The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Anatol Lieven. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Anatol Lieven. He is a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar. He is a visiting professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London and a Senior Fellow of the New America Foundation. He also serves on the Advisory Committee of the South Asia Department of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He’s the author of several rather interesting books on international affairs. Check them out. Today, we’re going to talk about ideas from his book, Climate Change and the Nation State. Welcome, Anatol.
Jim: So, at the highest level, this book might seem very wrongheaded in a kind of a naive way. The core of the book is a discussion of anthropogenic climate change and what we need to do about it and you come to the conclusion that more and better nationalism is the answer and yet, climate change is the ultimate global challenge. How can it be that more and better nationalism could be the answer, highest level perspective?
Anatol: Well, the argument of the book is that dealing with climate change is going to need real sacrifice. It’s no good pretending that won’t be the case. Fuel will be more expensive, taxes will be higher, consumer goods will be more expensive, and that has been the biggest obstacle to action against climate change so far. Of course, the role of corporations, energy companies has also been important, but in the end, I mean, if you look at plebiscites referenda in Washington State, protests in France, and the war is both of democratic and authoritarian governments around the world about popularity, you can see that the biggest obstacle is motivation, is just getting support from populations for what needs to be done.
Anatol: And so, what this book is really about is how to motivate populations because frankly, it’s been very easy for people to applaud Greta Thunberg, who by the way I approve of, on the internet. But then when it comes to actually paying higher prices or paying higher taxes, somehow, the real support evaporates. And so what the book argues is, it’s not in any way arguing against international agreements or against international cooperation, not at all, but it’s an argument in favor of using a concern for national interests and in the long run, national survival, to motivate people to do something about climate change. Because in the end, I mean, this is a realist’s view, but I think it is fair to say that ultimately, people are going to be moved more by what happens to them and their country than by concerns about humanity in general. Now, it may be sad to say that, but it’s true.
Jim: We’ll dig into that, quite a bit of detail. You quote David Miller on what is a nation, which I thought was kind of interesting, and apt. “Nations are communities that do things together.” But then you also say, “Among my fellow Western journalists and analysts and think tanks, I could see how the belief in the wicked and the artificial nature of nationalism had become part of Western educated culture in general.” Could you talk about those two kind of rather different perspectives on nations and nationalism?
Anatol: Well, I love the Miller quote, because it goes exactly with the other main theory or thesis of my book, which is in the end that international pressure is great. You have international movements, extinction rebellion, I’ve worked with them a bit. I don’t agree with everything they say, but if they can really alert people to the danger, that’s fine. But all of this is intended to get states to act. It’s intended to push embarrassed governments parliaments into doing something. It’s intended to motivate voters to vote in certain ways. Because I think this has been the evidence of the pandemic as well. Of course, greater international cooperation would have been much, much better, but in the end, it was only States that could close borders, imposed lockdowns, shut down large sectors of the economy, mobilized the health services, mobilized vaccination programs.
Anatol: The United Nations can’t do that. No international organization can do that. It has to be state. So the question is, because states, as David said, are bodies that do things or nation states are bodies that do things together. They get things done. They can get things done in a way that no other organization on earth can do. As to the kind of soft consensus against nationalism and nation states, well, if you look at how it is addressed in much of journalism, and then across much of academia, you will find that nationalism is almost overwhelmingly described as something artificial, something constructed, which by the way implies that it will be easy to get rid of it again.
Anatol: And then there is all the language about how Russian nationalism, mass nationalism isn’t real. It’s all being whipped up by Putin or Chinese nationalism or Iranian or whatever. And surprisingly enough, people haven’t been paying attention to what’s been going on in the United States, for example, where one sees that there is a tremendous element of popular nationalism in America. And by the way, I mean, there is the chauvinist nationalism. It used to be called Jacksonian. Now, I suppose we have to call it Trumpian. I, by the way, wrote about this 16 years ago, 17 years ago in a book on American nationalism, which came out in 2004.
Anatol: But you also if you pay close attention to people like Biden or Hillary Clinton, people in that way, they are also passionate believers in a different kind of American nationalism, a civic nationalism, but absolutely, about America bearing great ideas for the world in general, America leading the world. I can’t remember how many times President Biden has used that phrase, “America must lead again. America must guide again. America must be at the head of the table.” That is nationalism. We may well prefer it to Trumpian nationalism, but it’s still nationalism.
Anatol: And so, I regard nationalism as a very powerful force in modern history. I think that all the evidence supports that. And they also argue that nationalism, therefore, has to be turned to good purposes rather than just waved away, because it’s not going to go away.
Jim: You mentioned civic nationalism. Actually one of my pet flags to wave and especially in countries that have fractionated ethnicities and people from all over the world, and/or people from all over the world like India, who have their own thousand different ethnicities, United States, Australia, Canada, and China, to a lesser degree, the idea of civic nationalism is really important to distinguish from blood and soil nationalism. Could you make that distinction for us?
Anatol: Absolutely. No major country in the world now can afford anything like blood and soil nationalism. I mean, that is a recipe either for civil war or fascism or both. And incidentally, I mean, that’s true of countries like Russia as well. I wouldn’t exactly describe Putin as a civic nationalist, but he’s a state nationalist, not an ethnic nationalist, if you read what he says, on that subject. And he says quite explicitly he is that because he believes that Russian ethnic nationalism will destroy Russia, which is true. And of course, we are now learning just how deeply divided America is, in other parts of the world would be called, ethnic reasons or even ethno-religious reasons.
Anatol: And so, I believe very strongly that to hold our multi ethnic, multi religious countries together, we do need unifying ideas and ideals and a sense of common responsibility. An argument I make very strongly in the book is that a lot of this language of international responsibility, when you really look into it and when you look at it at its results, it doesn’t demand too much. I mean, my God, I saw that in Afghanistan when covering with the western presence there.
Anatol: And one key reason is that, in the end, there is no responsibility. Nobody can be held responsible. In the end, nobody even really feels responsible for what happens there. Whereas hopefully, one can or at least one can try to hold people responsible for what happens in their own country. And so, the sense of common responsibility and holding governments responsible is central to my argument.
Jim: You talked quite a bit about the dangers of lack of nationalism in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan and how that’s a real barrier. Let’s go on and talk a little bit about another idea, which I think has got a lot of merit to it, which you say we are, in fact, suffering from a severe case of what has been called residual elites. Ruling groups that have been shaped in particular historical circumstances to meet particular sets of challenges and opportunities and find it difficult or impossible to adapt to new circumstances. And I’d suggest that the West’s response to COVID, at least in part, exemplified that. I mean, we were laughably inept compared to many countries, even democratic countries in the Asia area. So, talk a little bit about residual elites and how far they are behind the curve.
Anatol: Well, I mean, you only have to look at the coverage in terms of security and after all, security in the end is, is about what? Security is about the lives of our fellow citizens, right? I mean, that that’s what is most important about British and American security. And if you look at the security journals, if you look at the discussion, if you look at the essays, if you look at the statements, in the years before the pandemic, even after we’d had so many warnings, SARS, and so forth.
