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The Story of Stuff Critique – a Critique

October 8, 2009

A while back I posted on The Story of Stuff. And I received a vociferous response from a blogger called clancop. Though his comments had actually just been pasted into another website which featured The Story of Stuff, I thought they merited a reply. 

What’s the point in criticising consumerism if it creates jobs and is an important part of our free society? How can we be sure that some of the facts and figures being swapped around are correct? Isn’t consumerism a great good that lifts people out of poverty by building a strong economy?

These are the big questions. So I thought I’d try to take the discussion further. 

You can see the critique of The Story of Stuff, by Lee Doran, here. This post is a critique of the critique!  Hang on to your hats…

Should kids watch it?

Perhaps the best place to begin is to try and defuse some of the bombs that have been thrown in this debate already. I am not here going to argue that The Story of Stuff should be shown in classrooms in the US or the UK. Some of the facts in the video are overstated. With younger kids this would give me cause for concern.

Having said that, I don’t like it when my young children watch TV ads – they are slickly presented to use psychological and social pressures to influence children. Presumably critics of The Story of Stuff are just as tough on this kind of moulding of young minds?

Simplicity

I said in my original post that The Story of Stuff (SOS – is that deliberate?) was simplistic. I stand by that judgement. The critique video (SOSAC??) rightly takes Annie Leonard to task on her over-long and over-reactive section about toxins (I was worried about this). By the same token, though, simplicity is a feature of mass communication – which is, if we think about it, a drawback of our media-driven society.

Ironically, the critique video is no different. I was interested, for example, by the comment: ‘People who eat meat do it to increase their standard of living’. We will come to this theme again. The statement is true only up to a point. Meat eating does indeed provide enjoyable cuisine, occasion for feasting (at least, it did until it became so common), and certain nutrients. I eat meat; I’m very thankful to be able to do so. But if we just keep on eating more and more food (including meat) our standard of living does actually begin to decrease due to obesity and other hyper-consumption disorders. Lee Doran is a fan of graphs, but his video misses the point that in the US and UK there are now serious concerns that life expectancy will start to fall.

Can we please move on now?

I enjoyed the passion for debate in the critique of SOS, and I was grateful for it setting some facts straight. But as the video progresses it becomes ever clearer that we are straying into a right-left ‘big government’ debate.

Is it just me who worries that this is unhelpful? Isn’t there a risk that bringing right-left battles into a debate about natural resources and consumer culture is just going to stir up a set of old rivalries and tired arguments? The reference to communism at the end of the final part brings back the reassuring enmities of the cold war. Can we get beyond that now, please? Aren’t the issues of consumerism, lifestyle, the environment, trade justice and the poverty of billions enough to prompt us to address this question in a fresh and open way?

A few responses on specific points are in order.

Efficiency

One of Doran’s points is that as we get more efficient, the harnessing of the earth’s resources and the creation of waste is not so much of an issue. There’s always more we can utilise and we are getter better and better at making the most of it and then disposing of it efficiently.

There is mileage in this. But only so much. The critique states: ‘Mining has been going on since the Roman Empire’. Sounds great. It implies that mining could go on forever. But in terms of normal fossil fuels I think most people would doubt this.

Again the critique states: ‘We haven’t scratched the surface’ (accompanied by a picture of the whole globe, chopped open so we can see the crust, mantle, outer core, etc). Is this a little optimistic? It’s an argument from possibility. Some efficiencies and new technologies will undoubtedly come to our aid. But is it wise to ignore the warnings from a majority of scientists about resource depletion in the hope that ‘something will turn up’? Perhaps Lee would like to take a lead in being more creative with the earth’s resources by setting up home in the outer core of our planet…

Prices

A little economics can be a dangerous thing. And students of economics would be wise to question some of the dogmas they imbibe (isn’t that part of the purpose of education?). Doran rightly points out that the market can, in theory, self-correct as things become scarce (is he accepting then that things are becoming scarce?). What he doesn’t say is that ‘the market’ doesn’t know or care what the cost of this might be to the actual people who are living on the earth.

‘People self-ration their resources’ he states. Do they really? If prices spike (e.g., food prices across Africa 2007-8) many people will not be able to ration their resources.

Sometimes they die. Where does that fit on the graph?

It doesn’t.

I would be suspicious of basing an entire social order around a mathematical construct that takes no note of whether people live or die. Economically speaking, if people die the demand curve will lessen leading to a drop in prices. Thank goodness there are more ways for human beings to speak than simply in terms of economics.

Naiveté and turning a blind eye

Doran seems to believe that prices always capture the real cost of a product. This is a literalism that economic theory cannot bear even on its own terms. Prices, in pure theory, are simply where supply meets demand. They reflect what people who have money are prepared to pay for something. Economic theory works with this notion as the definition of ‘price’. But this system is ill-fitted to embrace all that we mean by the ‘cost’ of producing something.

I am astonished by the faith some economists place in the market. If I trusted in God half as much I would be a saint!

At the end of the day, there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the proper constraints of a free market and the role of government. There are reasons to entertain the point attributed to Churchill ‘It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried’. Perhaps this applies to capitalism too. Perhaps. Though there is more than one way to run a capitalist system. However there is a level of naïveté that is unacceptable.

The critique of SOS remarks: ‘I’d love to find the central planners in a free market society’ assuming that there are none. Has he never heard of Milton Friedman? Does he think that politicians make no decisions at all?

The critique says: ‘the point of an advertisement is to make the citizenry aware of the goods and services in society’ (I detect the troublesome symptoms of a swallowed textbook). Advertising is simply about raising awareness? This is incredibly naïve. Now whose head is in the clouds? I doubt any advertiser will offer him a job soon!

The critique says: We go to other countries for production because of ‘economies of scale’. Certainly this is true. But only because of that? Are there no other reasons why production is cheaper outside the richest nations? What about the greater concern for human rights? What about the fact that communities are strong enough to protest against developments they don’t like? What about imbalances of power that make poorer nations indebted to rich nations? What about the fact that international trade bodies are weighted not according to population (as if people mattered most) but according to political power and wealth? Is Doran ignorant of the political deals that are struck? Who owns the land and resources that change hands? How do we know such transactions are legitimate?

I remember once living in a world where economic theory governed things so simply. But I just don’t recognise it anymore. The constant recourse to simple models, and the shrill repetition of financial dogma makes me begin to wonder if the critique is trying to hide from a complex world behind the simplicity of economics.

But naiveté is more dangerous than merely being intellectually unsophisticated. Doran’s video defends that fact that corporations have such huge resources at their disposal. This is not a problem to him. But it should be. Any lover of pure economic theory knows that monopolies distort price curves. Any realist knows that with such huge figures at stake companies will be tempted to use all manner of means to further their interests. Some of these, like unofficial cartels, will illegally distort the market; others the market may allow, like lobbying overseas governments to allow dangerous work practices that would never be allowed in the US or UK, but they still work against human flourishing.

The power of the corporations is one aspect of the real politik that we may have to live with. But to argue that it is not a problem opens the door to the worst kind of abuses. What initially sounds like an enlightened, balanced rejoinder to The Story of Stuff ends up encouraging us to turn a blind eye to some of the most powerful human organisations on the planet who need the accountability a watching public can provide.

The rigid assertion made in the critique (‘only capitalism is sustainable’) makes sense on the lips of a wealthy corporate advocate, or indeed any member of an elite country with immense political and military power. It might even turn out to be true. But I would be wary of what else gets smuggled in under such a certain guise.

Opening up the debate

Where do we go from here?

At the end of the day, what frustrated me most about the critique of The Story of Stuff was the way it seemed to close down debate. At one point, the video presents a simple choice: either live an impossibly poor life in grinding poverty OR get a crap job to make cheap goods at the whim of the market. I accept that for many people on the planet, this choice is a real one.

But is it really the only option? Actually, no. There is Fair Trade, which provides a more secure income and a premium to invest locally (no, I am not suggesting that if the whole world went Fair Trade this would be a good thing). Governments, NGOs and charities intervene to improve health, education and employment opportunities. Microfinance initiatives encourage grass roots entrepreneurship (several friends of mine are doing this right now around the world). The concept of human rights has lifted many people out of abject working conditions (I don’t think it’s a cheap shot to point out that economic arguments were once made against the abolition of slavery). There is a serious campaign to lower unfair trade tarriffs – perhaps this is an issue we could unite on across the political spectrum.

In other words, there’s more than one way to develop a healthy economy.

For instance, to take up the analogy used in SOS and its critique, we can save $5 by getting a cheap radio so we can pay the newspaper boy, thus stimulating the economy.  OR we can pay $10 for a better-made radio because we make things to last, refuse to be so wasteful and enter into trade agreements so we know that the people who made our products are better treated. The $10 will still trickle down through our beloved economy. But it will trickle down much further than just our local paperboy (who will probably survive just fine). It stands a much better chance of getting to the people who need it most.

So here’s the big question: Do Lee Doran and my intemperate blogging friend ‘clancop’ believe in creativity? Do they believe in providing new, better options and the surprising resourcefulness of humanity to find not just new resources but better ways of working within a broadly capitalist system?  Or is this a done deal?

