Friday, February 04, 2011

Green Economics can grow UK out of recession

This afternoon a debate broke out among several Greens on Twitter about economic growth.
Debate on Twitter is possible, but not if you have 6 participants because the  @name list means that you are down to 100 characters or less. So I have been invited to invite everyone round to my place here. Welcome.

The question was "Is it OK to grow our way out of recession".

Natch, we disagree with the Coalition who believe the Easter Bunny Invisible Hand of the Market will make everything all right in the economy once they dismantle public spending.

Labour, insofar as it has a policy, believes that we must simply grow our way out of the recession. "Derr".

The Green Party has, rightly,  always been critical of economic growth because of the inconvenient truth that it is impossible to grow indefinitely in a finite space, and to take forever more from a finite resource. We aim for a steady state economy, where we live in balance with Nature's resources.

In this steady state, we will not have excesses of wealth and poverty, and we will be on a tendency for everyone to have enough. "Tendency" mind. We are realists, not Utopians.

So what do we do? Side with the ToryLibs and enjoy it as the UK wallows ever deeper in the mire of recession? Or change our stance on growth, and side with Labour?

Happily, that is not the choice we face. The reality is a bit more subtle than that.

What we are in fact against is growth in throughput of materials. We have no objection to the growth in Gross National Happiness, growth in knowledge, growth in the care of the elderly and sick. What we are against is the totally irrational and fantastical idea that we can continue to expand our ecological footprint on this planet.

We. Simply. Cannot. Do.That.

It is the throughput of materials, mining at one end, and churning out waste, toxic or otherwise, at the other.  That is what has to stop. That and the destruction of renewable resources like soil, fisheries and forests.

We live in an unsustainable economy that provides superficial and unstable wealth to some, and hands out unemployment and poverty to others, in the process, wrecking everything that is beautiful.

We need to work towards a Steady State Economy, where we humans live in a dynamic, fluid, but basically harmonious relationship with the processes of our planetary system, notably the global heat control mechanisms.

This requires a radical shift in the way we carry out our economic activity, and indeed how we look at economics.

Here is a brief overview of green economics.
Here is an interesting take on what is meant by work, linking physics, economics and biology.
Here is a proposal to change the JSA into a Green Wage Subsidy, so that we emerge out the other side of a recession with a strong green core to the economy, and the foundation of Citizen's Income at the same time.
Here is the same proposal with cleaned up language, Government for the enticement of.
The banking system needs radical change, because it demands and creates economic growth

Both show that green economics is real economics, and conventional economics is a distortion of reality.

Back to the question: How do we make the transition from where we are now?

We are in a position where we can offer Green Growth (or "Green Development", for people who sufer an allergic reaction on exposure to the word "growth").

We can offer hundreds of thousands of jobs in a Green New Deal.

I advocate a GND+, where the GWS is added in. In my book Bills of Health (1996), I calculated that this could produce between 1 and 2 million jobs, at a time when the unemployment figures lay between 1 and 2 million.

So there we have it.
Our starter for 10.
Let debate begin.


Jim Jepps said...

For me the question is not 'can we grow our way out of recession' (which we can) but more a concern that we rightly say on the one hand that GDP should not be the sole measure of economic success *and* having a catch-all anti-growth position which doesn't recognise that containwed within the GDP figures are both good things and bad.

If growth is down to a massive roll out of insultation and renewable technologies it moves us towards a sustainable society, if it's down to a roll out of plastic rubbish that breaks witin a year it isn't.

I think our use of the word growth is clumsy - although I agree that the phrase steady state economy is pretty opaque.

DocRichard said...

Hi Jim

Here's the PSS:
EC310 Conventional economic policy uses economic growth, inflation, balance of payments and unemployment as 'economic indicators', the normal criteria against which progress is measured. Although it is the most usually quoted indicator, gross national product (GNP) is a poor indicator of true progress and does not adequately measure people's sense of well-being. It measures only the activity in the formal sector, regardless of what that activity is. In consequence, current economic theory fails adequately to reflect the real effects of human activity within a finite ecosystem, and is used to 'validate' economic activities which are ecologically unsustainable and/or socially unjust.

EC311 The Green Party would therefore replace the conventional indicators with those that measure progress towards sustainability, equity and devolution.

I couldn't find a reference to planned obsolescence and the desirability of producing durable goods that can be repaired. Clearly, there is an opportunity for forward thinking manufacturers to go down this path.

A related debate has sprung up on Bright Green Scotland.


Jim Jepps said...

The thing is i agree with the PSS statemnts you've put up here, but at the same time we have a tendency to talk about 'growth' as if it is just one thing despite the fact that we acknowledge here that 'growth' is too complex to treat in this catch all way.

DocRichard said...

So we improve by talking of "growth in throughput", and "green development". Innit?