The Legacy of Marx: The Club of Rome

Part two: limits to growth?

Guardian Council, Going Postal
Awarding of the peace prize of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels for 1973 to the “Club of Rome” in the Paulskirche Frankfurt. In the presence of Federal President G. Heinemann u. Mrs. (from left to right: Dr. Ernst Klett, Dr. Aurelio Peccei, Prof. Dr. Eduard Pestel (both members of the Executive Committee of the ” Club of Rome “))

As we’ve seen in the last instalment, when setting about its business, “The Club of Rome” employed a strategy common to most Marxist front organisations: to manipulate and corrupt free market economics so that capitalism ultimately collapses and can be replaced with socialism, and later communism. To be able to do so, socialists must get in to a position where they can wield political and/or rhetorical power. To be successful, they must hide their plans about exerting the “dictatorship of the proletariat” behind fluffy slogans about social justice, redistribution of wealth and other social-kleptocratic claptrap. So-called conservatives delude themselves underestimating the power of the communist cult and its adherents, or they may be in on the deal. These are not mere political opponents though, they are enemies who would gladly send any true conservative to the Gulags.

Of the myriad front organisations of Quango Inc, “The Club of Rome” is in no way special. But it is not the power of any individual organisation alone that is supposed to achieve “world revolution”. It is the coordinated network of shifting alliances that all share the same ideological goal and the same tactics: march separately but strike jointly. The Marxist moral busy bodies all strive for the same objective – socialist or communist Nirvana – and the method to their madness is not to rely any more on this unpredictable and shifty world revolution that may or may not occur one day, and always failed to materialise just when it was most needed. No, no, no. Their strategy now is to slowly grind free market economics down and pervert capitalism through successive state interventions until a point is reached when society can no longer support itself and collapses. The idea seems to be that any socialist system, no matter how flawed, would then pass for an improvement of the status quo . This is “reformed” or “Euro-communism” at the height of late 60s and early 70s zeitgeist, whether it be the Swedish “social state”, German “social democracy”, Labour in Britain or Johnson’s “Big Society”.

But what was “The Club of Rome’s” business in all this? So far, all that its founder had produced was: A) the ADELA paper which Dean Rusk, in his capacity as US Secretary of State, had had translated into English before it was kindly passed on to the Soviet Union’s delegation at the UN; the underlying assumptions of this paper coincided with Rusk’s and the Soviet’s worldview rather well, interestingly. And B) its founder had held a weekend brainstorming session in the Accademia dei Lincei (Academy of the Lynxes, seat of the Italian Academy of Sciences under Mussolini) – with rather underwhelming results.

That was all there was to it so far and it was hardly anything to write home about. Much less was it a topic to fill endless column spaces with, or produce radio and television programmes about, mentioning such fashionable buzz words “sustainability” and “man-made climate change” to name but a few. This would only be the case in the decades to come after the Marxist “Long March” through the institutions had finally succeeded. We now live in broken societies with crippled economies weighed down by state interference and burdened with unrepayable debt – the socialist millstone that is supposed to pull us under is well and truly in place. To the terminally deluded, only yet more “free stuff” seems to promise an improvement of our predicament. These dangerous fools are of course never going to answer who is supposed to pay for their “free stuff”. Or who is supposed to hold the branch they’re sitting on while they’re busy cutting it off.

But I digress. At the time of its foundation, “The Club of Rome” consisted of five or six scientists who were just more or less well known capacities in their respective fields, but not well known to the public at large. Surely, this was the first issue that had to be resolved: if something, or indeed anything, was to become of “The Club of Rome”, they had to make themselves known to the world. To this effect, a clever PR stunt was devised which would put “The Club of Rome” on the map as an expert authority in futurology: the publication of a book. It was to be called “The Limits to Growth”.

To bring this plan to fruition, “proper” scientists were hired who of course had to do “proper” science to pass for being neutral, objective, unbiased and above all trustworthy sources. It was essential that they did not arouse the suspicion of having vested, or even political interests which they wanted to realise with and through their work. But on the other hand, they had to be politically and ideologically inclined to the “Club of Rome’s” agenda – for scientists came a dozen a penny in the 1970s. Donella and Dennis Meadows along with Jorgen Randers and William Behrens seemed to fit the bill. It did also come in handy that most of them were working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at that time, a world leader in “hard”, objective, empirical science. Their study was to be funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, with the proceeds of the book, a would-be bestseller, going directly into the coffers of “The Club of Rome”; with so far 30 million copies sold a sound investment indeed.

