Category Archives: West Midlands New Economics Group
Could you give us some guidelines about how you would change the present economic system to a new and greener economy, so that the current (political) parties have something to work on? They will need this if they are going to move from a market economy.
Good guidelines/practical strategies for moving towards a green, balanced economy were given on this website recently and last week the concept of a circular economy was summarised on Localise West Midlands’ website.
A regenerative ‘Circular Economy’ includes more localisation of economic activity and would replace and address the social and environmental damage done by the current ‘Linear Economy’ with its ‘take, make, dispose’ model, depleting finite reserves to create products that end up in landfill or in incinerators. It achieves its objectives through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling – reducing waste to zero. Some examples of such practice are presented on the website of the World Economic Forum.
The idea of circular material flows as a model for the economy was presented in 1966 by an economist, Professor Kenneth Boulding, in his paper The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth. In the 70s, Walter R. Stahel, architect, economist and a founding father of industrial sustainability, worked on developing a “closed loop” approach to production processes. He co-founded the Product-Life Institute in Geneva; its main goals are product-life extension, long-life goods, reconditioning activities, waste prevention, advocating “more localisation of economic activity”.
‘Resource’, the first large scale event for the circular economy was held In March 2014 and Walter Stahel joined the programme of 100 business leaders and experts. Many major stakeholders and visitors from across the globe attended. An annual large scale event is now increasing the uptake of circular economy principles.
The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) a charity, which receives funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Northern Ireland Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, the Welsh Government and the European Union was set up in 2000. From its headquarters in Banbury it works with businesses, individuals and communities to achieve a circular economy through helping them to reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way. (Above: the header for its March report)
On 17 December 2012, the European Commission published a document entitled Manifesto for a Resource Efficient Europe. This manifesto clearly stated that “In a world with growing pressures on resources and the environment, the EU has no choice but to go for the transition to a resource-efficient and ultimately regenerative circular economy” and outlined potential pathways to a circular economy, in innovation and investment, regulation, tackling harmful subsidies, increasing opportunities for new business models, and setting clear targets”.
Ellen (right) established this independent charity in 2010 and eloquently outlines the economic opportunity of a circular economy, giving the concept wide exposure and appeal.
John McDonnell announces that Labour has set up a ‘working group’ to investigate universal basic income
The group is working with Guy Standing, one of its economic advisers. Guy is a British professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and co-founder of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN).
Standing has written widely in the areas of labour economics, labour market policy, unemployment, labour market flexibility, structural adjustment policies and social protection. His recent work has concerned the emerging ‘precariat’ class and the need to move towards unconditional basic income.
During the summer of 2016 Mr McDonnell, who has been the MP for Hayes and Harlington since 1997, suggested he could “win the argument” on basic income within the Labour party. He now intends to publish a report on the idea to encourage discussion on the topic around Europe.
The Shadow Chancellor launched the first of Labour’s regional economic conferences in Liverpool on February 4th– read more here.
Transforming our Economy’ Conference in Newcastle Saturday 18th March 2017, details TBC
Annual ‘State of the Economy’ Conference in Birmingham Saturday 20th May 2017, details TBC
‘Transforming our Economy’ Conference in Bristol Saturday 8th July 2017, details TBC
‘Transforming our Economy’ Conference in Cardiff Saturday 28th October 2017, details TBC
Speaking about the idea – floated by Benoit Hamon during the socialist primaries of the French presidential elections – Mr McDonnell added:
“Interestingly, [Narendra] Modi’s government has brought forward a report in India as well about the need to develop basic income ideas and again see how they can implement it over a period of time. All of a sudden it’s become… an idea whose time may well have come . . .
“We’re exploring it. We think there are elements of it that we can bring forward as first steps towards a basic income that people can support.
“I was involved in the early campaigns many years ago on the development of child benefit – at that point in time there were all sorts of anxieties about whether you could bring forward a benefit for everybody that wasn’t based upon an assessment of need and we won the argument. I think child benefit is like one of the foundation stones of a future basic income”.
As John Nightingale who sent the link says, this ‘reads well’:
Each year the Financial Times conducts a survey of leading economists on the UK’s upcoming prospects. The New Weather Institute is part of that survey and predicts a bumpy ride. A lot of the FT material sits behind a paywall, so for interest here are the answers we gave to their questions (which are themselves interesting in terms of locating mainstream concerns) on issues ranging from economic growth, to Brexit, monetary and fiscal policy, inflation, immigration and, unavoidably, Donald Trump.
