Conspiracy of Denial – COVID-19 and Climate Science

Featured

Some would not be surprised with the doubts and confusion being created round the COVID-19 crisis, especially by those wanting all economic activity to continue and ignore the human costs.  

 

However, much of this agitprop, astro-turfing and junk science used by non experts has much in common with the information, media and political techniques used by radical right libertarian think tanks funded by the fossil fuel sector and related media, to influence society on climate science to avoid constraints and preserve income streams, with some eugenics in the background.

 

The following article from DeSmog explains the tactics in the UK, which also replicate those of elsewhere, especially the US and to a lesser extent Australia:

 

How the UK’s Climate Science Deniers Turned Their Attention to COVID-19

 

By Zak Derler Monday, August 10, 2020

 

On December 31, 2019 many of us were reflecting on the past year and thinking about what opportunities lay ahead. Few were paying close attention to early reports of unexplained cases of pneumonia thousands of miles away in Wuhan, the large capital city of China’s Hubei Province.

 

But less than three months later, on March 23, Boris Johnson was ordering a national lockdown to try and stop that virus, by then known worldwide as COVID-19, from raging across the UK. This came 52 days after the chief medical officer of England had confirmed the nation’s first two cases.

 

The coronavirus crisis once again saw the UK divided — between those putting their trust in public health experts and their recommendations, and those quick to question the science on which the government claimed to base its decisions for controlling the pandemic. For those who have watched the decades-long efforts to slow climate action, this was a familiar phenomenon. And the coronavirus pandemic seemed to give fresh ammunition to some familiar faces.

 

A close look at commentary on both COVID-19 and climate change reveals significant crossover between unqualified voices casting doubt on experts recommending action.

 

Why?

 

“There’s nothing mysterious about this,” says Stephan Lewandowsky, a professor of cognitive science, who studies the persistence of misinformation in society at the University of Bristol.

 

“I think COVID is just climate change on steroids in a particle accelerator,” he says. “The same forces are happening: you have the inevitability of a virus which is the same as the inevitability of the physics. And opposing that you have politics which motivates some people to deny the inevitables and instead resort to bizarre claims.”

 

‘No need to panic’

 

Commentators with a history of casting doubt on established climate science first turned their attention to COVID in the days just after Chinese authorities ordered the 11 million residents of Wuhan, a city the size of London, into lockdown.

 

On January 24, Ross Clark, a columnist for The Spectator who has lamented “hysteria” around COVID-19, said there was “no need to panic about coronavirus” despite warnings from leading epidemiologists about the potential spread of the outbreak.

 

On January 29, British economist Roger Bate similarly argued on the website of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a climate science denying free-market lobby group, that news reports around COVID-19 were unnecessarily sparking a major political reaction.

 

“A contagion will happen at some point, and it’s important we recognize it and react. Unless the coronavirus mutates into something far more dangerous, this isn’t it,” he wrote.

 

The idea that governments and the media were overreacting to the coronavirus threat was echoed by libertarian online magazine Spiked, which has taken funding from notorious backers of climate science denial the Koch family, and has included Bate and other AEI scholars among its contributors. It published an article as early as January 30 saying there was “mass hysteria in the newsrooms” around COVID.

 

By mid-February, the World Health Organization had declared that the threat of COVID-19 spreading across the world was “high” — yet a relaxed attitude continued to prevail among some commentators.

 

On February 19, centre-right blog ConservativeHome published an article by Daniel Hannan, a columnist and former Tory MEP, claiming that COVID-19 was unlikely to be as lethal as the common flu.

 

Hannan, a leading figure in the UK’s campaign to leave the EU, has links to various American lobby groups that have spread misinformation on climate change including the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. He encouraged ConservativeHome readers to “cheer up” and discouraged “panic” over the virus. That message was taken up by Clark in another Spectator article, arguing that “coronavirus hysteria” was “the latest phenomenon to fulfil our weird and growing appetite for doom.”

