What Is 'Stakeholder Capitalism'? Part One

The concept of “stakeholder capitalism,” proposed by Klaus Schwab in his various books on the subject—in particular COVID 19: The Great Reset, co-authored with Thierry Malleret, and his latest foray in the field Stakeholder Capitalism, which faithfully reprises the points and principles of the earlier volume—is far more insidious than it sounds. From the perspective of the Left, the progressivist, the woke, “Capitalism” is, of course, a loaded word, but it remains the engine of the world’s most advanced economies, and its kinetics cannot be dispensed with. Market-dominated societies are perforce competitive and revenue-driven.

“Stakeholder,” however, is a detergent term, bleaching the semantic grime from its verbal companion, which is why it functions as a remedial descriptor. It comes across as friendly, compassionate and inviting. In its current usage, the word derives from the education industry, where it has become ubiquitous, highlighting the educators’ presumably favonian sympathies toward their students, fawningly regarded as “stakeholders.”

Originating in John Dewey’s child-centered, student-oriented educational theory, which he called “progressivist,” the idea has proliferated to the present day when students are empowered to issue demands, decide whom they want to be taught by and whom they want to be fired. It explains why we should be wary when it is used to qualify a social and economic program as vast and disruptive as the Great Reset.

Trust me, I'm German.

Placed under the loupe, stakeholder capitalism reveals itself as a sobriquet for international socialism. The corporate impetus is no longer exclusively directed toward profits but will be supervised, guided and restrained by government intervention. Or so we are led to believe.

In the wake of the pandemic, Schwab writes in The Great Reset, “Societies could be poised to become either more egalitarian or more authoritarian…[ E]conomies, when they recover, could take the path of more inclusivity and more attuned to the needs of our global commons.” Ironically, as history has proven time and again, in order to become more egalitarian, society will of necessity become more authoritarian. It’s a dynamic that approximates to a historical law. 

Schwab assesses the social and political impact of the pandemic in the five domains of Society, Economy, Environment, Technology and Geopolitics. This is what he calls the Macro Reset (of which the Micro Reset—industry and business—and the Individual Reset are specifications), a transformation which involves a “redefinition of the social contract” in the direction of “stakeholder capitalism and environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations.”

The result will be a “better world,” portrayed as “more inclusive, more equitable, and more respectful of Mother Nature.” He envisions a tectonic shift from capital to labor, of wealth distribution from the affluent to the needy, and of greater government interventions in the functioning of the economic system, customary arrangements, social architectures and cultural dynamics in order to ensure “global sustainability.”

It's easy, too!

A proper management of the economy and social life will entail a number of salient factors. Companies, for example, will have to reconceive their “fundamental purpose” from unbridled financial profit to that of “serving all their stakeholders, not only those who hold shares.” Wages will be raised and substantial health benefits guaranteed, regardless of the bottom line. The massive expansion of stimulus funding will create “37 million nature-positive jobs” and a Green economy will be resolutely promoted to fight climate change, generating employment and profits along the way. There exists, plainly, not a shred of empirical evidence to justify Schwab’s prognostics.

It is hard to say whether Schwab’s arguments—or some of them—are cleverly devious or childishly naïve. For example, he urges us not to fear the dystopian fatality of entrenched tech-and-government surveillance following recovery, since it is “for those who govern and each of us personally to control and harness the benefits of technology without sacrificing our individual and collective values and freedom.” This analysis seems a colossal oxymoron. Surveillance will be pervasive but our values and freedoms can somehow be preserved.

When he argues that governments must do “whatever it takes and whatever it costs” to ensure our wellbeing, otherwise people afraid of the virus will not shop, travel or dine out, thus hindering economic recovery, he appears oblivious to the fact that it was intense government panic-mongering that led precisely to the adverse consequences he wishes to avoid—probably the greatest political error of a generation. Is Schwab deceiving us or deceiving himself? Such instances of double-think can be multiplied throughout his text.

As to be expected, Schwab has bought wholesale into many contemporary shibboleths and intellectual sedatives. He enthusiastically accepts the dodgy hypothesis of "global warming" and is indifferent to both the uselessness and devastation wrought by the costly scam of Green energy as a replacement for reliable fossil fuels. “The climate risk is unfolding more slowly than the pandemic did, but it will have even more severe consequences”—a premise that has been robustly challenged by some of the most reputable and knowledgeable researchers in the field.

Money for nothing, and stuff for free.

In The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab supports the accelerating “innovation in genetics, with synthetic biology now on the horizon,” involving “biotechnology techniques using RNA and DNA platforms… to develop vaccines faster than ever”—except that these substances are not vaccines but computer-like “operating systems” that alter “the unique mRNA sequence that codes for a protein,” and rely on pathogenic priming that can make people sicker than the disease would have.

In Stakeholder Capitalism, we learn that Schwab is all for “contact tracing” which “has an unequalled capacity and a quasi-essential place in the armoury needed to combat COVID-19”—the “quasi” is a bet hedger, just in case things go sideways. He is an avid supporter of Mark Zuckerberg, whose Facebook is a censuring giant, and regurgitates Zuckerberg’s deceptive and self-serving pitch that greater regulation is needed to hold companies accountable.

Schwab regards COVID-panic-stricken, shut-down countries like New Zealand as “trailblazers.” He is a Net-Zero Telamon for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030 with their animus against individual property rights. He has proposed a scheme of “non-financial metrics” to chart a company’s progress toward virtue, and affirms that “such virtuous instincts can become a feature of our economic systems,” assuring us they will continue “creating prosperity for all their citizens and businesses.” John O’Sullivan correctly notes that “the hairshirt economic policy of Net Zero [is] a dystopian delusion.”

[Part two tomorrow]

 

Will the U.N. Security Council Rescue Net-Zero?

Constructing and imposing an international orthodoxy is a never-ending task, especially when the orthodoxy imposes heavy costs on those countries and organizations that support it. That’s more clearly true about the orthodoxy on “climate change”—i.e., it’s an “emergency” that means global “catastrophe” very soon unless we take brave corrective measures to avert it—than about any other global “crisis.”

A quite small number of U.N. official have been the drivers of this diplomatic agitprop since it started at the Rio de Janeiro UN Earth Conference in 1992. Of the UN Secretariat’s estimated 37,000 officials responsible to the Secretary General, only eight enjoy the title of UN Secretary, and a further fifty are Deputy Secretaries. In short fewer than a hundred diplomats and ex-politicians have succeeded in cajoling and corralling most governments into adopting policies that require economic sacrifices on their populations for aims that are at the very least questionable. It’s a astounding achievement of sorts.

A questionable orthodoxy needs to be shored up against questions and costs, however, and plenty of both have been coming home to roost in the last year: questioning books by previous believers in the “climate emergency” such as Michael Shellenberger as well as from established sceptics like Bjorn Lomborg; and soberly realistic estimates of the costs of “Net Zero” by 2050, the main plank of UN climate policy, in terms of both greater pressures on over-burdened government budgets and downward life-style changes for the voters. Shrewd political analysts—and that describes the UN Secretariat very well—know that they need additional measure to sustain a potentially rickety consensus.

