The “Pollution Paradox”: According to Guardian columnist George Monbiot: “The more polluting a company is, the more money it must spend on politics to ensure it is not regulated out of existence. Campaign finance therefore comes to be dominated by dirty companies, ensuring that they wield the greatest influence, crowding out their cleaner rivals.”
The “Pollution Paradox” offers yet another example of how the pursuit of virtue can end up rallying vice. According to its author, Guardian columnist George Monbiot: “The more polluting a company is, the more money it must spend on politics to ensure it is not regulated out of existence. Campaign finance therefore comes to be dominated by dirty companies, ensuring that they wield the greatest influence, crowding out their cleaner rivals.”
Donald Trump’s putative Cabinet: containing the former CEO of Exxon-Mobil and at least two notorious climate change deniers, is held up by Monbiot as proof of the Pollution Paradox’s validity.
Many New Zealanders will recognize the Pollution Paradox at work in their own environment. With Greenpeace and the Greens campaigning for cleaner streams, rivers and lakes, Federated Farmers and the dairy industry work tirelessly to strengthen the ties that bind the National Party and its politicians to the agricultural sector’s special interests.
Anyone who doubts that this behind-the-scenes manipulation is firmly embedded in New Zealand’s policy formation processes should track down a DVD copy of Alister Barry’s deeply troubling documentary, Hot Air: Climate Change Politics in New Zealand. The decades-long lobbying effort devoted to preventing any kind of effective political response to anthropogenic global warming is as eye-opening as it is disturbing.
The political dynamic at work in Monbiot’s paradox is present in many more issues than pollution. Indeed, the covert funding of political parties and movements considered likely to eliminate perceived threats to entrenched business interests and/or the power and influence of dominant social groups, runs like a golden underground river beneath many of the defining events of the modern era.
The most telling historical example of the practice is unquestionably the funding of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party. The name of Hitler’s party is written out here in full because it shows how indifferent his wealthy backers were to the ideological content of the Nazi phenomenon. All they wanted was a battering-ram against the individual and social rights enshrined in the constitution of the ill-starred Weimar Republic. So long as Hitler promised to destroy the economic and political institutions of the German working-class and preserve the social ascendancy of the “owning classes”, his paymasters paid little attention to the contradictions embodied in the Nazi Party’s identity.
The celebrated British historian, A.J.P. Taylor, exposes the fatal flaw in the owning classes assumption that once bought, Hitler would stay bought, with the following, telling, analogy:
“They soon found that they were in the position of a factory owner who employs a gang of roughs to break up a strike: he deplores the violence, is sorry for his work-people who are being beaten up, and intensely dislikes the bad manners of the gangster leader he has called in. All the same, he pays the price and discovers, soon enough, that if he does not pay the price (later, even if he does) he will be shot in the back. The gangster chief sits in the managing director’s office, smokes his cigars, finally takes over the concern himself. Such was the experience of the owning classes in Germany after 1933.”
It is possible that some people – maybe quite a lot of people – will find a great many contemporary echoes in Professor Taylor’s description of Germany in the 1930s.
It is certainly Monbiot’s contention that the Trump phenomenon, far from being “an insurgency, challenging entrenched power” is actually about “holding back the tide of change” for as long as possible.
The reckless short-sightedness of Hitler’s backers unleashed World War II. The Chancellor they appointed to save their nation, left it in ruins. In another political paradox, the man elected to “Make America Great Again”, may prove to be the ruin of the whole world.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 January 2017.