On the Stepper: #ImStickingwithTony (not). Tech history, Field -Configuring Events, normative utopia

Was on the stepper on Thursday, reading about the global coal trade (Thank you IEA Coal Information 2014 and World Energy Council survey.) And yesterday, reading about the Australian Coal Export industry (more on that soon).

Today was broader, and perhaps more fun (!?)

I started with a speech by the soon-to-be-former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, [if you haven’t seen the delicious twitter hashtag #ImStickingWithTony yet – who knew Australia had so many top quality snarksters?!]. Abbott made the speech (complete with his verbal tic of repetition, verbal tic of repetition] at the “Annual Minerals Industry Parliamentary Dinner” on 28th May 2014. Here’s my favourite bit –

It’s particularly important that we do not demonise the coal industry and if there was one fundamental problem, above all else, with the carbon tax was that it said to our people, it said to the wider world, that a commodity which in many years is our biggest single export, somehow should be left in the ground and not sold. Well really and truly, I can think of few things more damaging to our future.

There are several things I could say at this point, none of them helpful…

Next up was Divall, C. (2010) “Mobilizing the History of Technology”, Technology and Culture, Vol 51, pp. 938- 960.  It was cited approvingly in the research proposal of a PhD colleague. Lots of very interesting things in this, on notions of “usable past”, “techno-tales” and “techno-myths” and so on…

Younger people are becoming habituated to living in spatially complex and extended social networks and are thus heavily dependent upon “cheap transport” (and telecommunications). All of this suggests just how widely held and deeply rooted is the belief that personal mobility is a right, and that we are still locked into the same techno-tales that led Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–59) famously to proclaim that “every improvement of the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually as well as materially.”

When techno-tales start to look as though they are underpinning claims to rights, we are clearly entering deep waters. Questioning the history implicit in such ideas is fraught with difficulties, because they are often sincerely held elements of an individual’s or community’s sense of identity— not merely techno-tales, but myths. In David Lowenthal’s formulation, “myth” provides stories of origin and continuance through the decades and centuries, narratives that bind today’s individuals and communities together through a sense of common purpose and prestige.

Next up Lampel, J. and Meyer, A. (2009) “Field-Configuring Events as Structuring Mechanisms: How Conferences, Ceremonies, and Trade Shows Constitute New Technologies, Industries, and Markets ” Journal of Management Studies 45:6

Field-Configuring Events (FCEs) are temporary social organizations such as tradeshows, professional gatherings, technology contests, and business ceremonies that encapsulate and shape the development of professions, technologies, markets, and industries (Meyer et al., 2005). They are settings in which people from diverse organizations and with diverse purposes assemble periodically, or on a one-time basis, to announce new products, develop industry standards, construct social networks, recognize accomplishments, share and interpret information, and transact business.

FCEs are arenas in which networks are constructed, business cards are exchanged, reputations are advanced, deals are struck, news is shared, accomplishments are recognized, standards are set, and dominant designs are selected.

I wish I’d known about this back in 2006 (impossible, since it hadn’t been written) while involved in Climate Camp, which was an attempt at a Field-Configuring Event…. #toolatenow

Finally Berkhout, F. (2006) “Normative Expectations in Systems Innovation” Technology Analysis and Strategic Management. Vol. 18. pp. 299-311. (Also from that research proposal).,

Hmm, I was probably too tired (80 mins in on the stepper) to read this properly, but there was useful stuff about the (de)mobilising power of visions –

We further argue that, to give them force, visions of the future tend to be ‘moralised’, in the sense of being encoded and decoded as either utopias or dystopias. This is because the possible effects of different visions are socially distributed (there will be winners and losers), and because one way of enrolling actors to a particular vision is to attach it to positive moral values, or to visualise the negative consequences of not pursuing it.

And some stuff on whose visions “win” (the actual, non-meritocratic, selection pressures) –

“Second, we may say that, in broad terms, there are two kinds of explanations for the successful articulation and diffusion of a vision: its validity or attractiveness to a wide range of interests; and/or the power of the constitutive interests who dominate a discourse about alternative futures. In these two cases what is different are the terms under which new adherents are enrolled to the vision. In one there is a process of voluntary and empowered enrolment, in the other enrolment is in some sense involuntary or even coercive. This may be because a deliberately constrained set of options have been considered, or because the capacity to realise future options has been disproportionately aligned with one particular future option.”

