While I’m at it, here are some articles available online that are worth reading.

Well-known Professor of Economics and writer/journalist Paul Krugman, in the New York Times, March 2008 writes an article entitled “Malthus was right!”. 

He refers therein to a Wall Street Journal article published in the same month entitled “New Limits to Growth Revive Malthusian Fears”.

And here’s a piece called “When Environmental Writers Are Part of the Problem” by John Feeney, from July 2007:

Something’s missing in today’s environmental discussion. When talking about causes and proposed solutions for our ecological plight, few environmental writers are telling us more than half the story. Al Bartlett, physics professor emeritus at the University of Colorado and long time sustainability activist, calls it “the silent lie.”

It’s the near universal tendency to focus on the importance of cutting fossil fuel use while staying mum on the topic of population growth.

Finally, a presentation called “Population and Climate Change” given by Karen Hardee, Vice President for Research of Population Action International can be found here.

There was an interesting comment piece in the Irish Times on Tuesday, “Rising populations are at core of overseas aid issue” .  My main reaction to it was one of mild surprise that a respected establishment organ was providing a platform for what, for some peculiar reason, seems to be treated as if it were a radical, minority, viewpoint: that we should try to do something about world population growth.  Bizarrely, it seems politically incorrect to advocate population control, even the sort of voluntary control policies advocated by the Optimum Population Trust (OPT)  .

 This quasi-taboo was referred to in a Financial Times editorial last September: 

“For too long population control has been virtually absent from international political discourse. Leaders have been reluctant to raise the issue for several reasons. One is fear of the powerful religious lobbies opposed to contraception. Another is the unfortunate legacy of some over-enthusiastic family planning campaigns in the past, such as India’s in the 1970s….But several factors are now coming together to put family planning back on the global agenda where it belongs. The most immediate is climate change.”

 The link between climate change and overpopulation should be almost too obvious to be mentioned.  Here’s what OPT have to say: 

“All serious environmentalists know perfectly well that population growth, exploding in the 20th century, has been a key driver of every environmental problem. It’s a fact, not an opinion, that total human impact is the average per person multiplied by the number of people.

“Yet for far too long, governments and environmental NGOs have observed a taboo – invented in the 1980s by a bizarre coalition of the religious right and the liberal left – on stating this obvious fact. So they keep on implying that our numbers can grow forever with no ill effects. It’s a ‘silent lie’ and by encouraging us to ignore the vital need to stabilise our numbers by humane means (contraception) before nature does it for us by inhumane, natural means (famine, disease, war) this absurd taboo betrays our children.”

David Attenborough, the world’s best-known natural history filmmaker, is now adding his voice to those who are calling for action, and has become a patron of OPT.  This was mentioned in another sensible Irish Times piece last July, called “Planet is buckling under weight of people”:

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Two separate, but similar, stories appeared on the same page of the Irish Times recently.

Financial controller given suspended sentence.  An Australian woman who defrauded her lover’s company of €77,000 after she was appointed as financial controller has been given a suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court”

Suspended term for two over fraud.  Two sisters who fraudulently claimed more than €55,000 in social welfare over a number of years have each received suspended sentences at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.” 

These are two clear-cut examples of large-scale fraud, pursued at great expense by the authorities and resulting in successful prosecutions.  And yet the judges, respectively Judge Tony Hunt and Judge Delahunt, let the fraudsters walk free from the court in both cases.

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There is now a prospect of Germany and other Euro members co-ordinating a bailout of Greece’s finances, supposedly to support (rescue?) the Euro.  I wonder if this is an example of political pride get in the way of sound political economy.

I didn’t see the US Federal Government, much less individual US states, stepping in to bail out California’s finances after they got into a mess.  Where was all the talk about intervention being needed in California so as to protect the US Dollar?

So why not let events take their course in the Eurozone?  Eventually, the cost to Greece of raising new debt would become sufficiently high that it would be forced by the market into massive expenditure cuts, just like California. The standard of living in Greece would fall to what is justified by their national output. Just think West Virginia.

