NEF’s Laurie MacFarlane lists five Budget omissions

 

In the latest New Economics Foundation mailing there is a useful summary of these five omissions. One question asked by MacFarlane* is “What about the housing crisis?”

The Chancellor failed to mention housing even once, despite the fact that we are in the grip of a serious and escalating housing crisis. One of the things fuelling that crisis is the fact that the government is insisting on selling off public land rather than using it to help deliver more genuinely affordable housing.

At the current rtate, the new homes target on sold-off public land will not be met until 2032, 12 years laer than promised. And the majority of homes being built on the land sold are out of reach for most people — only one in five will be classified as ‘affordable’. Even this figure is optimistic as it uses the government’s own widely criticised definition of affordability. If the government ended the public land fire sale they could use that land to partner with local authorities, small developers and communities themselves to deliver the more affordable homes people need.

According to the latest Nationwide House Price statistics, as most people cannot afford to buy now even with a mortgage, cash buyers such as second homeowners and buy to let landlords are propping up the market. Things are getting worse for people left at the mercy of this failing market. The Chancellor could have put a stop to the fire sale of public land yesterday, but instead he acted as if there were no housing crisis all.

*

*Laurie MacFarlane is an economist whose work focuses on reforming the financial sector and the economy to align with long term interests of society. Before joining NEF he was Head of Analysis at the Water Industry Commission for Scotland, an economic regulator which ensures that water customers receive value for money and led a small team of economists undertaking economic and financial analysis and engaging with industry stakeholders. He also spent one year in the Markets and Economics division at Ofwat, where he worked on establishing the recent water company price determinations. He has worked closely with Common Weal, a progressive Scottish think tank which aims to promote a new vision for economic, social and cultural development in Scotland and has a particular interest in analysing the links between UK housing crisis, the finance system and inequality.

Read more here: http://action.neweconomics.org/people/entry/laurie-macfarlane

 

 

 

Urban rental housing co-op built on Welsh brownfield site

rhyl

West Rhyl Housing Co-operative is Wales’s first urban rental housing co-op, formed by North Wales Housing, West Rhyl Community Land Trust and Wales Co-operative Centre, was funded by the Welsh Government and North Wales Housing and completed in January.

Anwyl, a local construction company, built the £1.4m housing scheme, in Abbey Street at the heart of Rhyl’s west end, overlooking the Gerddi Heulwen green space (above), which opened last year.The Afallon housing co-operative consists of seven new terraced three-bedroom family homes with gardens, built on the small brownfield site. The commercial premises on the site have been renovated, providing a community shop and bakery on the ground floor with four flats above.

afallon-co-opLocal families have moved into these affordable family homes built to a high specification and Code 4 standard of energy efficiency. People who currently live or work in Rhyl or surrounding areas were eligible to become tenants and members of the housing co-op. They are involved in managing their properties and will have a voice on future plans and projects in the area.

Wales is still building social housing and is about to abolish the right to buy. Its homelessness prevention legislation in 2015 is working well; the charity Crisis reports that though the number of households accepted as homeless in the last quarter of 2015 rose by 6% in England to 14,470. Kate Murray of the Guardian adds that in Wales the number fell by some 67% to 405 in the same period.

Those who remember our colleague Pat Conaty, now living in Wales, will be interested to hear that he has had a hand in the venture via his work with community land trusts and the co-operative sector.

Click on this link for information about other new co-operative housing projects in Glasgow, New Hampshire, South Lanarkshire and Rochdale, and about the February government white paper which includes an earlier proposal for a new £60m community housing fund in areas ‘affected by second-home ownership’ to support community-led housing projects and help local groups to deliver affordable housing aimed at first-time buyers.

 

 

 

 

Update on correspondence and new section on website

.

George Morran emailed re the WMCA: wmneg2-stats

“My starting point has to be what future we see for Westminster, Whitehall and the shape of local government. These issues can only be seen in a wider English and UK context.

“The WMCA is a vehicle for Westminster and Local Government as it is.

“If you take my view that strengthening civic society and moving to a more sustainable economy are needed this requires a real downsizing of Westminster and Whitehall, the transfer of power and resources to the English Regions, a much more localised system of local Government and voting reform to give a wider range of interests a stake in new arrangements.

“Focusing on WMCA diverts scarce resources. We have to challenge the status quo and work up a real alternative to the Westminster and big LA conspiracy to maintain their stranglehold over Government, economic development and public service delivery”.

Despite George’s comment it seemed good to open a new WMCA section on the website after receiving a 50+ paper by Richard Hatcher.  There is also a link to the WMCA Mayoral Election slides presented at the last meeting.