Which translates as “rich powerful people can be numbskulls and still get approval and the intellectual equivalent of retweets.”


Replica(n)ting empathy – or “What psychoanalysis can do for YOU”

Blooming heck. It’s not every day that you get to spend two hours in the presence of someone who, with zero flashiness, expands  the floor of your mental cage every five minutes or so. (1)

There was a CIDRAL (Centre for Interdiscplinary Research in Arts and Language) panel/symposium thingie at the Tin Can on Oxford Road, on “Psychoanalysis, Morality and the Senses

Chaired by Prof Jackie Stacey, it had a panel made up of Adam Phillips (psychoanalyst, writes for LRB etc) , Dr Monica Pearl (Lecturer in 20th Century American Literature, EAC, UoM) and Professor Ian Parker (psychoanalyst, Manchester Psychoanalytic Matrix).

The format was simple – Phillips described/riffed on some of the ‘set texts’ and these were responded to by the other panelists before the Q and A. The format usually enrages me, but was saved by the sheer quality and suppleness of the observations on offer from the panellists, and the clarity and concision of the questions.

Things I picked up on –  (and apols to anyone and everyone whose insights passed me by)

I need to read “Punishing Parents” (hi mom!)

Lacan’s observations of the dangers of enacting desire (into knowledge) and of three passions – for love, hate and ignorance.

Phillips’ point that we shouldn’t underestimate how scared people are of each other [scared, scarred by childhood humiliations and intimidations] and that this anxiety leads to people defending themselves and becoming violent [not physically, not so much these days – see Norbert Elias – but emotionally, verbally].

Philips’ observation around the importance of how to stop intimidating and humiliating each other.

Two  Winnicottisms

  • “Madness is the need to be believed.” [Poor Sarah Connor at the beginning of T2!]
  • “Psychoanalysis is there to facilitate the capacity to be surprised.”

Some of the Phillipics

  • “The kind of psychoanalysis I’d like to be involved in is about finding good unsentimental ways of being kind to each other”
  • “Any art that helps us transform frustration is worth having.”
  • “On the fear of (beginning to be) kind – “Perhaps the happiest life is to lose our lives to a communal kindness.”

On the dangers – in demanding more knowledge of life partner, of missing the point of intimacy, and of the dangers of “attempting to create a collusive mystification”  (what a GREAT name for a band. If I could play an instrument, I’d be in the Collusive Mystifications!!).

I know these are frustratingly (!) allusive and vague, but you really did Have to Be There.  Or read the books.  This topic came up, in a question and response – the books (and reading) are useful insofar as they move us to questions, to questions, to questioning and revising.  (Scribbling on the palimpsests with the contents of our kluge-y brains. But I digress…)


The films Blade Runner and Groundhog Day are important to think with about the crucial questions of identity, empathy, kindness, the Good Life.

The Q and A started out as a sausage fest (three men), but then women spoke up.  By the end it was pretty much 50:50, reflecting the audience. However, the questioners, bar one, were 40 plus, and the young half of the audience said nowt.

Perhaps the viciously tiered lecture theatre (an unfriendly space for dialogue).  And perhaps also – however unintentionally and indeed unwanted – the obvious brilliance of the panel (I was going to say “intellectual firepower,” but that needlessly imports violent imagery. Perhaps “intellectual banquet,” or “feast’” or “wellspring”? Suggestions welcome.)

What to do? The same as you can do to avoid a gender split – before the Q and A say something like “please take two minutes to discuss with someone near you. If you think you have a question but you don’t know if it’s a good ‘un, try it out on that someone, ask their help honing it, improving it.”

Usually when you do this, more hands that are not attached to dangly genitalia go up.  And maybe younger ones too?


“Verdict” – a rip-roaring success.

Future CIDRAL events can be found here.


(1) As in, Chomsky-esque levels of smart.

From “All Our Yesterdays” – Jan 28, 1987 – a warning from history

I have a side project – a website on which I blog something that happened “that day” in “climate” (that’s a loose term) history. Today there’s two posts – here’s the second…

An extra “All Our Yesterdays” post today, in honour of two excellent scientists, Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Professor Wally BroeckerIt was Ramanathan’s work on non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases which had stiffened the resolve of the Villach attendees, and Broecker had been similarly involved. On January 28, 1987 they testified to Congress. Here is a long quote from a chapter in an ancient but sadly prescient book, “The Challenge of Global Warming.”

