Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

GLENN Silverman, chief investment officer at Investment Solutions, makes a strong argument for a latter-day Malthusian catastrophe (Time to face the true cost of sustainability on a finite planet, November 13), basing it, as did Thomas Malthus, on the idea that the earth is a finite planet. Silverman’s issues are economic, referring to uncontrolled growth: growth of personal and sovereign debt, population growth, and the unbridled growth of corporate power. Similarly, Malthus agonised about the power of population being "so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence ... that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race".

These arguments and those of others made in the wake of the global financial crisis, and of global warming and bad weather, forecast apocalypse for humanity, if not for the planet. While Malthus believed the vices of man would forestall an apocalypse, he suggested if they did not, "sickly seasons, epidemics … and plague (would) advance in terrific array, and sweep off ... tens of thousands". It never did come to pass — or, not yet. The delay resulted from advances in farming technology and thus the world still produces more food than it consumes, even if nearly 1-billion people are chronically hungry. The Green Revolution sparked a number of harrowing forecasts, notably Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. It has also not yet happened, and we are still waiting for the catastrophes predicted by Alvin Toffler and Marshall McLuhan.

That we have heard it all before suggests we take a closer look at the premises. In Silverman’s piece, it is that the planet is finite: but is it really? We just do not know, chiefly because the definition of what is economically exploitable shifts constantly. Another thing Silverman and others have in common with Malthus is that none present anything useful that the cowering masses may do about their impending doom. Silverman’s suggestion that investors support "sustainable" practices cannot possibly mean that responsible citizens only consume resources they may reasonably foresee to be infinite.

If that is not what they have in mind, what then? Do they mean the world’s mode of production must change? That is revolutionary talk and probably not what Silverman meant, but it is oh-so convenient to roll out the old class struggle when there is a populist appeal to make.

In his chief complaint — "the unbridled growth of corporate power" — Silverman’s argument is a hair’s breadth from being naively Marxist, in that it suggests there is a correctable class stratification that would allow "economies … (to) benefit all participants, not just a powerful few". And it sounds good when you throw in what matters in the common weal: "environment", "sustainable" and "executive pay freeze"; even if the terms are not explained, they are now bywords for politically correct actions.

No. I think Silverman means the opposite of a material revolution; he hopes something will change in the way things are done so the world of finance will stay the same.

True revolutionaries know that "no social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed", to quote Karl Marx. But if you want a revolution, Mr Silverman, let it be.