How much, if at all, do you expect UK economic growth to slow in 2017?
It is time to stop measuring the health of the economy using orthodox economic growth measured by fluctuations in GDP as the primary indicator. By mistaking quantity for quality of economic activity, worse than telling us nothing it can be actively misleading. It tells us nothing about the quality of employment, the intelligence of infrastructure, the economy’s resilience, the environment’s health, or the life satisfaction of the population. As the United Nations Development Programme pointed out (as far back as 1996), you may have growth, but it might be variously jobless, voiceless (denying rights), ruthless (associated with high inequality), rootless (culturally dislocating in the way that fed Brexit, for example) or futureless (as now, based on unsustainable resource use). All of this said, I would expect the undifferentiated volume of UK economic activity not to rise significantly over the course of 2017. If anything, the opposite is more likely due to a combination of the instability resulting from the lack of clarity over Brexit, and the unknown global impact of a rise in economic nationalism in the United States under a Trump Presidency.
Compared to what you thought 12 months ago about the UK’s long-term economic prospects outside the EU, are you now more optimistic or more pessimistic than you were?
I am more pessimistic than 12 months ago. Official optimism from the UK government over negotiating Brexit appears either disingenuous or extremely naïve to anyone with a wisp of experience of trade negotiations. If it is a case of being disingenuous to save political face, the sheer lack of public realism demonstrates a kind of poor management of expectations that is likely to feed a creeping disillusionment in the process, as deadlines are missed and compromises made. If simply naïve – and it is publicly recognised that Whitehall chronically lacks negotiating capacity – it raises the spectre of levels of incompetence that make it impossible to be optimistic about the UK’s long-term economic prospects.
Inflation has started to increase in recent months. To what extent do you expect inflation to rise in 2017?
The minor movements of inflation to a shred over 1 percent keep rates at historically very low levels. A bit more spending on shoes, clothes and furniture barely constitutes even cause for comment. You could say that the rate is rising because it doesn’t have much else to do. With broader economic uncertainties so strong, we are still in touching distance of a deflationary environment. And, with high consumer debt levels still worrying the Bank of England, the low inflation rate stands to exacerbate debt burdens. With the economy in a kind of limbo due to the opaque future ushered in by our unknown future relationship with the EU, I expect inflation to do nothing more dramatic than it has done for most of the last twenty years in an upward direction. But there is always a danger that it might weaken further, which will be a much bigger problem.
In December, the Monetary Policy Committee said the next interest rate move could as easily be up as down. Will there be a shift in this monetary policy stance by the end of 2017?
There is a strange and tenacious myth in economic commentary that a single, meaningful interest rate prevails across the economy. In practice, of course, this is nobody’s. What matters to the economy is that cheap, patient money is available for things that matter, such as building a resilient and efficient low-carbon infrastructure. Equally, the cost of money for risky and potentially damaging activities should be high. Unfortunately because of broader policy, pricing and market failures the opposite is often the case. Hence, tax breaks, subsidies and the way investment portfolios get managed means that money flows cheaply in fossil fuel infrastructure and operations. At the same time, necessary and successful emergent sectors like solar and other renewables can still struggle for affordable, patient capital. The privatisation and weakening of the mission of the Green Investment Bank is deeply concerning in this regard. Once again, prevalent economic uncertainties seem to be having the effect of putting everyone, the MPC included, on ‘watch’, and unlikely to do anything radically different in the ‘phony war’ period of approaching Brexit negotiations.
Immigration is likely to be central to the Brexit negotiations in 2017. How much do you think immigration will change and what effect do you think this will have on the UK economy?
It is tempting to ask how will we know how much immigration will change? Statistics are notoriously unreliable and, as the Financial Times has pointed out, become ‘less reliable the more detail you look for.’ A significant proportion of immigration is unrelated immediately to Brexit negotiations, though not to broader government policy. But on this, the government appears deeply divide, such as differences in approach to the control of foreign students between Philip Hammond, Theresa May and Amber Rudd. If anything, far from being downgraded by the Brexit debate, the economic importance of immigration to key UK sectors has been made more acutely obvious, ranging from higher education, to food, retail and a range of other service industries. Importantly, many of the drivers of population movement from inequality to conflict and environmental degradation show no sign of lessening and, if anything, growing worse. The tone and promise of government policy seems mostly to affect the degree of xenophobia experienced by immigrants rather than significantly changing their numbers. With all these things in mind, I doubt trends in immigration will change much in 2017 and that this will buoy-up a UK economy facing a wide range of threats.