Anatol: The discussion of the threat from pandemics compared to the endless discussion about how Russia’s occupation of a fraction of eastern Ukraine was a threat to the world, how China’s occupation of uninhabited reefs and sandbanks in the South China Sea is a threat to the world. What turned out to be the real threat to American and British and other lives was lowered by an order of magnitude or possibly two.
Jim: Three, probably.
Anatol: Three, probably. I mean, if that isn’t a sign that we were looking in the wrong direction. I mean, what is? And yeah, I mean, what the book says is that, that does not mean you have to approve of what Russia or China or other countries are doing. But in the end, governments exist to protect the lives and well-beings of their citizens, not of their foreign and security elites. And our foreign and security elites got it wrong and the central reason for that is that they are, like so many military elites in the past, essentially fighting the last war.
Anatol: And this came to me long ago, when I looked at attitudes to Russia. NATO moved essentially, Russia compared to the Soviet Union in 1989, huge tank army in Central Europe. Now, in some places, Russia is 1000 miles to the east. Russia has no allies. Russia does not threaten invasion of Western Europe in any way. Cyber hacking, okay, so they do it to us, we do it to them. But NATO continued and remain structured around Russia, which NATO now outnumbers in terms of troops and military spending, by calculation, I mean, Russia is just not a serious threat anymore. But the NATO elites, like the rest of us, I suppose they need to eat.
Anatol: I’m not saying they’re deliberately lying, but it was clearly an absolutely determined effort, to keep the cold war with Russia going and not to turn attention to much bigger threats. I mean, incidentally, for a long time, the alleged threat from Russia was allowed to eclipse not just the threat from Islamist terrorism, but even the threat from China. And I think that’s a real example of how institutions get set, in particular parts. Of course, embodying thousands and thousands of careers and experiences, which people don’t want to change. And then it’s very, very difficult to get them off that track, like supertankers.
Jim: And getting back to nationalism now, you have a nice quote from Milan Kundera, he’s Czech, as I recall. “Man knows that he is mortal, but he takes it for granted that his nation possesses a kind of an eternal life.” That used to be the case, but as you quote above, call it the progressive elites, no longer seem to agree with that. Can we get back to a point where we take our nation seriously?
Anatol: Well, that is true, perhaps, in Europe. But in America, it’s a bit more complicated, I think. Because progressive elites, at least the progressive establishment, I mean, I’m not talking about some of the more genuinely radical elements. But when I was working at think tanks in Washington and they were talking about internationalism and the decline of nationalism in the nation, and I would look around and I would see myself surrounded by symbols of American national power and American national ideals. And of course, all these people who are saying this were trying to get jobs in the next American administration with power.
Anatol: And then of course, I suddenly realized that their idea of internationalism, and the decline of nationalism meant that everybody’s power and nationalism would decline except America’s. And as President Biden has said again and again, America would lead. In other words, you’d have a genuinely international alliance and system and so forth with America at the head of it. Now, that’s not how other nations see the world, you understand. But I didn’t think that that form of nationalism, that form of what I perhaps unkindly called American messianic nationalism has declined in the American liberal establishment at all.
Jim: Yeah. I would agree in the establishment, but certainly, not on the wings, even not that far out on the wings. And particularly in the academic world, you hear an awful lot about the nation state is obsolete, nationalism is evil, et cetera, not in the think tanks. Yes, they’re part of the, I don’t know what we’d call it, the intellectual industrial complex or they’re looking for funding and looking for jobs in a tightly driven cycle. But you get a little bit further out from that, the consensus that nationalism is the wrong road is pretty damn common.
Anatol: Well, yes. But the question is, how common is it outside academia? Academics spend an awful lot of time, speaking as an academic myself, you understand, but they do spend an awful lot of time talking to themselves and they also very often lack all practical political sense when it comes to, well, winning elections, for example. So, I mean, there certainly has been an effect of this intellectual climate, undoubtedly and after all, key reason why I wrote the book to argue against it. But in the end, I have a strong sense that the vast majority of people who come to Washington end up, well, certainly, when they come to Washington and get their hands on power, they end up believing in American power.
Anatol: And I’m not saying that that is in any way, a wholly bad thing. I quote in the book, the motto of the Great Seal of the United States, Novus ordo seclorum, a New Order for the Ages. And after all, that order with all its flaws and historical crimes is, in aspiration, an order of democracy and freedom. And indeed, I speak as a grateful Brit, America has represented that and in effect saved the world in the past. So, I think I still regard that idea in America as a very powerful one. I could be wrong.
Jim: We’ll see. All right. Let’s dig in a little deeper into your thesis. You say, “Blaming corporations for their greed and their political manipulation is necessary, but it’s also insufficient.” And then you quote, “An Associated Press poll indicated that only 25% were prepared to pay even an extra $10 a month to combat climate change.” Wow.
Anatol: Yeah. Wow. Meanwhile, dammit, what’s the figure? Is it $1,200 a year, the average American citizen spends on what is called defense? And so, much of this is not actually necessary, so much of this is basically, the inheritance of the past or manipulation by other countries or the obsessions of the Washington elite.
Jim: And the military industrial complex. I mean, that money goes someplace who pays lobbyists point out, “Oh, yeah, we got a plant that builds $100-million fighter planes in the district of Congressman X,” right? So, the whole damn thing is a perverse self-reinforcing cycle.
Anatol: Absolutely. But I mean, if America had spent a fifth of its military budget over the past generation per year on alternative energy, and moving to electric cars and so on, it would have thought, it would have achieved its goals in terms of tackling climate change.
Jim: And then you also talk about another discouraging trend for attempting to use nationalism to solve climate. You quote, “In a British survey conducted in 2017, the over 35s were much more likely to support the obligation to pay taxes while those in the 18 to 34 age group were more likely to support people keeping what they learned.” My thesis, and I agree with you, by the way and with that thesis in that survey. My sense of it is that young folks are further away from when the state could and did do big things.
Jim: World War II, when I was a kid, we were all about World War II, right? My dad was a marine at South Pacific. We played army all the time. Project Apollo, creating the National Health Service in the UK, or in the U.S., the Department of Defense sponsoring the creation of the internet. And COVID just reinforced the lack of capacity to actually govern in the West. And so, thankfully, a lot of young people haven’t seen good role models that would lead them to believe that the western nation state is worthy of their tax dollars.
Anatol: Well, absolutely, I mean, I see a really sinister parallel there now between what’s happening in the West and what I saw in Pakistan, first as a journalist and then a researcher there. Because Pakistan has some of the lowest rates of tax collection anywhere in the world less than 10%. And even India collects almost 18% and the reason for that is twofold. One, precisely what you say, people in Pakistan don’t see the state doing anything for them. They don’t believe it ever will do anything for them, so of course, they didn’t want to pay taxes. But the other thing is, of course, that they see the Pakistani elites, the political elites, the business elites, absolutely openly and blatantly, evading taxes themselves, simply refusing to pay.
