Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dithering Between Climate Change and Corporate Greed

The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for 2009 has been jointly awarded to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson and this reflects the utter confusion that mainstream economics is in at the moment. However, more of that later because first it must be noted that Elinor Ostrom is not only the first woman to get the Economics prize but what is more significant is that she is primarily a political scientist and so becomes the first person not beholden to either the Neo-Classical or Neo-Keynesian schools of economics and one who is distinctly not a mathematician constructing esoteric models, to have won the prize. Addressing the vexatious problem of managing common pool natural resources sustainably she has stressed on the importance of collective community action at the grassroots level to achieve this. Her theoretical and empirical work has strongly supported the promotion of grassroots community action in the developing world for natural resource management which not only improves livelihood options for the poor but also conserves the environment and mitigates climate change. Thus even without being an economist she has had a tremendous influence in one of the newer fields of economics - natural resource and environmental economics and it is for this that she has been given the prize. The first environmental economist and the only one before Ostrom to have got the Nobel Memorial Prize was Ronald Coase in 1991. He got it for his influential work advocating the creation of artificial markets for environmental goods or bads which are not normally traded due to the difficulty in assigning property rights to these public goods or bads. Basically what he said was that if there is a factory that is polluting a river which is affecting people living downstream then all the government has to do is assign property rights to pollution or non-pollution and then the polluter and non-polluter will work out an equilibrium agreement whereby both along with the environment will win in the end. This is the theory that with later sophistications has come to form the theoretical basis of the carbon trading mechanism that has been put in place through the Kyoto protocol. However, as has become evident this is too simplistic a theory and the real life downside of all market trading in which there is a lack of proper information, power of monopolies and downright scamming (the european carbon markets have been taken for a ride by scamsters for billions of dollars) apart from the reluctance of governments to assign proper prices to environmental bads has meant that overall it has not been as effective as it was touted to be. That is why Ostrom's work on collective action has gained in influence in recent years as realisation is dawning that collective action to protect and regenerate forests, soil and water along with promotion of organic agriculture is a better way out of the environmental and social mess that humans find themselves in at present. However, from a Marxist perspective, Ostrom's work is still deficient because it does not address the huge problem of the modern state not allowing collective action to flourish beyond the point where it begins to threaten its existence and the highly resource extractive modern developmental paradigm. Nevertheless Ostrom remains the most prominent theoretical cheerleader for grassroots collective action and so her getting the award is to be welcomed. Especially as it also implies an acknowledgement from the establishment of the value of traditional communitarian livelihoods of the tribals.
In stark contrast Williamson, the other awardee, is concerned with perfecting corporate governance mechanisms within a firmly Neo-Classical framework and seems to have got the prize due to the tremendous attention that has been focussed over the past year or two on the disastrous failure of corporate governance in Wall Street which has landed everyone in a rather hot and sticky soup. Thus, the mainstream economic fraternity seems unable to decide on which way to tread faced as it is with climate change on the one hand and corporate greed on the other, which both have together pulled the rug from under its feet rather rudely. Lets hope that out of this doubt and confusion will emerge wisdom.

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