WHAT SPOILS ECONOMIES?
Firstly, their size – do they exceed the limits of their ecological supply. That is – is the mass and diversity of an economic terrain maintained? Does the economy cycle within its terrestrial limits?
Does UK’s economy exceed its ecological limits? Yes – by a prodigious mass – by depleted soils and crashing biodiversity and biomass. Future generations will have increasingly less on which to survive. Nevertheless, UK’s economy measured by GDP (spending – not assets) continues to grow, while the resources, which supply it, continue to diminish. Chaos is prewritten in the system.
Secondly by their atmospheric carbon (life) balance – Does carbon burnt, or bio-chemically released (from both living and dead sources) exceed the mass of carbon returned to living systems?
Does UK’s economy emit more than is returned? Yes – again prodigiously and increasingly so. Aviation, shipping and outsourced manufacturing are not even entered in UK’s carbon budget. Within half a decade, very high emitters, such as the average UK citizen will have made many of Earth’s regions uninhabitable. They will (mirroring the manufacturing of their personal goods) have shed to others, many of those effects. Nevertheless, UK’s own economy (within decades) will also be shattered by rising seas, high winds, rainfall, catastrophic floods and failed harvests.
Thirdly by rent for idle enclosures – such as land property, intellectual property and status property.
The destruction caused by land properties are well documented (Adam Smith, Tom Paine, J S Mill, Henry George…) but status enclosure less so. All monopolies have similar effects. Status property allows rent to be charged for status, far beyond wages for contributed work (lawyer, GP, dentist, banker, consultant and so on).
Enclosure is the principle and it may be argued, alongside usury, the only source of wealth for the rich and of poverty for the poor. It drains the economically active and sustains the economically inactive. If I take my £4 an hour to pay a solicitor’s £250 per hour, then my economy is wrecked. The larger economy is similarly wrecked. Because the work done by the solicitor has the same economic value as my £4 per hour – the excess (£246 per hour) is extortion.
Differing forms of enclosure are symptoms of a decadence, which has been the primal cause of the collapse of most civilisations. It can be deduced from the above that enclosure has been the means by which hierarchical class systems are imposed and maintained. Class is an enclosure.
Does UK’s economy support such parasitism? Yes – It protects and encourages it. Poverty and wealth (the twins) increase in tandem, largely because of land and status enclosure.
Fourthly by inappropriate taxation – that is taxes which discourage economic contribution and also fail as tools to discourage malpractice such as rent, usury, casino trade in shares and bonds and ecological pillage.
VAT currently cuts the value of UK wages, which ordinary people spend for services and hard goods by 20% and has very little effect on the rich.
Proposed carbon taxes act like VAT and also have almost no effect on the rich (high emitters) and a large one, on the poor (lower emitters). However, a carbon tax extracted at source can redistribute revenue towards the common good – towards renewables, or towards other common goals (or towards basic income).
Tax should be seen as a just contribution for inclusion in larger society (income tax, tithes) and also as restorative justice (land value tax) which returns wealth from idle (historically violent) enclosure and back to the common wealth. The simplest and most just way to return land value tax to the community is by a citizens’ dividend or universal basic income.
With regards to mal-economic behaviour, the market (tax signals) will not supply a satisfactory answer, although some specific behaviours, by specific people, or activities, can be targeted.
For instance, carbon tax (in which the rich buy licensed indulgencies to transfer their effects to the poor) have small effects on those who create most damage. It may be argued that the poor benefit by such taxes when they are spent into infrastructure projects, but they emphatically do not benefit from the unchanged climate changing behaviour of the high carbon emitters.
The greatest effect on carbon emissions will lie in changing the behaviour of the rich. As Kevin Anderson tells us, 10% of the global population are responsible for 50% of CO.2 emissions. If those 10% cut their personal emissions to no more than that of the average EU citizen, then global emissions will fall by 30%. Even so, it’s well to remember that we also need a dramatic shift in that current average European lifestyle to avoid economically catastrophic climate change. That shift must begin immediately. What we do today will have atmospheric greenhouse effects, which will remain for about ten thousand years.
Kevin Anderson again brings us down to Earth, “Twenty-seven years after the first IPCC report, emissions this year (2017) will be 60% higher than in 1990”. Remember, our personal holiday flights and the manufacture of our imported personal household tools (from cars to vacuum cleaners and also their shipping) are not counted as UK emissions in official budgets – even though they emphatically are so. Budgets, such as UK’s are fraudulent. True – the manufacture appears in other budgets (such as China’s), but shipping and aviation do not.
No-one needs to fly, and so a heavy aviation tax will help to restrict flights with little impact on the poor – to the benefit of all – both in spent revenue and mitigated climate change. So, some specific behaviours (financial transaction tax and so on) can be targeted for taxation, while those commonly necessary, not.
Rationing, (rather than tax) once accepted, can become a commonly accepted rule of personal good behaviour. It can become a tool for justice – the good life. Beyond it is selfishness and greed. People become happy by choosing the good.
Rationing applied during and after the 1939 – 45 war was commonly accepted as management of limited resources. Rich and poor agreed to the same diet. Today, we need carbon rationing so that rich and poor share the same limits. Useful proposals are by David Fleming (Energy and the Common Purpose) and by Cap and Share as proposed by Feasta. It is commonplace to assert that facing climate change we must stand on a “war footing”.
Of course, bad behaviour can also be regulated by law. For instance, given our energy restraints, it’s hard to see how any aviation can continue. We can make air traffic illegal. Theft of the future should become illegal. A commonly accepted “should” will make an easily accepted law.