In a world where it is estimated that 1 billion people are going hungry I don’t think we have the luxury of closing the debate down. I’m not convinced that this is the moment for unquestioning trust in corporations and blind application of economic theory.

The best traditions of the liberal democratic spirit (not to mention the solemn injunctions of the Christian faith) lead us to a different approach. They lead us to a realistic appraisal of political power and the inherent dangers of human nature left to its own devices. And they lead to a tireless, open, constructive debate on how best to steward and develop the resources we have. 

Doran’s video is concerned about guilt, and this is understandable when thinking of children watching The Story of Stuff. But he seems to imply that we should all think about this less. I don’t want to think about this less.  I want to think about this more.  I don’t want to close down options.  I want to hear from creative people whose eyes are open both to the benefits of capitalist consumerism and its current costs.

If you’re interested in that endeavour, then I’d like to hear more.

37 Comments leave one →
  1. clancop permalink
    October 8, 2009 6:44 pm

    I can’t disagree with you enough. You try to mediate between two views, one supported by facts, the other well-funded propaganda which its creator has put out to twist the facts. Did you not notice how she purposely misstated certain points? Like how there is supposedly only four percent of the original forests left? Lee Doren and other have pointed out that in her on footnotes, this point is contradicted by the source she cites. That isn’t all though…

    For commercials? I doubt watching an advertisement for the new television show on NBC or an advertisement for that new movie is theatres has as serious an impact as the Story of Stuff. In the New York Times’ article on this piece, they discuss how Rafael de la Torre Batker, a 9 year-old-boy, is terrified that wanting to get a new set of legos will destroy the Earth. Explain to me how this is the same again? You can’t. The movie is specifically targeted at young children to guilt them into a lifestyle “Little Annie Lunatic” wants them to live. Aside from commercials generally pushing one product or another on a consumer, there is nothing there that needs a sit-down talk or therapy to deal with.

    Increasing your standard of living by eating meat? How don’t you understand this? My time spent in Nantong, China showed me that this makes much more sense than you would want to admit. I took my students to McDonalds one day to find out that they don’t usually eat beef, they can’t afford it. Beef is a luxury, one the average Chinese person cannot afford. Even Chicken is used sparingly outside the major cities. As funny as that might sound to you, but meat is generally only something those with money can afford to have on a regular basis. Without meat, there growth is stunted, they are thin and poorly nourished, as well as a slew of health problems we don’t deal with here because of our lifestyle. That graph? Look up the straw man fallacy. You want to debate, debate the points.

    On efficiency? You come off once again as an ass. Setting up a house on the outer core? You COMPLETELY ignored his point on oil byproducts, along with his points on the discovery of different materials and fuels. The more and more I read this article, the more and more I see it as an attack on those willing to do the research you refuse to. As for your point on coal mining going on forever, that isn’t what he said. “Little Annie Lunatic” was purposely trying to link coal mining with our modern way of life, when in actuality, it has been going on for centuries. I made a point about this myself, attacking her when she tries to pin the materials economy to the 1950s. She purposely twists the facts to push an unapologetic propaganda piece. If she really cared about all these materials, why publish a DVD? The disc, the box, the artwork, the packaging, etc all uses up materials right? How about transporting those discs across the country? If you really want to split hairs, she is a hypocrite of the first order. There are renewable and non-renewable materials, something which is COMPLETELY ignore by you and Leonard when you push this argument… Pathetic…

    A little economics? Ya, in your hand that is a dangerous thing. You are a twit you know that? I’m going to educate you because it is obvious you need to be. There are elastic and non-elastic goods, things that’s demand will be or won’t be affected by price changes. If the price goes up on CDs and DVDs, demand drops, meaning fewer and fewer people will buy it. This is an elastic good. If the price of food goes up, while people will buy less of the “luxuries”, their demand for the basics will not change much. This is an inelastic good. Same goes for oil. Without a proper substitute, demand drops slightly when prices rise. Before you criticize “Corvan” (I corrected it, his name is Doren) for not explaining this, be sure to read up on the steady decline in tourism following the spike in oil prices. Demand doesn’t shift much for enough oil for basic uses, it does affect whether or not the family decides to go on that trip to Florida to see Grandma or to Disney World. As for your discussion on theory, LEARN IT! Economics isn’t a soft social science like politics or sociology, it is ground firmly in history and mathematics. I spent four years of my life getting my degree, not four minutes on Google. You don’t debate these hard truths like supply and demand you twit. It doesn’t take into account the effect to people living on the Earth? Last time I check, capitalism was raising the standard of living, THE QUALITY OF LIFE, for everyone who partakes in it. Don’t believe me? Ask the Chinese…

    You want to continue insulting my education, you want to continue throwing around nonsense? Okay, fine….

    Milton Friedman is NOT a central planner. A central planner you idiot is someone who workers to plan and run an economy under a central power, meaning the government. This is how countries like Soviet Russia and Communist China USED TO run their economies… RIGHT INTO THE GROUND! The economy is more like a living and breathing being than a mathematical formula, mainly because at its core, the economy is simply the gather of people to buy and sell goods and services. It usually follows the basic theory, but various outside forces, like natural disasters and social/political circumstances, can cause it to behave differently. Now Milton Friedman, like others before him, was an economic adviser to the President of the United States, at the time, Ronald Reagan. The president asked Friedman and others what the government could do to help the economy, to fix the problems that the prior administration left, like double digit unemployment, interest rates and inflation. Friedman didn’t plan anything, he simply advised Reagan to take certain actions so that the economy could grow. If he planned it, there wouldn’t have been some the issues “Reaganomics” created, like the continuing growth of inflation. Get that through your head you twit!

    Economics being simple? Where did you get that idea, on the back of a cereal box? Economic theory has NEVER been simple. The Bullionist practices of the Spanish brought their country into economic collapse, the fur trade in Canada was crippled by changing fashion trends in Europe, the mismanagement of the investment and banking sector in the 1920’s gave birth to the economic depression the the 1930’s, etc You talk, like Leonard, as if all this is new. IT ISN’T! Cartels existed long before OPEC, and government itself is the most insidious form of monopoly, especially when it comes to health care and food production. You talk as if people going poor and hungry is our fault, but last time I checked, these poor areas are usually consumed by civil war. Money given to buy food ends up in the hands of dictators looking to improve their military arsenal. It was only eight years ago, but I guess you forgot the Oil for Food program with Iraq didn’t you? Once again, you don’t know what you are talking about, but a little economics is truly a dangerous thing isn’t it?

    As for debate? There is no debate with falsities. Her facts are wrong, Doren and others have provided evidence to prove this, even Leonard’s own footnotes do damage to her nonsensical argument. You act as if downright lies and slander are simply the other side of a one-sided issue. Facts are facts, and no straw man argument you concoct will change that. As for your many appeals to emotion, I am not someone who is going to feel bad that I have what I have and someone else does not. I work hard, whether it be in school, around the house, etc for what I have. I worked far harder than any of my coworkers in China to make as little as I did, but you know what? I felt good about it. You want to truly end poverty? GET PEOPLE JOBS! You want to sit around discussing how we shouldn’t enjoy our luxuries, tell you what, how about instead of buying a new laptop, how about you instead donate that money to the needy? After all, with your lack of a proper education, you won’t be needing to it debate people like Doren and myself. You won’t? Of course not, hypocrites like you never want to make the sacrifices you demand we make…

    I do want to think about this nonsense less, since thinking about the lunacy you and “Little Annie Lunatic” push angers me. You are talking about denying economic progress to those who truly need it, you talk about keeping the poor on the farms, condemning them to a life of servitude to you and others who ignore their struggle and are obsessed with romanticizing peasant life, etc I want to think about this less because obviously thinking about it more has given voice to the uneducated radicals in our society. You want to think about something? How about new ways of mining ore, more environmentally friendly AND economically viable ways to improve our standard of living (I included the AND because people like you and Leonard purposely ignore that), etc because that is where time should be spent. You want to live the “environmentally friendly” life you preach, fine, but don’t expect the rest of us will follow suit.

    You know very little about the environment, even less about economics, and you ask me why I am vociferous? You insult my education, my father’s education, the millions of hard working North Americans who participate in our system, the million more in developing countries who wouldn’t achieve our standard of living if “Little Annie Lunatic” got her way, etc and you expect me to be okay with it? No, no I won’t be. Get informed and stop “drinking the Kool-Aid”, you’ve had enough…

    By the way, I copied and pasted my response because all of you drones are alike. You hold the same nonsensical beliefs, from the same uneducated sources, so why should I bother debating each and everyone one of you? Like I copied my response, you are simply a copy of the next drone pushing the garbage…

    Pathetic… Downright pathetic…

    • Dreams Buffalo Woman permalink
      October 1, 2013 11:14 pm

      I would read more of your response, clancop, if there was anything civil about it. I was so turned off by the overgeneralizations, reactivity and attacks, that I saw no reason to try to empathize with your points. A person might have flawless facts (?) and still not be able to put them across because the presentation is abusive. In order to be heard, a person needs to be willing to be a good listener, like playing a game of catch. You can’t have a conversation if one person holds the ball and won’t toss it, and it becomes abusive if you are using the ball to throw at your conversation partner like a missile. Namecalling, blaming, and abusiveness are all mechanisms that tear down one of the greatest tools that give us our humanity, language and the ability to behave co-operatively. For every finger pointing at the person one targets, there are three pointing back at ourselves, where there is much work to be done in order to create positive change. Try finding the things people love and empathizing instead of adding to the hatefulness and fear in the world. These are at the foundation of some of the greatest toxicity in our world, and allow us to make decisions that poison our minds, our relationships and the world we live in. By seeking the path of love, we will be able to see what makes you unique and exceptional. Spewing hatefulness simply lets me see that you are channelling the ideas of others who are sunk in unconsciousness and fear and shows me nothing new, creative or lovable about you. Wishing you the best!.