The Senate took up the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion issues again in January 1987. In fact, it became the subject of the first major hearing by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the new Congress. Two critical and relatively new problems were discussed at this hearing that were to become central aspects of the growing urgency associated with the global warming problem.

Ramanathan argued in the hearing that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations had already been altered sufficiently by 1980 to commit the earth to a 0.7 to 2 degrees Celsius warming. With each passing decade Ramanathan estimated that an additional 0.2 to 0.5 degrees Celsius was being added. His analysis meant that by the year 2020 – in 33 years – the earth would be committed to as much as 4 degrees Celsius warming. Many scientists believe that the earth has not been 4 degrees Celsius warmer for tens of millions of years. Ramantahan’s testimony established that society was already locked into a substantial amount of climate change no matter what governments did. The problem was no longer a question of whether a change would occur but how much and when.

The second major issue was raised by Wally Broecker, a geochemist at the Lamont Dougherty Laboratory.  Broecker’s testimony was a follow-up to a talk he had given at an EPA conference in June. Broecker said that an examination of the history of climate change suggested that the greenhouse effect might push the earth into a state of rapid change – reorganizing the earth systems in the process. Broecker had little faith that society would experience a linear and gradual change in global temperature and climate as suggested by general circulation models of the atmosphere. The key implication of Broecker’s testimony was that the buildup of greenhouse gases could force the climate system to go into a state of rapid change and that society ultimately had limited ability to predict what that change might bring.

Page 264 Pomerance, R. (1989) “Dangers from climate warming: A public awakening,” in Abrahamson, D. (1989) The Challenge of Global Warming. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Defense Council

Social Movement learning from academic research (or “looting the ivory tower”)

There’s the translation problem. Namely, academics write like, well, academics. There are a finite number of activists who are both willing and able to loot the Ivory Tower and then translate information into digestible bits for other activists. And those finite activists have very finite time, energy, attention, morale and bandwidth.
This, of course, has relevance and implementability of “advocacy coalitions.”

There are risks to translator too
Reputational “ooh look Mr Theory has swallowed another book, thinks he’s so smart, thinks he’s better than us…” Nobody likes (to be thought of as) a smart-arse.
Opportunity cost too – what else might you have been doing with the time and energy you’ve spent wading through wordtreacle for nuggets that are obvious without being banal.

Me, I oscillate between fed-up-ness with academics and activists. Am occasionally fed-up with both at the same time, which is bad for morale. Probably at my most productive in the rare moments when I am not fed up with both.

Person spec

  • Higher education
  • A Thesaurus
  • A high boredom threshold
  • High bullshit threshold (tolerance for. Probably built through hormesis [constant small-and-rising-dose exposure, leading to resistance])
  • Persistence (it takes time to skill up)
  • Access through the pay-walls
  • Translation ability (making it simple without simplifying)
  • Persistence
  • Writing with humour
  • Making videos
  • Willingness to do it for intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards

“The window of opportunity for UK banking reform will close soon” or “Augars well, but doesn’t augur well.”

One hundred people, mostly pale male and stale, met tonight at Manchester Business School to take part in an ‘attack’ on capitalism that fell somewhere between Rooseveltian reform and a savaging by a dead sheep.

The event, organised by “Manchester Capitalism” and co-sponsored by Manchester University Press and the Business School (full disclosure: imma student there) asked the question “Have banks finally got the message?” and consisted of wine, olives and chat followed by a half hour very erudite and polished keynote by Philip Augar, and some very succinct and probing questions.  This write-up is a blow by blow account, with hyperlinks, a riff on how “Multi-Level Perspective”  developed by Frank Geels (full disclosure: he’s one of my supervisors) might help in thinking about possible transition to the sunny uplands of banking reform, and a mini-rant about the baby and big Elephants in the Room.  On the way there will be links to movies and books (some of which I’ve even seen and read!), a shout-out to George Monbiot and various slapped-down digressions and crap puns…

The tl;dr.  We’re more than waist deep in the big muddyWe are the big fool telling ourselves to push on, and we are not the ones we have been waiting for. And there is (no) hope, but not for us

Who the man is: “Philip Augar  has been commenting on banking and other topical issues since 2000, the year he left Schroders plc in order to write. During his twenty year career in the City, he led NatWest’s global equity and fixed income division and was Group Managing Director at Schroders with responsibility for the securities business.”