 

Miracle cures and conspiracy theories

 

These commentators’ contributions to the debate haven’t been without consequence. Some have spread conspiracy theories that have had real-world impact, while others have admitted to ignoring official safety guidelines, putting the public at risk of catching the disease…..

 

…..Theories about miracle cures can take hold partly as a result of personal politics, Lewandowsky argues. Under lockdown, “you’re asked to stay at home and to look after other people by not doing what you’d like to do, and that is very challenging if you’re a believer in personal freedom and autonomy,” he says.

 

The same can be said of the motivations for spreading misinformation on climate change: “A lot of climate denial is very high-pitched, frenetic, emotional, angry, toxic – and that’s all triggered because people’s identity is at stake.”

 

The desire to reach for conspiracy theories may also stem from a need to feel that individuals still retain some control, says Evita March, a senior lecturer of psychology at Federation University Australia. “Conspiracy theories offer the believer some comfort in that there is still behavioural predictability,” she says.

 

And there were plenty of conspiracy theories flying around, pushed by long-time climate science deniers….

 

Distrusting modellers

 

Many commentators directed their fire at a familiar foe — scientific models.

 

On April 1, the same day the United Nations announced the postponement of the annual UN climate change conference, two prominent UK climate science deniers argued in The Wall Street Journal that the pandemic had “dramatically demonstrated the limits of scientific modelling to predict the future.”…

 

Attacking environmentalists

 

As well as attacking coronavirus experts on their response recommendations, many commentators who oppose climate action also attacked those looking further ahead by putting forward proposals to ensure recovery plans were consistent with governments’ environmental pledges.

 

For months, commentators who regularly question the veracity of mainstream climate science denounced environmental activists for supposedly distracting the world with climate change amid the threat of pandemics……

 

Political impact

 

Unlike in the EU referendum or Trump’s presidential campaign, pushing anti-expert rhetoric may no longer be a winning strategy in the wake of COVID-19. Polling shows that despite worry about the pandemic and its impacts, the public still wants governments to tackle climate change. And politicians attaching themselves to the anti-science bandwagon are now struggling in the polls.

 

For the Centre for Countering Digital Hate’s Imran Ahmed, attacking the concept of expertise around COVID-19 is “the first truly great strategic mistake by those who espouse this radical world view.”

 

For more related blogs and articles on climate change, COVID-19, critical thinking, environment, fossil fuel pollution, libertarian economics, media, political strategy, populist politics, science literacy and statistical analysis.

 

Buy Local – Not Global – Issues of Nationalist Trade Policies

Featured

Many people including voters are encouraged to think that exports and self sufficiency are good, while imports are bad.  Many economies have degrees of protection for supposed societal or national benefit but closed economies and tariffs although good for some companies or a sector, are not good for local industry nor consumers.

 

With the rise of Trump we have witnessed trashing of trade agreements, attacks on trade blocs or regions e.g. the EU European Union, WTO and claiming GOP policies protect workers’ jobs.

 

In fact it seems more of a libertarian trap appealing to voter sentiments and beliefs but bypassing rational analysis and allowing rentier class or dominant corporate entities to take policy advantage, behind political power, how?

 

The libertarian right has been successful both economically and socially in claiming autarkist or closed national socialist economies as good for the environment and workers, back grounded by simultaneous attacks on immigrants, imports, globalisation and trade agreements.

 

In fact the early ‘70s Club of Rome (sponsored and hosted by corporate oligarchs) promoted the ‘Limits to Growth’ theory (or PR construct) which was then applied socially to population and immigration by ZPG (also sponsored by corporates) Zero Population Growth’s Paul ‘population bomb’ Ehrlich and John ‘white nationalist’ and ‘passive eugenics’ Tanton, viewing any growth as bad, especially non WASP humanity.

 

Further, Herman Daly applied the same ‘limits to growth’ to his autarkist ‘Steady-state economy’ theory which also presented antipathy towards the ‘other’ and anything new by dismissing the need for free trade agreements, trade blocs, globalisation, migration, economic growth etc.  predicated on simply constant capital and people; similar was promoted during Brexit, by Trump and used to persuade the left or unions.