  2. Mark permalink
    October 9, 2009 12:54 am

    Hi Clancop,

    Well, I’m glad you couldn’t disagree with me more. I was starting to worry what it might be like if you did!
    Point taken on Lee’s name – I have changed this.

    I didn’t intend to insult you with the post. The tone of the critique and of your own posts is sharp, so I thought that you would be happy to receive comment in kind. Apologies if this caused offence.

    I take your point about economics up to a point. I am not a specialist – you have studied it more than me. I am frustrated by the lack of gracious and intelligent debate on this issue, but I do not retract my view that the critique video was simplistic.

    On specific points:
    I do not defend factual inconsistency. I wasn’t convinced by all of Doran’s rejoinders to Annie Leonard, but on the whole you are right to be angry about errors in materials used in schools.

    On commercials, my concern is broader than the immediate effect of putting a given child into therapy. For what it’s worth, a book like Oliver James’ ‘Affluenza’ links consumer culture with several issues of mental health and quality of life. Before you accuse him of being some kind of eco-freak, my point is simply that as a clinical psychologist he is concerned.

    On meat, I don’t think we have understood each other. I do not contest that meat is a good and a privilege (resource implications aside – grain, water, etc). As I understand it, though, over-consumption of food is increasingly causing obesity-related illnesses in the US and UK. The hyperlink in the text demonstrates that this could well have an effect on life expectancy. Doran’s point seemed to me to be that living standards tended to rise with increased consumerism/consumption; the issue of obesity shows that this is only true up to a point. (The same point is often made about the link between money and happiness – it seems only to correlate statistically up to a given point. Your point about quality of life under capitalism is broadly correct for many people, but in this area I wonder what global research you are basing it on. If you quote only financial figures in reply, that would seem to beg the question about what constitutes quality of life. There are plenty of detailed psychological studies that paint a more complex picture).

    On demand, I do recall the difference between elastic and inelastic goods. I wasn’t thinking of a western context at all in my point. In wealthy countries a spike in oil prices may well lead to a decline in tourism. My point was that in the African food crisis a sharp hike in food prices led to severe shortages and, at the very least, the risk of death.

    I like your definition of the economy as a living breathing being. I am drawing attention to ways in which the market is distorted, imperfect, and subject to a host of political and military pressures. I wasn’t at all implying that cartels and suchlike are new. On the contrary, they surely have been at work in one form or other since the beginning of trade. This is my point – trade doesn’t always follow ‘the rules’ (even of sophisticated economic models) due to the imbalance of power between various parties involved.

    On Milton Friedman, I know that he wasn’t a central planner in the sense you describe. But as you say, his theories (by no means the only possible theoretical approach to the discipline of economics) had a strong influence on government policies. We’re back to the idea that the free market doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that economic theory, despite being distinct from softer social sciences, is not uniform.

    I’m not sure where in my post you got the idea that I was asking people to stay on farms or romanticising peasant life. Perhaps we could make a deal whereby I try harder to deal with objective facts (point taken) and you avoid lumping me together with other people you disagree with?

    I like your idea about mining ore. Invention, industry, endeavour, concern for the environment (we could call it long-term efficiency) and a desire to see people earn a decent living. These concerns can live together. Probably they must.

    Mark

    • clancop permalink
      October 9, 2009 7:46 am

      I criticize you because you refuse to listen to reason. Why I continue commenting is beyond me, but I see a wrong, and I feel a need to right it…

      Simplistic? He was simply pointing out serious problems in Leonard’s argument. If you want to talk about simplicity, why not look at “Little Annie Lunatic’s” video? She ignores the renewing of forests, the recycling plants in North America, etc Last time I checked, the United States still gets the majority of its raw material imports from Canada, not from the third world as she implied. She also puts fixed numbers on resources we can’t even measure. How many trees would have to be chopped down before we look elsewhere for lumber? In actuality, forests in the western world have grown, the quality of life has gone up, the quality of air has improved. Case in point, we no longer hear of the London Smog which was a serious health risk for Londoners during the Industrial Revolution. Her logic is far too simplistic on this issue, and Lee Doren simply explains these complexities in simple terms.

      As for commercialism? So what? I see a commercial for a new movie, I know right away that the company pushing that ad has paid for air time. Money given to broadcasters which is used to pay salaries and hire new workers. I go and partake in that good or service advertised and my money, which I am freely spending (if I buy something, it is because I want or need it, not because someone is forcing me to buy it) is going to whoever is providing that good or service. I take my disposal income, “invest it” and that puts money in the pocket of another person who can do the same. It keeps the system growing, and this brings prosperity to more and more people. The Story of Stuff is the anti-ad, its purpose is to stop the machine from moving, to scare children into accepting radical beliefs that they cannot understand at their young age. I am sick and tired of hearing how profits are evil, especially when it is that “evil” that allows small and large companies to raise wages and hire new workers. Understand? And what was that nonsense about free markets don’t exist in a vacuum? When is any science truly uniform? Like economics, scientific theory is constantly changing and correcting itself. Take climate change science for example. Even the name itself was changed from “global warming” only a year or two ago, which was changed from “global cooling” a few years before. Just like science, basic economic theory can be proven through simple tests and examples.

      The imbalance in the economy can be corrected either by invoking new government policies or by removing older ones. Milton Friedman pushed what is known as “laissez-faire” economics, a purely free market ideology. While farther more preferable than what we see now in the United States, it has a few flaws. The “invisible hand” can sort out most of the problems an economy can face, but without restraint, such unrestrained competition encourages monopolies and oligopolies, creating an imbalance in the markets. A guiding hand of government can control this, but only when it isn’t wrapped around the throat of the economy. Maintaining balance is the key, and if it were as easy as Leonard and you have suggested, we would have central planners. Advisers are nothing like these foolish central planners in Soviet Russia or Communist China, people who blindly followed Karl Marx’s teachings, ignoring common sense. Look up Deng Xiaoping, the man who moved China towards the market economy. His rejection of central planning got him thrown out of the Communist Party twice by Mao Zedong, and for his “blasphemy”, he still is hated by the hard line Communists within China.

      As for the food shortages in the third world, who is to blame for that lately? The push toward bio fuels have drastically raised the price of wheat. Risks of death? How about the resurgence of malaria? DDT nearly wiped it out, but environmentalist radicals prevented that. Those living below the poverty line around the world have more to worry about that the ice caps melting. You want to actually help these people? Get out of their way, let them develop. You will see their quality of life improve…

      And as for how I know their quality of life will improve? I LIVED IT! I was going to let it go, but you act as if my knowledge on this subject doesn’t matter without a chart to back it out. I could point to GDP growth rates in China, I could point to the urban development in both small and large cities, but seeing as how I lived in underdeveloped Nantong, I am pretty sure I know what the truth is. Other than camping in your backyard and going on protest trips, what have you done with your life? Where have you been? Nowhere… I have climbed the Great Wall, been to the tombs of the Emperors, shopped in Shanghai, etc and all that time, I saw how the country was changing. In Nantong, KFC is everywhere, McDonalds can be found downtown and Pizza Hut is just a short walk from there. Doesn’t sound impressive? Well we take those restaurants for granted, we don’t understand that to a country that has known real poverty (their homeless don’t have clothing, let alone cellphones), to be able to enjoy a Big Mac is considered a luxury. Because of “evil” corporations, China has become the second largest consumer market in the world, and as their quality of life continues to increase, it will surpass the United States in that regard. These people can afford to purchase what they make for us, they can enjoy the very same luxuries that we have taken for granted for far too long.

      Next time you DARE to question that truth, I won’t bother being nice, I will do more than call you out as a naive environmentalist who has no understand of economics or how your arrogance is hurting those you claim to want to help… Enjoy your laptop, enjoy your Starbucks Coffee, etc and know that of the 750+ students I taught, EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM WOULD TRADE PLACES WITH YOU IN A HEARTBEAT! Grow up…

  3. Mark permalink
    October 9, 2009 6:13 pm

    Hi clancop,

    I don’t dispute many of the things you say here. It’s a shame, really, that we’re not discussing proper books on either side of the issue. The reliance on youtube videos is a real weakness, as the issues you are addressing in your replies are complex (even this exchange of posts is helping me to see a level of detail in your argument that my engagement with the critique video did not).

    I don’t know how to respond to your concern about profits being evil or corporations being evil. I haven’t made that allegation, so I don’t see how I can respond. I’m sure corporations, like governments and individuals, are capable of evil or injustice. I’m not looking either to demonize or fully absolve corporations en masse. I think there is credit due in cases like China; in other instances there is a need for greater accountability.

