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A Green New Deal

Jim Jepps and Rupert Read say the UK needs a 'Green New Deal' to tackle the 'triple crunch' of credit, oil prices and climate change

January 21, 2009
5 min read

In the 1930s, the world endured a grim economic depression. In the US, F D Roosevelt pioneered the way out with the New Deal, which helped stabilise the financial system and refloated the economy. We face the same kind of economic problems today but with added ecological threats. The age of cheap, plentiful oil is ending and we cannot simply invest in polluting factories, massive dams, boondoggle transport projects as FDR’s government did then.

If there is to be a new New Deal, it has to be a Green New Deal, which is exactly what a distinguished group of environmentalists and economists, including Andrew Simms, of the New Economics Foundation; Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth; Larry Elliott, economics editor of the Guardian and Green party leader Caroline Lucas MEP, propose.

Drawing inspiration from Roosevelt, the Green New Deal group calls for:

  • Capital flows to be regulated. The power to fix interest rates and the exchange rate to be restored to elected, sovereign governments. Crucially, this means exchange controls must return.
  • Publicly accountable central banks to be free to inject debt-free money into the economy and keep the cost of borrowing low (so that loan expenditure projects can be easily financed).
  • Resources to create jobs, in part by filling tax loopholes and closing tax havens.
  • A new global and independent central bank to be established. Based on Keynes’s proposal for a global bank (called the International Clearing Union), it will manage and stabilise trade between countries, create a trading currency and a reserve asset that is neutral between countries (perhaps one based on carbon). In short: We need a new Bretton Woods settlement.

    Creating a carbon army

    Brown talks of jobs in building a successor to the Trident nuclear missile system. But such jobs would be capital-intensive (not to mention potentially a war-crime), what we now have a ‘glut’ of is labour, not capital.

    The first thing that a Green New Deal must mean is good, secure, green jobs (see Jean Lambert’s Green jobs to beat recession). We need a ‘carbon army’ of highly skilled green-collar workers, so money is needed for retraining as well as new tranches of public transport investment and to make working on the land more sustainable and localised. By capitalising on economies of scale, the UK could rapidly become a world leader in cheap, eco-friendly energy – not just wind, but tidal, solar and other forms of renewables.

    But can government really lead a relocalisation of our economy and society? Yes – in fact, only government can do this. We can have a centralised drive to create the tools for localised solutions. Micro energy production and decentralised district heating systems make sense but require big investment and co-ordination from the centre.

    We should incentivise localities to welcome renewable energy’s gift of greater security of supply – perhaps by reducing tariffs in areas that adopt rather than reject wind, wave or tidal power schemes. This works from both the radical left and any mainstream political perspective. We’d be crazy not to pursue an avenue that can become the political consensus.

    Currently British manufacturers produce few if any wind turbines, and planning regulations make the whole process of moving to a low carbon economy unnecessarily expensive and time consuming. Gearing the country towards independence from fossil fuels does two things at once. It helps cut our environmental impact and distances us from the instability of international fuel prices and markets. This will help us become a more sustainable and resilient economy in every sense.

    It is imperative to ensure this unexpected, if welcome, Keynesian consensus is not squandered. This requires government intervention, so let’s make sure it’s the right intervention.

    No taxation without representation

    The globalised finance system that we now have would have been repugnant to Keynes, who wanted finance and capital kept national – and thus under democratic oversight.

    We need systemic reform of the banking system but reforms alone will never secure long-term safety, because after a while a privatised banking system will start agitating to strip away and circumvent the protections and regulations. Instead, we need a banking system consisting of a large public sector, democratically directed toward a sustainable economy that supports businesses in the real economy, with low interest rates, plus a large network of co-ops, mutuals and credit unions.

    A key principle that must govern any just response to the financial crisis is no taxation without representation. If we the people are to put billions of pounds of our money into guaranteeing the banks, then we need to be able to exert real control over those banks to change their behaviour.

    It’s a scandal, for example, that Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley are repossessing more homes than their private competitors. If our money is to keep them afloat, let’s demand that that these building societies act for the public good, rather than simply aping commercial concerns. In the longer term, they should be remutualised.

    It’s time for a great leap forward in our ability to weather the vast triple threat of dangerous climate change, peak oil and the financial crisis. In our view, putting the banks under public control is a logical conclusion of the urgently needed Green New Deal proposals.

    Jim Jepps blogs at the Daily (Maybe) and Rupert Read is one of the 15 Green Party councillors in Norwich and prospective MEP for Eastern Region

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