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:
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
The new faces of the unions ● How Bolsonaro rose to power in Brazil ● Tribune and the Tribune group ● DIY cinema ● Peterloo and Sorry to Bother You reviews ● and much more
And you choose how much to pay for your subscription...
A new report from Autonomy proposes a radical set of policies to boost the economy and improve quality of life by shortening the working week, writes Eleanor Penny
We need democratic control of the financial sector. An interview with Saskia Sassen
We can harness the power of public finance to bankroll a better future, writes Lavinia Steinfort
The radical economist outlines how she'd overhaul the UK's broken economy.
Grace Blakeley dissects the failure of finance capital and calls for radical measures to take it back under democratic control
Nancy Platts writes that the workers' movement needs to challenge unaccountable power.