Anatol: Now, of course, I think that is also a major factor. Even I have felt this when Warren Buffett says that he pays less proportionally than his secretary on his earnings. When you see people, multibillionaires evading taxes by moving their wealth around the world in barely legal ways, I mean, of course, it’s going to make you more resentful about paying your own taxes, why wouldn’t it? But all the same people have to pay taxes, because that is the most fundamental basic reason for state weakness anywhere in the world if the state simply can’t raise the revenue to do things that it really needs to do. That, by the way, was something that Eisenhower understood very well, but his Republican successors have completely forgotten.
Jim: Yeah. People forget that during the Eisenhower administration, the marginal tax rate was 91%.
Anatol: Absolutely with full support.
Jim: Yeah, exactly. Eisenhower, a middle of the road Republican in those days and those were all absolutely reasonable perspectives, but let’s go on to a little bit more controversial thing that you have to say. And this is about the disillusionment of the nation state and what we’re trying to do about it. And you said this can justly be blamed on the universal pressure of capitalist materialism, but the contemporary left’s emphasis on individual liberation, identity selfhood and victimhood rather than duty on the benefits of immigration and diversity rather than community are also not assets when it comes to asking people to make sacrifices for our common good.
Anatol: Yep. That, as you can imagine, has not made me popular in certain circles. Oddly enough, of course, it’s made me criticize across the entire spectrum from the liberal capitalist right who, of course, are all about individualism and open immigration for very good capitalist reasons all the way, of course, over to the most woke-ish left. But I still think it’s true. It comes back to this idea of common sacrifice is endless, endless, endless stress on personality, maximalization of personal self-satisfaction, if only some psychological. The endless emphasis on rights and not duties is not… it doesn’t help when it comes to asking people for sacrifice and collective effort.
Anatol: As far as immigration is concerned, the book states absolutely, clearly, nations today must be multi-ethnic, must be multicultural. But it does argue on economic and social grounds that and it makes the link here to high structural unemployment to the threat to employment by artificial intelligence and computerization. And it does argue that in these circumstances to continue high immigration is really stoking socio-economic unrest within our societies and that it would be very unwise to continue it. That said, of course, I absolutely condemn many of the measures brought in by Donald Trump and I think Biden is right to reverse them.
Anatol: But I have to say a good part of the left now appears to believe simply in open immigration. I cannot see how you can reconcile that with serious worries about unemployment, and about the impact of technology on employment or of course, simply with the knowledge that not just on unskilled jobs, but middle class jobs in general have declined radically and wages have declined radically over the past generation. Those two things cannot exist logically, rationally together.
Jim: And it is disturbing that people just don’t see that. I mean, if you’re going to build civic nationalism, you’ve got to build social coherence, right? People have to feel like they all are in this together, right? And that they’re not being torn apart by things that they fundamentally disagree with, particularly is an example of this, I would call it, overreach around this, “I am me, I can express myself to the limit.”
Jim: In the election of 2016, you know what I heard the most about from otherwise fairly sane people ended up voting for that piece of shit, Donald Trump? Transgendered bathrooms in North Carolina. Hey, I probably can… I see the point of it sort of, but on the on the scale of one to 1000, that’s about a one, right? Compared to not having a guy like Donald Trump, who’s going to absolutely stop any motion towards addressing our most fundamental problems for four years. So it’s a lack of proportion and a lack of priorities and seemingly an intentional attempt to break down social coherence.
Anatol: Yes. And I mean, I thought it was interesting, the insurrection, if you want to call it that or riots or whatever on Capitol Hill. I mean, so much of that was also about sort of weird individual display, a display of weird personalities. And of course, the social media are really boosting that as well. A retreat of society into chaotic and distrustful individualism is not also not a recipe for collective action.
Jim: And yeah, we’ve seen a lot of that. We had John Robb on our show right after January 6th event and I also had the former Chief of Police of the Capitol Police Department and we talked about it. One of the things that has emerged, I don’t think I… I did not coin the expression, but I’ve taken to using it, which is in a strange world we live in of the hyper individualist me, me, me. We’re seeing this thing, which were called LARPing revolution, Live Action Role Playing, which is people dressed up in Star Wars characters to go to conferences. Now, they’re doing it in the name of revolution. And if I look back, I could point to Occupy Wall Street as a good example of that. I can certainly point to Black Lives Matters exercise this summer. Extinction Rebellion to some degree and certainly, these ass clowns on Capitol Hill, right? It was like hilarious.
Jim: I mean, they thought they were, I don’t know what the hell they were thinking. But they were just clowns, right? And they don’t actually have a plan. They’re just out there showing off, “Me, me, me. These are my values. I’m so wonderful,” right? In their own little echo chamber. And that’s not a way we’re going to solve our problems by LARPing revolution, that’s for God damn sure.
Anatol: Well, I suppose in a way, though, it’s quite comforting because if you’re afraid of a real totalitarian movement. Well, Lenin didn’t go round in a buffalo headdress and nor did Hitler. They had plans unfortunately. The more our fascists dress up in Buffalo headdresses, in some ways, the better for all of us, perhaps.
Jim: That is true. On the other hand, to mobilize our country to actually get serious about climate change, that ain’t no way to do it probably. I think, actually, just as a sideline, it kind of goes to my view this whole thing comes from my lens when I look at somebody like Trump. Some people see Hitler, I see Rupert Pupkin from the Nero movie, the King of Comedy, right? A mentally deranged clown looking for attention, who’s incompetent at doing anything. And we’re actually fortunate in that and we may not be fortunate in the future. The next want to be authoritarian leader in the United States might be somebody actually competent, like Ted Cruz, in which case we better watch out.
Anatol: Yeah. But that is why, which the book argues very strongly and not just in the context of climate change, the democrats have got to think really seriously about winning back voters, who they lost. I mean, remember, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, there is a very, very good chance that Trump would have been reelected. I mean, not by the popular vote, but by the Electoral College. That’s my problem with a lot of these want to be pseudo revolutionaries on the left, they don’t think about how to win elections. They don’t think about how to win votes. And you’ve got to win votes. I mean, unless you think you can carry out a revolution in the United States, which we’ll not go into.
Jim: Let’s go on to the next topic, in some sense, is one of the most important themes that you bring up and that’s least in the medium term, any reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is going to require real sacrifice. And unfortunately, the political system and not just in the United States is able to mobilize voters around any sacrifice at almost any level, as you said, the Washington State referendum. Washington State, one of the most progressive, ecologically oriented states in the country, what was it? A $0.05 a gallon gasoline tax or something got voted down.
Jim: And then the even more strong example of the yellow jackets in France, who have brought the country to a halt about a little bit bigger gas tax, but frankly, not big enough to do anything real serious about climate change. This is the centripetal force that we have to be thinking about. What do we need to build in terms of civic nationalism and social coherence to make people willing to sacrifice?