Fiscal policy: Philip Hammond is expecting government borrowing to fall in 2017. His new fiscal rules provide headroom for more borrowing than currently forecast. To what extent will he need to use it and why?
The UK is weighed-down with an aging, creaking, high-carbon infrastructure. The case for public investment as necessary to rebuild the foundations for a modern, clean and efficient economy to underpin our quality of life is overwhelming. The cost of money for conventional borrowing is cheap. And the decision by the Bank of England to expand its quantitative easing (QE) programme from £375 billion to £445 billion in the wake of Brexit, demonstrates that public money creation is also possible when the situation demands it. Up to date, QE has benefited the banks, and the holders of certain assets, with broader economic benefits being questionable. But, as Mark Carney has previously indicated, there is no reason in principle why it cannot be used in a more intelligent and focused way to aid the productive, low carbon economy. I and others have consistently argued that far more good could be done if the same basic mechanism was used, for example, to capitalise a much larger and more ambitious green investment bank via bond purchases. The work subsequently undertaken such as large scale energy efficiency retrofitting of the UK housing stock and the roll out of renewable energy would generate good quality local employment and better prepare Britain for the future. There is no sign yet that the government intend to seize this opportunity and rather too many signs that any borrowing that is undertaken will not be put to as good use.
How do you think Donald Trump’s presidency will affect the UK economy in 2017?
The effect of Donald Trump’s presidency on the UK economy in 2017 will be as unpredictable as the bounce of an American football. Nobody seriously can know what it will be, other than increasing general levels of uncertainty, because nobody seriously believes that Trump himself knows what he will do in office. We can speculate that his brand of economic nationalism will be tempered by the full realisation of China’s leverage over America, just as we can question its initial sincerity. Especially as even as he was tub thumping against China, branded Trump products were available which carried globalisation’s legendary Made in China mark.
However, combined with the sentiments unleashed by Brexit, and the UK government’s active new embrace of industrial strategy, it is possible that the economic pendulum may swing back some degrees from globalisation toward localisation. Done in a purely autarchic way this might be negative. Done with respect to international cooperation and obligations, and to help build a more environmentally sustainable economy, it could snatch success from the jaws of chaotic self-destruction.
http://network.neweconomyorganisers.org/conversations/11898 Did you know… Adding your events to the NEON calendar will automatically promote them to our 1414 members – add your events here.
Northfield’s Dick Rodgers (right) occasionally attends WMNEG meetings and his concept of the Common Good focusses on seven key issues, listed on his website.
Today’s inbox brought news of another initiative: Economy for the Common Good (link does not work on all browsers). The e-correspondent wrote: “The group has established an interesting economic concept which moves away from a purely financial focus in business. Instead, through a technique called the Common Good Balance Sheet, measures are put in place to look at organisational focus on human dignity, cooperation, ecological sustainability, social justice, and transparency and democracy”.
A search found that Wikipedia describes Economy for the Common Good as a social movement advocating an alternative economic model which reevaluates economic relations by, for example, putting limits on financial speculation and encouraging companies to produce socially-responsible products: “It calls for working towards the common good and cooperation instead of profit-orientation and competition which lead to greed and uncontrolled growth”.
Christian Felber coined the term in his book Die Gemeinwohl-Ökonomie – Das Wirtschaftsmodell der Zukunft, published in 2010. According to Felber, it makes much more sense for companies to create a so-called “common good balance sheet” than a financial balance sheet. The common good balance sheet shows the extent to which a company abides by values like human dignity, solidarity and economic sustainability”.
Over 1200 companies actively support the concept of Economy for the Common Good and a few hundred of them have committed to creating the common good balance sheet.
These include Sparda-Bank Munich, the Rhomberg Group and Vaude Outdoor. According to proponents of the movement, the success of a company should not be determined by how much profit it makes, but rather by the degree to which it contributes to the common good.