The science is settled, comrades.

Until now, the biggest gun in their arsenal has been the notion of “legally binding” climate treaties that will compel governments to stick with the unpopular consequences of “Net-Zero” policies as they become inescapably evident. It’s a confidence trick. Politicians go along with it because it’s also a method diverting blame for Net-Zero away from them onto the treaty with the argument that “we have to accept international law.”

But there are commonsense limits to that. No government will accept massive economic damage and huge political unpopularity simply because it, or more likely one of its predecessors, unwisely signed a “legally binding” but masochistic and unenforceable treaty.

Some governments won’t even sign a treaty with such dire results in the first place. President Obama never submitted the Paris Accords on Net-Zero for Senate ratification because he knew they’d be rejected. President Trump (while delivering a greater reduction in carbon emissions than any signatory nation because “fracking” fueled a switch to cleaner greener natural gas) was therefore able to withdraw America’s signature on it because Obama’s “executive agreement” had no constitutional force.

And if President Biden seriously intends to make his own switch back to supporting the Paris “treaty” effective, he’ll have to submit the Accords for the Senate ratification from which Obama prudently shrank—or risk another withdrawal of the U.S endorsement by another Trump.

I don’t think Biden will take that risk. But if he does, and given his hostility to fracking, it’s possible that he’ll go down in history as the president who both signed the Paris Accords and presided over a large increase in net carbon emissions. Watch this space.

It’s because the "legally enforceable" gambit is not really enforceable on sovereign states, especially those with democratic governments, that the UN bureaucrats have had recourse to a weapon that is more under their control: namely, bringing the UN Security Council into play.

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here.

The UNSC is the single most important and powerful institution in the UN system. According to its own website: “All members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council. While other organs of the United Nations make recommendations to member states, only the Security Council has the power to make decisions that member states are then obligated to implement under the Charter.”

This makes the UNSC a very big deal. Its enforcement powers in dealing with “threats to peace and international security” include economic sanctions, arms embargoes, financial penalties and restrictions, and travel bans; the severance of diplomatic relations; blockade; or even collective military action. And if climate change were to be declared such a threat, that would allow—in theory at least—the Security Council to employ these enforcement mechanisms in dealing with it.

Some governments and international agencies have been arguing that climate change is a threat to international security for some time. My take is a highly skeptical one:

[T]hinking about such matters should not be a priority. In comparison with countering the most advanced weaponry being developed by the Russian and Chinese militaries (and also with subversive methods of asymmetric warfare), holding down carbon emissions is a third-order consideration. Truth be told, climate change is not a question of military security at all unless some other power is weaponizing climate change against NATO. That kind of thing happens a lot in James Bond movies—usually through the agency of a mad billionaire. . .  Not, however, anywhere else.

But the United Nations “Climate Emergency” caravan rumbles on regardless. One month ago the UN Security Council had a debate on whether the Council should treat climate change as a “threat to national security,” and all the international chart-toppers were present to sing along from the alarmist handbook.

The session was opened by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and other speakers included President Macron of France, Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, the Biden administration’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, and a large host of prime ministers, foreign ministers, and other “eminent persons” (an actual UN term.) It’s not necessary to plough through the entire debate, however, because all the speeches said much the same thing, which in the case of the BBC’s long-standing television naturalist David Attenborough was: “If we act fast enough we can reach a new stable state” and the UN conference in Glasgow next November “may be our last opportunity to make this step change.”

My suspicion is, however, that Glasgow will only prove to be the next last opportunity to save the world with many more to come along as the conference circuit.

Et tu, Brute?

That suspicion is fueled by the fact that it’s not until paragraph nine of the comprehensive account of the discussion in the UN’s own press release that we come to the speech of the Russian Federation’s representative, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who wondered skeptically if climate change issues were really the “root cause” of the conflicts cited by Kerry, Johnson, Macron, and almost all the other dignitaries.

The connection between the climate and conflicts can be looked at with regard to only certain countries and regions, talking about this in general terms and in a global context has no justification.

He concluded that, for Russia, climate change was an issue to be dealt with not by the Security Council with its array of diplomatic pressures and economic and military sanctions, but by the less powerful specialist UN agencies armed only with scientific and economic expertise.

China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, after repeating China’s familiar pledge to meet the Net-Zero carbon targets ten years after the West when it would have enjoyed forty years of economic growth built on fossil fuels, said much the same thing:

International climate cooperation should be advanced within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In one of the conference’s most impressive speeches, India’s environment minister, Prakash Javdekar, argued that countries should meet their earlier targets for carbon emission reductions before embarking on ambitious new ones—a criticism that was all the more powerful because India is one of the few countries to have met its targets. But he too went on to express skepticism about the idea that "climate change" was the cause of conflict.

These three speeches amounted to a Niagara of cold water pouring over the argument that an imminent climate emergency is a threat to peace and security requiring the UN Security Council to intervene to force massive carbon reductions on reluctant member-states.

Consider now that China and India are the two most important economies in Asia, and that Russia is an energy superpower as well. Consider also that Russia and China are two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with the power of veto over its decisions, and that India is the Asian country with the best claim to joining them there. When you add up all those facts, the speeches calling for the UNSC to push a reluctant world to implement the hairshirt economic policy of Net-Zero are soon revealed as a dystopian delusion.

To adapt an old gag: the dogs may bark, but the caravan has ground to a halt.

Making an End-Run Around Democracy, Part Four

When this four-part series began a few weeks ago, it posed an intellectual puzzle: why do governments, political parties, and individual officeholders believe that the policy of Net-Zero carbon emissions that they themselves admit will make the lives of voters much poorer and more burdensome will nonetheless prove popular and win elections for them?

I’ve already given some answers to that question in the first three parts. But the best answer to it is that networks of NGOs are now seeking to alter our definition of democracy in ways that transfer the final decisions on environmental and energy policies away from the voters in elections onto more “truly representative” methods of policy-making. That way, the voters would become impotent spectators as other people had the final say on everything from the cars we drive to what we eat—and the politicians won’t have to worry about winning elections.

But who are these "other people"? And how are they to be selected?

We're from the government and we're here to boss you around.

The answer to those questions is an ancient one: they are ordinary citizens and the process by which they are given power is selection by lot as in ancient Greece. It is argued now, as then, that ordinary citizens should play a larger part in governing and the way to ensure they do so is for them to draw lots for office rather than our choosing between different candidates. Most of us call this blind luck. Modern political scientists call it “sortition” and it tends to be supported by those who don’t like the policies that emerge from the system of popular elections for MPs and congressmen.

Brett Henig, the co-founder of the Sortition Foundation, defends the idea as follows: “Our politics is broken, our politicians aren’t trusted, and the political system is distorted by powerful vested interests. […] if we replaced elections with sortition and made our parliament truly representative of society, it would mean the end of politicians.”

That’s self-delusion, as a moment’s thought reveals. Once the citizen representatives were actually placed in power by lot, they would cease to be ordinary citizens and become subject to the same ambitions, status anxiety, lobbying pressures from vested interests, and incentives (i.e., temptations) from their own weaknesses not very differently from today’s MPs. They would become, in a word, politicians.