Anatol: Well, I mean, that’s why the book very strongly supports the idea of a Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is thought by Elizabeth Warren rather than a thought by Ocassio-Cortez, because I do think that apart from telling people that this is essential for the survival of their country and future, but there has to be some feeling, some feeling at least, of shared sacrifice. I supported, of course, Macron’s fuel tax, on environmental grounds. But it was crazy to accompany that with liberal free market measures to deregulate the French economy. If you’re going to do that you have to accompany it with measures of social solidarity and also with, I don’t want to sound too ruthless here, but even if Obama had not really succeeded in cleaning up Wall Street, I think he would have kept many more votes for the Democrats if he could only have managed to send half a dozen bankers to jail.
Anatol: There’s got to be some impression that the wealthy elites are being held responsible for things and are being tackled, at least to some extent about having to pay their fair share for what goes on. And that has, of course, to be an impression that as part of this, there will be a degree of compensation and help and support for the poor, who will suffer as opposed to the rich. And of course, concentrating above all on those parts of the country, which will suffer. If we’re going to get West Virginia to ever agree to this and not to pressure their Democratic Senator into opposing action on climate change, you’ve damn well got to concentrate explicitly economic help to West Virginia and directly link to compensation for climate change action. It’s the only way to do it.
Jim: Perhaps, perhaps. You mentioned the green New Deal, which we’re going to come to in perhaps more detail later in the show. One has to really think carefully about the Green New Deal. It’s kind of sounds like a snappy term. Let me give you an example of where it can easily go off the rails. In the 2016 election of the United States I actually worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign, I was the co-leader of a two-county region. We delivered our two counties despite a statewide landslide for Hillary, so I was a Bernie guy in 2016. And principally because he because he was the first American politician at the presidential level to explicitly mark that down climate change as an existential threat and a top priority of this administration.
Anatol: I supported them in 2016. I supported Elizabeth Warren last year.
Jim: And 2020, I supported various people, anybody except Bernie. Who can ever… who could stop Bernie and here’s why. His climate change was a policy, which last I checked was still up on the web, if not, I have a copy of it, was utterly insane. He said, for instance, that and he underscore this, which was that he would get all American energy used for electricity generation and transportation to be 100% renewable by 2030.
Jim: Now, I have talked to lots of climate change experts, experts on underlying technologies, I’ve had them on the show and I joked originally, well, maybe Stalin could have done it. And the most knowledgeable person said, “Nope, Stalin couldn’t have done it either, probably the only person that could have done it is Pol Pot.” Right? You might have to kill 20% of the people and reduce the GDP by 60%. It was insane. And he also advocated strong state socialism. He basically advocated that all of this new renewable energy would be, or at least much of it, would be owned by the state.
Jim: And neither of those… I mean, I just immediately said, “Bernie has lost it.” He does not have the right advisors. He’s not respecting the realities of science and engineering, the realities of economics. Certainly, a move towards state socialism has been disproven, both in the Soviet Union and its friends, but even in Western Europe. I mean, France and England and other countries that had done a fair amount of state nationalism, realized it didn’t work in most cases. This form of New Green Deal… Green New Deal struck me as, Jesus Christ, this ain’t going to work and it’s going to unfortunately, tarnish the whole idea of what needs to be done around getting things done.
Jim: Like Bernie and he says, “We’re going to do all this stuff by 2030.” And absolutely nothing happens or very little happens in four years. And people say, “That’s ridiculous.” And then, “Maybe Trump was right.” And they elect Trump Jr., right? When it strikes me, there’s much, and then this drives me nuts. None of the democrats have this in their proposal. But a leading team of economists wrote a letter that was put, bought a full-page ad in the Washington Post and New York Times. It seems to be the most obvious, clear, easy lever to start and a lot of other things too, which you talk about, we’ll talk about later, which is a refundable carbon tax and refunded per capita.
Jim: As it turns out, the use of carbon is heavily skewed towards the rich. So actually, the majority of people would be better off with a refundable carbon tax as refunded per capita. And the beauty of this is when you make the micro economic decision to buy more gas or to buy a shovel to work on your garden, the higher price of gas that comes from the carbon tax is directly effective. And yet your standard of living isn’t any worse off on average, at least, because you’ll get the carbon tax back in your pocket. Further, if you militantly decarbonize your life, the amount of money you make off the carbon tax increases, it’s like the most obvious place to start.
Jim: We can argue about what we need to do to reform capitalism, but capitalism is going to be here for the life of our confrontation with anthropogenic climate change to a greater or lesser degree. And there is nothing that mobilizes capitalism to solve a problem than a payoff. If we had a carbon tax that started today at the equivalent of $50 U.S. per tonne of CO2, of carbon, I should say and raises to $200 per tonne of carbon in 20 years, it would let loose the genius of inventors, entrepreneurs. And the market and human capacity in general, probably not enough by itself to solve the problem, but it would produce a takeoff of incredible magnitude. Well, currently, we ain’t got jack shit, basically. And it’s just remarkable to me that this most obvious of policies is one that even the democrats won’t touch.
Anatol: Yeah. No, I mean, I completely agree with you. And a large part of the book is about attacking the absolute foolish unrealism of the ecological left. And I’m afraid that, and I attack the French Greens, basically, for their proposals would indeed plunge France into darkness by 2030, if they were implemented. And I’m afraid that Bernie does exemplify that. A lot of these people, Naomi Klein is just the same. In many cases, I’m not convinced that they really are interested in climate change. I think what they’re interested in is using climate change as yet another way of trying to destroy capitalism, which is not going to work and is not going to happen. But absolutely, I think what you were saying makes some, makes perfect sense.
Anatol: But I think you see that that’s a problem and it’s a wider problem for the Democratic Party and on the left, which is that much of the Democratic establishment is itself, just far too mired in the existing system. I mean, look at Pelosi, look at Schumer to adopt truly radical policies. But meanwhile, the left which is important, in basically pushing them and shoving them, puts forward proposals, which are simply, well, they’re worse than laughable, because they are so crazy that they simply provide endless ammunition to the Tucker Carlsons and Hannitys of this world to damn any action at all as a recipe for economic catastrophe. So, there’s a kind of tragic element here that the well-meaning ones, that’s an old, old tragedy in human affairs, I suppose. The well-meaning ones are so silly and so radical that nothing they say can have any effect. And meanwhile, the people with power are not interested in doing anything much, so.
Jim: Because they’re mired in the current cycle of vested interest. There’s one issue that I use as a lens to see who on the progressive side is a clown and who’s not and that’s nuclear power. Nuclear power is greenhouse gas-free, people. And while you may argue about nuclear power and particularly about the safety of the older nuclear plants, but you have to trade that off against the known harm of climate change. And further, there’s lots of good work being done in in fourth generation nuclear power that should be inherently much safer and much easier to deal with the long-term storage of waste, et cetera. And if you’re not encouraging fourth gen nuclear power at a widespread adoption of same, then you are not taking climate change seriously, in my view.
Jim: And these knee jerk, like the Germans, I mean, can you imagine? How did Sweden and France do so well on carbon reduction, right? Both of them, 70% of electrical power in France is from nuclear power plants and I think half in Sweden, the other half is from hydro. And like the idiots in Germany are prematurely decommissioning their nuclear plants and the Green Party in the United States is shutting down the nukes as part of their doctrines without any thinking. I just can’t take those people seriously.