To see it, go to https://goodmorningamericaword.wordpress.com and hover over the WMCA headline to find these two entries/links.

Supporters of John McDonnell and/or UBI will be interested to know that random visitors flocked to that article – over 150 people in a few days – from many countries – see left.

And 18 people found the WMCA section only 15 minutes after posting!

 

 

 

 

Rethinking economics 2000-2017

In 2000 the Post-Autistic Economics movement attracted attention and its website now redirects us to the active and well-read Real World Economics Review and, following the 2008 crash, the Post-Crash Economics Society (PCES) was formed.

David Pilling reports that seven undergraduates met on the top floor of Manchester university’s student union, four years ago. Two founding members gave a brief PowerPoint presentation explaining what they thought was wrong with the economics curriculum.

economics-post-crash

The most glaring failure of mainstream economics, the students argued, is its failure to explain, much less foresee, the financial crash of 2008. Joe Earle, founder member of the PCES recalls that the crisis was not mentioned once during his entire first year at Manchester in 2011. His lecturers appeared to believe in a rational economic system that was largely self-correcting, one that would return naturally to a state of equilibrium. He arrived at Manchester, aged 20 after working in several sectors, with a broader perspective than most. The economics he encountered seemed unconcerned with real-world problems, such as inequality or financial stability.

“You are taught a narrow way of thinking about the economy as this set of rules and laws not to be questioned and not to be engaged with,” he says. He would like to “put politics and philosophy and, well, in plain language ethics” back into economics by teaching it as a “contested”, cross-disciplinary subject in which different approaches are tested against real-world scenarios.

Debunking ‘trickle -down’

ha-joon-chang-quote

The analysis of the Post-Crash Economics Society is shared by Ha-Joon Chang, a developmental economist who teaches at Cambridge. He remembers students banging on his door, saying, ‘There’s the biggest financial crisis since 1929 going on around us and our professors teach as if nothing has happened.’ Chang – a prolific author – says he is the “last of the Mohicans”, the last non-mainstream economist to make it on to the Cambridge faculty before the powers-that-be drew down the drawbridge.

coyle-book-coverDiane Coyle, professor of economics at Manchester university, defends the basic methodology of economics. She says there is confusion among critics between microeconomics, the study of the behaviour of individuals and firms, and macroeconomics, the study of whole economies. Macroeconomics, she admits, “is broken”. But microeconomics is both robust and often verifiable with real-world data

“Almost anybody teaching economics accepts that, post-crash, the curriculum needed reforming, though I understand why for students this is all impossibly slow.” Diane Coyle also reminded us in 2011, that the financial crisis is just one of the many economic challenges we face: “More pressing is the instability in our natural environment, as consumption demands by an ever-expanding world population continue to put strain on the earth’s resources”.

Post-Crash Economics has now become Rethinking Economics, a registered charity that links more than 40 student groups pressing for curriculum changes in campuses from Italy to Canada and from China to Brazil.  One member, Neill Lancastle, tweets about the 19th Annual Conference of the Association for Heterodox Economics in July at Dalton Ellis Hall, University of Manchester.

ahe-het-econ-header

Its theme: SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY AND ECONOMICS:

“The shrinking of the polar ice caps suggests a dangerous rise in sea level by 2050. Declining biodiversity and growing sea pollution indicate that change is needed in the dominant narratives about growth and profit. Heterodox economics needs to offer a compelling alternative. We welcome abstracts and stream proposals which theorise such issues, or do empirical work, or both”. More information: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6WcIic0m806Q0dGU1RTRi1Eb0U/view

Those who dismiss these initiatives should remember, as Pilling points out, that today’s students are tomorrow’s trained economists, some of whom will be running economies from their desks in government, banks, multilateral institutions and think tanks. He believes that what these students learn about how economies work and how governments can influence outcomes – and will have a profound impact on future policies covering everything from tax and spending to interest rates, minimum wages, greenhouse gas emissions and trade. 

The writer welcomes aspirations to ‘democratise’ economics – but hopes for beneficial change falter because of the lack of reference to ethics or morality in the material read.

 

 

 

John McDonnell announces that Labour has set up a ‘working group’ to investigate universal basic income

john-mcdonnell-smallThe 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

 jmcd-ne-lectures-video

 

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”.