In the words of noted economist Martin Wolf, “[I]f the legitimacy of our democratic political systems is to be maintained, economic policy must be orientated towards promoting the interests of the many not the few; in the first place would be the citizenry, to whom the politicians are accountable”.
Robert Kornreich recommends an analysis of working class, middle class & Northern votes by polymath Danny Dorling (below). ‘Brexit: the decision of a divided country’ was published in the BMJ on July 6th.
Text and references
On the same day that the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, huge rises in UK death rates were reported. These rises followed the austerity policies enacted by the 2010 coalition government.1
Self reported health was a key component of David Cameron’s wellbeing index, and it has declined in every year of his premiership, most rapidly towards the end.2
In March 2016 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported: “The proportion of people aged 16 and over in the UK who were somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their health was lower in the financial year ending 2014 (57.8%) than in the previous year (59.3%). The way in which people view their health is crucial to well-being.”3
Brandishing the slogan “Vote leave, take control,”4 the Leave campaign secured 51.9% of the referendum vote. However, 13 million registered voters did not vote, and a further seven million eligible adults were not registered.5 They were disproportionately “the young; flat-dwellers, especially renters; members of ethnic minorities; [and] recent movers.”6
The outcome of the EU referendum has been unfairly blamed on the working class in the north of England, and even on obesity.7 However, because of differential turnout and the size of the denominator population, most people who voted Leave lived in the south of England.8 Furthermore, of all those who voted for Leave, 59% were in the middle classes (A, B, or C1). The proportion of Leave voters in the lowest two social classes (D and E) was just 24%.8 The Leave voters among the middle class were crucial to the final result because the middle class constituted two thirds of all those who voted.
Unprecedented rise in death rates
On the day of the EU referendum, data released from the ONS showed there had been 52,400 more deaths in the year to June 2015 compared with the year to June 2014.9 Death rates in England and Wales rose overall by 9%. The biggest increases were among older adults and were unprecedented. They were attributed to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, with influenza being suggested as a contributory factor.10
Austerity had a major role, with people who had long term care needs dying earlier.11 The health and social services crises will deepen as national finances deteriorate and as it becomes harder to recruit and retain staff from the European mainland.12
Most migrants to the UK have good health and settle in poorer areas. The only adult age group to see improvements in death rates in the year to mid-2015 were those aged 25-29. The mid-year estimates released on 23 June 2016 showed that this was the age group of highest net in-migration to the UK.9 The UK has benefited greatly from the immigration of healthier than average young adults, educated at someone else’s expense; many of them work in our health, educational, social, and care services. Their arrival reduced heath inequalities and improved our overall health.
The underlying reason for worsening health and declining living standards was not immigration but ever growing economic inequality and the public spending cuts that accompanied austerity
Almost all other European countries tax more effectively, spend more on health, and do not tolerate our degree of economic inequality.13 To distract us from these national failings, we have been encouraged to blame immigration and the EU. That lie will now be exposed.
Most people younger than 50 who voted, voted to remain. They voted for a more inclusive politics, against bigotry, and for tolerance. They will feel newly betrayed by older voters, but their real betrayal has been a long time in the making.
In contrast to other European states, the UK has been systematically underfunding education and training, increasing student loans and debt, tolerating increasingly unaffordable housing, introducing insecure work contracts, and privatising the services the young will need in future. We encouraged the young to become individualistic and then blamed them when they did not turn out to vote in sufficient numbers.
They blame the older generation, but their ire should instead be directed at the post-1979 UK governments that have allowed economic inequalities to rise so high; that prevented a fair proportional voting system being introduced; and that have placed future generations in peril.
Danny Dorling is Halford Mackinder professor of social geography, St Peter’s College Oxford and Visiting Professor in the School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol.
Dorling D, Thomas B. People and places: a 21st-century atlas of the UK.Policy Press, 2016:186-9.