Anatol: Well, that’s what I mean, in the book about the being residual elites, but they’re also being residual counter elites. Not much of the left seems to be still existing in the 1970s. They have this antinuclear obsession, which is oddly enough, they’re not directing it nearly so much now at nuclear weapons, which are a real threat. I mean, I’m certainly not in favor of relying on existing nuclear technology indefinitely. I am like you in favor of researching new forms of technology.
Anatol: But above all, only get rid of it when alternative energy is there to take over because otherwise, that’s why the Germans have failed to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement, because they abolished their nuclear power plants, before alternative energy could take up the slack. It’s contributed to power shortages in California. And I mean, even leaving aside the issue of climate change, I mean, look at the casualties, at the absolute, the absolute outside on estimate. There were 60,000 indirect dead from Chernobyl. The real figure could be a tenth of that if you look at UN’s studies.
Jim: It could be a thousandth of that. Yeah.
Anatol: But between seven and nine million people die each year of respiratory disease as a result of aerial pollution caused by carbon fuels. Seven to nine million, I mean, do the math for God’s sake.
Jim: Yeah, another one closely related here and hits right home, right in the county where I live, these people who are fervently and foaming at the mouth opposed to fracking and natural gas, right? And in this part of the United States, natural gas is being used, incremental natural gas using about 100% to replace coal, one-for-one in electricity generation. And you get a 50% cut in carbon when you replace coal with natural gas. Now, that’s not the end game.
Jim: After 2050, we have to relatively, or maybe even 2040, start to taper that down. But right now, it’s a big move and climate change is an area under the curve of problem. It’s an integrals, we would say in mathematics. Every bit of carbon you shove into the atmosphere is going to be there for hundreds of years. So, a short-term, say 20-year, 30-year move from carbon to natural gas is a big move in the right direction and yet the nutsos fight it at the level of foaming at the mouth as if this is the worst possible thing that could be done. So instead, they want mountaintop removal and strip mining a coal. What the hell?
Anatol: Yeah. But it similarly, I mean, I don’t believe for a second. And I look in this in the book that carbon removal is going to be a sort of single panacea miracle that will solve this problem. But equally, this absolutely blind opposition on sections of the environmentalist camp, even to researching this because they think that, “Oh, somehow this will diminish moves to reduce carbon emissions. I mean, the point is climate change is a serious, really serious threat. And for God’s sake, treat it seriously and look into every possible way of limiting it.
Jim: Yep. And I’m with you that I think that for reasons of fundamental thermodynamic chemistry, it’s going to be damn hard to make carbon renewable pay, but I could be wrong and you could be wrong. And it certainly makes sense to hedge our bets and if there is a winner, I think is going to be quasi biological, such as artificial photosynthesis or something like that, where we can use natural type approaches to capture and sequester carbon. And certainly worth spending a billion a year. Just in the same way we invested in creating 200 vaccines for COVID. This is an emergency at least as bad at COVID. It’d be stupid not to hedge our bets and maybe it worked.
Jim: The other one that’s closely related. I used to get in trouble on this. I go to scholarly meetings on climate change and as far back as 2007 or ’08, I said, “Folks, we have to also start really researching geoengineering,” right? Putting aerosols in the air, iron in the oceans, my favorite mylar balloons over the orbiting in space. We don’t want to have to go there. But if I look at the laggard nature of our political system come 2060, we may have to. And we better have a better understanding than we do now, which of these geoengineering techniques is least likely to be dangerous, and which could be most quickly turned down should we turn out to be wrong.
Jim: And again, I hope we don’t have to use it. But it’s grossly irresponsible for us not to be opposed to researching it. Now, I will say, in at the least the scientific world, people have come around since then. And many of the most serious scientists of climate are now saying, “Yeah. We at least have to get that tool ready in case we need to use it.” But in the nutso sphere, to even mention it is to become a pariah.
Anatol: Yeah, I know. And I mean, especially that may be a hopeful approach, because of course given the way climate change and especially in the tipping points in climate change work, it’s not as if, we would really have to engineer the climate as a whole, it will be a question above all, of course, of concentrating on the Arctic and the Antarctic. So yes, I mean, I think we may have to go there and absolutely, we must look into that. But unfortunately, much of the environmental candidates, it’s sort of taken on the kind of the worst aspects of the old left. This blind fundamentalism dogmatism, denunciations of splitism, which is it just doesn’t address the serious problem.
Jim: I think we’ve seen this exactly right. I mean, anyone who listens to this show knows that I take climate change unbelievably, seriously as THE issue. I mean, we got a lot of other fucked up shit we got to solve, but if we don’t solve this one, this is the one that’s going to get us. And yet, I’m with you that the Doctrinaire Environmental Green Left scares the shit out of me. These people don’t have clue one how to actually do this. And if any politician were to go down their road, they’d end up fracturing the country, and perhaps even leading to a civil war.
Anatol: And but, I mean also, of course, as on number of other issues. I mean, these sections of the left, as far as I can see, exist, basically to create votes for the right. I thought that is why they are quoted all the time by Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and company. I’m not quoting them because they agree with them. I’m quoting them because I think that statements like this create votes for Donald Trump and company. They should think about that if their real goal is to create votes for Trump.
Jim: I fictitiously posted on Facebook or Twitter or someplace today, this morning early, that maybe woke-ism is actually a creation of the Koch brothers. A few things have done a better job of making true economic progressivism look distasteful to the masses of the American people than the wokes. So, yeah, if they were really deep players, in addition to funding the Cato Institute, they’d also fund the wokes.
Anatol: Except they don’t need to, they’re doing it anyway.
Jim: Exactly, exactly. So, these are an awful lot of things that need to be resolved if we’re going to move forward in trying to get this social coherence necessary for a civic nationalism. And some of it comes around multiculturalism or not, right? Unlike Canada, the United States has never adopted multiculturalism as a policy. I believe UK has also now adopted multiculturalism as a policy. Historically, we’ve had the melting pot idea that, and in truth, it’s still happening. You look at the immigrants from East Asia, from Mexico, et cetera, they’re relatively rapidly converging towards both cultural and economic and educational norms. Have ruts law of immigration assimilation, if you say, “Are you from a rural or urban? Are you educated or not? Do you speak English?” And a few other things.
Jim: I can predict how many generations it would take. And the current immigrants are right on all those curves. So, the U.S. has historically been a melting pot society, not a multicultural one. But we’ve also had tolerance for holdouts like the Hasidic Jews or the Amish and the Mennonites or anybody else that really doesn’t want to play, they are allowed to, and we tolerate it, but we don’t encourage it. But again, and that has allowed us, historically at least, to have a high level of social coherence or higher than we have now. The drumbeat from wacko left on multiculturalism is not helping, I would argue, at least in the context of the U.S.