I don’t think German taxpayers should permanently subsidise the standard of living of badly-managed Eurozone countries, at least not to any great extent.

If you say to me that expenditure cuts couldn’t happen in Greece because there would be civil unrest and political collapse, then I suggest that it would be better if Greece were not in the Euro zone in the first place.

I don’t think the above is special to Greece, by the way – it applies to any PIGS member. (Is Ireland still a PIGS member?)

I’m surprised there’s so few good jokes about our prima donna George and his hissy fit.  But let’s take a short tour of the better ones that are out there.

Let’s see….. why not kick off with Miriam Lord in the Irish Times?  “The jokes have started already: RTÉ is to air a new reality show staring Charlie Bird and George Lee. It’ll be called Celebrity Big Baby. It’s a cruel world outside Montrose.”  The joke she quotes neatly skewers two of the most self-important clowns ever to come out of RTE, and that’s saying something.

Or the suggestion that the last straw for our hero was when Willie O’Dea opined that George was akin to a bidet – something that Fine Gael didn’t know how to use, but that they thought added a bit of class.  You know the game is up when even a cute hoor gombeen like Willie O’Dea is making fun of you!

Or this letter in the Irish Times: “Madam, – In the recent past, we’ve had George Lee who didn’t get on with his party, Pat Kenny who couldn’t get on with his neighbours and Charlie Bird coming back to us because he couldn’t make friends with anyone in America! What do they teach them in RTE? – Yours, etc, GARRY CLARKE”

Or the suggestion that George would be the ideal new presenter for RTE’s show “A Week in Politics”

All contributions gratefully accepted!

I feel slightly uneasy when I see those large (sometimes full-page) advertisements in newspapers or magazines for SmileTrain, the charity that is dedicated to solving the problem of cleft lip and palate in developing countries, and of which the great and the good are professed supporters. The photographs they use are invariable of young children with faces sadly distorted by their affliction.

My discomfort is partly due to the “in your face” nature of the advertisements, which pulls at the heartstrings and wrenches the stomach at the same time. Yes, I know that’s the point of the ads: why should I be shielded from the brutality and unfairness of the world, and particularly the Third World?

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I’m reading “Too Big to Fail“, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s colourful mega-narrative on the collapse and bail-out of the US financial system in 2008. Naturally the excessive pay packets of the main actors is luridly fascinating, and leaves one in no surprise that they lost touch with reality, and also lost the ability to countenance failure, before it was too late.

John Lanchester, in his new book “Whoops!: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay” postulates that people who work with money, and thereby make lots of money, are “proved right in the most inhumanly pure way”, to the extent that they come to see themselves as paragons of rationality, free of the self-doubts that restrain mere mortals. Incidentally, his book has a wonderfully concise and witty description of the ultimate result of the development of the credit derivatives market: “It’s as if people used the invention of seat belts as an opportunity to take up drunk driving.”

But another revelation from Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book (to me at least) was just as interesting.  It seems that, when it came to the crunch, it was the appalling state of Lehman Brothers’ commercial property loan and investment portfolio that torpedoed the prospects of a merger with (i.e. rescue by) another financial institution and, in the absense of a government bailout, precipitated its bankruptcy. My (mis-)understanding had been that Lehman Brothers, in business for 150 years, had been brought down principally by its exposure to sub-prime mortgage securities.

….there was still huge disagreement over what Lehman’s assets were actually worth, especially its notorious commercial real estate assets.  While Lehman had been valuing that portfolio at $41 billion, consisting of $32.6 billion in loans and $8.4 billion in investments, everone knew it was worth far less.   But how much less?   One set of estimates….cut the estimated value of Lehman’s commercial real estate loans by about one quarter, to less than $24 billion. Others thought the situation was much worse.  A handwritten sheet with more estimations making the rounds had the numbers “17-20” – less than half the estimated value.

This has a familiar ring to it, in an Irish context.  How comforting to know that Anglo-Irish, AIB and Bank of Ireland were in good company.   Further demonstration that ridiculously large pay packages did not mean that banks were run by smart and prudent managers, but by weak, greedy and short-sighted fools.