But there is an even stronger objection to sortition, namely that it cuts the link between the representative and his constituents that makes government by the people a reality. The MP chosen by lot isn’t elected by voters who share his political opinions and support the policies he advocates, and they aren’t be able to throw the rascal out if he betrays or disappoints them. He is the representative of chance, as much as any monarch, and he can afford to ignore their disapproval and betray them unconcernedly.

That is perhaps what makes sortition appealing to Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, the Green Party, and other radical environmentalists with little political following who have no realistic chance of winning an election on their policy platforms. (The Greens have one MP in the U.K. Parliament.)

No, really, trust us.

Whatever the reason, they and their U.K. parliamentary allies have succeeded in inserting sortition into the official legislative process on energy and climate policy. Their eventual aim seems to be a “national” citizen’s assembly chosen by lot outside the parliamentary system, but they are sensibly starting with baby steps, and the first one is the U.K. Climate Assembly. As Ben Pile describes its birth in his skeptical study, The UK Climate Assembly: Manufacturing Mandates:

On 20 June 2019, six parliamentary select committees announced that a climate assembly would be formed, ‘to explore views on the fair sharing of potential costs of different policy choices’ and to ‘inform political debate and Government policy making’.

The Assembly was to be composed of volunteers from the general public who would agree to discuss different policy choices following instruction from various levels of experts and advocates over six weekends. But though it's a semi-official body, founded by Parliament to advise the government on reforming and implementing legislation and funded in part by public money—about one quarter of its total cost—it bears little resemblance to such traditional and august bodies as a Royal Commission. It shows no sign of seriously attempting to represent or even examine a wide range of views on those topics. How does it look on closer scrutiny?

Mr. Pile’s analysis of how the U.K. Climate Assembly operated is well-documented (and footnoted), thorough, careful, and dispassionate. My sense is that he is a skeptic about the U.K.’s climate policies but not about climate change as such. His overwhelming concern is not to challenge “science” but to reveal the questionable ways in which public policy is made—potentially all public policy if a National Citizens’ Assembly were ever to become a reality. And what he has uncovered is disturbing.

To keep this column within manageable (and readable) length, I will consider only two of the Assembly’s structural flaws:

The first is that the Assembly’s selection of citizens violated the main principle of sortition: its randomness. Not only were the initial volunteers drawn from people who were willing to devote six weekends to discussing climate policy—that’s an anorak level of political interest—but the final 108 Assembly members had been whittled down further in accordance with “age, gender, educational background, ethnicity, home location and ‘attitude to climate change.’”

That last criterion was based on an opinion poll, almost certainly an “outlier” as Pile demonstrates, which assumed 85 percent of British voters are either “very” or “fairly concerned” about climate change. It therefore ensured a Climate Assembly that was equally concerned before it even began.

What could possibly go wrong?

The second was that most of the Climate Assembly funding and almost all its organization, personnel, and various Expert Leads, Advocates, and Informants were provided by the same kind of network of like-minded NGOs, academics, publicists, and activists in the Green movement that we saw a few columns ago in Dr. Fuller’s article. Here are some similar examples from Pile:

Greenpeace’s Doug Parr spoke to the assembly against investing confidence in technological solutions like greenhouse gas removal. Fernanda Balata, from the New Economics Foundation, argued for an ‘economic transformation’, locating the source of the problem of climate change within capitalism itself. Tony Juniper was introduced to the CA as being from UK environment quango, Natural England, but is best known from his previous role as Friends of the Earth England’s director between 2003 and 2008.

Were there no “Advocates” on a less Green side of the questions? Not needed, said one organizer, because climate science was already settled. That response was at best disingenuous, at worst dishonest.

The Climate Assembly was established to consider not the science of climate change but the full range of economic and social policies from agriculture to tourism designed to combat it. That includes the food we eat, the cars we drive, the countries we visit, and a great deal more. It is absurd to limit discussion of such matters to the far left of the environmentalist spectrum. But that is what the U.K. Climate Assembly did. And its report duly reproduced the wish-list policies of Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace as what the British people wanted in future policy—taxes on flying, restricting private cars, higher energy prices, etc., etc.

In reality the Climate Assembly was an exercise in politicians and activists talking to each other to keep their spirits up in the face of growing concern among “ordinary citizens” about the consequences of their common policy of Net-Zero. Pile calls it an exercise in “manufacturing consent” which is a nice way of describing an outrageous stitch-up. But how strong will that consent prove when the wind fails on cloudy days, electricity blackouts disable cars and home heating, the post brings demands for higher taxes and energy prices, and your MP calls asking for your vote in next week's election?

A storm is coming on the Chiltern Hills.

It’s Not About the Environment

The admiral’s speech at the 2009 graduation of my stepson from U.S. Navy Basic Training included, “It’s not about the bed,” referring to teaching boot sailors to make their bed. The point was learning to do something because it was necessary: self-discipline. No one worried if the Boot cared about getting into an unmade bed. The bed was a tiny part of a big picture; a tactic to accomplish the strategy of creating a person disciplined to do what needed to be done by observing it. That strategy was part of a larger one: ensuring the ability to achieve a goal when confronting an opponent.

This is the self-discipline required not only of a warrior, but of every free person in a society that wants to remain free. Do we still have it? Winston Churchill once noted, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing -- after they've tried everything else.”

The caveat is that the recognition of the usefulness of a tactic requires understanding the strategy of one’s opponent. Churchill’s meaning is that we will try multiple tactics until we hit on one that addresses the strategy of the opponent, at which point that tactic becomes the foundation of an effective strategy, and thus “the right thing.”

Vandals at the gates.

Americans so far do not grasp the strategy of the Democrats in particular, or of the bipartisan political establishment, in general. It is not an overstatement that our continuing failure to do so will be fatal to Western civilization. This is clear from their continuing, punitive fetish of "climate change."

The environment is a tactic. It is not the strategy. Blocking the Keystone pipeline (again), and joining the the Paris accords (again), are tactics within a tactic. Mask mandatess are a tactic. Open borders are a tactic. Even destroying education is a tactic.

If you think the city fathers of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver care about the environment, please explain tent cities, uneducated feral kids running in gangs, and streets full of discarded trash, used needles and feces. Explain killing pipelines to ship oil in (Warren Buffet’s) rail cars – which is more dangerous to the environment than pipelines.

Our rulers demand we stop the earth from warming right now or the global temperature might increase two degrees!  Not only does no data support their warming hoax, not only do these same “experts” admit that hitting 100 percent of the goals of the Paris Accord will not accomplish this, the peer-reviewed journal, Astrobiology, informs us that the ideal planet temperature is five degrees C - warmer .

Paris is not about the environment, and even if it were, it wouldn’t fix anything. Why are they pursuing this tactic?

We now have denied our entire youth of an education for an entire year. Ready for seven more? The education industry insists learning can and must be done from home. That they are wrong is not the issue. Parents – who know their kids far better than teachers – from across K-12 and college know the educators are wrong, as is demonstrated by the increasing number of child and young-adult suicides, if that’s a strong-enough indicator for you. These kids know they are falling-behind and that society doesn’t care. That is the issue.

