The Real Global Warming Consensus (or ‘Why Intellectuals Hate Capitalism’)

Originally posted on

On the television news they set up their annual ‘Climate Camp’ in London.  The militant global warmers plant their tents on Blackheath and prepare to march on the City of London, to smash up some banks and moan about free trade and industrial capitalism.  The protesters, interviewed on TV, are all very middle class and nicely spoken.  This is commented upon again in the newspapers.

At this anti-capitalist ‘climate’ jamboree, where are the heroic, muscle-bound proletarians?  The brick-layers, lorry drivers, factory workers and dockers?  And come to think of it, where are the taxi drivers, shop-keepers and plumbers?  Where are the wide-boy estate agents and small-businessmen from Essex?    Ordinary working class folk, and members of the materialistic commercial middle class are nowhere to be seen.  They are either sceptical about ‘climate change’, or else couldn’t give a fig, and have no gripe with modern consumer society.

The protesters are drawn from that section of the middle-class which, in Europe, they call the intelligentsia.  In America and Britain we don’t like the thought of an intelligentsia.  It gives us the creeps (for very good reason, as we shall see).

The question is why does the middle class intelligentsia hate capitalism so much?   The brilliant Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises asked this very question in 1956, in a great little book, The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality.   He concluded that intellectuals do not like the market because the market does not like them.

There is nothing mysterious about ‘the market’.  If you need a plumber you hire a plumber.  If there aren’t enough plumbers about, the cost of hiring one goes up, providing an incentive for more people to become plumbers.  Too many plumbers and the price goes down, encouraging the less popular plumbers to find some other occupation.

Now consider the intellectual.  He has graduated, proudly, with a degree in French literature, or a PhD in the breeding habits of butterflies.  He regards himself as socially superior to a plumber but, to his horror, when he tries to enter the labour market, he discovers there is little or no demand for experts in Baudelaire, or for lepidopterists.  Perhaps he tries to obtain a poorly paid position at a university, to continue his ‘work’.  Even if he lands such as position he struggles to maintain a middle class lifestyle on the paltry wages.   Does he retrain as a plumber (since demand for plumbers is high)?   God forbid.  The very thought!

Ludwig von Mises says of the intellectual, ‘As a “worker by brain” he looks arrogantly down upon the manual worker whose hands are calloused and soiled.  It makes him furious to notice that so many of these manual workers get higher pay and are more respected than he himself.  What a shame he thinks, that capitalism fondles the simple drudgery of the “uneducated” and does not appraise his “intellectual” work according to its “true” value.’

Does our impoverished intellectual consider a job as an estate agent or selling life insurance?  Does he decide to set up a double-glazing business, or a taxi firm, or a road haulage company?   No.  The intellectual is repelled by life in the commercial middle class.  Commerce is vulgar and tawdry.  Again, it would represent a loss of status.   Intellectuals look down on the entrepreneur.  As the economic historian Nicholas Stacey observes, ‘the educated layers of British society have no wish to be entrepreneurial.’  The entrepreneurs, he says, are ‘less respectable’ than academics, and administrators.  He reminds us that since the beginnings of capitalism, ‘the early entrepreneurs were largely working class.’

As a direct result of their snobbery, intellectuals in capitalist society are, in the words of Joseph Schumpeter, ‘unsatisfactorily employed or unemployable.’  Those unable to obtain a poorly paid university post must seek some other job which is deemed to have a trace of intellectual respectability.  A small number of them will manage to prostitute themselves in the oversubscribed, dumbed-down ‘culture industry’.  (In television they constantly complain about the ‘tyranny’ of ratings, which forces them to pander to the tastes of the people who actually watch television).  Many more join the massed ranks of failed intellectuals in public administration.  In other words, they seek refuge in the arms of the State.

The intellectuals believe there is a nobility in public service which is not to be found in the vulgar market place.  Happily for them, with the expansion of the State in the 20th Century the number of these State-funded jobs has swollen enormously.  J.K Galbraith (among others) called this burgeoning State-sponsored intelligentsia the ‘New Class’.

In his book The Affluent Society, (which depicts with horror the new consumer society created by the post war economic boom), Galbraith says, ‘Some of the attractiveness of membership of the New Class, to be sure, derives from a vicarious feeling of superiority.’  He says, ‘No aristocrat ever contemplated the loss of feudal privileges with more sorrow than a member of this class would regard his decent into ordinary labor where the reward was only the pay.  From time to time, grade school teachers leave their posts for substantially higher paid factory work.  The action makes the headlines because it represents such an unprecedented desertion of an occupation which is assumed to confer the dignity of the New Class.  The college professor, who is more securely a member of the New Class than the school teacher, could never contemplate such a change even as an exercise in eccentricity and no matter how inadequate he might consider his income.’

It is snobbery that prevents the intellectual middle class from sullying themselves in the marketplace.  They are offended by the idea that they should shape their education or working lives according to the needs of the market.  Galbraith argues that it is the hallmark of the intelligentsia that it rises above the sordid needs of the market.  He says, ‘it would be barbarous to suggest that the only claim to be made on behalf of education is the increased production of goods.  It has its independent and, one must suppose, higher justification.’