What the man said: [square brackets means I am editorialising]

Augur worked in the roaring 90s for a Big Bank [Natwest, but he was too coy to say], flying around the world making sure the trading floors were profitable [if not actually ‘creating value’].  He wondered occasionally where the money for the trading had come from, did the depositing customers know?  Did the other banks from whom his bank had borrowed know?  How could they repay if everyone asked for the money a once [It wouldn’t be a wonderful life].  Did the bank’s shareholders know?

Then he moved to an investment bank called Schroders which was small enough not to suffer from the size problem (“size conceals sins; introduces conflicts of interest, often means a bad culture, anonymity decreases responsibility, stock market listing can lead to [short-term]  shareholder pressure.”)

But this was the era of deregulation, of all boats being lifted (which is fine if you have a boat), and Schroders’ owners sold out. Augar got out and wrote some books about how it would all go wrong.  In 2007, as the boom went on and on,  he told his publisher he’d been wrong and wanted to write a book explaining why. While researching the book, the human fecal matter started making contact with the blades of the air-circulation device.

From 2007 to 2010 there was ‘mayhem’ with banks almost failing, being bailed out by ‘governments’ [i.e. taxpayers and – ultimately – the natural world, ever more intensively exploited].

By the end of 2010 the worst seemed over(to quote Bob Diamond – “the time for remorse is over” as various minor reforms around liquidity and reserves had been pushed through.

Then in 2012 the unexpected twist – lots of scandals

Then the authorities “got tough”;

  • Banks had to beef up balance sheets, hold more capital
  • Prohibited US proprietary trading, UK ring-fencing of retail arms,
  • Bonuses deferred, fines levied

So, folks were asking “Is this a new era or will banks return to business as usual/”

Augar first talked about investment banks [the kind that does corporate finance, murders and inquisitions, sorry “mergers and acquisitions”] like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan. You know, the “shock troops of shareholder value”.

These seemed more stable, less highly leveraged, and Augar’s various contacts assured him, to his satisfaction, that investment banks had cleaned up their act, there was more compliance, that the new rules were making a difference and that there was a new mood at the top of the business….

And to his immense credit Augar admits he believed them and was going to change tack in his criticism.  And then…

In December ten investment banks paid a fine of $43m (chump change, but the symbolism is what matters) for having played around with the share issue for Toys R Us.  [“To liquidity and beyond”?]

The rules these banks broke had been put in place in 2003, after the dotcom crash had led Elliot Spitzer to launch an investigation/prosecution, that had led to a £1.4bn [not chump change] settlement.  As Augar points out, it took the investment banks not even 7 years to start circumventing the rules they had signed up to. He rethought about and asked the obvious question – why is it different this time?  Why won’t they game the rules again?  He think they will and they  indeed are.  They are lobbing to soften the rules on derivatives and on capital requirements.  He thinks (and has written in the Financial Times) that banks are like alcoholics, they simply can’t help themselves. Here’s the article, not behind a paywall.

So then, onto retail banking [the ones where wage slaves like us go to get ripped off].  At this point Augar reiterated the chair’s disclaimer that he was speaking in a purely personal capacity.

He asked the audience how many thought the banks were doing a good job/bad job, and then took two photos. [There was one hand that I saw for good job. Everyone else said “bad”.]

As Augar says, the public assessment is that they overpay themselves, overcharge, their IT systems suck and they don’t support small business.

Is this fair? Augar says the “industry seems to be trying harder” and that the tone at the top seems different [he repeatedly gave the example of Bob Diamond being replaced by Anthony Jenkins as Barclays boss, derided as “Saint Antony”]

He pointed to the Banking Standards Review Council, voluntarily funded by the banks [Augar doesn’t mention Goldman Sachs snubbing it] , and the regulators’ involvement in forcing banks to be properly capitalised, ring-fence investment from retail banking and increased management accountability.