“Educators” (remember when we called them “teachers,” and they could actually teach?) are refusing to return to the classroom. The risk for those under 70 of dying from this virus is shown in the CDC Table below, updated September 10, 2020. Basically, zero un-retired educators and zero of the student population are among cohorts at-risk of dying from this virus.

What will be the consequences of years of substandard schooling? The same as those of open borders – an uneducated labor force. An uneducated labor force is not employable in First-World jobs. Why are they pursuing this tactic?

If the next generation is to be educated in this brave new world, a parent will need to both stay home and have the capability to teach their own children. Ignore the “have the capability”; skip everything after “stay home.” The percentage of married couples with two earners is 60 percent. What do you think will be the consequence on the national housing market if we take half of the married breadwinners out of the labor force? What does the middle class do with most of its money? Buys housing. And here you thought the collapse of 2008 was bad?

But – the elite have a plan for middle class housing: Destroy it. Why are they pursuing this tactic?

Open the borders, kill the schools and you have voila! an uneducated labor force doing the bidding of the apparats at the top. And no middle class demanding to raise their children as they see fit, to earn a good living, to spend their money as they decide, and to speak their minds about what once was their own government.

The ruling class isn’t wearing masks, taking commercial airlines, sequestering themselves from social activities, or worried about their children, like those at Bill Gates’ alma mater, not being educated in opened schools. This isn’t about them. It’s about the same thing that drove Stalin and Mao and the Killing Fields: Totalitarian power.

Ready for what, Bill?

It’s about destroying a middle class they see as having grown too big for its britches, wanting too much, and refusing to shut the hell up and do as we’re told. It's about millions of impoverished, uneducated, powerless workers trying to feed their families, and so doing whatever is asked by the owners of the new slave class: You and me and our kids.

This isn’t about the environment or education or housing or borders. Those are tactics.

Their strategy is destroying self-rule, human independence and all human rights gained since ancient Greece. They mean to destroy us. No other reasonable explanation exists for Paris, Open Borders, or the lockdown. No other consequences from their actions are imaginable.

The tactics to stop our opponents are not running for school boards or donating money to the red half of the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party happily and unconstitutionally impeaching our former president. We’ve tried those. We’ve “tried everything else.”

Are you prepared to contemplate a strategy to stop them from killing you? If not, why not?

Making an End-Run Around Democracy, Part Three

[Third in a series. Parts One and Two at the links.]

I paused my last posting on this topic—let’s call it “Democracy Circumvented”—after a quotation from Dr. Roslyn Fuller, head of a progressive pro-democracy Non-Governmental Organisation, to the effect that many progressive NGOs in networks funded by billionaires were not participating in traditional acts of charity or philanthropic research but rather using their investors’ resources to “flip an entire political culture on to a different track by amplifying some voices and drowning out others.”

That may strike you as sinister. But it’s fine as long as it’s open and above board and not financed by public or tax-exempt money. But what if the NGOs are in fact not engaged in a vigorous public debate between opposing parties but are instead players in a Potemkin play of debate in which the “debaters” on both sides, the expert witnesses they call, the judge who sums up the arguments, and the panel of jurors who determine the result are all on the same side, reciting lines written advance to reach pre-determined conclusions?

When that happens in public, political, commercial, or intellectual life—and it does—the term for it is “astroturfing.” Astroturf was coined by Texas senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate in 1988, and a wit, and it’s defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation.)”

Sharyl Attkinson,  a brave and unbuyable investigative journalist, who has made a special study of astroturfing, explains its general importance and (alas) effectiveness in modern marketing and political campaigning in several appearances across the internet, impressing even skeptical audiences:

Its specific application to progressive networks of NGOs, as outlined in Dr. Fuller’s Spiked article, is that wealthy investors have created a chain of institutions in which each link receives assistance or information from one level which it endorses and then passes onto the next level, and so on and so on, it sometimes feels, ad infinitum.

There are primary research bodies that assemble information on, say, the Green New Deal; secondary research bodies that endorse the “correct” information or point of view (and the think tanks that produce them) and undermine rival ones; motivational research groups that advise on how to tailor their emotional appeal to key constituencies; information technology panels that advise on how to ensure your message is placed before others in internet searches;  media outreach groups that package its messages in easy-to-use op-ed or soundbite forms; political education institutes that recruit potential election candidates to carry the torch in elections; and “activist” organizations that organize public protests, sit-ins, occupations of congressional offices, riots, and other civil disobedience events to suggest that a powerful movement of public opinion is backing the Green New Deal or some other "progressive" cause de jour.

And, yes, even activism can be astroturf activism.

Put so baldly, this argument sounds a little like a conspiracy theory. Well, why not? Bear the following points in mind. First, conspiracies exist, sometimes succeed, and even have serious consequences. The First World War was triggered by a conspiracy of students to murder the heir to the Austrian throne. They succeeded, and one can’t deny that the Great War amounted to serious consequences.

This conspiracy went off like a Clockwork Orange.

Second, claiming that a hostile criticism is no more than a discredited conspiracy theory is Exercise One in the conspirator’s handbook. So please test any such denial against the evidence. Third, Dr. Fuller examines  the evidence about four organizations in the food chain in detail, checking what they do, how they cooperate, and how they’re financed. What she discovered please read for yourself. It’s partly comic and partly sinister, half stage army, half octopus. But it ain’t chopped liver. And, fourthly, the most damaging accusations against the networks of billionaire-financed NGOs is made by those activists and investors who are running them in the form of enthusiastic pep-talks (quoted below).

If it’s a conspiracy, it’s what used to be called “an open conspiracy” which almost anyone can join, read about, or listen in on via the internet. Dr. Fuller listened in on a webinar in which the leaders of two of the organizations discussed here, namely Sunrise and Momentum, which are respectively a movement of young activists and a political training operation, outlined their purposes and activities. She writes:

Speakers stressed the need to become ‘the dominant political alignment’ which ‘defines the common sense of society’ and ‘directs social and economic policy’. Having realized that this would require ‘tak[ing] over the entire United States and all the institutions in it’, they began ‘finding and developing our first leaders’. This involved moving activists into ‘dorm-style Sunrise Movement Houses for three to six months’ in order to create leaders who had a deep level of commitment ‘for everything that would come afterwards’.

Dr. Fuller concedes that some of this training offers advice that is “not bad” but adds that the “entire impression is of a very steered, technocratic process that attempts to achieve theoretical concepts (‘3.5 percent mobilisation’, ‘dominant political alignment’) through a kind of brute-force factory production.” It’s a very well-funded factory production at that. And noting that a disproportionately large number of the activists and of those recruiting the activists are young and inexperienced people, from teens to postgraduates, she offers the following balanced judgment:

On one level, it is great that young people are taking part in politics. But on another level it is incredibly fake. The youthful participants aren’t so much being empowered as instrumentalized. After all, they are part of the portfolio of an investment fund that is using them to ‘shift power’, with part of the strategy being to shame politicians for not being nice enough to hysterical children.

Dr. Fuller doesn’t mention Greta Thunberg here, but for some reason Ms. Thunberg leaps to mind.

