Friday, January 26, 2024

December's "Done & Dusted"

A late one this month. It happens.

Cue cut and paste . . . 

What is now a regular feature on the blog . . . okay, you've already read this bit before so I'll scrub the rest of this paragraph. (Note to self: come up with some new schtick for next month's "Done & Dusted".)

Here's a list of the Socialist Standards that were completed on the blog in the month of December 2023. Slowly but surely the digitization of the Standard is *cough* nearing completion. If I was to hazard a guess, I'd say it will be finished by the end of 2024  2029. Famous last words, and all that. 

They are broken up into separate decades for the hard of hearing.

December's "Done & Dusted"

Another 19 down. 

At some point in the future I need to tot up the total of how many Socialist Standards there are still to be completed. It'll be in the hundreds but it'd be nice to get a gist of where I'm at on the digitisation of the Standard project.

Voice From The Back: Pollution and profits (2010)

The Voice From The Back Column from the January 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pollution and profits

Every vote-seeking politician in the world waxes eloquent about the urgent need for a curb to be placed on global emissions. They fly hither and thither across the world addressing congresses about their deep concern for the planet’s future. Behind these vote catching antics however lies a more pressing problem – how to compete against international rivals in obtaining a larger share of the profits. At a recent meeting in Singapore those politician showed where their real priorities lie. “A key element of the international plan to address climate change is in jeopardy after several of the most powerful nations failed to confirm a previous commitment to halve gas emissions by 2050. The Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum, which includes the US, China, Japan and Russia deleted their commitment from the final version of the official communiqué issued after a two-day meeting in Singapore. …Most climate scientists believe that a 50 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2050 is the minimum needed to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic change.” (Times, 16 November) For some national governments to reduce industrial pollution could be economic suicide. Their costs would go up and they would not be able to compete with other nations that had not reduced their pollution. Inside capitalism in the battle between less pollution or more profits there is only one winner.

Capitalism in action

The case for a transformation of society from one of class division to one to one of social ownership was made very powerfully by two recent press reports. Here is how the present class division favours a tiny minority. Take the example of John Paulson, a hedge-fund manager in New York. “His firm made $20 billion between 2007 and early 2009 by betting against the housing market and big financial companies. Mr. Paulson’s personal cut would amount to nearly $4 billion, or more than $10 million a day.” (Wall Street Journal, 15 November) At the other end of the class division we read of this. “According to the FAO, the number of malnourished people in the world rose to over 1 billion this year, up from 915m in 2008. Economists at the World Bank reckon that the number living on less than $1.25 a day will rise by 89m between 2008 and 2010 and those on under $2 a day will rise by 120m..” (Economist, 19 November) Some people trying to survive on a couple of dollars a day while some useless parasite rips off millions, don’t you think we need a new society?

The next war? 

Capitalism is an explosively competitive society. We have had two world wars. One was supposed to be “the war to end all wars” the other was supposed to be a “war for democracy”. That was all nonsense of course. War inside capitalism is the logical outcome of competition for sources of raw materials, trade routes. markets and spheres of political dominance. Where is the next powder keg of competition? No one knows, but here is a possibility. “At the crossroads between east and west in the desert nation of Turkmenistan, a quiet battle is under way for natural gas, oil and influence, and the U.S. and Europe are losing out to China and the Muslim world. There’s a lot at stake: the Central Asian country has the world’s fourth-largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil reserves, putting it in the same energy league as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iraq. Plus, its position just north of Afghanistan could be hugely beneficial to NATO as it seeks more reliable supply routes to its troops on the ground there.” (TIME, 29 November) Socialists are as clueless as everyone else about where the next conflict will arise. What we are certain about is that thousands of men and women will die in conflicts in the future over their master’s quarrels. We are also certain that only world socialism can stop such a tragedy.

It must be obvious

“Hospital cleaners are worth more to society than bankers, a study suggests. The research, carried out by think tank the New Economics Foundation, says hospital cleaners create £10 of value for every £1 they are paid. It claims bankers are a drain on the country because of the damage they caused to the global economy. They reportedly destroy £7 of value for every £1 they earn. Meanwhile, senior advertising executives are said to “create stress”. The study says they are responsible for campaigns which create dissatisfaction and misery, and encourage over-consumption.” (BBC News, 14 December) Of course think tanks, because they are servants of capitalism see everything in terms of pound notes, but even they must see that all useful work and a lot of useless work is carried out by the working class. The owning class produce no wealth whatsoever. All they do is consume wealth.