But… there was another big but…

The reforms don’t tackle the problem that the “market isn’t working.”

He asked the audience again. Given everyone’s assessment that the banks are not doing well, who had changed their bank in the last 12 months.  About 6 or 7 hands went up.

Why so few? In Augur’s opinion, that’s because it’s hard to do and because it’s largely pointless since they offer largely identical services that are “free” if you’re in credit and steep if you’re not.

He pointed out that the return on equity for retail banking is 30%, a very very high number compared to utilities.

So, in Augar’s opinion “radical” action is required.  The Government [he used the term government and state interchangeably, which is a pet peeve of mine] will have to step in and Do Something.  Government is well-placed to do so at present, but won’t be forever.  There are three reasons;

1. The Digital Revolution means that the normal high barriers to entry (it costs money to have physical branches everywhere) is becoming lower. Mobile banking is gradually (and quicker and quicker) making branches less important.

Augur thinks that government should therefore make sure the payments system is opened up and that there is a centrally-owned banking network that is open to challenger banks. He suggested the audience google “bank in a box”

2.The State currently owns an unusually large portfolio of banking assets

Augar said that RBS could be broken up into regional banks that had a mission to grow regional economies, and that challenger banks could get seed capital?

 3. Competitions and Markets Authority report pending

It will probably suggest investment/retail split, a cap on market share, a price cap on certain products.  These are potentially worth, but it would be really radical to open up the bang infrastructure to everyone, with the underlying system state owned. This would allow “mobility, flexibility and genuinely competitive” [challengers].

Augar made the point that change is coming anyway (from Google, Amazon, Paypal and its peer-to-peer lending) and at the moment the government could change things, ending banking monopoly and increasing genuine customer competition.

Right, at this point it’s time for the MLP digression

The Multi-level Perspective doesn’t just have to be about “socio-technical transitions” (from sail to steamships, from horse and cart to cars). It might also help us think about “political/economic” transitions (the line is very fuzzy of course!!  Here is a very short and crude version of MLP;

The short version is that you have a “landscape” of long-term changes or stability (war, population, technology etc) a “regime” where the big beasts try to keep big, eating other beasts and smaller beasts as needed – also known as ‘vested interests’ and the experimental “niches” where little organisations run around trying stuff out, in order to get rich and powerful and/or save the world.

So, thinking about banking you’d have at the “landscape” level the financial crash of 2007-8 onwards, digital technology, increased individualism, delegitimisation of the banking industry [though, frankly, if you weren’t pissed off, you hadn’t been paying attention.  Who spoke of the Long Term Capital Management near-catastrophe during the boom years of the nougties?]

At the “regime” level you’d have the big five retail banks, the big investment banks and the government “regulators” (cough cough).

At the “niche” level you’d have the smaller banks, the techno-wizards and their apps etc.

But sometimes, of course, the regime actors are sock-puppeting the niche actors, or buying them (off) when they might be a threat to their business prospects.  Transitions are often long, slow, intermittently bloody and frustratingly ‘fuzzy’ things.

Punctuated equilibria aside, it will be a slog…

Which- without the MLP schtick –  was Augar’s opinion, as he closed out his speech.

The respondent [didn’t catch his name] pointed out that the dynamic in the speech was around the question of “patch things up or fundamental reform.”
Augar thanked him and agreed, and said he was leaning towards the latter [though of course,  different people will have different metrics and definitions of the magic words ‘fundamental’ and ‘reform’…]

He  declared investment banking to be “an effective oligopoly,” pointing to the work of US academic Jay Ritter on the remarkable clustering of fees, and pointed to the lack of incentives for retail banks to shift their behaviour.  He also cited the example of the 2000 report by Don Cruischank that called for much of what he is calling for. Nowt happened, in large part because “banks have a very strong lobby.

The Question and Answer session was rather unusual, in that there were no speeches, with the questions all being clear, relevant and often very incisive (and no, I didn’t ask one).

“Will there be a change (to appetite for regulation/intervention after the election?”

Augar admitted that Osborne had gone further than Augur had thought (based on Osborne’s background), but was forced to by the 2012 scandals.  He didn’t see much likelihood of another Conservative government doing the same. As for Labour – “we’ll see.”

“Is peer-to-peer a big threat?”