Full to bursting with ‘higher justification’ our French poetry expert or lepidopterist finds it tough to earn a crust.  The spurned market has had its revenge.   The intellectual has status (at least in the eyes of other members of the caste), but he does not have money. The State has saved the intellectual from having to enter the market (he shudders at the thought of selling insurance), but it has not rewarded him with riches.  And this leaves him bitter.  The poorly paid intellectual, says Mises, ‘must swallow down his mortification and divert his wrath toward a vicarious target.  He indicts society’s economic organisation, the nefarious system of capitalism.  But for this unfair regime his abilities and talents, his zeal and his achievements would have brought him the rich reward they deserve.’    Of the intelligentsia, he says, ‘They sublimate their hatred into philosophy, the philosophy of anti-capitalism, in order to render inaudible the inner voice that tells them their failure is entirely their own fault.’   Schumpeter too describes the ‘hostility of the intellectual group – amounting to moral disapproval of the capitalist order.’

The intellectual is bitter because the relationship between the classes has changed.  Under capitalism, the workers have grown richer and richer.  As Mises says, ‘The characteristic feature of modern capitalism is mass production of goods destined for consumption of the masses.  The result is a tendency towards a continuous improvement in the average standard of living, a progressing enrichment of the many.  Capitalism deproletarianizes the “common man” and elevates him to the rank of the bourgeois.’

The market has brought social mobility, upwards and downwards.  The rising fortunes of the ordinary man stands in stark contrast with the declining fortunes of the gentry, from whose ranks the intellectuals were historically drawn and to whose lifestyle they still aspire.  At the start of the 20th Century, professors and senior civil servants lived in grand houses and had servants.  But it is telling that the number of domestic servants fell by half during the First World War, and did not recover.  As the great historian AJP Taylor notes, “The number of private domestic servants did not increase even during the Depression” and he adds, “The cynical observer will not forget this fact when he reads lamentations from the comfortable classes about the decline of civilization.”

Mises has no sympathy for these down-at-heel snobs.  ‘To the grumbler who complains about the unfairness of the market system only one piece of advice can be given: if you want to acquire wealth, then try to satisfy the public by offering them something that is cheaper or which they like better … But if you prefer, to the riches you may perhaps acquire in the garment trade or professional boxing, the satisfaction you may derive from writing poetry or philosophy, you are free to do so.  Then of course you will not make as much money as those who serve the majority.’

The intellectuals spit at the ‘freedom’ which capitalism has brought.  As the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, complained, ‘If the individual were no longer compelled to prove himself on the market as a free economic subject, the disappearance of this kind of freedom would be one of the greatest achievements of civilization.’  Marcuse understandably did not want to submit himself to this test.  He would not sell nearly enough copies of his dreary One Dimensional Man to keep himself in the lifestyle he felt he deserved.  The workers (whom he pretended to champion) should be forced to support him.

The market is based on merit.  Success is determined by how highly people value what you have to sell.  The intellectuals, whose talents are not highly valued, yearn for a society based on status.  This is why the Green intelligentsia fetishise hierarchical pre-capitalist society.  This kind of society, they assert, was more ‘natural’ and ‘ordered’ and ‘harmonious’.

Today, the bulk of intellectuals in the ‘New Class’ work directly or indirectly for the State.  They are paid out of taxes levied on the productive economy.  In other words, the plumbers (and bricklayers and lorry drivers and estate agents) are forced to pay for them.  No wonder the plumbers do not turn up at Green demonstrations to demand higher taxes and more state control.

The intellectuals are not grateful to the rest of us.  They are parasitic on industrial capitalism and yet they despise it.  They reach for more State spending like a flower gropes for the Sun.  They call for more regulation and planning, because they are the regulators and planners.  Having been found wanting by the market, they nonetheless believe they should be in charge.  They say the ‘anarchy’ of the market needs to be contained and directed (by them).

In America and Britain where the ideology of capitalism (liberalism, properly understood) holds more sway, the notion of an intelligentsia is mildly offensive. The idea that a section of society should somehow do the thinking for the rest of us, that they should be paid to do it, and worse still, that that they should be entrusted to look over us and direct us.  All this sticks in the craw. And so it should.

No wonder the ‘New Class’ takes to Global Warming like a duck to water.  The ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is always more state funding and more state control.  Global warming is a stick to beat the ‘cruel, blind’ market.  For the sake of ‘the climate’ the productive economy must be even further taxed and regulated … by them.  This is the real basis for the ‘consensus’ on global warming.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses to “The Real Global Warming Consensus (or ‘Why Intellectuals Hate Capitalism’)”

  1. Dumb Ox says:


  2. Roger says:

    Fantastic essay! Thanks so much.

  3. Eldon Stromberg says:

    I am 70 years old – I became self supporting at age 37. I was a pulmonary physiologist. I haven't worked at a job in 25 years. I have three residences and an extensive art collection. I went to school for classical languages, physics and have a masters degree in concert piano. My illiterate grandfather became so very wealthy dealing in cafeterias and rental units (c 1920) that he move into a house across the street from the Rockefellers in Chicago! (Addison street and Broadway). He had lots of money, sometimes $700 in coins for all the kids. This was in 1924! If the Mafia wanted money from him he would punch them in the face and tell them never to return! Gangsters run when they have have to fight. I have lotsa educated friends that are broke! I give away over $1000.00 per week to various family members. (actually more). There is a big difference in education and innate intelligence.

  4. Ohhh Henry says:

    I just found a funny example of the knee-jerk "consensus" among intellectuals for the so-called science of global warming. This is from an article in the University of California, Berkley _ Wellness Letter _ for July 2011:

    " … increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to climate change is making poison ivy plants grow bigger and produce an even more potent form of urushiol … "

    Increased CO2 due to climate change? Garbage in, garbage out !!!

    The part about greater potency reminds me of the reefer madness crowd who are constantly harping on the increase in THC in marijuana as an excuse for continuing the War on Mild Stimulants.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.