Pathfinders: Top of the Pop Charts (2010)

The Pathfinders Column from the January 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

While the Cop15 delegates were largely copping out at Copenhagen recently, one fairly relevant aspect of the world’s dire whether forecast (that is, whether we survive or not) scarcely rated a mention, which was the question of global population. This oversight was duly noted by the Chinese delegation (China Daily, 10 December) which, possibly anxious to offset western criticism of their tactics at Copenhagen, seized the opportunity to justify the country’s unpopular and repressive One Child Policy as a positive contribution to global emissions reduction. The news report quotes research by postgraduate student Thomas Wire of the London School of Economics: “Each $7 spent on basic family planning would reduce CO2 emissions by more than one ton whereas it would cost $13 for reduced deforestation, $24 to use wind technology, $51 for solar power, $93 for introducing hybrid cars and $131 electric vehicles.” Such research will no doubt bolster China’s already unparalleled enthusiasm for reducing its, and other countries’ populations, either by birth control or firing squad.

There’s no question that population growth is going to pass the carrying capacity of the planet at some point. The world is currently pushing 6.8 billion people and if you go to the website of the Optimum Population Trust at you can watch the ticking counter go up at the rate of two per second. David Attenborough, a patron of this trust along with Jane Goodall, James Lovelock and other notables, takes the same doomsday view (Horizon Special, BBC1, repeated 5 January) as that other famous patron and author of the 1968 book The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich.

Socialists have often criticised Ehrlich’s view in the past, in particular his claims, written prior to the flowering of the Green Revolution of the 1970s, that population had already outstripped food capability and that hundred of millions would starve to death. But as food yields have gone up, so have populations, and the argument is not going to go away. Global population by 2050 is estimated at between 9.2 and 10.6 billion (, with most of the growth occurring in the least developed countries, while in developed countries there is a steady decline in fertility and death rates. Population is likely to be a factor in the resource wars we can expect to see in the next century.

Ehrlich, the Trust, and David Attenborough in the Horizon programme all argue the same simple view, that the population growth rate can be slowed or reversed by just two factors, contraception and education. This view has the benefit of being uncomplicated by questions of culture, politics or religion and thus palatable to the broadest audience, but is it true? Yes, says John Guillebaud, emeritus professor of family planning and reproductive health at University College, London, who argues that conventional wisdom, which says that couples in poorer societies actively plan to have large families to compensate for high child mortality, to provide labour, and to care for parents in their old age, is wrong. According to Prof Guillebaud, half of all  pregnancies worldwide are accidental conceptions rather than insurance policies, and demand for contraception increases when it is available, regardless of a society’s wealth or child survival rates: “The evidence is clear within a wide variety of settings that – despite no prior increase in per capita wealth or child survival or other presumed essentials – demand for contraception increases when it becomes available, accessible, and accompanied by correct information about its appropriateness and safety.” (

One wonders how the professor knows that fifty percent of all children are accidents, but population growth rates do indeed seem to correlate roughly in inverse ratio to the rate of birth control, if one compares figures (see [Dead Link).

However, to imply from this that the issue is simply a practical ‘numbers game’ with no ethical or political dimension is a bit contra-perceptive. The UN estimates that over 200 million women worldwide lack access to effective contraception, but it is not necessarily because it is unobtainable, but because religion opposes it or men refuse to use contraceptives. Globally it is women who take responsibility.  The number one method of contraception worldwide is female sterilisation, IUDs are second, the pill third, and male condom use is number four, and mostly confined to Europe and Japan. Meanwhile, as is well known, the Pope and his ilk have been going around sub-Saharan Africa helpfully telling locals that condoms spread AIDS (TimesOnline, March 17, 2009). Thus at the least there are gender and religious issues to be addressed.

And let’s get population numbers into perspective. It used to be said you could fit the world’s population comfortably onto the Isle of Wight. Well, times have changed, and one enterprising commentator has recalculated this figure to show that, as of October 2007, you would have to add in the Isle of Man, as well as Jersey and Guernsey ( As of 2010 you would need to start on the Scottish islands as well. But the basic point remains the same – humans don’t take up that much space by themselves. It’s what they do with the rest of the space that counts.

And that is a political issue, because rich countries demand far more space and resources than poor ones, and rich people far more than poor people even within rich countries. Carbon emission footprints also increase in lock-step with income, not population. Though population growth is clearly not sustainable long-term, it is made a much worse problem because of the disparities in wealth and consumption that capitalism causes.
Paddy Shannon