Yes, also credit unions, crowd funding and disintermediation [cutting out the middle man/woman] generally

“Will there be an end to boom and bust?” (general laughter from audience)

We will learn to manage the busts better, how to deal with failing banks

“Don’t your proposals risk embedding the power of regulatory experts, with no more transparency for MPs etc than before. Didn’t the Diamond episode expose that Treasury is far less independent in its thinking/action than it seems?”

Augar gave a limited defence of Diamond as a ‘lightning rod’.  He defended his proposals as not that difficult to explain [maybe he has met smarter MPs than I have?], and advocated a “we’re going to have a National Grid for banks” meme.” He conceded that it was unlikely that Treasury would lead on this, and said they seemed to mostly be unreconstructed free-marketeers.

“[Why] do the British have a problem with the concept of social ownership?”

Augar agreed, saying Miliband gets shouted down as a nationalizer. Augur said that business lobby is too prominent a platform and that competing voices get crowded out.    Which means it’s time to give the promised shout out to George Monbiot, who recently observed;

 A study by academics at the Cardiff school of journalism examined the BBC Today programme’s reporting of the bank bailouts in 2008(12). It discovered that the contributers it chose were “almost completely dominated by stockbrokers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other City voices. Civil society voices or commentators who questioned the benefits of having such a large finance sector were almost completely absent from coverage.” The financiers who had caused the crisis were asked to interpret it.

I’ve then got an illegible question [#oldmancramp] and then this doozy – “how will we know if/when the banks HAVE finally got the message?”

Augur said it would be when there was product differentiation for individuals, it was easier to switch banks [without having to provide grand-father’s inside leg measurement, 23 forms of photo ID etc] and when returns on retail banking shrinking from the 30% he cited to the levels of utilities [though I think one or two of the Big Six are making Big Profits, no?]

The final question probed the question of culture – don’t bankers recruit people who look and think like themselves, hyper-competitive etc [or as some might say ‘shark-eyed sociopaths’].

Augar returned to the talisman of Anthony Jenkins, various behavioural programs, the Banking Standards Review Council, before saying that indeed, shareholders will seek higher returns, and there is likely to be a return to the old ways  [ a regression to the mean, if you will] once memories fade and the press watches less intensely.  Seven years then…

The Elephants in the Room

1. The baby elephant, which may have gotten a showing if the last questioner had had more time, is the question of whether shareholders are the only problem, or if perhaps the managers have taken over the sweetshop.

2. The big elephant – in fact the whole herd of elephants that went unheard – is… of course… the growth economy, climate change and the pending ecological debacle.  What are banks for? To allocate surplus to achieve goals.  And what should our purpose be, if we want our kids to have some sort of life? To stop speeding towards (over?) the cliff with a leaden foot on the accelerator.  In this speech, carbon emissions didn’t get a look in.  That’s deeply irresponsible, borderline autistic.  I’ll close out with this from my other post from today, about what I read on the stepper.

Gosling,J. And Case, P. (2013) Social dreaming and ecocentric ethics; sources of non-rational insight in the face of climate change catastrophe. Organisation 20 (5) 705 -721.

… [The article is] better at the outset (what the Crow did) than the end, (what we do), but super-useful for thinking about how to rehearse the apocalypse without descending into zombie films and Mad Max…

The next of these “Manchester Capitalism” events is on March 12th. It will be someone else’s turn to blog.

Some stuff to (re) read

Kate Jennings (2003) Moral Hazard

Gillian Tett (2009) Fool’s Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe

John Lanchester (2010) Whoops!: Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay

– (2014) How to Speak Money: What the Money People Say–And What It Really Means


Margin Call (2011) -early days of the financial crisis thriller. Not seen it, but good reb

Arbitrage (2012) – Richard Gere in pot-boiler. Susan Sarandon excellent

Inside Job (2010) – excellent documentary! Sequel pendin.

Concepts that didn’t get (full airing but might usefully have done so

Fractional-reserve banking is the practice whereby a bank holds reserves (to satisfy demands for withdrawals) that are less than the amount of its customers’ deposits

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator. Operators of Ponzi schemes usually entice new investors by offering higher returns than other investments, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent.