ONS. Measuring national well-being: domains and measures, March 2015 release. Section 3.3 satisfaction with general health. 2015.https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/datasets/measuringnationalwellbeingdomainsandmeasures
ONS. Measuring national wellbeing: life in the UK: 23 March 2016.http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/measuringnationalwellbeing/2016
Why vote Leave. http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/
Whatever your views on the EU, make sure you are registered to vote. Independent 2016 Jun7.http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/eu-referendum-brexit-register-to-vote-registration-deadline-young-voters-a7056886.html
Johnston R, Pattie C, Rossiter D. Ensuring equal representation in parliament: who counts? LSE British policy and politics blog, 20 Jul 2015. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/ensuring-equal-representation-in-parliament-who-counts/
Ormosis PK. The weight of Brexit: obese adults leading the way out of Europe, 29 Jun 2016. https://ormosi.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/the-weight-of-brexit-obese-adults-lead-the-way-out-of-europe
Ashcroft M. How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why, Lord Ashcroft polls, 24 Jun 2016.http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2016/06/how-the-united-kingdom-voted-and-why
ONS. Population estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: mid-2015. 2016.https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/bulletins/annualmidyearpopulationestimates/latest
ONS. Dementia/Alzheimer’s and respiratory disease behind biggest annual increase in deaths since the 1960s. 2016. http://visual.ons.gov.uk/dementiaalzheimers-and-flu-behind-biggest-annual-increase-in-deaths-since-the-1960s/
Dorling D. Why are the old dying before their time? How austerity has affected mortality rates. New Statesman 2014 Feb 7. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/02/why-are-old-people-britain-dying-their-time
Rylands-Monk F. EU nationals voice anxiety post-Brexit: the 280 or so radiologists from other EU countries who are working in the UK. AuntMinnie Europe 2016 Jun 29.http://www.auntminnieeurope.com/index.aspx?sec=ser&sub=def&pag=dis&ItemID=613177
Dorling D. Conclusion. In: A better politics: how government can make us happier. London Publishing Partnership, 2016:132-45. http://www.dannydorling.org/books/betterpolitics/.
Having reviewed a few of the New Economics lectures, WMNEG’s Ann Wackett draws attention to this series which might be a useful way to access Labour’s emerging economic policy, albeit as part of a wider suite of economic approaches, given that WMNEG is non partisan vis party politics.
The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has convened this series of public events to broaden the debate around economics in Britain. A range of experts have been presenting their views at a number of events across the country, with questions from members of the public.
Nevertheless, John McDonnell and his team hope that the themes which emerge will help to inform conversations about economic policy across the board.
Please check back as further events will be added in due course.
Conference: Universal Basic Income Network in Hamburg
Pathways of thought: common and uncommon ground, aims and direction when it comes to the environment: Jeremy Heighway
Looking at the aims of the conference page, it says very clearly: “A basic income is therefore a route to a degrowth society, however, a basic income does not necessarily start the ecological transformation that is so urgently needed,” and continues, “… addressing this … needs to be thoroughly incorporated into any implementation of a basic income and its accompanying measures.”
The tracks appear to go cold right there, however, as a shift is made towards four other areas of discussion, none of which intrinsically address ecological transformation. It is perfectly possible for a supporter of a basic income to ignore ecological transformation; to some extent it is even possible to be in favour of increased consumption.
The degrowth movement is a mindset; the basic income is a mechanism. This provides a possible clash from the outset, based on the question of what you hope to achieve and how.
On the societal side I think there is quite a good overlap and it is a great idea to get the movements working together. But opportunities can be missed if two groups do not also look hard at what is not automatically going to be addressed if you work together.
One huge area is, as stated above, ecological transformation. My proposal looks at eco-taxation and suggests that all increased revenue be returned to everyone evenly in the form of a basic income. However, I do not believe it would be able to help finance the true basic living-cost foundation much. It is certainly much more of an easy attachment to a basic income than a direct source of finance. Strangely, it is almost something which degrowth supporters need to be vigorous about from an environmental benefit perspective and argue for with basic income supporters.
The semi-sideline nature is maybe one reason why basic income supporters have not been very supportive of this idea so far: if it doesn’t do much to actually finance the true basic income, why complicate matters and potentially alienate people along the way with an unpopular taxation device?
Now it’s your time dear degrowth supporters: why do environmental concerns need to be considered again? And, dear basic income supporters, you can actually gain some firm supporters and new friends if you take up this idea – “… addressing this … needs to be thoroughly incorporated into any implementation of a basic income and its accompanying measures”, remember these stated aims of the conference?
Jeremy Heighway currently lives in Leipzig, was an active participant at the degrowth conference in 2014, and took part in the basic income GAP sessions. He also wrote a stirring paper on infrastructures for a parallel GAP. In his day job, Jeremy mostly does translations from German to English in the field of renewable energy.