 

A more vivid example, has been demands in the Anglo world to do less trade with PRC or China, driven by US corporate lobbyists and the right, whose clients see their influence waning and China rising.

 

Why a ‘libertarian trap’?  Because those corporates who support the promotion of such theories and implementation would benefit from already existing global infrastructure, influence in national politics, shaping of opinions, then being outside of trade regulations and standards while precluding new competitive threats.

 

The following article from Inside Story looks into the disadvantages of trying to closely manage the balance of a national economy, with more losers than winners.  This has been back grounded by US trade tensions with China and Australia supporting the US with claims that Australia is too dependent upon trade with China (not true), therefore must decrease its dependency, and then find new markets to replace China…..

 

The trouble with “buying Australian”

 

Adam Triggs – 10 AUGUST 2020

 

The campaign risks reducing our living standards and hurting poorer Australians the most.

 

‘Buy Australian’ has been the catch cry from many in politics, business, trade unions and industry bodies for as long as I can remember, and Covid-19 has upped the ante. But while many groups advocate Buy Australian, one group is conspicuously absent: economists. The reason for this is counterintuitive: Buy Australian doesn’t help Australians, it hurts them, and particularly the most disadvantaged.

 

To understand why, consider that Australia, like any country, has scarce resources — workers, capital, energy, materials — with which it can produce goods and services. Since producing more goods and services in one area at any point in time means producing less in another area, the question is: what should we produce?

 

Without trade, the answer is easy: everything. Without trade, anything we want to consume we must produce ourselves. This means we have to make the things we are really good at making compared with the rest of the world, such as agriculture, mining and education, as well as the things we aren’t very good at making, like airplanes, defence equipment and LCD TVs.

 

This is not ideal. Luckily, trade offers an alternative. Trade allows Australia to focus its resources on making the things that it is good at making (and earn an extraordinary $400 billion each year on international markets in the process — more than a fifth of our GDP) and then import the rest. This is the whole point of trade: it is about specialisation. When trade is properly understood to be about specialisation, it becomes clear that imports are just as important as exports.

 

This is the problem with Buy Australian. If we decide to stop importing a particular product, then we have to start making that product (or, at least, more of it). If we have to make that product ourselves, it means we have to divert labour, capital, energy and materials from producing the things we are good at making (and that earn us a lot of money overseas) so that we can make more of the things we are bad at making (and that earn us barely anything overseas). This is a recipe for a poorer, less productive Australia. It means lower living standards for Australians.

 

For proof, look no further than the land of the free and the home of the brave. Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel imposed a government-mandated “Buy American” policy that made foreign-made steel much more expensive than domestic-made steel. This was fantastic news for America’s steel mills. They saw an increase in production, an increase in employment and an increase in the prices of the steel they sell.

 

But, sadly, there are no free lunches in economics. The benefit to those in the steel mills came at the cost of their sisters and brothers in their neighbouring industries. American industries that use steel to make cars, whitegoods and building materials saw the cost of their inputs skyrocket. They begged the Trump administration to reverse its decision, but with no success. Many had to lay off workers. Some closed up shop.

 

The result of Trump’s policy was textbook economics: the Buy American tariffs meant the United States was now producing more of the stuff it is bad at making and producing less of the stuff it is good at making. America was left poorer, with higher unemployment and more government debt as a result….

 

…..So why is Buy Australian so popular? There are two main reasons. One reason is that Buy Australian sounds like a good idea. It’s intuitive. Exports sound good. Imports don’t. But when we understand that trade is not about “opening markets” and “boosting exports” — the rhetoric we normally hear from politicians that implies (suspiciously) that there are no losers from trade (a free lunch) — and is in fact about specialisation, suddenly Buy Australian doesn’t make much sense.

