An Invisible Debt Made Visible

Externalized costs have been on my mind for a very long time. Ours is a self-enclosed biosphere. All costs are ultimately internal, no matter how much we pretend otherwise.

My sense of the political has been rooted in environmentalism, from early on in my life. This worldview has been informed by a larger environmental sense of the world, including the social and economic environment. It’s always been how I experience reality, as something far beyond the false divisions we create and reify—between individual and collective, self and world, society and nature.

My young political sensibility was expressed in school papers I wrote about externalized costs, a gut level intuition about what was being lost. These papers were about overpopulation and pollution. Now here I am as an adult and everything has gotten far worse, some might say beyond the point of no return.

Pollution and environmental destruction knows no boundary. The natural world cares not about our ideological beliefs. It doesn’t matter who is fault when the costs come due. The free market is and always was bullshit. Nothing is free, even if we don’t see the price tag. In fact, capitalism is rather costly. The ultimate cost might be greater than we can afford.

These costs are highly personal. I’ve talked many times about lead toxicity, the costs of which are numerous and yet still measurable. For every IQ point lost to lead toxicity, it is a specific amount of money lost in lifetime earnings. Multiply that by many IQ points lost for untold millions of people. The costs are devastating and that is considering just one of many costs.

Considering all pollution and environmental degradation, that is the cause of 40% of the deaths worldwide. Those deaths include working men and women who were helping care for family members. Those deaths represent human potential thrown away. Those deaths didn’t just happen instantly but followed years or even decades of illnesses, suffering, and healthcare costs.

Other costs are also economic on the larger scale, which also can be measured. For a long time, I’ve suspected that many corporations would go bankrupt if they were ever forced to pay for their externalized costs. This was shown to be the case with a recent UN report:

“The report found that when you took the externalized costs into effect, essentially NONE of the industries was actually making a profit. The huge profit margins being made by the world’s most profitable industries (oil, meat, tobacco, mining, electronics) is being paid for against the future: we are trading long term sustainability for the benefit of shareholders. Sometimes the environmental costs vastly outweighed revenue, meaning that these industries would be constantly losing money had they actually been paying for the ecological damage and strain they were causing.”

This means these industries are environmentally a net loss to the global society. They aren’t contributing more to society than they are taking away. All the rhetoric of capitalism, meritocracy, and progress is lies built upon lies.

We obsess about individual problems when that isn’t the real danger we face. We make people feel guilty about recycling at home while corporations throw out so much potential recyclables as to make all the rest look minuscule. Similarly, almost all the pollution comes from big biz, not from people driving their cars too much or whatever. If we wanted to make a dent in these problems, we’d tackle it at the largest level of the most major contributors to these problems, instead of tinkering around the edges.

Meanwhile, these companies that profit from human misery, from the forced sacrifice of present and future generations lobby the world’s governments so that they’ll make even greater profit. They get tax breaks and subsidies. They hide their profits in fake businesses and secret overseas accounts. We debate about whether taxes are too high when any rational and moral person is forced to admit that taxes don’t come close to offsetting all the costs these filthy rich corporations force onto the rest of society.

Why do we tolerate this? Are we mentally deranged? Are we suicidal?

If the unsustainable costs of industrial externalities doesn’t incite mass outrage and force systemic global reform, then there is no hope left for humanity. We are doomed. Saving capitalism from communism will be the least of anyone’s worries.

Is anyone paying attention? It’s only the survival of civilization as we know it. No biggie. Have we grown so cynical and fearful that we can’t even face reality barreling down on us like a freight train? We are looking at a nightmare scenario.

Costs can be externalized and deferred. But costs can’t be denied.
Even if we are lucky enough to die before costs become due, do we really want to be such sociopathic assholes in the legacy we leave for the coming generations, for our children and grandchildren? They will curse us for what we did and failed to do.

We will be among the most hated generations ever born. There will be no forgiveness for us. Memorials will be built in memory of the evil we committed and the destruction we caused.

Of course, we could in this moment begin to lessen some of this harm. We could prepare for the consequences we’ve unleashed. We could give these next generations a fighting chance. Will we?

21 thoughts on “An Invisible Debt Made Visible

    • Inch by inch, the ruling elite push the masses toward revolt. Each group harmed (students in debt, poor minorities, rural whites, the unemployed, etc) is just one part of the larger population, until all of those separate groups finally realize that their fate is shared.

  1. Yeah I think so,

    A big problem I see is that the wealthy liberals don’t realize they have more in common with the people who had their jobs destroyed by the economy or outsourced than they do with the rich.

  2. From Sanders:

    Last month, Sanders ally Keith Ellison lost the race for the leadership of the Democratic Party to former Labor Secretary Tom Perez. And when asked by The New York Times earlier this month what the Democratic Party stood for, Sanders struggled to provide an answer.

    “You’re asking a good question, and I can’t give you a definitive answer,” he said. “Certainly there are some people in the Democratic Party who want to maintain the status quo. They would rather go down with the Titanic so long as they have first-class seats.”

    Apparently this was the article where this was from:

    In early February, Elizabeth Warren, in a speech to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, warned that while the Democrats were fashioning themselves into an opposition party, that was not enough to solve the problems that put them in the position of becoming an opposition party in the first place. “Men like Donald Trump come to power when their countries are already in deep trouble,” she said. “There are some in the Democratic Party who urge caution. They say this is a tactical problem: ‘We need better data. We need better social media. We need better outreach. We need better talking points.’ Better talking points? Are you kidding me? People were so desperate for economic change in this country that Donald Trump was just inaugurated as president, and people think we need better talking points? What alternative planet are they living on?”

    When I met Warren a few weeks later, I asked her about the speech, and whether the postelection unity that Trump provided the Democratic Party made her ambitions to reform it easier or harder to realize. “I think it has reminded Democrats we need to run on our values,” she replied, parrying the question. “Because our values are more in line with most of America.” If you squinted at the bodies packing the streets and the town halls, though, the picture looked an awful lot like the recent past: Here were people drawn together in defense of liberal immigration and refugee policies, reproductive rights, civil liberties and preserving Obama’s policy legacy, and in opposition to a president who was moving against all those things. These were last year’s arguments, only louder. If Trump, as president, seemed unable to let go of his 2016 campaign, the Democrats seemed like they were acting out an improved version of their own — the crowds bigger and more unified, the stakes more clearly understood.

    The big question I see is, what of the left of the Democratic Party?

    They clearly seem to realize what is going on and the extent of the problems.

    • I didn’t notice any comment by you in the spam box, at least not in the first page of spam. There are several pages of spam I’ll look through later. I’ll also watch that video later. I have to go to work.

    • I looked through my entire spam box and cleared it out. There was no comment by you to be found, but I did find someone else’s comment misplaced there. It seems the internet likes the taste of your comments.

      Anywho, I watched the video. No matter how bad it gets, most Democrats just can’t bring themselves to do the right thing. They have to know this is the reason Trump won. It doesn’t matter because they also know that if they went against corporate interests they’d lose even more.

      The party is so infiltrated and dominated by corporate interests that it can’t be anything else at this point. To go against those corporate interests would be party suicide, but maybe it’s time for the party to commit suicide and make way for a party of the people.

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