the super rich decides to save the world?

It's not inconceivable. One estimate has it that it would cost about $9 billion to make artificial clouds by spraying seawater into the atmosphere. No country wants the risk, many scientists doubt the effectiveness or safety, but a member of the super rich with $9 billion in assets and credit decides it is their god given responsibility to save the earth.

Now let's say that the super rich would-be benefactor turns out to be motivated more by self-confidence and ambition than by judgment and wisdom and that the geo-engineering not only doesn't work, it causes some sort of horrendous damage. As geo-engineering expert Ken Caldeira puts it, "Geo-engineering is not an alternative to carbon emissions reductions. If emissions keep going up and up, and you use geo-engineering as a way to deal with it, it's pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly."

Wikipedia lists some of the dangers:

[] Performance of the systems may become ineffective, unpredictable or unstable as a result of external events, such as volcanic eruptions, phytoplankton blooms, El Nino, solar flares, etc., potentially leading to profound and unpredictable disruption to the climate system. . .

There may be unintended climatic consequences, such as changes to the hydrological cycle including droughts or floods, caused by the geo engineering techniques, but possibly not predicted by the models used to plan them. Such effects may be cumulative or chaotic in nature, making prediction and control very difficult.. . .

The geo-engineering techniques would, in many instances, be vulnerable to being switched off or deliberately destroyed. As examples, cloud making ships could be switched off or sunk and space mirrors could be tilted to make them useless. Anyone capable of exerting such power may seek to abuse it for commercial gain, military advantage or simple terrorism. []

The super rich benefactor who gets the geo-engineering going may be too self-confident, too ignorant of the dangers, or too inclined to risk taking to consider such factors.

Here is the flaw in Nader's vision. Ironically, you can already see the problem with the Obama administration, which Nader has roundly criticized. Instead of the super rich we have the super smart, but we are learning that smart is not necessarily wisdom, that putting too much faith in too few can actually slow progress (witness the slogging stimulus package) and the arrogance that accompanies both wealth and intelligence can lead you in poor and even dangerous directions.

On the other hand, I suspect Nader may have a hidden agenda, not blind faith in the potential of his imaginary band of super rich but the hope he might convince one or more of the real ones to change their ways. Perhaps he has actually written a 700 page recruitment pamphlet to get Warren Buffet and others to alter their values and value a different altar. To get Warren Beatty to say, "Okay Ralph. You're right. What do you want me to do?"

And even if he doesn't succeed with the super rich his novel has plenty of ideas normal Americans could use to make this a better place. Nader has written his work of fiction; it's up to us to turn it into reality. ORDER


Anonymous wellbasically said...

The elite progressive collaborates with the elite rich to squash the only possible competitor to the super-rich, the upper-middle class.

It seems that Nader has gone over totally to the anti-democratic tendencies of the very very wealthy, who enjoy pulling strings from the center of the web to knock off anybody who might threaten their social dominance.

Population control, slow growth, high taxation of income -- these are all tools the very rich use to beat down the middle class. Nader openly performs the role of servant of the elite. Sickening.

September 23, 2009 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At one time, it was the rich who provided most of America's public works - and employed the poor to create them. As our federal and state governments have grown in power, the rich have retreated to serve those areas that the government is first to abandon whenever their profligacy trashes the economy: universities, libraries, arts institutions, medical institutions, public parks and open spaces, scholarships, etc. There is a vast amount of unrecognized public service and generosity from America's rich . . . but a government addicted to buying votes with taxpayer's money isn't likely to draw attention to it.

September 24, 2009 12:09 AM  
Anonymous pay justice said...

wellbasically left someone out: Ralph Nader and Sam Smith are both openly and willingly performing the snivelling cowards' role of servant of the elitist paradigm here. This sub-rational trash goes beyond the pale of disgusting. No friend to humanity would ever have published this terrible poison: only the ignorant and enemies of humanity support the overpayunderpay that is killing us all and this planet.

Ralph Nader, Sam Smith, and anonymous 12:09 apparently believe that the thief who stole everything off you and then gave you back a small part of it is a heroic and necessary benefactor to humanity.

Too stupid - just too, too stupid.

Thanks for showing your true colors, Sam Smith: you don't love justice at all, you just pay it lip service to get yourself a good reputation. I'll waste no more time thinking you might one day actually figure out that economic inequality is LEGAL THEFT and is the issue that cuts across all other issues.

Go ahead, Sam - you just continue to endlessly collect, catalogue, criticize and complain about what wealthpower giants do, and tell yourself you're doing something useful. While you flatter your ego with that, the friends of humanity will be out here doing the work that actually matters:

We'll be steadily murdering the idea to tolerate the diabolically stupid and eventually all-species fatal injustice of allowing overpayunderpayoverpowerunderpower; we'll be murdering the idea of allowing unlimited withdrawals from the finite pool of wealth that only work creates; we'll be disabusing the human species of the world's worst idea ever - the idea to allow wealthpower giants - the idea to allow people to take out billions more times from the pool of wealth than they have put in.

Shame on you for cheerleading for egregious economic injustice, Sam Smith. Deep shame is upon you. Go crouch down and lick the hands that feed you - and may posterity forget that you were my countryman.

September 24, 2009 9:42 AM  
Anonymous wellbasically said...

Anonymous, look at the story on the collapse in humanities enrollment since 1970. Humanities departments and arts organizations are not centers of creation any more. In the early 70s the economic system changed to reward dealing and trading over making thing people would buy. Likewise, the university had to change to reflect this.

The super-rich have only become wealthier not by working or making, but by placing capital in locations optimized for one government action or another -- actions they had advance knowledge of, because they are buddies with government appointees. Art theorists, in the pay of the super-rich, developed elaborate excuses why the middle-class virtues of work were now outmoded, and cultural production followed suit.

Anybody who was dealing in fakery and scams all day would be repelled at the though of reading books, listening music, or looking at art that actually examined reality.

By now this effort has run its course. The elites drove the humanities departments into the ground, Nader has given up all hope of convincing the middle class electorally, and they are both begging the super-rich to bail them out.

September 24, 2009 1:08 PM  
Blogger Ryanaldo said...

when the very "rich" in America built most public works...there were very few public works in America indeed.

As it is, most of those very rich were simply the wheelers and dealers who got an early government charter or monopoly or landgrant or financing for roads, liquor, mines, rail roads, ferries, mail contracts, canals, etc.

September 25, 2009 8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bitch about Nader all you want, it doesn't change the fact that things aren't fair. Some people have way more than they deserve. Boo hoo, I know. It drives me crazy too.

But we need solutions. Things that work in the real world. And no idea is to crazy to be adduced.

Nader hasn't capitulated. And the rich aren't a different species. If we were to achieve an egalitarian society, then you would have to make friends and work alongside former invesment bankers and generals.

It's more complicated than simple good vs. evil.

September 26, 2009 4:01 PM  

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