Ride of the Valkyrie.

In instrumentalizing the young activists, these well-funded progressive networks are also instrumentalizing democracy. They are seeking to manipulate the usual democratic tools—information, debate, controversy—not to create a national conversation on political goals and methods but to construct a simulacrum of that conversation in which its conclusions are determined in advance. And when those tools break in their hands—as sometimes happens when others intrude into their staged debates—they use “activism” to de-platform the intruders and to close down a debate escaping their control. We are likely to see much more of such extra-democratic politics in the future.

Indeed, just recently,  Time magazine described how such an open conspiracy of corporate executives, labor union leaders, and progressive activists employed some of these methods and some of these troops to “prevent Donald Trump stealing the election” (i.e., to help the Democrats win the election.)

This is the inside story of the conspiracy to save the 2020 election, based on access to the group’s inner workings, never-before-seen documents and interviews with dozens of those involved from across the political spectrum. It is the story of an unprecedented, creative and determined campaign whose success also reveals how close the nation came to disaster. “Every attempt to interfere with the proper outcome of the election was defeated,” says Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan rule-of-law advocacy group. “But it’s massively important for the country to understand that it didn’t happen accidentally. The system didn’t work magically. Democracy is not self-executing.”

That was very much a “macro” operation. And whatever the reason, it certainly didn’t fail.

But how do these tactics work at a “micro” level—at the level of getting a parliamentary bill passed into law, ensuring that a government report conforms to progressive orthodoxies, or manufacturing a “Green” public opinion when most voters are skeptical. Next time I’ll examine a case in which the U.K. parliament found itself playing the role of junior partner to a group of progressive NGOs in manufacturing a large astroturf carpet of public enthusiasm for Net-Zero policy.

Skeptical? It seems to have persuaded Boris Johnson. Don’t miss it!

'Climate Change' Boondoggle Upon Boondoggle

Shortly after his book Climate: The Counter Consensus was published in 2010, the late palaeoclimatologist and climate-change skeptic, Professor Bob Carter, told me that he thought that the tide was about to turn. The scientific consensus would be upturned. Reason would return. He was wrong.  Now, eleven years later, the climate-change juggernaut is well past the point of no return. Its anchor in science has become neither here nor there.

Temporarily recalcitrant; the Australian government is now part of the international posse chasing the chimera of zero emissions by 2050. It recently promulgated a technological roadmap to a low-emissions future. Five priority areas are identified: clean hydrogen, electricity storage, low emissions steel and aluminium production, carbon capture, and soil carbon sequestration. It’s fair to say that clean (aka green) hydrogen is the favoured child.

We in Australia are on a hydrogen high in momento. Andrew (“Twiggy”) Forest of Fortescue Metals, which exports huge quantities of iron ore to China, announced a massive research effort into producing green hydrogen and green steel. Green hydrogen is a product of using renewable forms of electricity, solar and wind, I imagine, to extract hydrogen from water. "Green" steel uses green hydrogen as an input instead of coking coal. Obviously, the process must also be powered by carbonless energy. It has to be a virtuous circle to be green and clean.

Fill 'er up!

Prime Minister Scott Morrison explained that getting the cost of hydrogen down is a key to zero-emissions by 2050. A national hydrogen strategy has been established. Australia aspires to international prominence in hydrogen power. What’s that, you say? Join the queue. Germany, France, Japan and Canada among numbers of others have similar aspirations. Can Joe Biden’s USA be far behind?

Not everything which is scientifically and technologically doable makes economic sense. Hydrogen power likely falls into that category. Extracting hydrogen from water takes a lot of power; and, non-trivially, a lot of water. Hydrogen is hard to handle and transport. Its conversion back to electricity via fuel cells is costly in terms of power loss.

When it comes to the use of hydrogen fuel cells in cars, Elon Musk is unequivocal. “Mind-boggling stupid,” he calls it. James Morris in Forbes concurs. Regardless, vehicle manufacturers will no doubt press on with R&D in search of breakthroughs.

My point, however, is not at all with forming a view on the economics of hydrogen power. Unlikely as it seems, a hydrogen revolution might possibly happen. Who knows? I certainly don’t know.

What I do know is that the worldwide effort to prove hydrogen will draw in billions of dollars, including from governments, and thousands upon thousands of researchers. It is yet another storey on top of the many already in place in response to so-called climate change. Boondoggle upon boondoggle. The edifice grows.

Whence did it start? Some suggest with Maurice Strong, the founding executive director of UNEP - the United Nations Environment Programme, established in 1972. Whatever its beginnings, political buy-in gave it impetus and funding. Politicians didn’t miss the opportunity to save the world. The edifice had its foundation.

At first, you might recall, action to combat ‘global warming’, as it was formerly called, was primarily wrapped around the ‘precautionary principle’. To wit, the outcome might be so bad that even a small probability of it occurring is unacceptable. That was never going to fly high enough to justify spending vast amounts of money and turning the world upside down. So, global warming inexorably morphed, as a purely political necessity, into imminent catastrophic climate change as a proven and established fact. Actions have kept pace with growing alarmism.

Green makes the world go 'round.

Myriads of committees, councils, associations and agencies supported by governments and international forums have been put in place. Subsidies and regulations abound. Alan Moran, puts the annual costs of climate-change polices in Australia at AU15 billion. That would of course pale when set against costs in the E.U., Japan and North America. Evidently, governments are willing to spend and regulate bigtime to cool the planet. In a saner King Canute-kinda world you’d ridicule their chutzpah.

Next comes the physical manifestations of subsidies. Upwards of 150 million solar panels littered the planet in 2019; 341,000 wind turbines despoiled the land and seascapes in 2017. The first number is my very-rough estimate (so query it by all means) based on installed capacity; the second is widely reported. The numbers will have since increased, though I couldn’t verify or update them by consulting the World Wind Energy Association or the Global World Energy Council or the International Energy Agency or the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Sorry, I gave up while knowing that there are many more energy bodies I could have consulted. No end to them. And now, on top, we can look forward to massive investments in hydrogen technology.

Best to draw breath and recall where this and everything else in the climate-change edifice comes from. It comes from a hypothesis, based principally on (tenuous and contested) modelling, that man-made CO2 has caused most warming since around 1975; and will go on warming the planet to an unsustainable extent, unless something is done and done urgently.

As Twiggy Forest puts it, “if we wait until 2050 to act, our planet will be toast.” Probably a misprint. I doubt AOC or Al Gore, or David Attenborough or Prince Charles would be relaxed about waiting anytime close to 2050. Twiggy might reflect and replace 2050 with 2030.

Good luck.

Imagine: new incontrovertible evidence comes to light. The received scientific wisdom is mistaken. CO2 is not the devil-in-gaseous form. Now imagine light emerging from a black hole. You’re right, it can’t. The edifice of money, vested interest and political power is simply too gigantic and complex to be toppled by having the hypothesis beneath it pulled away. Galileo had more chance of convincing the Inquisition that the earth moves around the sun.

Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is as settled a scientific proposition as can be found in the textbooks. Object as you like. Proffer new evidence. It will do no good. You will be cancelled. The Age of Reason is well and truly behind us.