    On the science of economics, I’ve found The New Economics Foundation a helpful stimulus. It seems that you’re coming from a modified ‘laissez faire’ approach. I wouldn’t put myself in Annie Leonard’s camp, but I’m interested in the spectrum of options between Friedman and whatever Annie Leonard represents.

    The point you make about China is clearly a strong example of the power of the market. Consequently, you and I might both be strong supporters of a fairer balance of power in trade negotiations and a reduction of tarriffs on imports from developing countries.

    Again, nowhere in the posts above have I argued that China, for instance, hasn’t benefitted from freer markets and consumerism. I acknowledge your experience of real improvements for the Chinese – personally speaking I would find this a stronger argument if it accompanied an acknowlegdement of some of the potential downsides of global consumerism. I’m not saying this would mean we have to somehow ‘put the brakes on’ the market – the downsides might be an unavoidable – but still it would make it easier to face the complex realities of the situation. Who knows, we might find ways to continue to contribute to the economic development of poorer nations but without some of the downsides?

    At the end of the day, for me western consumerism is not a straightforwardly good system that I dare not question. I have concerns about obesity, erosion of community, environmental limits of consumption (if the science is right), injustice and a self-centred culture. At the same time I do feel profoundly grateful for the many privileges I enjoy and I agree that billions of people would change places with me in an instant (which makes this discussion an important one). By the same token, I’m aware of much good that has come through the extension of global capitalism; but this doesn’t mean that I want to ignore the various financial, political and military forces that sometimes work against the poor.

    Whether I am a hypocrit or not is (mercifully) not for you to judge, as you do not know me or my life. But this is my experience of consumerism. I think that any fruitful discussion needs to be able to work with that ambiguous experience; and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment though, and for bringing a perspective from China that gives your views genuine support.

    Mark

    • clancop permalink
      October 10, 2009 8:03 pm

      You don’t have to make your beliefs on profits known, your original support of “Little Annie Lunatic” tells me that you at first believed this nonsense about profits ignored people. Every time I hear a supporter of Leonard’s beliefs open their mouth, they say something to the affect that our system exploits the working person for profits, or that we our “raping nature” for profits, or that we are “murdering innocents” for profits, etc Same nonsense from identical drones. I am not telling you to accept Lee Doren’s critique or any other critique without questioning it, but I am saying that do your research to find out why it is right and Leonard is wrong.

      Milton Friedman wasn’t wrong. Much of what he believes is right, that the economy will correct itself, etc but I disagree that “laissez-faire” economics is the best system. I disagree with other conservatives on this because of their belief that government invention in the economy can only create problems. The problem is that when governments do intervene, they usually go far beyond what is necessary. Look at the Community Reinvestment Act for proof of this, since it goes far beyond simple regulations and pushes a policy that cannot be maintained because it would and DID cripple the banks. Leonard’s beliefs, on the other hand, aren’t even within the bounds of reality. but what do you expect from a radical like her? She is an anti-human, anti-progress nonsense that got her “education” (and I use that term loosely because she is ignorant) from groups like Greenpeace, and organization which its co-founder, Patrick Moore had to leave because it had radicalized.

      Give the video a watch, he discusses the rise of “anti-humanism” within the movement, something which forced him to leave.

      Chinese development, as well as the development of other poor nations, is usually not environmentally friendly, but who are we to judge? London was a breeding ground for sickness and disease during its early years, Germany had stripped its land of forests (not all mind you, but enough to be noticed), etc but look at them now. The latter is considered the driving force in Europe for environmentalism. As I told my students, “you don’t clean the kitchen until you are done cooking”. We cannot force these regulations on developing nations until they can even afford to implement them. Radicals like Leonard believe that, because of the environmental damage done during the early stages of economic development, that these underdeveloped nations should not be allowed to achieve it. Radicals like her romanticize peasant life so that they call get people to believe this nonsense. If you ask me, it borders on racism, that because you aren’t among the developed world, you shouldn’t be allowed our luxuries, which is based on where you are born, and what racial group you just happen to fall under.

      As for consumerism, it is all personal. Obesity is the result of personal choices, not because the economic system added more food to your plate. Just because you can afford to eat more, doesn’t mean you should. If you do, why not hit the gym? Why not exercise? These are all personal choices, and because of our system, we do have the time to make them. Once again, returning to “Little Annie Lunatic”, these radicals advocate returning to peasant life, where entire families had to work twelve hours a day for very little. No time for education, let alone a variety of other activities and hobbies. These people in developing nations want our lifestyle because it offers personal freedoms. Just because some people don’t make the right personal choices, it doesn’t mean that the system they are part of is somehow flawed.

      As for the erosion of community, it is a matter of opinion. Because you and I are having this discussion, it shows that communities are actually expanding. Look at World of Warcraft, BlizzCon, bringing together people who wouldn’t have even known each other if not for a simple computer game. Community is redefining itself, no eroding, but even the traditional definition of community is seeing expansion. Neighbourhoods are much larger, more people are into politics, etc You have to be careful when you discuss these issues since it paints you as just another Leonard.

      This isn’t about environmental limits, this isn’t even about the environment, it is about politics. “Green is the new Red”, and much of the policies radicals like Leonard push are simply socialist in nature. Does it strike you as odd that at the end of the video she discusses uniting the workers of the world? That is right out of Marx, and more than anything, should tell you to disregard what she is preaching. No political or economic system has done more to create poverty than Marxism, and while working towards a cleaner environment is important (I plant trees and recycle myself), that isn’t what “Little Annie Lunatic” wants.

      Be careful, educate yourself, and stay away from these “well meaning” radicals…

  4. October 10, 2009 10:49 am

    I’m afraid, clancop, that you’ve swallowed the neo-liberal theories whole, without questioning them. Have you read Friedrich List or Joseph Schumpeter? John Kenneth Galbraith? Not to mention E F Schumacher, or the ecological economics of Herman Daly?

    Consumerism is all pervasive, the sea we swim in. Most people don’t even think to question it, so it’s no surprise that you haven’t either. There is a huge wealth of alternative economic theory, going right back to the 1600s, that they won’t teach you in a four year degree. You should read some.

    • clancop permalink
      October 10, 2009 7:17 pm

      Neo-liberal theories? Excuse me? Not at all. I do preach about taking a hands off approach to economics, read my blog, but the problem is that you cannot maintain an economy by letting it govern itself. Just like society at large, there are laws which must govern it. “Laissez-faire” economic plans have lead to the growth of monopolies and oligopolies, which were reigned in through government intervention. It isn’t that the economy should have the government regulating it, especially when it is easy to see how anything more than a guiding hand will lead to serious economic problems, but a completely free system is not what I support or what I preach. So I honestly don’t get this nonsense about neo-liberal theories since economics, but nature, is very conservative.

      Joseph Schumpeter was WRONG! The only thing he got right in his theory of creative destruction was that entrepreneurship and innovation are destructive, in that older and obsolete goods and services, even business methods, are discarded and replaced. It is the very nature of competition, and because it IS continual, Schumpeter was wrong, but than again, his choice of political ideology has also failed everywhere it was tried.

      John Kenneth Galbraith didn’t abandon capitalism, Friedrich List’s ideas of protectionism doomed Japan to years of economic stagnation, and E F Schumacher rejected capitalism and materialism. You want to argue with a man who has a four year degree, GET ONE YOURSELF!

      As for alternative economic theories, I guess you weren’t listening. Bullionism was the economic policy which drove European colonialism. It failed when it was realized that maintaining colonies instead of simply looting them was far more profitable. Centralized planning? Something an uneducated socialist like you would support, lead to economic destruction in Soviet Russia and Communist China. Deng Xiaoping moved towards Western capitalism since it proved superior in that it lead to economic growth where the other simply draining resources, shrinking the economy. I could go on about the numerous ideas that were floated by various different theorists, all whom were proven wrong and have been forgotten by most because of their failures, but I suggest you get a degree in economics.

      You want to talk about who swallowed what nonsense? I am not the one clinging to a failed political and economic system… Pathetic…

      By the way, your picture gives you away. Only an uneducated twit like yourself would think the scruffy look with an unmarked cap is anything but socialist wear.

      • October 14, 2009 6:05 pm

        It’s a shame they didn’t teach some basic manners as part of that much vaunted degree, but there you go. You’ve been quick to slap down any talk of socialism or central planning, which I don’t actually advocate. Neither I, nor any of the others on this site are socialists. We’re all part of a consumer society which has brought immense good as well as great harm. There’s no need to destroy it, that wouldn’t get us anywhere. We just think it ought to be fairer, more geared towards the needs of people, rather than wealth for the sake of wealth.

        Which is why I can be inspired by Galbraith – because I haven’t given up on capitalism any more than he did. I just want it to work better.

        I could point out that if protectionism is so terribly bad, why did the US put up the steel tarriffs last month? But then again, what’s the point in arguing with someone who thinks they can read someone’s politics from their choice of hat?