Anatol: Well, absolutely. Because, I basically have this sort of old style English approach. I don’t know if you know of the old English phrase, “Do what you like, as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.” I mean, obviously, our societies have deep traditions of intolerance. But we’ve also been, look, I mean, my God, by international standards actually not been too bad at combining a necessary degree of voluntary or I mean, encouraged, certainly, assimilation. With, as you say, allowing holdouts as only, of course, if those holdouts don’t try to impose themselves on the whole of society, which I think is to a degree what we’re seeing today.
Anatol: I mean, I wish everyone would just, frankly, shut up about this. I was always optimistic about the future of America from that point of view, because as you say America has a tremendous record in this regard. Not of course, as far as the black community is concerned, but they’re not immigrants. I mean, that is a deep original moral flaw. But it’s not to do with immigration or assimilation, I mean, quite the reverse. And I think that part of the problem is that the absolutely correct image of historic monstrous black oppression has been now universalized to a range of other groups, which let’s face it, have not experienced anything remotely resembling the oppression suffered by blacks.
Jim: Yep, that’s exactly right. I make that point again and again. The black-white situation in the United States is a one-off. It is a deep and a horrible historical event of grotesque moral badness. And it’s going to be difficult to work our way through it. Though we’ve made a lot more progress over the last 50 years than some people would like to acknowledge, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be. But as you say, in a rhetorical trick, many so-called progressives have attempted to take the moral horror of the black-white history and projected onto situations that don’t apply at all, right?
Jim: The immigration from Mexico and Central America, completely different. Looks a lot more like the immigration of Sicilians and Pols in 1910 than it looks like the moral horror show of chattel slavery. And that just tries, that just serves to alienate people in those groups and alienates people who are looking for social coherence. And it’s just really, really destructive of the attempt to create a nation state that would be strong enough to deal with climate change.
Anatol: And I mean, if you look at the Latino, not community, of course. That’s the wrong phrase, as we’ve seen, but the many Latino communities, much of that is also of course, a picture of successful assimilation. As witnessed, unfortunately, in a very bad way by the level of the vote for Donald Trump in the Latino.
Jim: Yeah. I point out, for instance, that people haven’t noticed this, but yeah or at least the left doesn’t publicize it, but number of the Latino ethnicities are doing really well. For instance, I recently discovered that Argentines, Peruvians, and Colombians now have higher rates of four-year college degrees than native born Euro-Americans. How about that, right? And the numbers for Mexicans, Cubans, and others are rising relatively rapidly analogous to the curves that we’ve seen before. And again, based on my four-part model of you tell me where you came from in terms of rural, urban, English speaking or not, educated or not, Catholic or Protestant, and Confucian equal Protestant and I can predict how many generations it will take you to assimilate. It’s working fine.
Anatol: Yeah. And I mean, as long as numbers can be related to the real economic situation and the real job situation, I don’t think this is a problem at all actually, for America. But I mean, the economic situation, the economic problems are real. The problems with the job market, with employment, with security of employment, with wages are real. And an immigration policy shouldn’t be in any way about race or country of origin, but it should be about the needs of the economy, which by the way, is how Canada does it.
Jim: And Australia, too.
Anatol: And Australia. Well, Australia, of course, people criticize Australia, because there is this also legacy of racism, but nobody serious criticizes Canada for adapting its immigration policy to the state of the Canadian economy. I mean, that seems to me, the absolutely sensible, responsible thing to do. And it worries me deeply when the argument about this is taken over on the one hand by the screaming racists of the right and the white nationalists. But then if you try to conduct a sensible conversation with the left, you’re immediately described as immoral and evil for suggesting basically that there should be an immigration policy, which seems to me, also not very helpful.
Jim: Now, some people might think we’re cranky right wingers here with all of our talk about the progressives and the problems they bring. But in reality, the book makes a very progressive case for heavily taxing the rich, enforcing tax compliance, providing opportunity, reducing income inequality, et cetera. And I would argue to, again, build social coherence, so that we can have a nation strong enough to deal with climate change. Talk about that side of your story.
Anatol: Yes. Well, I make a very strong case for social solidarity and I point out in the book that not so much in America, but certainly in Europe, I mean, this used to be a cause, not just of the left, but also the moderate and patriotic right. A lot of the origins of the, well, the beginning of the welfare state in Europe was in Bismarck’s Germany actually. But in Britain, it goes back to a movement which bridged a whole, a very weird collection of people: Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, Conan Doyle, Sidney Webb. But all of whom believed that in the face of the problems, the threats, the challenges that were coming down the line, if Britain did not build a sense of real social solidarity among its people, Britain would collapse and disintegrate and would be defeated in war.
Anatol: And, of course, this analogy between climate change in war has been made by many people. We need that kind of response. We need that kind of mobilization. Well, what I say in the book is that historically, everyone who thought seriously about this in modern history has known that you have got to tie society together. And there’s no good preaching about common responsibility and mutual responsibility, and patriotism or common effort if people can see that this is a joke. That the rich don’t believe in this and don’t have to do anything and are in fact evading all responsibility left, right and center.
Anatol: So, yeah, I mean, in American terms. I’m a European in terms on a social, an old social democrat. In American terms, I’m a new dealer and I remind people in the book, though, that among the old new dealers was, of course, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, but was also Dwight Eisenhower and indeed, Richard Nixon with all his other dreadful faults. So, I mean, this used to be a bipartisan position in America in support of basic elements of social solidarity. Now, we can’t simply go back to the new deal, things have changed too much, but we can use that as an inspiration for the future.
Jim: I like it. Now, let’s move on to another issue. This is where the nation state meets globalism. One of the things you point out in the book very clearly is that one of the ways that the West is showing the de-carbonization that it does is by exporting its carbon emissions to Asia, mostly through the deindustrialization of the West and that any solution to this problem has got to include ways to capture that. And I’ve talked a lot about the fact that at some point, we need to have tariffs for any noncompliant countries who refuse to enact to, let’s say, a carbon price. So that, this loophole of exporting our carbon emissions can’t be the way that the balloon readjusts itself when we squeeze it in, let’s say, the advanced Western countries.
Anatol: When I think when we’ve heard talk of that already from people in the Biden administration, and I think with regard to China, that is very likely. And of course, that may also be the only way that you will be able to win any Republican votes in Congress for this if you can assure people that American jobs and companies will be protected against exploitation from China. The real problem though, of course, is going to come when it comes to India and some other countries that America wants as allies.
Anatol: Are you going to impose the same standards on them? If you do, you’re going to have geopolitical trouble when it comes to building an alliance against China. If you don’t, well, all you’re doing is yet again, squeezing the balloon and it goes somewhere else. And that’s another reason why I say that climate change has to be put at the heart of geopolitics. And that means prioritizing it. That’s what priority means. If it is the real threat, then you have to put that first and then whether people in Washington or in the military, like it or not, that means putting issues like the South China Sea second, there’s no way around that.
Jim: Yep. And again, it’s just priorities, right? Transgendered bathrooms in North Carolina or four years of Donald fucking Trump? I mean, come on people.
Anatol: Or the Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia, which the cause of the war in 2008, which I’m absolutely convinced most of the U.S. Congress couldn’t find on a map and yet was turned into this monstrous geopolitical issue and threat to the United States. And really, I mean, that has so much more to do with the existence of lobby groups and obsessions in the Washington establishment than it does with the interests of any American citizen or British for that matter.