But what these scientists did, was not empirical science at all. Instead, they devised and ran a computer simulation. They gathered data for five variables – population, food production, industrialisation, environmental pollution and consumption of non-renewable resources. Then, they projected their data a hundred years into the future and said: “voilà”. It was, even considering the technology available at the time, kindergarten stuff.

Multivariate factor analysis (the stuff computer simulations are mainly based on) advanced a lot during the 60s, but five variables weren’t even deemed quite sufficient if you wanted to sell a pot of margarine, much less determine the future of mankind. Despite it all being a bit haphazard and lacklustre, based on current trends and realities, the authors concluded that humanity would “overshoot and collapse”, or outgrow its potential to maintain itself, by the year 2072 – exactly a hundred years after the publication of their book, its supposed limits to growth would be reached for real. Which might have been quite convenient because the authors wouldn’t be around to face litigation.

Guardian Council, Going Postal
Impressions from the second day of the Herrenhausen Symposium Already Beyond? – 40 Years Limits to Growth, organized by VolkswagenStiftung in the Gallery building of Herrenhausen Gardens in Hanover … From left: Liang Shi, Dennis Meadows, Xiaoxi Wang, and Tonni Kurniawan

The initial ridicule “The Limits to Growth” was met with by the scientific community was immediate and it was merciless. This “study” was characterised as a vapid work based on biased and simplistic assumptions. Its data was characterised as incomplete and often faulty so that the whole thing quickly but securely acquired the fame of yet another example of “garbage in – garbage out” pseudo-science. At best, it was conceded by the critics, that the authors had shown they could run a computer simulation – of a complexity level that would make Sim City 2000 look like science fiction.

It was all a bit underwhelming for Peccei too, one must assume, and the sponsors of his work, the Volkswagen Foundation, initially didn’t want to be reminded of this unhappy episode neither. It was business leaders who most astutely realised the hidden agenda of “The Club of Rome” – why were only the most advanced nations of the West up for the chop if global collapse by 2072 was to be avoided? Surely, halting progress was not a means of surmounting the challenges progress created – and continued to create. Also, the authors of “The Limits to Growth” looked like moral busybodies wanting to tell businessmen what to do with their money. It was felt that this was foul play, yet most couldn’t put the finger on “The Club of Rome’s” intention: using free-market capitalism as the means of its ultimate demise.

The Catholic church disliked the distinctly Malthusian whiff of terms such as “over”-population, while fellow scientists, most notably from the University of Sussex, examined the structure and assumptions of the simulation model used for “The Limits to Growth”. And quickly realised that the model was very sensitive to the manipulation of a few key variables where a small bias would lead to enormous deviation in the extrapolated data. They deemed the methodology faulty and the data dubious, both of which made the resultant projections inherently and irredeemably flawed, and not at all an accurate reflection of reality. “The Limits to Growth” was – in a nutshell – a study that most conveniently “proved” exactly what it was supposed to prove. Seen from a strictly a scientific point of view, it was a worthless endeavour that might have done a disservice to the scientific method. This observation didn’t stop the methodology from being copied by the climate change lobby in the 90s, and with similar results.

To illustrate the predictive quality of “The Limits to Growth” further, let’s quickly remind ourselves that the authors “found out” that oil supplies would run out by the year 1992. This of course didn’t happen, but it was not the only ridiculous prediction they would make. For example, the world would also run out of Gold, by the year 2001, they claimed. Nope, just looked, still got plenty of Gold in the old terra firma. Their consumption modelling of non-renewable resources made no allowance for new deposits being found, and neither for the substitution of one resource by another. Nor for them becoming disused altogether. To illustrate this: in the 15th century, it was assumed that ship building could come to a halt “in future” for lack of timber – a prognosis that didn’t consider that ships would be made from steel by the 1860s; and scientific progress has much accelerated since then.