Second Contradiction of Capitalism

“This is between the forces and relations of production combined and the conditions of production, broadly speaking, between political economy and the environment:

“An ecological Marxist account of capitalism as a crisis-ridden system focuses on the way that the combined power of capitalist production relations and productive forces self-destruct by impairing or destroying rather than reproducing their own conditions.”

The tabloid version; “capitalism is turning the planet into an uninhabitable slag heap. It can’t help itself, it’s just what it does. To pick an example at random, kinda like an alcoholic….”

Stepper: Augmented miners, Academic games, reputational repair and rehearsing the apocalypse

Mix of what I read on the train yesterday and what I read on the stepper this morning;

Bassan, J, Srivnivasan, V. and Tang, A. (2013) The Augmented Mine Worker: Applications of Augmented Reality in Mining CSC Australia

Lots of good stuff here. It’s a bit more complicated than sticking googleglasses on folks and hooking it up to a googledocs spreadsheet, but you get the idea.

“The mining industry is faced with imperatives to improve worker safety and productivity, adapt to skills shortages, high worker turnover rates, and provide more effective maintenantce to new and ever more complicated plant and equipment.”…

Next up Nierenberg, N. Tischinkel, W. and Tshinkel, V. (2010) Early Climate Change Concensus at the National Academy: The Origins and Making of Changing Climate Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 40, (3) pp. 318-349.

Oreskes and Conway had written a piece saying, more or less, that William Nierenberg (big fish physicist) had soft-pedalled on climate change in the late 70s and early 80s. The authors here (and Nicholas never makes clear what – if any – relation he is) more or less blow that out of the water, though the article isn’t perfect itself (could have mentioned other climate studies at the same time – IASSA, Flohn), or actually quoted Helmut Schmidt, etc etc). Only worth reading if you are a history of climate science geek, but this sort of careful detective work is note-worthy and praise-worthy.

Alvesson, M. (2012) Do we have something to say? From re-search to roi-search and back again, Organization 20 (1), 79-90. is bloody brilliant, and I will blog it separately. The tl;dr is that the academic game is a game like all others (trudat, you feel me?) with its rules and rule-breaking, its gaming of the system and system of the game. And Alvesson asks all the right (imho) questions and gives provocative (in the good sense!) answers. Roi-search is “return on investment” academia – writing “gap-filling” stuff for high-impact journals, self-censoring and pre-cutting your cookie so it fits.

This paper is a a solid-gold classic for anyone who met a social scientist and wondered how they got that way.

Gosling,J. And Case, P. (2013) Social dreaming and ecocentric ethics; sources of non-rational insight in the face of climate change catastrophe. Organisation 20 (5) 705 -721.

Just the sort of suggestive daring and relevant research and thinking that (I think) Alvesson would like to see.

It’s better at the outset (what the Crow did) than the end, (what we do), but super-useful for thinking about how to rehearse the apocalypse without descending into zombie films and Mad Max-ness (though I admit to a mild degree of excitement about Hardy and the Return of the Native Max…

Stepper: “Energy Flow in #Australia” -1978 article, depressing prescience…

On stepper this morning I also read some Financial Times, natch. But here is the short version: in Australia there was a small, well-connected and highly intelligent “epistemic community” (h/t Peter Haas) around energy/climate from the mid-1970s onwards. People like Mark Diesendorf, Hugh Saddler, Roger Gifford, Graeme Pearman. Many of them are still alive…  And the top German politician was on it a decade ahead of Maggie…

Gifford, R. (1978) Energy Flow in Australia: Matching Needs and Supplies. Australian Journal of Public Administration Vol 37, pp. 69- 83

The abstract is worth quoting in full

Abstract: Energy flow and transformation, being a fundamental driving force behind organization, should be subject to long term government policy. A pre-requisite for formulating energy policy is detailed knowledge of the dynamics and thermodynamics of energy supply and utilization. The lack of coherent policy in the past has led to the development of a society which is physically, institutionally and psychologically locked into an unsustainable liquid fuel consumption pattern requiring not only high but also growing consumption. An expression of this situation is the widespread assumption that coal and nuclear energy are the only significant realistic longer term options for the future, even though these would involve unproven technology and considerable environmental and social risks. The other long term option-the diffuse energy option based on widely distributed, renewable energy sources such as wind and the sun-is generally regarded as unrealistic. This is a social judgement determined more by the inertia of existing institutions and perceptions of our needs than by technical reality. I t is possible however, that the measures which might be taken to deal with the crisis of oil depletion in the next couple of decades may swing community structure and attitude and bureaucratic organization into a conservation-minded pattern in which the long term option based on low, stable consumption, diffuse energy sources and decentralized conversion systems seems as realistic to policy makers as the other extreme-the centralized, nuclear-electric growth society. This flexibility could only emerge, however, if energy research expenditure is diversified very soon. (emphasis added)