 

Making an End-Run Around Democracy, Part One

How have the Greens persuaded governments and political parties to embrace policies like Net-Zero that they themselves admit with an odd kind of pride will require their voters to pay more in taxes and energy prices in order to live meaner and narrower lives? Such policies, after all, will lead to a massive political clash between the politicians and the voters that will end in lost elections and ruined political careers. So why do both Left and Right agree to do it?

That question was how I ended my most recent column. And though I left open an optimistic escape hatch—namely, that Brexit showed ordinary voters still had the power to reject the iron consensus of the parties—I have to admit that nothing like Brexit is as yet emerging to block the various revolutions and new deals advocated by the Green movement.

If no opposition is yet emerging, however, an explanation of this oddity is starting to take shape, and understanding a phenomenon is often the first step to combatting it. That explanation can be found in, among other places, two monographs published this year.

The first is a long-form read online, The billionaire takeover of “civil society” NGOs, by Roslyn Fuller in the ex-Marxist radical democrat U.K. webzine Spiked. It’s a detailed description and analysis, drawing on Ms Fuller’s own investigations, of the interlocking relationships between innumerable “progressive” NGOs covering different areas of research and activism, all validating each other’s work, and all founded by the same handful of billionaires.

Pierre Omidyar, a votre service.

Dr. Fuller establishes this general picture very neatly by listing all the NGOs founded by only one of them, the French-born Iranian billionaire, Pierre Omidyar, the man who founded eBay. What follows just below is a half of one paragraph that shows the interlocking financial and organizational links between some of the NGOs he and the smaller “investors” in his network fund:

Omidyar, whose Omidyar Network funds AELP, also funds the Democracy Fund which is now part of Omidyar Group. The Democracy Fund, in turn, together with the Knight Foundation, Quadrivium, the McArthur Foundation and Luminate (also funded by Omidyar) fund Democracy Works. Omidyar also funds Democracy Fund Voice, which in turn contributes to Defending Democracy Together. Then there is Healthy Democracy which is funded by the Democracy Fund, Silicon Valley Community Foundation (which also receives money from Democracy Fund) and the Ford Family Foundation. The Omidyar Network also co-funds New Public by Civic Signals, along with the Knight Foundation, One Project, the National Conference on Citizenship, etc., etc.

As Dr. Fuller points out, you can’t follow what’s going on here without a map. So she provides one—or, rather, one of those organizational charts that are intended to clarify the question of who’s financing whom to do what but that are so complex they mainly confuse the investigator.

They certainly confused her—which is why she set out to untangle the maze of cross-connections. It’s significant that Ms. Fuller isn’t hostile to the causes promoted by these NGOs. She’s a progressive herself, a supporter of democracy who directs her own NGO (the Solonian Democracy Institute) devoted to broadening democratic participation in politics, and the author of several books, including  In Defence of Democracy. But she takes the increasingly rare view that the purpose of democratic elections is to implement the opinions for which most of the electorate voted rather than her own progressive ones.

Ultimately, serious democrats have to be more committed to a fair election than to a victorious one and to open and contentious debate rather than to manufactured consent. (Admittedly, those lessons need to be learned by a great many more people than those discussed in this article.)

Follow the tentacles.

All of which means that her article isn’t a hit job. My guess is also that most of her political opinions (except on the key question of the virtue of democracy for its own sake) diverge radically from my own. Indeed, she began her investigation because she was considering applying for a grant for her own NGO from progresssive donors and prudently wanted to check them out. As she looked deeper, however, she was perturbed by what she found. And what she found was neither democratic participation nor philanthropic charity as commonly understood.

If one accepts what ‘givers’, like Omidyar et al, say, it becomes apparent that rather than participating in traditional acts of charity, like founding a hospital for the needy, they are attempting to engage in ‘social engineering’ – that is, using their resources to artificially change the structure of society to what they think it should be. If successful, this would amount to an extreme circumvention of democracy, utilising money not just to win elections, but to substitute paid or subsidised content for actual support, and thereby to flip an entire political culture on to a different track by amplifying some voices and drowning out others.

Exactly what that means in practice we'll examine in the next article.

Extremism in the Pursuit of Economic Madness

You don’t know it yet, although you think you do, but there is a great smash-up ahead of us when the extremist green policy of “Net-Zero” hits the West’s voters square in the solar plexus. The reason you think you know about this smash-up is because a vast array of Green pressure groups and activist organizations have combined to persuade you that you are already facing a completely different kind of smash-up.

They preach that unless you give up eating meat, fly less (or not at all), abandon your car for a slower and more expensive one, throw out your gas heaters for electric storage heaters that don’t actually keep you warm, and in general live more like a mendicant Buddhist, then a horrendous climate emergency will ensure that the world will end last Tuesday.

Last Tuesday? Surely not. But the correct answer is yes. We have already passed the dates of several environmental Armageddons and Goetterdammerungs that had been predicted by a long list of people and organizations from Extinction Rebellion  to Prince Charles to the New York Times (passim) to the United Nations to the CIA. Here's one of several lists of such false predictions:

And here’s the Guardian in 2004, waxing gleeful that President Bush will be embarrassed by a report from the CIA that Britain will be suffering a Siberian climate along with many other ills across Europe and the world by, er, last year.

No one apologizes for these self-confident errors when the world fails to experience the catastrophes they have forecast, and a week later another warning of imminent doom is posted to a loud chorus of demands for action NOW to prevent it. Anyone who points this out is condemned as a science denier, and nothing he says need ever be listened to again.

Do that voodoo you do do so well.

This would be a comedy of sorts if these false alarms had not persuaded governments and international agencies to prepare hugely expensive programs designed quite deliberately to make their industries’ costs much higher and their citizens poorer in order to ward off the anger of Gaia. Net-Zero is the name of one of those programs and as governments concede, it will require a very considerable belt-tightening on the part of ordinary citizens (aka voters.)

In short the real smash-up looming ahead of us will be what happens when the Net-Zero program actually reduces the living standards of the voters, some very substantially, starting in the next decade with the U.K. phasing out of petrol-driven cars, effectively compelling them to switch to more expensive electric vehicles.  For though voters have seen their living standards cut before by foolish policies, this would be the first time that a government has done so deliberately and boasted of doing so in advance. They won’t be able to claim ignorance or bad luck when the roof falls in.

That’s a very odd situation for democratic governments to find themselves in.  It runs counter to the usually strong survival instinct of politicians. Why have they almost all signed onto the “climate emergency” theory and to the Net-Zero policy response to it?

Look at the record. Only five MPs voted against the Climate Change Act that launched this policy in the U.K. parliament, and all the “respectable” parties in Europe and most of the world are passionately devoted to it. The U.N. has been its cheerleader since the Rio de Janeiro conference in the 1990s. China’s policy consists of promising to cut carbon emissions without actually doing so for as long as possible.

Indeed, except for the U.S., there’s an international consensus of governments in favor of Net-Zero (though not one in favor of paying for it since it costs a lot of money to make people poorer.) Now the election of President Biden signifies that Washington will join the consensus. So the question naturally arises: why are governments setting themselves up for a massive political clash with their own voters?