 

The second reason is that there is a big difference between the incentives of the individual and the incentives of society. It is perfectly rational for individual businesses or industries to advocate Buy Australian when it comes to the products they produce, since they get all the benefits while their neighbours suffer the costs. It made perfect sense for US steel mills to stand in the Oval Office and applaud Trump’s tariffs, just as it makes sense for individual Australian industries and firms to advocate Buy Australian….

 

….The risk is that Covid-19 encourages policymakers to institutionalise Buy Australian policies through tariffs, quotas or the onshoring of supply chains. This is a recipe for a less prosperous Australia and a slower recovery from Covid-19, the overwhelming burden of which will fall on poorer Australians. As the old proverb goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So is the road to a prolonged Australian recession. 

 

For more blogs and article about the Asian century, Australian politics, climate change, economics, environment, EU European Union, GDP Growth, global trade, libertarian economics, limits to growth, political strategy, populist politics and WTO.

 

Libertarian Conservative Propaganda Promoted in US and Anglo Media

Featured

With Coronavirus or Covid-19 different governments and parts of the world have had different degrees of success in handling the spread and containing the virus but not parts of the Anglo world namely the US, UK and Australia.

 

All three have experienced aggressive neo-liberalism or radical right libertarian ideology applied to government agencies, budgets, planning and potential responses; now it’s right wing media attacking critics and creating confusion, or inappropriate responses.  

 

The following article in The Week US highlights and blames both the Trump administration and conservatism including mainstream media outlets.  However, it could also be blamed upon long term pressure on taxes, budgets, investment, government services and government being fit for purpose in ‘black swan’ events; from The Week:

 

Conservative propaganda has crippled the U.S. coronavirus response

 

Ryan Cooper

 

Why does the United States have the worst coronavirus outbreak in the developed world?

 

Part of the answer is surely that our basic state functions have been allowed to rot, or been deliberately destroyed, over the years. State capacity and competence have been shown around the world to be a key factor in whether nations can get a handle on the pandemic.

 

But another reason is conservative media. A small but nevertheless very loud and angry minority of Americans have had their ability to reason dissolved in a corrosive bath of crack-brained propaganda.

 

The flood tide of conservative lunacy is so overwhelming that it can be hard to process or even notice. A dozen things that would be a major scandal in any other rich country, or the U.S. itself in previous ages, fly by practically every day……

 

….Most of those other factors, however, would also be true in other rich countries. While there are fringe websites and various conspiracy loons in all of them, none have this problem to nearly the same degree, much less a full-blown crackpot as the leader of the country. 

 

Our ultra-consolidated media industry, which gives enormous sway to a handful of right-wing media barons like Rupert Murdoch and Christopher Ripley, probably enables it. The structure of behemoth social media companies, which have little incentive to police dangerous misinformation, and are so large that they probably couldn’t do it well even if they tried, probably enables it further.

 

Whatever the reason, the conservative propaganda machine is going to make this country very difficult to govern so long as it continues to operate in its current fashion. Just as economic markets do not work when they are under the thumb of monopolist robber barons, perhaps it is time to bring some regulation back to the marketplace of ideas.

 

Nations like Australia have even more consolidated media dominated by Murdoch and NewsCorp, small coterie of corporate players have undue influence, and conservative libertarian ideology, including cuts to taxes, health and education, is aggressively promoted by Koch linked think tanks through the same media and directly to politicians.

 

For more blogs and articles about Australian politics, climate change, conservative, COVID-19, critical thinking, government budgets, libertarian economics, media, political strategy, populist politics, science literacy and taxation.

 

Higher Education – University Funding – Course Delivery Threats

Featured

Presently we see results of neo-liberal policies in education, including higher education and universities having budgets cut, with research, course content and study choices manipulated through favouring STEM over liberal arts of humanities.

 

One does not think it’s a coincidence that seemingly disparate issues and groups, whether focused upon climate science denial, low taxes, immigration restrictions or white nationalism seem influenced by underlying ideology of radical right libertarians joined at the hip with eugenics, wanting to influence education, research and student outcomes.