      • clancop permalink
        October 14, 2009 7:21 pm

        What the US did with steel tariffs WAS BAD. Just because the United States does it, doesn’t mean it is a good thing. As a “defender of the Red, White and Blue”, I would usually be the first one pointing out the benefits in following the lead of America in most fields, but this was a BAD MOVE. Protectionism breeds more protectionism, but not only that. Raising the costs of imports raises the cost of operating businesses. The implementations in Barack Obama’s Buy American policy is disastrous on both side of the border (the man obviously didn’t spend four years studying economics). Imposing tariffs on steel of all things would further hurt the struggling auto industry in both Canada and the United States. You drive up their costs, and they will be back in bankruptcy very soon. Free trade is ALWAYS the answer, especially when it increases competition, driving down prices, etc By pushing this, he is giving the shaft to Canadians, something I have blogged about previously, so no, it isn’t a good thing.

        As for your economic credentials, you picked a handful of discredited theorists as the foundation for your argument to discredit my four year degree. School might not have taught me manner (yours are lacking as well), but it did provide a solid foundation for my beliefs on economics. I can tell you that the pursuit of wealth for the sake of wealth is a GOOD THING, as it means that more money is being put into the system. Who’s taxes will pay for all the social programs you advocate for like welfare? The wealthy right? After all, they pay far more than their share when it comes to taxes. Why shouldn’t those working hard enough be rewarded? We should encourage everyone to strive for these higher goals. Their success is our success, their wealth brings new jobs, new wealth for other individuals. How is this a bad thing?

        Finally, your appearance, the hat, etc says a lot not just about who you are but what you believe. A lack of logo, sports team or simple corporation tells me that you have a problem with supporting these businesses… AND I AM RIGHT! You preach about the problems with the way our consumer based economy works, proving that my first impression was indeed right. The awkward facial hair also tells me that you pride yourself as an anti-institution (even if only slightly) kind of guy, which you proved when you said, “I’m afraid, clancop, that you’ve swallowed the neo-liberal theories whole, without questioning them… There is a huge wealth of alternative economic theory, going right back to the 1600s, that they won’t teach you in a four year degree.” It is the Che Guevera faux-beard that usually people with similar beliefs grow. Do you own a Che Guevera T-shirt or poster? Come on, be honest now…

        You actually can judge a book by its cover, but instead of taking that impression alone, I wanted to hear you out a little, rattle your cage and see how you would react… Which you did, in a predictable fashion…

  5. October 10, 2009 8:00 pm

    Hi Clancop,
    While debate on this blog is totally welcome, courtesy is also appreciated. Please try and keep your comments polite. Thanks for taking time to post your thoughts.

    • clancop permalink
      October 11, 2009 4:36 am

      Polite? It is a matter of opinion. I will not put up with someone insulting my intelligence, even politely. As for your comments about consumerism (I have seen your own blog), if you wish to “preach” about my conduct do so, but if you are a Pastor, I find it silly that you would get involved in such affairs.

      “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” – Matthew 22:21

      Seems you STILL need to study the bible…

      You justify your position on political issues with the fact that you are a Pastor at North Shrewsbury Community Church (once again, I have seen your blog), an act which bothers me. You are supposed to be a “shepherd to your folk when it comes to affairs of God, but don’t you dare use his name to push your misguided politics…

      It is pastors like you that force good Christians out of the church…

  6. October 11, 2009 9:17 am

    Actually Clancop, it’s not your opinions I’m talking about. So far in your comments you’ve called people; ‘an ass’, ‘pathetic’, ‘a twit’, ‘uneducated’, ‘hypocrites’, ‘downright pathetic’, ‘a drone’, ‘arrogant’. All of which maybe your opinion but in those cases are opinions that are best kept to yourself.

    We’ve appreciated you bringing a robust defence of consumerism to the debate, but in order for the debate to be genuine, it doesn’t help when you take the position that those who disagree with you are ‘insulting your intelligence’, as if posting their thoughts on this blog were designed to insult you personally.

    As for my position – well as a pastor I know and care for people whose lives are made less not more happy by what I understand to be consumerism, so I don’t see as silly of me to care about that.

    I’m not sure what you mean by the Mt 22:21 reference, but would be happy to discuss what we think Jesus meant then. I also don’t justify my personal views on politics through my position as a pastor. I’ve never told people who to vote for, never used the pulpit to favour one political party over another and have no intention of doing so in the future. In blogging on politics, I’m hoping to encourage people to think through how their faith and politics mix. And I think for the record, that it is God’s affair how people treat the poor, the environment, carry out justice, education, immigration, foreign policy, economics so I’m happy to keep talking about such things.

    Thanks again for contributing to the discussion.

    • clancop permalink
      October 11, 2009 11:56 pm

      Close, but completely off base…

      My mention of opinions was about what was being said about me. No need to be polite with those who are refusing to do the same. Comments about me being “vociferous” or that my four year education didn’t teach me what I should really know, are directed comments directed at me as criticism. There is nothing polite about insults, no matter how politely they are said.

      About my opinions, I don’t lie about how I feel, I don’t try to hide my feelings about what I find offensive and downright stupid. It is a blunt form of honesty I cling with because I always want those who I speak with knowing where they stand with me. Now Mark has earned at the very least the smallest amount of respect for listening to what I have to say, on top of keeping the comments up on his site. Though naive, especially when it comes to economic matters, he should be commended for being honest… But you on the other hand?

      I wish I didn’t feel the need to really tear you out, mainly because I believe those spreading the word of God and the teachings of Jesus should be respected, but I am dumbfounded about why you do it. Although I am Catholic, I have sat down with pastors having many enlightening conversations about God’s message and the meaning of certain passages, but never did any of them push their social/political beliefs. Matter of fact, I sat down with a Chinese Christian pastor having Thanksgiving dinner at his new place while watching the Canadian Football League (CFL) game on his new TV. All I can see from what you wrote is that you have twisted religion to fit your own political beliefs.

      “…I know and care for people whose lives are made less not more happy by what I understand to be consumerism…”

      Are you disturbed? Just because they are having trouble in their lives and come to you to seek SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE, you tell them that they are consuming too much? That is twisted. If there problem is over shopping, then yes, there problem is consumerism related, but it isn’t consumerism. Those who shop do so to fill a hole in their lives, whether it be due to physical or mental trauma, and not because of the nature of the market economy. This is PURELY POLITICAL, you have turned their personal issue into a rallying cry for your misguided political beliefs, so I repeat Matthew 22:21, which you seem not to understand.

      Jesus himself said this because he wanted to ensure his critics that he had no political aspirations, that he wasn’t there to challenge the Roman Emperor. Earth was Caesar’s domain, and as ruler of this land, he was to be respected, meaning that taxes should be paid (the Rabbis were questioning him on who the piece of gold that was stamped with Caesar’s mark). This passage is pointed to as proof of Jesus’ belief of the separation of Church and State. Politics has no place in religion, and religion has no place in politics. Sure religious beliefs have influenced our legal system, they influence our political beliefs, but they have no place in dictating political policies, no one is to rule with one religious book or another.

      You are abusing your position as pastor to push political views. If you are saying these things as a common man, that is okay, even religious figures have political beliefs (Pope John Paul II for example), but you justify your backwards political beliefs by stating you are a pastor (I have read been to your blog ONCE AGAIN). God teaches us to be kind to our fellow man, to be charitable, but that DOESN’T MEAN he demands Christians votes for socialist policies and push wealth redistribution. There is NOTHING in the Bible that would justify any of those positions, especially immigration, the environment and economics. You don’t need to tell people who to vote for, not when you fill their heads with such far left ideology, so don’t try that nonsense with me.

      You are arrogant, a hypocrite, and a misguided drone trying to push idiotic beliefs from the pulpit. You haven’t just offended me with your politics, you have insulted my faith by abusing the teachings of Christ… Disgusting…

  7. October 12, 2009 8:17 pm

    Wow – it’s hard to know where to start, it’s a long time since I’ve been called an ‘arrogant hypocrite, ‘misguided drone’, idiot’, ‘disgusting’, ‘disturbed’, ‘backwards’ ‘abusing the teachings of Christ’, ‘abusing my position as a pastor’ and even worse a ‘socialist.’ You’re ‘blunt honesty’ has been effective, I think I know where I stand now.

    You’re welcome to come and talk to the people in my church -we have the full spectrum of political beliefs. For example until they moved back to the USA we had some Republicans in the church, some friends of mine are standing for election for the Conservative party in the UK and I have a friendly relationship my local Conservative MP. I’m quite happy for people in my church to vote differently and they do, that after all is democracy (which just to be clear I’m in favour of). So I’m with you on not demanding Christian votes for socialist policies. I don’t demand that either.

    I can’t agree with your interpretation on Mt 22:21 but at least now I understand what you meant by the reference. Thanks for the explanation.

    As for some of your other points it’s food for thought – so in the spirit of healthy debate, here’s my rejoinder. I’m not sure what position you think I’ve taken up on immigration, the environment and economics but you’re quite wrong if you think the Bible doesn’t mention those topics. Jewish law has plenty of references to resident aliens (Exodus 22:21 for example) which is immigration. The New Testament teaches that it is God’s intention for his creation to be liberated from bondage to decay through the actions of His people (Romans 8:21 for example) which is connected to the care for the environment.