One very obvious reason is that global warming is a genuine problem, potentially a very serious one, which governments feel they must address with effective measures. Almost no one denies that, however. The supposed climate “deniers” such as Bjorn Lomborg, Michael Shellenberger, and former U.K. finance minister Lord Lawson, all accept the reality of the problem. Where they differ from the (semi-enforced) political consensus is in believing that the problem is serious without being an emergency and, more importantly, that there are better solutions to it that carry less damaging side effects than Net Zero. Their arguments and policy proposals are supported by impressive evidence. They deserve a hearing—and the world needs an open debate—rather than exclusion from debate by the establishment’s own cancel culture.

Shut up, they explained helpfully.

As that culture indicates, however, not all of the causes of the governments’ adhesion to Net Zero are respectable ones. A reason why they believe they can afford to risk and probably survive a serious clash with their electorates is that all the respectable parties have signed onto the deal. If all their rivals have publicly pledged support for Net-Zero, governments calculate, then there will be no one for the voters to vote for if they want to vote against the policy.

That calculation has proved successful in the case of the Euro. It has survived all the disasters it’s inflicted on Mediterranean Europe because no parties there were prepared to break with the European establishment’s pro-Euro consensus—and when one arrived in power that was half-prepared to do so, namely Syriza in Greece, it was bullied into acquiescence with threats of ruin and isolation.

But that kind of enforced consensus, as well as being a brutal thing that requires an illiberal silencing of debate and the hunting down of heretics like Lomborg, risks keeping bad policies in place because it protects them from criticism. For the moment at least, the Euro is a disaster but a secure one.

But such moments might be significantly extended by the cooperation between governments, establishments and activists to manufacture a Potemkin public opinion in opposition to the real reactions of voters to the economic consequences of both the Euro and Net-Zero.

Two new reports—Ben Pile’s monograph for the Global Warming Policy Foundation on the undemocratic tactics of the UK's Climate Assembly  and the Spiked article by Roslyn Fuller on the billionaire takeover of “civil society” NGOs—between them illustrate how a new kind of astroturf activism is attempting an end run around democracy by misrepresenting what the voters think to the media and public opinion. How is this done? That's something I'll return to next week.

All hail Unanimity.

But is anyone fooled by such tactics? Many people are, and as Pile has suggested, the problem is that governments, politicians, and the media are among them--though want to be fooled and cooperate in the folly. To be sure, they are likely to be shaken out of that folly by the raw reactions of anger and incredulity of voters over policies intentionally impoverishing them. Nothing persuades people more quickly than that.

But the politicians will then be facing a serious crisis as they have to decide between defying the electorate or reversing a policy in which they have invested large sums of taxpayers’s money along with the public trust.

If they had better memories, they would have recalled another recent case in which all the political parties felt secure in supporting the same unpopular policy, ignoring and dismissing signs that large numbers of their voters disagreed with them, only to discover that it had been surprisingly rejected in a referendum and they had invited a crisis that lasted for the next four years:

Brexit.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Caring

With all the excitement of coming to Davos for the World Economic Forum, I completely forgot I can ski here!  Skiing was obviously the last thing on my mind when a new friend from Lyford Cay mentioned they’d be able to smuggle me in among the climate gurus and environmental titans but here I am.

Landing was a bit of crush and I could see why some opt to take the train from Zurich-it’s not only because the trip is so majestic and reminds us of what we are fighting for… but Davos can’t possibly accommodate that many jumbo jets all arriving within hours of one another.  Rows and rows from heads of state made it look like the U.N. roll call of jets. And that doesn’t count the larger number of climate-minded oligarchs who selflessly give of their time and money.

But as I came in from Copenhagen, (chartered but shared) I landed right in the heart of things.  I did wonder if they even have traffic controllers here, it felt like that six-way stop in Beverly Hills just below Sunset where one car goes and then another and miraculously no one collides. Add to that the people who took helicopters from wherever they landed their jets and you have a very crowded airfield! 

It was on this airfield that I saw bellmen hauling skis and boots and I remembered it was originally a ski town.  Alas… I’ll have to rent. 

What better place for a Great Reset?

The conference is by invitation only (obvi!) but this year proved a bit tougher as the event has moved underground.  Daddy had been several years back (work stuff) and advised me to fill my dance card before I arrived, and boy he wasn’t kidding!

With the arrival of the dreaded Covid, the conference technically moved to next May in Singapore. So they just re-titled the January event as “The Davos Agenda” and made it fully virtual.  And who can blame them? If things go as we hope, The Great Reset is going to re-shape our entire world! And by extension my beloved planet. 

I feel as though I had a bit of a jump on everyone… having gone to so many underground parties in London during lockdown.  Who knew that the iceberg homes would prove to be the police-proof solution to a party. As things got more sophisticated in the London parties, we were asked to submit to a ten-minute coronavirus test before being allowed entry and obviously had to pay in cash under threat of having to split any fines incurred should we get busted. 

But there were no such tests here in Davos, owing—I assume—to the fact that the leaders of the free world and the gilt-edged would have managed to run by a vaccine.  And I can tell you my poor over-swabbed nostrils were grateful. We were however, sworn to no mobiles, no texting, tweeting, posting, or sharing under penalty of some mandate I couldn’t quite understand, but am sure was all for the betterment of our poor planet.  

When I checked in they gave me a folder which I hoped would contain a schedule of everything but it only listed the conference schedule and a list of “starred must-watch sessions”, how to submit questions… blah, blah… whatever!  All virtual computer stuff. Luckily I had a host of WhatsApp invites with detailed instructions, and one even said to delete the invite itself.

I was looking a bit tired from travel, and the week with Daddy in Copenhagen,  so I slathered on a deep moisturising masque and opened my computer to watch the conference going on in some adjacent building.

The first video was “the welcome” and showed four masked, and distanced speakers… “live from the studio in Geneva”, which might have been true when they taped it but I’d just seen one of the very distinctive looking ladies stepping out of a helicopter. In the next screen was Klaus (Schwab) who was probably, admittedly, in Davos, and a stern un-masked woman who seemed to be sitting on a toadstool. Turns out I was wrong and she was not going to talk about mycology-it was just an unfortunate choice of chairs for a video conference. 

Klaus began saying, “2021 will be a crucial…it will be a pivotal year for the future of humankind”. 

Not really going out on a limb there but OK…I agree. 

Then he went on to say, “It will be crucial because we have to continue to fight the virus—BUT we have to move out of the pandemic".

Which is it??? Stay and fight or move out?  

Then he continued, "BUT…

Another BUT…

“…above all we have to restore trust in our world… in order to overcome the Kaisers.” 

WHAAT?  The Kaisers?  I needed a cup of tea. I rewound: "hin orduh zu overcome ze Kreisiz." The crisis! Dr. Strangelove has nothing on this guy.

 A knock on the door signalled my tea had arrived and so I answered with my white masque on.  That’s the great thing about a place like this… they pretend not to notice.  

I watched another few videos and they all had one thing in common. Super-fast talking and a limited lexicon. They all seemed to use the words “sustainable”,  “unprecedented”, “massive”, and “inclusive”— no matter what they were discussing. It was a good thing this wasn’t a drinking game!