 

Excerpts from Inside Story Australia:

 

The four-and-a-half-decade higher education squeeze

 

Rodney Tiffen 17 JUNE 2020

 

Calls for universities to reduce their reliance on international students ignore the incentives created by successive governments

 

‘It’s a long time — forty-five years in fact — since government funding of tertiary education peaked in Australia at 1.5 per cent of GDP. These days, the government contributes 0.8 per cent, or just over half that proportion. Back in 1975, around 277,000 students were enrolled in higher education; by 2016, the number had increased fivefold to 1.46 million.

 

Those figures capture the essential story of Australian universities over the past forty-five years: massive growth combined with declining public investment.

 

The suddenness of the Coronavirus pandemic has hit Australian universities very hard, but the acuteness of their problems has been greatly exacerbated by trends that have been building for decades. The federal government has offered much less support to universities than to other deeply affected parts of the economy, and many conservative commentators have used this as yet another occasion to criticise the sector.

 

Backbench Liberal senator James Paterson (graduate of the Koch affiliated IPA), for instance, says that “universities have not done themselves many favours in recent years,” as if reacting to the diminishing level of public support, especially from his own party, has not been a central driver of the strategies for survival universities have had to adopt.

 

Over the period 1989 to 2017, domestic student enrolments more than doubled, according to former Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, yet the federal government’s contribution to operating costs rose only by a third. Between 1995 and 2005, when OECD governments increased their contributions to tertiary education by an average of 49.4 per cent after inflation, the Howard government provided no real increase at all.

 

As Glyn Davis wrote before the pandemic, “By withdrawing public funding, government has deeded Australia a university system that relies heavily on the families of Asia. If our neighbours tire of cross-subsidising Australian students, the number of local places would shrink rapidly.”

 

The pandemic has thrown university budgets into chaos. No other sector so badly affected by the coronavirus has been treated with so little sympathy, let alone tangible support. It seems the government’s cultural antipathy to universities overrides all else…..

 

There has been an ever present battle over universities and education, not just in Australia on funding, nor recently but in the past e.g. Milton Friedman in 1955 essay “The role of government in education” for the minds and wiring of students.  

 

In some places it is normal for fringe right wing parties new to a governing coalition to request seemingly unrelated portfolios of defence, home affairs, and education…..  Control of the latter gives control over curriculum content and the hidden curriculum; Jane Mayer describes (in ‘Dark Money’, as does MacLean ‘Democracy in Chains) the machinations going on in US (and further) by radical right libertarian donors to not just change what people think, but how they think… (or not).

 

Over generations there has been a move to more liberal student versus teacher and authority centred learning, both overtly and via the hidden curriculum.

 

Hence the curriculum is based on freedom, discovery, experience and creativity, as opposed to engaging with a pre-existing body of knowledge to which the teacher is an authoritative and wise guide.

 

(Liberals, Libertarians and Educational Theory – Lindsay Paterson, 2008)

 

MacLean (like Mayer) has also upset the libertarians:

 

Stealth Attack on Liberal Scholar? Historian alleges coordinated criticism of her latest book, which is critical of radical right, from many who have received Koch funding.

 

Collusion, alternative facts, shadowy billionaires: the words sound ripped from the political headlines, but they also describe the controversy surrounding Duke University historian Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (Viking)….

 

…..Some nevertheless say they worry that swarm-style attacks on progressive scholars’ works — especially in an era of online harassment of professors and plummeting public trust in academe — could become a new normal. MacLean, they say, is the victim of just such an effort.

 

But taking advantage of student centred or liberal approaches can go both ways.  Such antipathy towards the humanities and scholarship does not preclude the likes of Kochs promoting their own ideology through funding academic schools’ programs or research, think tanks and lobbying MPs to promote their ideology e.g. George Mason University, many GOP politicians and think tanks (globally) affiliated through their Atlas Network, e.g. IPA Institute of Public Affairs in Australia promotes climate change denialism. (from Crikey Australia).