    Lastly economics. As a business owner, I’m not against profit far from it. I don’t think business is bad and I don’t think the Bible is against business, trade, or making a profit. But from the year of jubilee in Leviticus, to laws of gleaning, to God’s concern over the oppression of the poor by the rich, God calls for justice in economics. It’s fair game to argue over the best method of bringing about just economics, hopefully a good debate will help produce some better solutions. Can we agree that God is concerned about the plight of the poor in the world and that Christians should be too?

    In the hope that on this blog we can have an enlightened conversation. Thanks again for your reply.

    • clancop permalink
      October 13, 2009 3:29 am

      No, you’re wrong… So VERY wrong…

      The context of those references to resident aliens is far divorced from what we have now. For you to even suggest that Exodus 22:21 would support giving access medical care, welfare, etc is just stupid. Also, that isn’t about illegal immigrants, that was about the nature of the Jewish community to turn away “gentiles”, non-Jews. Once again you twist the words on God to push politics.

      Romans 8:21 is about slavery, but of course a socialist like you would quote Marx to prove that those of modest income are in fact slaves. Slavery, in the Western world, has ended long ago. You want to talk about the equality of all men, look at the underground railroad, the path for the slaves to Canada. How about the Civil War? Hundreds of thousands died to free slaves, don’t you think that that kind of sacrifice is enough? No, you’re the kind of twit who would label me a slave driver if I didn’t pay my employees wages you deemed “fair”. This doesn’t even make sense, if you are in fact a business owner. I run a blog, does that make me a business owner too?

      God has no place in economic, he doesn’t. You twist passages relating to charity, ignore Matthew 22:21, and suggest that somehow God would endorse a political ideology which cripples progress by controlling the economy? Once again you ignore the context of these quotes. In Rome, slaves were property, not people. If you were wealthy, you had slaves. It is this of which Jesus speaks. He isn’t discussing how the market system “enslaves” people, but of course you know that. You quote these passages because they are so very easy to misrepresent. It is the same way people point to Matthew 10:34 and say that Jesus was a violent warmonger. I know how you play this game, and it is disturbing.

      I have friends who are liberals, environmentalists, etc but that doesn’t mean my views are any more correct or less correct because of that. On that subject, don’t point to a small number of Republicans and Conservatives and say your political views are balanced. For all I know, those are RINOs, and last time I checked, the Conservative Party in Canada was anything but (did you see the budget proposal?). In any event, you quoting your “friend’s list” is like a racist saying “I have coloured friends”. I don’t care who attends your Church. As much they may like you, they have come to hear the “good news”, not your backwards political views.

      Yes I agree that God is concerned about the plight of the poor, as he is concerned with the sins of the rich, as he is concerned with the lives of the sick, etc We are all God’s children, and being disenfranchised doesn’t put you higher on the list. It is call charity, it is what Conservatives do, as in GIVING TO IT. The “evil” Dick Cheney, former Vice President gave 77% of his income in 2005 to charity. Forcing someone to give up money makes you no better than a slave driver yourself, and, as you said, God doesn’t look too highly on that…

      So I repeat, you are a hypocrite. More so, you are twisting Christianity to push your backwards politics, something I find revolting. I might respect Mark for his understanding, but I would have to be a saint to forgive your “sins”… Pathetic…

  8. October 13, 2009 8:55 am

    Well, I don’t think I need to say very much. I’ll just let you keep putting words in my mouth and argue with yourself.

    Q: Who said anything about illegal immigration?
    A: You

    Q: Who said anything about giving illegal immigration medical care, welfare?
    A: Not me. You did

    Q: Who brought Marx into this?
    A: That’s right Christopher, you did.

    Q: Who’s calling you a slave driver?
    A: I haven’t. But thanks for suggesting it

    Q: Who’s forcing anyone to give up money?
    A: Not me.

    Q: Who brought Dick Cheney into this or called him evil?
    A: I haven’t.

    So if we’re going to debate our views, at least do me the courtesy of letting me express my views and disagree with the things I’ve said, not the things you make up.

    I’m not talking about my blog, I’m talking about a bookshop and a coffee shop -that’s the business I own. I hope you’ll agree that selling books qualifies as a business.

    So unless we can have a substantial discussion, I’ll make this my last reply. But thanks again for taking the time to comment.

    • clancop permalink
      October 14, 2009 12:11 am

      Hmmm, got under your skin did I? I can play this game very well…

      Q: Who said anything about illegal immigration?
      “Jewish law has plenty of references to resident aliens (Exodus 22:21 for example) which is immigration.”

      The only reason you would bring up this passage is to discuss your view on immigration, and seeing that no one has problems with immigration itself (we are all immigrants to this land in one way or another), it is obvious that you were discussing illegal immigration. You try and twist the passage into saying that God would approve of amnesty because “we should all be kind to resident aliens”.

      Q: Who said anything about giving illegal immigration medical care, welfare?

      Your constant references to “plight of the poor”, discussing “justice in economics”, etc tells me that you don’t have a problem with giving illegal immigrants access to this. As stated above, with reference to kindness to resident aliens, I have heard this argument before. Where does kindness stop? It doesn’t for you…

      http://thesimplepastor.blogspot.com/2009/09/whats-important-to-me-politically.html

      “I’d like to see some genuine commitment to closing the inequality gap, it’s not good enough for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer or only marginally better off.”

      A real “money quote” I think. Wealth redistribution? If you believe in that, then I find it hard to believe that you would be against putting illegal immigrants into our social systems. In this article you demand that we should be giving more to international aid, ignoring the fact that if the millions we are giving isn’t work, one reason being because it slips into the hands of tribal leaders who would rather spend money on weapons than food (Oil for Food anyone?), giving more won’t help. They need jobs, not hand outs…

      Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Old Chinese Proverb

      Q: Who brought Marx into this?
      “…as a pastor I know and care for people whose lives are made less not more happy by what I understand to be consumerism…”

      “The New Testament teaches that it is God’s intention for his creation to be liberated from bondage to decay through the actions of His people.”

      While the second is a misrepresentation of bondage, applying the term slave to the poor in society, you might as well have taken those quote from Marx’s Communist Manifesto itself.

      The slave frees himself when, of all the relations of private property, he abolishes only the relation of slavery and thereby becomes a proletarian; the proletarian can free himself only by abolishing private property in general. – Engels, Principles of Communism

      Engels was the man that worked with Marx on political theory. There is little difference in the debate on consumerism and the debate on private property, matter of fact, one could argue that they are the same. Your criticism of the prior is that we don’t need to shop, and that buying unneeded goods is somehow bad reeks of further steps. If consumerism is evil, than the possession of other goods, like private property, is bad too. This is always how the debate begins on this issue…

      http://thesimplepastor.blogspot.com/2009/09/consumerism-animated.html

      Also, you talk of socialism and freeing the poor of “bondage”, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where your political beliefs are centered. Just for the record, Marx was an athiest, he not only didn’t believe in God, he constant ranted about those who did being stupid. I find it rather silly a pastor would use the bible to push his politics…

      Q: Who’s calling you a slave driver?
      “The New Testament teaches that it is God’s intention for his creation to be liberated from bondage to decay through the actions of His people…”

      I should have to pay royalties for using that quote as much as I do. In our society, where is the bondage? Are you speaking of low wages? Are you speaking of your hatred for consumerism (I have been to your blog, I have read what you wrote)? The fact that I don’t believe in minimum wage hikes or because I celebrate consumerism, does that make me a slave driver? Why did you even bring up slavery if you didn’t intend to discuss what you perceived as such in our society?

      Q: Who’s forcing anyone to give up money?
      “I’d want a clear commitment to reach the UN target of 0.7% GDP being given in international aid not sometime in the near or distant future but tomorrow and that’s a minimum.”

      Demanding that Canada give more money to the international aid? Sure sounds that way to me.

      “Can we agree that God is concerned about the plight of the poor in the world and that Christians should be too? ”

      I will agree with you that something has to be done, but not hand-outs. We have tried that, it hasn’t worked, let’s take an approach which is far more active on their part, but of course you don’t want that do you?

      http://thesimplepastor.blogspot.com/2009/10/government-responds-to-trade-badger.html

      Trade justice? You don’t understand the damage you do to the people you say you are helping by demanding we not buy their products at those prices. This “fairer trade” nonsense is hilarious, especially when you are inflating market prices of basic commodities. People will buy less at higher prices, meaning the farmers sell less. Not only do you give them the shaft, you turn around and shaft North American coffee drinkers. Wonderful…

      Q: Who brought Dick Cheney into this or called him evil?

      I brought him up, but you ignored the point. Those on the left, like you, have constantly pointed to him and said that he was “evil” and he was to blame for the “evils created by the Bush administration”, but my point was that he donates to charity. Oh yes, even the “evil” Dick Cheney donates to charity. Now why is that? He is a God-fearing man, and because of his faith, he believes in charity. Now I made this point because encouraging charity, not demanding higher taxes, is the way to go. Pointing to your comments about demanding Canada give more money to international aid, I find it troubling you would advocate such a socialist position. Wealth redistribution doesn’t work, especially since those demanding it don’t donate themselves (I gave a fair bit of money to the Chinese Red Cross after the 2008 earthquake). Allow people to do it themselves, don’t force them, and they will do it.