And more absurd… “coronavirus” a word that infected every single sentence. It was the reason to be, the reason not to be, the reason to remember, to forget, to change, to remain…and yet they sat two feet apart, pulling off and donning masks like it was some musical chairs game at a children’s party. 

I looked at my phone to decide whether I would go to the Urban Transformation or Energy Infrastructure receptions.  I decided on Energy because someone might know my father and I just couldn’t listen to how coronavirus affected the poor disproportionately. Everything affects the poor disproportionately but it was the response to coronavirus that was more likely to affect the poor than anything else.   

Day Two and I am not drinking or eating anything. I had more champagne, wagyu beef, truffled lobster mac and cheese, and fatty tuna belly to get me to spring. I called Daddy to ask a few questions but he didn’t pick up. I opened up my computer to see what was on and if it should pre-empt a spa visit. Now playing was the session on how the forum is shaping media and entertainment. Well I can tell you… different actor, same script. Here’s what she said verbatim:

“Media was the first to go through massive digital disruption. Without a strong ecosystem you cannot sustain that kind of change.” 

Yes, believe it or not, that is what she said. “Massive”, “ecosystem”, “sustain.” Same words, new topic, making zero sense. And who wants to ‘sustain media disruption’ ?  It’s what she actually said.  But if you just listen to the buzz words instead of what she actually says… it seems sympathetic. And important.

How I wish Daddy would pick up.  I’m so lost and I can’t believe the point of this was to confuse. If I did reach him he’d likely ask me what did I expect. And then he’d tell me to go skiing. I think I shall. It will be massive, but not unprecedented.  

Of Pledges, Promises, and Pie-Crusts

“Elections have consequences,” President Obama liked to say to journalists and political opponents when they objected to some of the policies he pursued as president. It’s a fair point, especially when a  presidential candidate has promised to introduce those policies in the party platform or campaign speeches.  It’s even got some force when he introduces policies that were never mentioned in the campaign but that can be plausibly presented as necessary responses to crises that no one foresaw earlier.

Governments are elected to cope with emergencies. It’s part of the job, and they need the flexibility to do so. But what about those policies that a political leader explicitly denied he would pursue if elected? A president can’t justify those policies by saying that elections have consequences if the policies are exactly the reverse of the what the electorate chose on election day when they voted for him. He has zero democratic justification for them. And if he wants to pursue them anyway, he owes the voters (and his defeated opponent) the courtesy of an explanation and apology.

That doesn’t happen very often, of course, but it should happen whenever election pledges are unceremoniously broken. Crude reversals of policies that were promised in the campaign undermine the unwritten contract between the voters and elected officials that votes are exchanged for pledges. It’s totalitarians who treat promises with contempt—for instance Lenin who famously remarked “Promises are like pie-crusts, made to be broken.” Democratic leaders are supposed to mean them and to abide by them.

Failing to meet this  obligation can sometimes get a political leader into serious electoral trouble. Britain’s 1960s-1970s Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, got a bad reputation for infidelity to the electorate when he said of a particular manifesto commitment: “This is no lightly-given promise. It is a solemn pledge.” An opposition back-bencher, tongue firmly In cheek, asked him at Question Time if he could list for the voters which of his commitments were solemn pledges and which were lightly-given promises. Collapse of stout Prime Minister.

Which lie should I tell?

Which brings us to President Biden’s election pledge not to ban fracking—a method of extracting natural gas from deep underground by injecting water into rocks (my very non-technical definition.) That was an important pledge economically and politically. Economically, the so-called “fracking revolution” had made the U.S. energy-independent after decades of being held to ransom in foreign policy by Middle East and other foreign energy producers.

It had reduced American carbon emission levels more than any other major industrial power had done. It had made possible the switch from “dirty” coal to “clean” natural gas (hence the reduced carbon emissions.) And it had powered the massive recovery of the U.S. economy, delivering the highest rise in wages and salaries for poor and minority Americans for decades.

Politically, it was a potentially election-winning issue for President Trump in states such as Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Texas which had millions of workers to whom the fracking boom had given high levels of prosperity and a sense that America was back.

All in all it was a tricky issue for the Democrats and for candidate Joe Biden, in particular because his party’s powerful radical Left wing was strongly opposed to fossil fuels in general and to fracking in particular. As a result, Biden in the primaries gave the impression that he was opposed to fracking while in the general election he claimed to be in favor of it.

Thus, in a July 2019 exchange, CNN’s Dana Bash asked the former  Vice-President if there would be any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration. To which Biden responded boldly: “No, we would . . . we would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those, either . . .  any fossil fuels.”  Less boldly his campaign staff told the media that Biden meant that he intended to eliminate not fracking but government subsidies to oil and gas.

We can work it out.

Similarly, as the campaign got going, Biden said in a March 2020 debate with Bernie Sanders that he was against “new fracking” and afterwards his campaign again told the media that this referred to a ban on oil and gas permits on public. No promise to ban fracking here, folks, move along please.

Once the general election campaign arrived, however, the strategy dictated that Biden should now assure the voters, especially those in Pennsylvania, that he was a supporter of fracking and always had been. Biden did not make this claim personally, but because his campaign wanted to keep him out of the public view except when he could issue some soothing bromide to pacify the voters, the burden of presenting this case fell to his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris.

Though she had herself been a passionate fracking opponent, Harris had no difficulty in stating this argument in the most unqualified terms. “The American people know Joe Biden will not ban fracking,” she told Mike Pence in the October 7 vice-presidential debate. “That is a fact. That is a fact.”

It was not “a fact,” of course. And given how much calculation and choreography of lying went into the presentation of Biden’s positions on fracking in the two years of the campaign, it wasn’t exactly a lightly given promise either. It was a calculated attempt to confuse and deceive the American voter of an elaborate kind -- and therefore a lie.

Because of its obvious contradictions, it could hardly have succeeded in its deceptions as it did—see the Pennsylvania voting—if it had been critically examined by the media. The media participated in this deception, however, not only by not examining Biden’s policies critically but in a series of absurd "fact-checks" by actually protecting its contradictions. I am obliged to my National Review colleague, David Harsanyi, for neatly demolishing one attempt:

In a Forbes article, “Did Biden Break Campaign Promise On Fracking? No—And Here’s Why,” Rachel Sandler makes the acutely irrelevant observation that “the president does not even have the power to ban fracking nationally.” Biden, you see, is only banning the fracking he can ban. Which is tantamount to arguing that Donald Trump never supported a wall on the southern border because he didn’t have the power to unilaterally build it.

In his first few days in office, we now know, Biden set out to ban the kind of fracking he could ban. That was always going to happen because his larger promises to eliminate oil and gas in the U.S. economy “over time, over time” and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 inevitably meant the end of fracking—and over a fairly short time period to boot.

And when the political costs of enforcing a lower standard of living on the American people through higher taxes, higher energy prices, and lowered competitiveness against a rising China bring on an electoral whirlwind, Biden or his successor will suffer all the odium of having made promises to the voters that, like pie-crusts, were made to be broken.