 

 

 

Review of ‘Progressive Protectionism’: a new book by Colin Hines

An article by Richard Murphy, Tax Research UK, has been added to our Papers and Correspondence section

Edited extracts:

These are unusual political times. When I first started writing this blog the risk of fascism was present, but thankfully remote. The rise of the populist far-right was not unimaginable, but in the form it then took was hard to realistically foresee. The UK leaving the EU was quite impossible to predict. And that immigration would rise to the top of the political agenda seemed particularly unlikely. About as unlikely, to be candid, as it was that the FT might seriously discuss the end of global capitalism. But times change. Prevailing opinions do too. And the failure of the body-politic to address the issues arising from the 2008 global financial crash has changed a great deal about the UK. What that means is that we have to think differently.

All of which is a long winded way of saying that a while ago I may have found it difficult to discuss a book on protectionism on this blog, even if it was written by a friend of mine. And now I don’t. Now I think that even if we find ideas uncomfortable and we think that they challenge our long held perceptions then we still have to consider them: changed political sentiments requires that those with progressive inclinations rethink what they have to offer, and why, if they are to continue to shape the fortunes of people in this country and elsewhere in ways that social justice suggest desirable.

colin2-book-coverA new book called Progressive Protectionism by  Colin Hines, who is the convenor of the Green New Deal group, provides some such uncomfortable thinking. I do not agree with all Colin says, and nor do many in the Green New Deal group, and yet what Colin has to say is now both timely and maybe even necessary. . . he argues . . . that the Treaty of Rome that underpins that whole edifice should be amended and replaced by what he calls a Treaty of Home.

Colin is a long time environmentalist and argues that we should replace global capitalism with strong local economies. This is not only green, but he also argues it is the way to tackle many other issues. Capital controls, for example, would let us more effectively tackle tax abuse and so build a more equal and just society. They would also end a focus on speculation that is creating massively harmful inequality in our country, and others. Controls on trade would, Colin argues, support local economies and jobs and massively reduce the enormous carbon cost of much of world trade.

But, and this is where for many the argument will be uncomfortable, this also requires control on migration.

Colin does not argue that anyone should have to leave their country of residence. And nor does he suggest there should be no migration: he is quite explicit about the fact that there will be many reasons why it can and should exist. But equally he argues that economic migration is not a virtue, and even that is troubling for many. Colin has been banned from some left of centre discussion forums for even raising it as a concern.

colin_hines-standingColin carefully documents that our open doors policy for those who train in poorer countries and then work here denudes those countries of the skills they need to provide a better standard of living for those who live in their home countries and is little better than a new form of economic colonialism on occasion. We extract people and their incomes from other countries as surely now as we once extracted the raw materials and products of those countries at an undervalue in the past.

In that way Colin argues that a policy that deliberately fosters the idea of encouraging people to stay where they are, and builds foreign and aid policy around that goal is now not just a priority, but an issue of social justice when data shows that most migrants move the minimum distance possible from their homes to achieve their goals . . .

What he is doing is offering a radical, left of centre, concerned view on the way the world should develop if social justice is to be achieved.

And whilst facing some of the issues Colin raises may be difficult for many, those who are serious about building credible left wing politics that can and will win electoral support should now be willing to recognise that the assumptions on which old edifices have been built do need to be challenged – if only to find out what is really worth retaining and what is worth discarding.

Colin’s book offers a chance to do that. What he is offering is of real value, not least because he focuses on solutions, and they’re in short supply right now.

Richard’s review may also be read in full on his website:

http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2017/01/12/progressive-protectionism-a-new-book-by-colin-hines/

 

 

 

A Green perspective: MP Clive Lewis’s position reflects views of many

(Links & bracketed content added)

Natalie Bennett, writing in the FT, expresses disappointment that unnamed Labour “colleagues” of shadow business secretary Clive Lewis have joined the FT’s arch anti-Corbynite Jim Pickard (despite his ‘neutral not hostile’ Twitter profile) in criticising his statement about the privatisation of public services and assets. (FT January 11).

mp-clive-lewisLewis said “public good, private bad”, referring specifically to these sectors. We add a fairer picture than the unpleasant image selected by the FT.

That reflects the views of many millions of Britons who have seen public services handed over to be managed for private profit, an approach built on cutting the quality of services, eating away at the pay and conditions of workers, and shovelling public money into private hands.

As she says: “Across the country, the privatisation of our NHS, with the importation of the failed US healthcare system with for-profit providers, is causing disquiet”.

At risk also, Ms Bennett continues, is “The vital purpose of the Green Investment Bank, to fund the infrastructure we need for an affordable, secure energy future, replaced with asset-stripping”. (Note the parliamentary debate here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-01-11/debates/C92ACCCC-380F-4277-87FC-D42B2B7B0443/GreenInvestmentBank)

Natalie ends: “We have a mixed economy in which the private sector plays many critical roles, but for-profit businesses have no rightful place in running public services”.