Likewise, the authors didn’t even remotely fathom efficiency gains brought about by full-scale computerisation and automation in many more industries. Crucially, they assumed that resource depletion would proceed exponentially, while technological progress would advance linearly. This was the most obvious flaw and it guaranteed exactly the result they and “The Club of Rome” had in mind. While the reality of the last fifty years showed that, if anything, the contrary is the truth: technology advances exponentially while consumption is linear, in many cases static and in some cases inverse. Many resources still used in the 70s are by now disused altogether, just think of Asbestos.

Also, the authors made no allowance for political changes and their manifold effects on worldwide consumption and development patterns. They neither foresaw the end of the USSR nor that China would turn capitalist within the next decade. They didn’t even factor in the oil price shock of 1973 – one year after their “study” was published. And OPEC certainly did put limits to growth for the rest of the decade…

Upon the release of “The Limits to Growth”, the scientific community saw it for the sloppy work of vested interests that this book truly is and was. Life could (and should) haven been over for “The Club of Rome” right then and there, in that very instant. But then something remarkable happened: apparently, “The Limits to Growth” was exactly the sort of crap people wanted to believe in. For the thing had become an instant smash hit and bestseller almost over night. It was translated into all major languages. People recommended it to each other and claimed to have read it (though most of them probably didn’t because it’s full of dull and dreary gruel). Had its authors done something right after all? Anyway, now that it all turned out so well, the Volkswagen Foundation was over it like a rash, eagerly claiming the laurel all for themselves.

The simple truth behind this story is that some people love to be guilt tripped. With them, “The Club of Rome’s” message resonated exceedingly well: you are guilty of ruining the planet, of wasting other peoples’ future – must not do this! Also, this was a clever way of guilt tripping other people, of exerting power and influence over them to satisfy one’s sadistic, authoritarian and totalitarian needs. This was obviously something people wanted to hear and do because they wanted to feel good about themselves – or failing that at least feel bad about “the others”. In the claustrophobic and disaster-prone political and mental environment of the 60s and 70s, the idea that we could be “ash in a flash” didn’t sound so ludicrous and bizarre as it may sound today. The prognosis that the world would run out of oil by 1992 and Gold by 2001 didn’t sound too outlandish neither. After all, the people predicting this were “proper” scientists, MIT and all that – surely they only meant well? Or didn’t they?

Well, with themselves, they meant exceedingly well indeed. And their message worked because it fell on fertile ground: “The Limits to Growth” coincided with the beginning of the “Green” movement. Post students protests in Paris 1968, when the world revolution had yet again failed to materialise, Marxists of all stripes realised that they couldn’t take capitalism down by one fell swoop to its head or its heart, because it had no such central organ of vital importance that – mortally wounded – would bring down the whole juggernaut, in what German commies used to call “The Great Kladderadatsch”, which they also quite fancied in an erotic sort of way.

Despite all their efforts to the contrary, this cataclysmic event was nowhere in sight. So, the “Long March” through the institutions now began in earnest: Marxists of all stripes – nearly as entrenched and embittered about the “correct” interpretation of their master’s voice as their political bedfellows, the Mohammedans – started marching separately but striking together. They built a network of shifting alliances with their ideological bedfellows in Quango Inc., but first and foremost they tried to achieve their goal through entryism: state offices, academies, schools, universities and above all the media were their favourite targets.  Their goal was to corrupt, destroy, eradicate and finally replace “the capitalist elite” with – you guessed it – themselves. All this happened under the guise of “newer, kinder” politics and fooled many, though not most, people. There were supposedly no counterrevolutionaries destined to be murdered by the New Left terreur, just conveniently disappeared by the thought police, thanks a bunch.

This is where we are today. “The Club of Rome” was just one Lilliputian among many, determined to bring the evil Goliath down. Their watermelon strategy (green on the outside, red on the inside) did of course not make the world one iota more “socially just”, “sustainable” or “organic”, but that wasn’t really important, you see. Their goal was hindering progress and development in the West, so we could be overtaken by the East and – failing that when the USSR was decommissioned – the developing world. It was a case study in how to shoot yourself in the foot and not only enjoy it, but ask for more. And it worked, probably not although but because it was such an utterly deluded book.

© Guardian Council 2018

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