      As for your business, I don’t have a problem with you selling books or coffee, good for you, but don’t go demanding that people follow your business model. If you want to pay your workers more, your customers will have to pay more, unless you are running it to barely make a profit (which is good for you, but not for everyone else). Seeing how you do sell such goods, I find it silly that you would be against consumerism especially since your business depends on it… Silly hypocrite…

      I might not be the world’s best Catholic, but that is not what I am trying to do. I believe in God, I am eternally grateful to the Father at my parish for allow me to finish Convocation and be a full member of the church, but that doesn’t mean I am free of sin. For a pastor, however, I thought you would know how to turn the other cheek… Seems you are just as imperfect as I…

  9. October 14, 2009 5:08 pm

    No you didn’t get under my skin – I was just frustrated with being talked at instead of being talked to. And all the name calling of course…

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read some of the posts on my blog. Even if I think you’re misunderstanding me (which I do), you have taken the time to do that and that’s appreciated.

    Here are a few clarifications: if I’m trying to shaft anyone in asking for fairer trade practices, it’s the British. I’m British, I live in Britain. The North Americans are currently free from fear of my ‘socialism’.

    So I’m not demanding more money from Canada, although I’m sure it would be appreciated if they like most other countries followed up on promises to give 0.7% of GDP to international development. (http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/press/07.htm#04)

    As for forcing people, I’m simply asking my government to make this area a budget priority. I’m asking them to use our taxes to do this. And I’m very happy for new ways of helping the poorest if as you put hand-outs aren’t working. Of course there is a difference between relief aid & development. I’m assuming its the second that you feel is wasteful and goes to line the pockets of corrupt officials? Which of course is partly true. I’ve worked in emergency relief and have some first hand experience of both the good that is done and the harm and the corruption.

    I’m glad Dick Cheney is generous, I’m glad you are too. I’m glad that people give of their money generously to causes that help the poorest. I’m all for that, I also think that government has a role to play too in how it spends my taxes.

    And I make a distinction between capitalism and consumerism. Contrary to what you may think I’m not against capitalism. Like I said, I’m involved in business. I think consumerism is something else entirely.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumerism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism

    I too am not free from sin, fortunately for me God is gracious and continually extends forgiveness. I entirely agree with you that I am imperfect. Never claimed otherwise.

    • clancop permalink
      October 14, 2009 6:58 pm

      I apologize for the misunderstanding about your nationality. Your mention of Republicans and Conservatives in a previous post made me think you were on this side of the pond. I was mistaken for assuming you mean Canadian conservatives, especially when discussed visiting Americans. We have so many crossing the border here I had forgotten about other countries with other conservative parties… As for Britain’s problems (socialism being one of them),

      http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/story.html?id=2096267

      The article doesn’t make mention of problems with businesses, problems trade and political short comings, but it still does a good job of comparing the plight of the British to their European neighbours. I took a class on the history of the European Union, and aside from the fact that France (more specifically Charles De Gaulle) was demanding that Britain be kept out of the groups early incarnations, the British took no steps to make a serious push for economic reform until it was too late. Much of the country’s economic problems have to do with this…

      As for government giving international aid, where do you think they get their money? A party that runs on a platform of spending a fair percentage of its GDP elsewhere might have problems at the polls, and with all the spending Gordon Brown has been doing lately, such a “humanitarian gesture” might just run him out of office. Think about the political implications. It isn’t simply corruption that costs money, it is the bureaucracy that drains it too. You have to pay a percentage of the money given to aid to every person working on each level between the man at the top signing the bill into law and the people at the bottom distributing the funds. Little by little that money is depleted until finally the donation to charity is only a fraction of the original amount. Why not put the money in the hands of local business or help them construct new ones? Ask the poor country for a plan, or provide them one, provide them the funds with restrictions, goals they have to meet for continued funding. Keep an eye on it, ensure that it is being spent the way it is intended to, there is no use in simply handing over money to people who might take it and run. And finally, keep the number of bureaucrats to a minimum. We don’t need forty different departments working on this, draining resources for little work. Create a new department addressing this sole issue and work from there.

      I know they are different concepts, but to be against consumerism is to be against much of what capitalism stands for, THEY ARE INTERTWINED. We have money, we spend money on goods and services and that allows others to have money and spend it according to their own wishes. Purchasing of wants, not needs, is a driving factor in Western economic progress. Look at the economic boom we had when we brought women into the work force. They had money, they spent money on their numerous wants, and there was this significant economic boost. Consumerism has been the driving force behind North American success, the increase in the standard of living. Demand drives supply, which drives prices, which in turn helps lower costs for the average person. Money received from consumer spending is reinvested into the company to produce newer and BETTER products. If we were to give up on shopping, if we were to adopt the philosophy of “Enoughism”, we would see a significant change in our own economic fortunes. Why should a pharmaceutical company produce new medicines if, according to the teachings of an uneducated few, consumers already have the medicines they need? It is, after all, a “lie to sell you happiness and security” isn’t it? Why should car companies build newer, more environmentally friendly and safer cars if we already have what we need? Why should musicians make new music if we won’t buy their CDs because it is truly wrong to indulge in this kind of spending. I enjoy going out to shop, it is something which I find relaxing. I go shopping with friends, I go shopping alone, I go shopping just to get out of the house. Also, when I go shopping, I usually don’t shop. There are people who use shopping to fill a void in their life, but instead of attacking their escape, why not deal with the real problems they are facing. Aside from having less money from spending on a slew of cheap figures and movies I haven’t watched more than a few times, I don’t see any serious issues here. If I didn’t spend my money on these things, I would have spent it on something else, that is how DISPOSAL INCOME works. Putting small amounts of money back into the system actually helps someone else…

      As for being free from sin, as a pastor, you are supposed to set an example. You are supposed to be better than us. My priest makes an effort to live according to Christ’s teachings knowing that his effort would encourage us to make an effort ourselves. Does he expect us to live as he does? No, he understands that we are imperfect, just as he is, but it is his lot in life to strive from the perfection Christ preached. As imperfect as you are, you are supposed to be a pastor, you are supposed to be BETTER than the rest of us…

      That is what I find most upsetting…

  10. clancop permalink
    October 14, 2009 7:22 pm

    Can I just say this? I am thinking Mark is loving this back and forth banter, at least because it is kicking his hits up… Am I right, yes or no?

  11. October 14, 2009 9:47 pm

    Thanks for the reply. Actually the National Post article is really helpful, because it highlights the issue we’re most concerned about. For example it says,

    “There is more to good living than money and this report shows why so many Brits are giving up on the U.K. and heading to France and Spain,” said Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com. “We have lost all sense of balance between wealth and well-being,” she said.

    It’s a quote I completely agree with. Ironically enough, Britain is the least ‘socialist’ economy in Europe. Although I agree with you the causes are not that simplistic.

    On international aid, of course money comes from our taxes. I’m not sure they’d have to rise, just be spent better and more wisely. And I’m not in disagreement with some of your proposals. There is a need for that budget to be delivered better to meet the goals of helping countries economically develop. I’m with you on that and that being driven by businesses.

    On consumerism and capitalism -they are intertwined in our modern economies but I’m not sure they HAVE to be they way they currently are. There isn’t just one form of capitalism and while all are flawed, not all of them have the same consequences on well being as your article helpfully pointed out.

    Remember I’m not against people buying things, I’m not against the replacement of the old by something newer and better. I’m not against musicians creating, artists performing, authors writing or the development of technology. But in consumer cultures (which I’d argue is a product of the last 50 years and in some countries more than others – unlike capitalism which is of course much older) there are drawbacks and downsides.

    It’s those that we’re trying to address – where people get their identity from is a spiritual issue, because our contentment and purpose comes not from what we buy but from who we are. As your article implied here in Britain (and evidence suggest the US too, I’m not sure about Canada) we’ve lost sight of that.

    Lastly, on the issue of my imperfections – I hope I set an example, I’m aware that it isn’t always what it should be. I hope I’m humble enough to admit that I’m not perfect and that I need God’s help and Spirit to work in me on that one. So I do make an effort, even if my politics are all wrong. (Ironically enough, one of the strongest critics of materialism has been the Pope, so although I’m not catholic, I’m with His Holiness on that score.)

    • clancop permalink
      October 15, 2009 12:05 am

      Least socialistic? A manner of opinion either way, but there is something to be said about the country’s leanings. Big labour has a more than respectable position in the counrty’s political arena, having nearly destroyed Britain’s auto industry and protecting their control of the now-ruined health care industry. Recent comments made by MEP Daniel Hannan about Gordon Brown’s handling of the country’s finances, as well as comment he made on Fox News tells me that it might be one of the leading voices for socialism. I do apologize, I had forgotten about a few other European countries in Eastern Europe, former satellites of the Soviet Union. Whenever I think Europe I think primarily of France, Germany, Britain, the historical European powers (my European history studies mostly consists of Napoleon to Hitler). That doesn’t mean I agree that Britain is anywhere near the least socialist, but I see I made a mistake in making that statement when I had forgotten about other smaller countries in Europe.