Meanwhile, tax as a market signal is a poor implement – it seldom changes the economically malicious behaviours of the rich. However, tax given as a contribution to the common wealth can still be extracted from bad behaviour, while it will also be given good-heartedly by most and spent properly, can contribute to the common good.
Does current UK taxation discourage positive economic activity and also encourage malpractice? Yes. Does it promote catastrophic climate change? Yes.
HOW DO WE MAKE AND MAINTAIN AN ECONOMY AND ESCAPE A DESPOILED ECONOMY?
It can be seen that government legislation is a poor and often blunt instrument. Economies are made and maintained by the behaviours of everyone within them. Central to balancing the economy as a whole, is the balancing of my own life and that life is guided more by parents, ancestors, neighbours, friends, employers, employment and so on, than it is by government legislation. Historically, in most cultures personal behaviour has been guided more by the moral commons of folk memory and religion and less by those in power. In recent times, guidance and restraints of inherited commons of behaviour have become diluted and dispersed. It has become accepted to rail at the folly of governance, while maintaining (along with our peers) a blindness to the folly of our own lives. For instance, the happiest solution to the non-existence of carbon rationing is personal restraint. After all, looking from space at our lovely Earth, what do we see? People here and there, doing this and that. Where are governments and corporations? – Nowhere – because they don’t exist – they are abstractions – ideas in our heads, coercing bad behaviour. Citizens, one by one, cause climate change. Governments have not the physics to do so. A hypothetical good government can suggest what good behaviour is and then legislate for it, but even so, the good behaviour obtained, can only be achieved by citizens. Citizens hold the tools of either destruction or redemption.
We can also devise the abstract ideal state. I think Utopia is useful – it cuts what we have down to size, but nevertheless, economics (good, or bad housekeeping) always begins at home. All the rest (politics, political theory, social theory…) is useful, but is always secondary. I cause climate change. How do I stop causing it? I remove a settled future from my own children. How do I restore it? Other people have other circumstance and other solutions – some (though I doubt there are many in UK) may not need to change at all.
Since within just a few decades, the effects of how I and my friends are living will utterly wreck the lives of our own children, first things must come first. What can I change? There is a lot. In what ways are governments and existing social normalities assisting, hindering, or preventing that change? How I react to and lobby government is significant, but given the urgent and dramatic cultural change necessary to mitigate climate change and ecological cascades, it remains secondary to an internal lobbying of myself.
For instance, every developed country’s economy must shrink and shrink dramatically. How on Earth do we achieve that dramatic shrinkage without dramatic collapse? (current markets depend on growth) Governments can ration commodities, ban ecologically destructive activities and tax bad behaviours. If those government directions are accepted by its citizens, then those citizens will be happy to act as government intends. Nevertheless, the existing monetary system will cascade – companies will fold, unemployment will soar and tax revenue will wither – leaving insufficient funds for unemployment relief, medical care and hard infrastructure maintenance. Lawlessness and government/social collapse is probable.
Since not one government of any developed economy is showing the smallest inclination to change its pursuit of the fantasy of growth (the problem is too great for any politician to face), the remedy remains within the uncoerced good behaviour of citizens – beginning with myself. Economies can thrive within economies. Those islands in the flood – disconnected from cascading casinos, but connected to ancestral commons of good economic/ecologic behaviour, can swell as their attraction grows. Cloud Cuckoo Land? Probably. But it remains the only possible land.
I don’t visualise isolated ecovillages, because I see the islands everywhere – waiting for re-occupation. The hard structures of pre-fossil-fuelled ways of life remain in abundance. They are bypassed, derelict and misused but they remain both physically and spiritually – deep in inherited understanding. Towns, villages, fields, woods, harbours, rivers, canals, wind/water mills, market squares, workshops, trades, skills, cuisines, festivals and pleasures. Different terrains have different cultures, which remain in folk memory. The moral commons, which are unique to each culture are essential to the re-settlement of those cultures. Tread softly, Architectural/Cultural Design, for you tread on those dreams. Of course, people are fragmented and dispersed, but perhaps many recent political disturbances are misused yearnings for those same lost dreams. Polarised left and right can actually come together on a lost common.
If, as this writer repetitively asserts – cultures are what we do, not what we’ve achieved or possess, then a ferment of activity could herald a renaissance – a rich culture with small physical demands.
Here is Lee Hoinacki – We lived in a world largely devoid of packages, of commodities, of nouns. We actively affected and made the substance and the rhythms of our daily lives; it was a life of verbs.
That life of verbs – of individual contributions to a culture, which together make the whole is what beckons me. The complexity and sheer number of verbs are more powerful than any single mass of nouns which government or corporation (as a verb) could coerce from its people, or those people could amass as property. Those verbs have emerged from the past and generate a future. My role as progenitor is mine. Confucius says, happiness is wanting what you have, not having what you want – to which I add – happiness is not in what I have, but in what I do. Even though my contribution is (as my reader might say) to Cloud Cuckoo Land, if that land is the only possible land, fail or not, I can remain happy – and happiness is contagious. Of course, though failure is very possible, it is not inevitable.
However, the trajectory of every developed economy is towards catastrophic ecological cascade and wildly accelerating carbon emissions. Total failure of current government policies and also of those who work to merely improve those policies – is utterly inevitable. Cloud Cuckoo Land is possible. The current consensus is not.
Let’s build islands from pre-oil cultural roots and meet other people also building islands until, who knows? – the flood recedes and we can quietly walk the lands between.