CORONOVIRUS “ECONOMIC RECOVERY” ???
The UK Government waxes lyrical on its “economic recovery plan” and the Prime Minister says that he wants to use the coronavirus crisis “to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges.” He wants to “build, build, build” - houses, roads and railways and create jobs for the many people who have become unemployed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. He wants to return to the levels of economic growth before the pandemic.
Oh dear! There is no focus on what is surely the greatest “unresolved challenge”: climate change due to the Earth heating.
Economic growth is capitalism’s modus operandi around the world. Glorious as it has been in improving the lot of many people over the last two hundred years, it should be recognised that economic growth is now the prime cause of the catastrophes of global climate change. If we are to stop these, economic growth must end.
EARTH HEATING UP
The global problem of the Earth heating up is in large part due to atmospheric carbon dioxide and other gases resulting from the combustion of the fossil fuels which provide much of the energy that capitalism needs to create wealth. Thus the 21st century’s devastating storms, sea surges in low lying coastal lands, inland floods, droughts, and food crises resulting from global climate changes, can in turn be attributed to rampant capitalism! Governments that pursue economic growth are contributing to these disasters and imperilling the lives of future generations.
ZERO GROWTH AND A SMALLER ECONOMY
Boris Johnson’s economic recovery plan should embrace zero-growth and design a smaller economy The sixth richest country in the world does not need to continue to plunder the riches of the Earth in pandering to the greed of some of its people and shouldn’t try to justify this economic growth as a means of supporting the poor (because it doesn’t).
A SMALLER ECONOMY MUST BE PLANNED FOR
All of the industrial countries of the world need to end growth! Steady-state, zero growth economies are needed in the developed nations: we need to learn to do capitalism differently.
The writing is on the wall. “Business as usual” will inevitably lead to disaster through continuing pollution of the atmosphere and consequent heating of the Earth. Governments and public must recognise this. So, what should be done?
Extremists say that coal, oil and gas must no longer be burned. Petrol and diesel vehicles must be abandoned, likewise air travel. Factories and farms must no longer be powered by fossil fuels.
If so, how will our houses be warmed? How will we travel? How will necessary goods be manufactured? How will food be grown and delivered?
Some say that the answer is “electricity” with fossil fuels replaced by electrical energy from solar, wind, wave and hydraulic sources. They add that cycling and walking should be encouraged and that less food should be imported and more grown at home on farms and vegetable gardens.
It could happen, and for the sake of future generations it must. It will have, of course, a massive impact. It can’t happen overnight. It must be planned, perhaps over the next ten years. But a different social environment will develop because, in terms of energy, it is unlikely that sufficient electricity will be generated to provide what fossil fuels now deliver.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF A SMALLER ECONOMY
These changes will have fundamental effects on society. For example, we may only be able to eat foods in season, travel abroad to sunspots may be limited, luxury goods may disappear, fewer people will own personal vehicles - more may cycle and so need to work nearer to home. However we should recognise that previous generations lived this way and were not discontented
But of greater concern must be responding to what is already happening: widespread job loss.
Inevitably a smaller economy will mean fewer employments, or put the other way, more unemployed. Without employment how do families get fed, pay the rent, and obtain essential goods? At present there are state benefits - and a perplexing bureaucracy to gain access to them.
Instead of these benefits, government should legislate for citizen’s income, (or “basic income” as some call it) paid by the state to every citizen, young and old, rich or poor, as a non-means-tested entitlement. Coupled with a revised system of income tax it should be recouped from those engaged in paid employment. Most state benefits, others than for the disabled, could then be abolished.
Thus both unemployment and poverty can be successfully tackled by a measure which, in effect, redistributes wealth to make for a fairer society, albeit one which will be disdained by the rich.
In addition to citizen’s income giving support to the unemployed is a measure which would provide worthwhile activity for those who choose to be un-idle: community development.
Government should promote partly self-sustaining communities where people find worthwhile, but unpaid, activity in home care, environment care, vegetable gardens, allotments, orchards, social and other activities such as making their own household furniture.
The development of such communities should be facilitated by government funded “reeves” (a medieval term) with limited financial support and powers to purchase land for community purposes.
Apart from growing food locally these communities would also provide a basis for repairing storm damage to property caused by the vicissitudes of global heating.
FIVE PROPOSALS FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION
In tight summary the arguments expressed above can be summarised in these five proposals for action by the UK Government.
1. Eschew economic growth and plan for a smaller economy.
2. Ensure that at least within the next ten years all fossil fuels In Britain stay underground, and urge every other nation to take the same action.
3. Introduce citizen’s income (CI) and a new tax system that recoups CI payments made to the many who do not need it.
4. Facilitate the development of partly self-supporting communities.
5. Patiently and persistently explain to the public that these measures are vital for the safety and happiness of coming generations.
Britain began the world-wide industrial revolution. It is now time to initiate an eco-revolution which will save the Earth from heat death!