And here is what we would now, after Unruh, call (carbon) “lock-in”

As Patterson puts it, “It is all too easy to let the momentum of past decisions define the limits of the future- even if these limits look very unattractive”. Cities and road systems become structured so that public transport is not as effective.as private transport; the tariff structure of electricity inhibits individuals from installing solar collectors for low grade heating; the private motor car industry has become so entrenched into societal infrastructure that the vigour of the automobile industry itself is regarded as a key indicator of community well-being, and special protective measures are set up by government to bolster car manufacture; the funding of research is biased in favour of advancing the trend of existing developed technologies, the dominance of which may be more a matter of historic accident and inertia than of coherent energy policy.
(W. C. Patterson, The Fissile Society. London, Earth Resources Research Ltd., 1977.)
page 72-3

And here’s the (for me) key argument against nuclear –

“The fast breeder- or fusion-based society, if fusion ever becomes feasible, would necessitate highly centralized bureaucracies to control electricity generation and supply. Both the manufacture of plant and the control of the fuel supply would involve high concentration of capital. The energy base of the community would be likely to be partly allied with the military base and there is the risk that aspects of civil energy supply might be cloaked in official secrecy. But if fusion became a reality, the radioactive waste problem should be smaller than with fission and the rate at which energy could potentially be made available may, according to popular view, be limited only by the thermal tolerance of the environment.”
page 74


“Given the large capital requirements, and the extent of technical changes needed, it is hard to envisage how Australia could make the rather abrupt transition into an economy based on coal and/or uranium while maintaining the political goal of annually rising energy consumption deemed necessary for growth in gross domestic product. If, however, that goal were achieved, this would propel the community on to another hazardous trajectory; hazards of climatic change for the coal option; hazards associated with indefinite management of radioactive wastes, with nuclear bomb proliferation, with unproven breeder and fusion technologies, and of globally centralized control of energy systems for the nuclear electricity
page 81

And it concludes

“An interesting possibility is that the measures which need to be taken to meet the short term crisis of the next two decades may swing community structure and attitude and bureaucratic organization into a conservation-minded pattern in which the long-term option based on low, stable consumption, diffuse energy sources and decentralized conversion systems seems as realistic to policy makers as the other extreme-the all nuclear-electric, growth society. A new flexibility thus would have appeared. But it can only appear if concerted steps are taken to diversify energy consumption behaviour and supply options very soon. This means that expenditure on research, development and demonstration of solar and wind energy technologies and for energy conservation problems needs to be made comparable with expenditure on oil, coal and nuclear energy research and development.”
page 82

Which, of course, didn’t happen. So, were are about to enter the age of consequences!!

Meanwhile, Helmut Schmidt, on a visit to American in [mid-July] 1979 told Abraham Ribicoff, chair of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs that in his judgement the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere represented a major threat to the future of humanity.
(Clark and Dickson, 2001; 289.)

To chase down-
Australia, Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, Report .from the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. Solar Energy. Canberra, A.G.P.S.. 1977.

A. B. Lovins, “Energy Strategy: The Road not Taken?”. Foreign Affairs 55 ( I ) , October 1976. pp.65-96.

G. I . Pearman, “The Carbon-Dioxide Climate Problem: Recent Developments”, Clean Air. I I . 1977, pp.21-26.

R . B. Bacastow and C. D. Keeling. “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Radiocarbon in the Natural Carbon Cycle. 11. Changes from AD1700 to 2070 as Deduced by a Geochemical Model”. In G . M. Woodwell and E. V. Pecan (eds). Carbon and the Biosphere: Proceedings of 24th Brookhaven Symposium in Biology. Upton. New York, 1972. Ah, bless Google- http://archive.org/stream/carbonbiospherep00broo/carbonbiospherep00broo_djvu.txt

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