Jim: And now, here’s another point you make in the book we’re talking about. We have hard problems here, but then you say this is the crucial thing about climate change in the medium term, it will feed into and exacerbate most other existing social, economic, health and political problems. I don’t recall if you mentioned this or not, but we know already, for instance, that the Arab Spring was significantly regulated by a smaller wave of climate problems around food prices and such. But we have all these issues on how to build higher social solidarity and yet the earlier or in particularly medium, say around 2040, 2035 impact of climate change are going to increase the stresses on our societies even more. Maybe you could talk a little bit about where those stresses come from?
Anatol: Yes. Well, I mean, in the U.S., we can see it already and then very much in Australia, of course, as well. Heat waves, forest fires, drought in the Midwest, obviously, we’re going to see more flooding of coastal areas. But I think in the U.S. in the West, the really drastic direct physical effects will come later. Very unpleasant things will start happening quite quickly. They’ve already begun, but they will be survivable. But I talk a lot in the book, especially as you can imagine living presently in the Middle East and in the Gulf, about the fact that huge parts of the world with huge parts of the world’s population are much, much closer to the edge.
Anatol: If temperatures rise are much higher in the Gulf and in South Asia combined with humidity then working outdoors becomes literally fatal over a certain temperature. And of course, then you get dire effects on agriculture. Water shortages are already very severe across large parts of South Asia. And a combination, of course, of water shortages and high temperatures is going to produce significantly and ultimately disastrously lower agricultural yields. If you have sustained temperatures of about 40 degrees over a period of months, rice cultivation collapses. You start to think about what the collapse of rice cultivation would mean for world food supplies and food supplies within India.
Anatol: And so, I point out in the book that India, not just the Indian elites, but the Indian population, is dreaming of this idea of an Indian breakthrough to mass prosperity and also to superpower status by the middle of this century. This is the explicit goal. But meanwhile, the World Bank is saying that on present trajectories of climate change, by the middle of this century, a huge part of the Indian population will be sinking back into deep poverty. Living standards will be declining radically as a result of climate change, and the effects on temperature, water, food prices, and so forth. So, I mean, this is no distant nightmare. I mean, this is something which is going to wreck the whole program of the Indian state and the aspirations of Indian society.
Anatol: Now, as far as we’re concerned, in the West, well, we have to start thinking about the effects of this on mass migration. Incidentally, India is already thinking about this with regard to Bangladesh. There’s one thing I say about the whole migration issue is that in the West, of course, our usual narcissism, we think it’s all about us. But the most ruthlessly militarized anti-immigrant frontier in the world is the Indian frontier with Bangladesh. It’s become, of course, even more so under Modi because he hates the idea of Muslim immigration. But India is very, very well aware that if climate change produces huge flooding in Bangladesh, India will face a colossal problem from Bangladeshi migration. And once again, I mean, this is no distant threat. I mean, here, we’re talking about the next decades.
Jim: And of course, and that will… it’s going to hit the Middle East and that’s going to produce even more immigration to Europe or if it hits the Sahel Region in Africa, more migration to Europe. So, Europe will certainly be on the forefront of climate driven immigration, I don’t know quite when, but probably later than the U.S.
Anatol: Yes. And I mean, we’ve seen the political effects of that already. I mean, the opinion polls are unequivocal about the impact of that on voting for the extreme right. I think part of the problem with the debate on climate change is that, I mean, it’s not wrong, of course, to concentrate on the long-term direct physical effects, which could be catastrophic for the whole of humanity. But long, long before that happens, the indirect political effects could very well be catastrophic for liberal democracy. And once again, I mean that, I mean, my God, we know already given some of the elections in Europe, given Trump, I mean, that’s no distant threat. That’s something we’re facing today.
Anatol: And yes, I mean, I say in the book, long before the direct physical effects become catastrophic, climate change will feed into existing political, social, economic problems, including extremism of various kinds and could really contribute to bringing down liberal democracy? So I mean, my support for civic nationalism also makes the point that in the past, liberals and social democrats and certainly New Deal Democrats in America saw absolutely no contradiction between being socialists, internationalist, but also being patriots. Believing in the interests and the identity and the solidarity of their country and the survival of their country. And that I think is what we, mixture is what we need to get back to.
Jim: All right. We just finished talking about all kinds of stressors that seem to be preventing our society from coming together to deal seriously with climate change. We have the anti-science and hyper capitalistic right. We have a progressive wing on the left that’s proposing absurd ideas that will fracture the country, won’t solve the problem, et cetera. We have nation states across the world that seemed to be failing in their capacity to deal with pretty much anything anymore. And yet, we need, your argument, I think, is a convincing one. We need strong nation states if we’re going to realistically deal with the climate catastrophe.
Jim: So in the end, you have a whole chapter on the Green New Deal and you expressed at least some rough ideas what that might look like that would help us to build the social coherence necessary and actually start to take smart actions to reverse the coming climate catastrophe. So, let’s turn to your ideas on how we get out of this damn jam that we’re in.
Anatol: Well, I think first of all, what you were saying about a fuel tax actually putting money back in ordinary people’s pockets. I mean, that is essential, in terms of, well, the New Deal element in terms of social solidarity while at the same time, creating real pressure to limit carbon emissions and to reduce carbon fuels. So, I think that would be an excellent start. I think the whole thing does need to be framed and here, I suppose I do sound a bit contradictory. But I think that rivalry with China can be used in a positive and nonmilitary and nonthreatening way in this regard. And there were elements of this during the Cold War. The space race, obviously. The Sputnik moment, when America was really galvanized into technological competition with the Soviet Union.
Anatol: Now, there were very bad aspects of that. The missile gap scare and so forth, but the space race as such, thank God, did not threaten anybody. It didn’t threaten war. It was, I mean, not to speak frivolously, but a kind of almost an inch, a very expensive form of international sport. But I think, casting the need, for example, to move towards electric vehicles, in terms of the fact that China is trying to do this by 2030 on new vehicles. Let’s damn well beat them to it, I would say and save the American car industry, which God knows need saving, the automobile industry through massive infusions of cash designed to turn it electric.
Anatol: And of course, link this absolutely to the maintenance of jobs. Beyond that, of course, infrastructure. Now, there’s a problem here. I mean, it’s easier in Europe because clearly, any new infrastructure in the context of action against climate change has to involve public transport, which has become yet another of these things that the, again, the Republicans appear to have developed an insane obsession with opposition to public transport. Somebody should tell them that stagecoaches in the Wild West were a form of public transport. Nobody was against them.
Anatol: But clearly, it is disgraceful, frankly, that China should now have ultra-high-speed rail between dozens of medium-sized Chinese cities. Admittedly, a medium-sized Chinese city has 5 million people in it, but still, America does not have one. When I first visited California, I was a kid, I was a student, in 1979, because of what had already happened in France and Japan, they were already talking then about the need for a high-speed rail link between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. It’s 41 years later and it still hasn’t happened.