 

One does not think it’s a coincidence that seemingly disparate issues and groups, whether climate science denial, low taxes, immigration restrictions or white nationalism seem influenced by underlying ideology of radical right libertarians joined at the hip with eugenics, wanting to influence education, research and student outcomes, into the future…..

 

For more blogs and articles about Ageing democracy, Australian politics, career guidance, climate change, conservative, Covid-19, critical thinking, curriculum, demography, economics, environment, fossil fuel pollutiongovernment budgets, higher education teaching, instructional design, international education, international student, learning theory, nativism, pedagogy, political strategy, populist politics, science literacy, soft skills, student centred, VET vocational education and training, work skills and younger generations.

Create Growth for Society not Wealth for the Rich

Much discussion of economic policies, business and government, especially in the Anglo world, revolves around monetarist or libertarian need for lower business and personal taxes, trickle down effect, few government services, smaller government and talk of individual prosperity.  However, the result has led to increasing indebtedness, more wealth for the already wealthy, more significant spread in the gini coefficient and sub-optimal economies.

 

From Inside Story:

 

Need growth? Scrap policies that favour rich people and monopolies

 

Adam Triggs 1 June 2020

 

Breaking self-perpetuating cycles of rising inequality will be key to Australia’s economic recovery

 

The American economy was stuck in a vicious cycle before Covid-19. With highly indebted poorer households spending less, demand was falling and economic growth had been weakened. To stimulate activity, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to make borrowing cheaper, resulting in even more debt and worry. And so the cycle started over again.

 

New research from economists Atif Mian, Ludwig Straub and Amir Sufi shows that this cycle is fuelled by inequality. Wealthy people have cornered a greater share of national income, and are saving more. Less well-off people are receiving a smaller share of income, and borrowing more. The resulting decline in interest rates has kept the cycle going.

 

It sounds eerily similar to the situation in Australia, and it’s not the only cycle that’s increasing inequality. A lack of competition between firms is having a similar effect: transferring wealth from poor consumers to rich shareholders. Breaking these self-perpetuating cycles will be critical to Australia’s economic recovery.

 

The nub of the problem is that rich people have a nasty habit: they save too much and spend too little. This isn’t necessarily a problem if their savings are invested in expanding businesses, creating jobs and contributing to economic activity. Sadly, though, Australia’s well-documented increase in inequality hasn’t been accompanied by an increase in investment. Quite the opposite: while inequality has grown, investment has flatlined.

 

Mian, Straub and Sufi’s research shows that this “savings glut of the rich,” as they call it, is creating as well as financing the debts of the non-rich. Too much saving and too little investment has depressed interest rates; and lower interest rates are fuelling debt levels among non-rich households, which are borrowing to keep up. For the first time, this research shows, the rise in the share of income taken by the rich can explain almost all of the increased household debt of the non-rich……

 

What to do?

 

Australia’s inequality problem isn’t new, but we are becoming increasingly aware of just how damaging it is economically, politically and socially. More alarmingly, we are learning how the macroeconomic and competition effects are creating self-perpetuating cycles of inequality. The recovery from Covid-19 will require deep structural reform to lift growth, and also presents an opportunity to break these cycles through holistic reform of tax, welfare and competition.

 

The tax system is too generous to the rich, and the welfare system is too mean to the poor…..

 

We can also change the welfare system to directly reduce poverty and thus inequality…..

 

To boost competition, the government should reform the laws that shield many industries from competition — including those in airlines, pharmacies, coastal shipping, the legal profession and the medical profession……

 

The laws regulating mergers and acquisitions should be tightened to guarantee more scrutiny of proposed mergers in industries that are already concentrated…….

 

Past epidemics have one thing in common: they made inequality worse. There’s no reason to think Covid-19 will be any different. The Australian economy can’t afford to snap back to old habits. 

 

For more articles about Australian politics, business strategy, consumer behaviour, economics, finance, GDP growth, global trade, small business and strategic management.