      As for average British income, I have my own story on this. I sometimes kick myself for taking the position in China, especially when I could have taught in (South) Korea. It all has to do with cost of living. Now you compare Korea to Japan, or Korea to China, or China to Japan, you will see why I say this. The average income in China is lower than that of Japan, but it also has a lower cost of living. Japan has a much higher average income, but a much higher cost of living. Because it is an island nation, much like Britain, it relies heavily on imports which drives up the price (shipping in food costs more than driving it across a border as well). The average cost for the basic necessities is much higher in Japan, aside from the cost of housing. When compared to Korea, you have a much lower cost of living as it is landlocked and importing good from neighbouring countries doesn’t cost as much. If I had worked in Korea, I would have had the best of both worlds, higher income and lower cost of living. With Britain, as I just mentioned, it has to ship in basic staples which dramatically increases the cost of living. The higher income in Britain when compared to its landlocked neighbours is a useless statistic because it doesn’t take into account this cost. To say that it is right because money isn’t important is wrong though.

      Income, when discussed with cost of living, demonstrates that it is probably the key factor in determining how well one lives. A higher income means that you have access to a better education, better food selection, better doctors, etc and nowhere is this more true than in the developing world. Take China for example, where a middle class is beginning to grow. Having far more income than necessary to meet basic needs, these almost “nouveau riche” can enjoy the luxuries that were once only available to those in the Communist Party. These luxuries include dinning out at “fancy” restaurants (no kidding, Pizza Hut is very much a 4 Star experience, far classier than the ones you would find elsewhere) as well as the money to pay for better medical care and better schooling. Those with a serious level of income can even afford foreign tutors for themselves or their children. When you think of quality of life, think about how much someone earns because it isn’t about how much junk they can buy, it is actually about access to services.

      On international aid, it isn’t that I am against it, it is that throwing more money at a problem won’t solve it. After all the Africa Aid concerts and the millions of dollars pumped into these countries by numerous governments, what are we seeing? There is no definite progress, there is nothing you can hang your hat on, not when these countries fall into civil war on an almost constant basis. My issue here is that until there is a good method of getting our money to them and producing results, I don’t see the reason to waste more money.

      There isn’t just one form of capitalism, yes, but the form used in North America is far superior to even China’s booming “Red Capitalism”. Yes there does have to be LIMITED (and I can’t stress that word enough) government intervention, that doesn’t mean we apply socialist policy to the market. Trying to fight the “injustices” only leads to more injustice, mainly on the part of those doing the fighting. I am sure that even in Britain you have heard about the fallout over ACORN right? Their fight with the banking system has caused serious problems for America’s money lenders. It is the work of organizations like ACORN that helped fuel the housing market collapse. With reference to consumerism, trying to regulate what people can and can’t buy will only lead in imbalances. Not just that, the instant you start taking money out of the economy, you shrink it. If you don’t support the average person’s desire to go out and buy whatever they want, whenever they want, what do you advise they do with their money? The only thing I could think of is investing it, but seeing how we saw a collapse of such markets with the collapse of the banking industry last year, I have a hard time believing someone is willing to forgo even the smallest satisfaction they gain by buying that new movie, game, shirt, skirt, etc they had their eye on to do that instead.

      With reference to the Pope’s beliefs, while I do respect the position, I have a hard time listening to his personal gripes. I am a Catholic, yes, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with the Pope on everything. As damning as this might be to say, I have my concerns on abortion. I don’t condone the abuse of it, but I have done the research on why the church took the stand it did under Pope Pius II or III (I can’t remember which one), as well as what happens when a country bans it outright. I can tell you my time in China, as well as other experiences, have put me in a weird place in this debate. I would like to say Pro-Choice, but I am leaning to Pro-Life, especially since Pro-Choice these days usually means Pro-Abortion. Is it awful? Yes, but I don’t see how we should condemn someone who had an abortion because of SERIOUS personal or health reasons. As for John Paul II’s rant about television, or the new Pope’s stand on materialism, I have a hard time taking it seriously especially since Christ never said anything like “Thou shall not enjoy CBS’ prime time line up” or “Don’t take your hard earned money and spend it on new shoes, for it is sinful”. And if I am wrong, well God hates the sin and loves the sinner right?

  12. Ben Grigg permalink
    November 13, 2009 9:00 pm

    Just wanted to say thank you to Mark for his excellent response to Story of Stuff’s Critique.
    Regarding Clancop, I stopped reading his comments as soon as he started using insulting language. He appears to be a grumpy fellow.

    • Mark permalink
      November 15, 2009 6:04 pm

      Thanks Ben, I’m really trying to get my head round the economic stuff, so I’m grateful for the chance to debate it – even if it means a little learning on the hoof. For what it’s worth, there’s a really thought provoking book called The Rebel Sell which steers an interesting middle line (i.e., there’s no point in just protesting against consmerism in a trendy, ineffective way; we need to be realistic and consider decent political ways forward). I’m also keping a close eye on what comes out of the New Economics Foundation. We’ll get there in the end…!

  13. Sean ollett permalink
    December 13, 2009 6:40 pm

    Clancop: brilliant. Kepp knocking these dreamy liberals. I liked the Friedman was a central planner. Oh their ignorance is amazing.
    I just dropped in here because I am searching for a decent hatchet job no the Fair Trade movement. Don’t htink I shall find it here!

  14. April 26, 2010 5:38 pm

    Wow…Clancorp is certainly fired up. I’m sorry to enter this conversation so late…and perhaps I shouldn’t fire it up months later. So far I’m standing in the middle of Lee and Annie. I find both of their films suspect and their facts overly simplistic, but I do understand that they are presenting their theses in a you-tube format and not in a several-hundred page book, so I understand the need for to-the-point presentation of their ideas. Instead I’m looking at their basic theses that they present.

    My question to Annie-haters is, “Why are you so upset?” There are so many things in the world to be upset by, why choose to funnel so much time and anger to a video whose basic thesis seems to be “Take stewardship of your planet and responsibility to your consuming.” I disagree with many of her facts and the way they are presented, but I’m not sure what harm it could do to showing this to our children. Lee seems offended that children might start buying less Legos. Would this be so bad?

  15. Jackson permalink
    June 3, 2010 7:48 pm

    Interesting. There’s so many books that basically echo The Story Of Stuff premise, certainly gathering momentum.
    I’m particularly interested in what Daniel Goleman has to say in Ecological Intelligence. Seems to me there’s potential there for real common ground between a lot of people so far polarized.. but I have my doubts. People tend to use powerful arguments, logic, so long as they are at an advantage but when that is threatened they’re often quick to take measures that are contrary to their supposed ideals – in fact, they usually have ‘portfolios’ of complicity, and that’s where original sin can really become devisive, for are we not all ultimately complicit?

    Lord I am not worthy to recieve you, only say the word…

    Anyway, I’d like to recommend a book The Master And His Emissary – Iain McGilchrist.

  16. January 28, 2011 9:46 pm

    Thanks for the post.

    I’m afraid I stopped reading each of clancop’s comments within the first paragraph due to his refusal to engage in the discussion with some basic level of respect for fellow human beings. I actually felt rebuked, humbled and encouraged by the patience and graciousness shown by his interlocutors.

  17. Patriot permalink
    March 4, 2011 12:56 am

    I’m going to have to agree with ClanCop. It seems like this topic was posted for a critique and then when the critique they heard wasn’t the one they wanted, they got scared and tried to make ClanCop and egotistic idiot who brings up irrelevant thoughts to a simple matter. However, there are a lot of good points brought up in ClanCop’s posts and if a few people would get off their high horse and listen with an open mind, they might see that there’s a point to this and even a simple solution to the untrue facts that are brought up in The Story of Stuff.
    If something here is truly pathetic, it’s people’s reactions to any opinion that doesn’t fit into the narrow-minded story written in black and white that they think rules the world.

  18. September 3, 2011 12:49 am

    Wow, Clancop is incredibly rude!

  19. Clanclopped permalink
    February 13, 2012 7:45 am

    I was assigned to watch “How Stuff Works” for one of my college classes. I happened to be looking for another side to the video since I don’t like to make judgments based on one person’s view. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve posted to forums because A) I don’t have the time and B) the topic doesn’t interest me enough to comment. However, after reading through all the back and forth banter and the posts from Clanclop, I just felt it necessary to say to Clanclop, I have never been more insulted and disgusted than with what I read in your posts. None of your “arguments” will be well-received because of your arrogance and holier than thou attitude. It’s people like you who concern me about the future of our country. If anything, your posts have now convinced me that the video spoke more truth than anything out of your mouth. If anything, you’re the hypocritical, disturbed, idiot. Enjoy living in your fantasy world Clanclop.

  20. December 7, 2013 5:36 pm

    Funny that a discussion about economics and costs makes no use of the world “externality,” which is a concept understood by virtually every economist, free market or otherwise. To think that economists don’t take spillover costs seriously is to demonstrate a poor grasp of the most basic aspects of the discipline.

Trackbacks

  1. The Story of Stuff debate « MAKE WEALTH HISTORY
  2. 2010 in review « Breathe
  3. The Story of Stuff Critique – a Critique (via Breathe) « My Creative Youth Work Journey

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