Anatol: So, couch it as the fact that this is something that America used to be able to do, it can do it again, and it needs to do it again. And this is where the real competition with China lies, and not in building more damned aircraft carriers. So, that is one aspect of it. But the other aspect is both real in terms of raising revenue, but also the critical importance of symbolism, in terms of progressive taxation, taxing the rich, cracking down really hard on tax havens, and tax evasion. Frankly, I mean, this is what America should be pressuring my country Britain into. A British help in closing down these, still actually British sovereign tax havens in the Caribbean. Not in just sending out pathetic aircraft carriers to the South China Sea, which anyway, have American aircraft on them, because we can’t build the things.
Anatol: And finally, concentrate as much as possible of the effort of the new manufacturing in the areas that are going to suffer from the transition away from fossil fuels. I mean, justice demands that, but also politics demands that. So, I think that that is the general package, and also the rhetorical framing of the package that I would put forward. If it gets to the point where it just becomes essential to reduce air travel, for example, well, then there has to be rationing. People will only accept it if there is a serious attempt. I mean, it will always be of course evaded on some vertical, but some serious attempt to spread the cost and the difficulty throughout the whole of society.
Jim: Yeah, and of course, air travel is something we could also put serious R&D on. There are ways to do carbon neutral air travel, for instance, biodiesel, right? Biodiesel is a little expensive for other uses, but probably, we work to make an airplane ticket more expensive, but at least, we’ll still be able to fly. So, we need to have some targeted and smart R&D and development on solutions to work around these choke points, like air travel.
Anatol: And maybe I mean, we have discovered over the past year that we can survive without a lot of this. Of course, being locked up indoors and not being able to meet family and friends and not being able to go out for a meal and go to a cinema, I mean, that is bad. But I’m certainly I mean, we’ve discovered, for example, that you can hold so many international meetings and conferences better by Zoom in many ways, because they’re so much cheaper. And you don’t… I’ve had organized a few conferences in my time. And of course, you don’t have the constant nightmare of people missing their flights, not getting their visa or whatever.
Anatol: And when it comes to air travel, for example, if we could slow down this and not have to sort of obsessively rush into sort of three conference meetings in different parts of the continent within three days. I mean, if we could move away from the demand for this on the part of our employers, I would be perfectly happy to travel around the world more slowly by a balloon, even if it, hopefully, set several days longer to get there. I wouldn’t be so happy, of course, if my balloon were promptly knocked out of the sky by some corporate jet shooting past, but in principle, I don’t mind traveling around by Zeppelin at all.
Jim: Yeah. I think, actually we’ve actually talked about this on the show quite a bit that I do believe that there will be some changes in our trajectory that will come from this that will be good. One of the things I talk about is that, unfortunately, business travel had turned into a lot of symbols, symbol signaling, right? “Oh, you’re important enough that I’ll fly to California to meet with you for an hour to talk about something trivial, right? Relatively trivial.” But now we have learned that that social signaling comes at a huge expense of both everyone’s time and money, but also, the carbon costs are nontrivial. We now know that instead of one 1-hour meeting, we could have three 1-hour Zoom meetings, get a lot more done, a lot less wear and tear on each of us and a lot less damage to the ecosystem. So, I think there are some beneficial things here.
Jim: So again, you didn’t quite wrap in a bow the importance in the solution for building social solidarity. You alluded to it, but when we talk about all this fragmentation and centripetal forces, it seems to me that we got to solve that first before we have the ability to enact any of these other really difficult things.
Anatol: Well, I mean, progressive taxation, you said that under Eisenhower, the top tax rate was 91%. We need to move back towards that. And yeah, I mean, that think is the first step. I mean, also just to raise the necessary revenue.
Jim: But also, things like raise the minimum wage, the $15 minimum wage, would make a big difference. Child support monies, Europe, most countries give fairly substantial money out to families, right? United States, we don’t. If we could do things like this to lower economic and social inequality to ratchet up social solidarity, so we can then make the tough decisions that we have to make to solve climate change.
Anatol: And support for families, support for children. You talked about financial support for children, but obviously, we also need, as they have in parts of Europe, much, much more generous mandated rules about parental leave.
Jim: Absolutely. It’s a disgrace in the United States that there isn’t a year’s parental leave. And I think Sweden has two years, which can be split between the father and the mother, however, they see fit to disgrace. And of course, the worst disgrace of all the United States is our healthcare system.
Jim: A Medicare for all system should probably fits the U.S. a lot better than a national health system approach would make a gigantic difference in a feeling of social solidarity. So, we’re actually wacko lefties, right?
Anatol: That that’s the crazy thing. I mean, in the past, these would have been propositions that all sensible people could agree on. And of course, one must blame the Republicans enormously for, I mean, the straight lies, they’ve pumped out about this. But I have to say, I mean, I was reading Obama’s Memoirs. And the record of the Democrats in the Senate when it came to Obamacare and how they loaded it with, provisions for the HMOs and the drug companies and so on, that was not a pretty sight.
Jim: Yeah. I just finished reading that book. And yeah, that was indeed an example of sausage making at its worst.
Anatol: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I would hope that at least in certain areas, like support for families, it might be possible to couch this in ways, which would appeal to some Republican senators, assuming they’re not all kicked out from the party, but more importantly, simply to Republican voters. I mean, very difficult, I think, even for the Sean Hannitys, certainly for the Tucker Carlsons who actually spoken in these terms themselves, to oppose measures to support American families. But once again, you don’t want to accompany that with language from the woke left about destroying the heteronormative family. That is not a vote winner. It’s not a vote winner among Latinos.
Anatol: Find a way of winning back at least some of those lost votes in the center. Because also, I mean, especially given the American system and this is a point I make, again and again. Look, if you look at the Green New Deal, the new dispensation, if you look at what Reagan did, unfortunately, in the opposite direction in the 1980s, they didn’t do that with 51% majorities and barely controlling the Senate. They did it with huge majorities and you need a big majority to carry out the kind of measures that are necessary. And that means crafting an appeal that will appeal to enough people.
Jim: Maybe that the democrats aren’t capable of it. Maybe we need a new centrist, common sense party in America. There are plenty of Republicans disgusted by the cesspool that that parties become under Trump and to a lesser degree by some of the earlier people. And there’s plenty of traditional democrats who are entirely unwilling to swallow the nostrums of the far left, and maybe there’s enough room in the Senate to get it at 60% that could produce two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate. It’s at least worth thinking about.
Anatol: I think electorally speaking, that’s true. But the problem is, of course, the entire electoral system is rigged against that.
Jim: Yeah. The first past the post system of the UK and the U.S. makes it from a game theoretical perspective, damn hard, but not quite impossible. It’s happened before, right? Unfortunately, we’re about out of time here. And I’d like to thank you, Anatol Lieven, and encourage people who found this conversation interesting to check out his book, Climate Change and the Nation State. It is a really good read.
Anatol: Thanks to you all. That was great. I really enjoyed it. I hope we get to meet some time.
Jim: Yeah. One day, we’ll be traveling again.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.