Natalie Bennett is the Prospective Green Party candidate for Sheffield Central, Sheffield, S Yorks

 

 

 

Economic Prospects for 2017: Andrew Simms, New Economics Foundation

nef-logo

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 membersadd your events here.

 

 

 

Calling for a massive sea-change in how we live on this planet of ours . . . Jeremy Heighway

age-stupidI guess I move along the margins. I think about whether our new Anthropocene epoch (eons, eras, periods, epochs, ages) should actually signal a change higher up the order. We currently say that a new period, the Quaternary, started 2.6 million years ago, but we may need to draw attention more towards right now instead  . . .

The bigger the mess we make, the more significant the geological markers will be. At the time of writing this paragraph we have not yet entered the Trump Age, but others have made films with titles such as “The Age of Stupid” or have begun to say that we are now living in a post-truth era.

There is also the new degrowth movement in town, calling for a massive sea-change in how we live on this planet of ours. However, I’ve not seen anybody calling for this to be a new degrowth age or era, just that we need to massively change our ways. Such a change would surely usher in something worthy of at least being an age, though. Also, depending on what we do over a really short time scale geologically speaking, we do have the potential to inflict something as high up as a new period on our planet, in my opinion.

ics

Or, we can save ourselves from naming and shaming ourselves with a new Anthropiary Period and get down to the business of taking up the Anthropocene, accept our culpability so far by nominating an Age of Stupid, and then moving on into an Age of Enlightenment. At least these phrases already exist – except for the Anthropiary Period one. But ok, maybe the International Commission on Stratigraphy (the largest and oldest constituent scientific body in the International Union of Geological Science) needs to wait a few years before declaring that we have come to our senses, or not.

So, what are the mechanisms that will enable a successful degrowth society the world over?

oil-to-localWell, first of all, I would call something successful if we get to choose it for ourselves with a minimum of suffering and hardship, and if it is actually sustainable . . .

We have now developed our technologies to a point where we can harvest large amounts of energy from solar and wind power and even grow food with continuous output indoors and vertically if we want to.

We could break free from using fossil fuels within the next couple of decades if we chose to do so.

What is unclear, though, is what steady-state world we wish to create in other respects: quality of life, life expectancy, equalities and so on

The degrowth movement has been having varying problems even with its very name of late. It is so much more than literally degrowth, and in many areas almost all supporters would actually like to see a massive growth in better ways of behaving towards each other, towards animals and towards the planet. However, looking for a different name is problematic too. It is almost testimony to the power of television, especially in the UK, that people might feel slightly awkward about wanting to call themselves part of the Good Life Movement . . . Maybe there is no name which can satisfy what it really feels like, but I do like that the name is directed against an equally unclear mindset which seems to have growth, growth, growth as one of its underlying pillars.

When going up against people who believe in clear figures (even if they make no sense in the long run), I think we do need to be more than warm, but fuzzy. We need to have an understanding of the mechanisms which drive lots of people, and systems which perpetuate or preserve patterns of behaviour, even when these are unhelpful. We need to be able to propose alternative systems that will function well and gain support . . .

In essence, I would like to know more about the environmental and social cost/benefit factors of choosing a regional product over an imported one, for example. However, the price tag tells me almost nothing about the energy required to make the product, let alone about the social or environmental conditions surrounding the process.

energy-manufactured-product

Ed: a Royal Society paper focus on the energy required to produce ‘materials’ and World Centric offers a useful plastic/foam/alternatives graphic – above.

For decades now there has been talk about internalising the externalities, i.e. that all products and services should cost the manufacturer a ‘true’ price for the product, which should then be reflected on the price tag. Environmentally speaking, this is also known as the polluter pays principle.

Do good and be penalised, do bad and benefit from it; this is a fundamental flaw in many of our systems

car-polluter-paysIf what a company is doing is causing any kind of harm, then it (and the customers) should have to pay for it and not society at large. One consequence would be that companies which put in the effort to be clean would no longer be at a clear disadvantage over those that don’t.

But unfair imbalances are not only to be found in environmental matters. Companies which hire a lot of workers will pay higher national insurance contributions than companies which choose to automate their processes. As unemployment benefit is a part of national insurance, companies who hire fewer people end up paying less towards this, which increases the burden on companies which are actually providing more of the jobs.

For years, one of my philosophical questions to the world has been: Why do people follow loudmouths to the slaughterhouse and ignore the whispers of the wise?

While it is nice that more and more individuals (the degrowth movement) are trying to take a step back from harming others by finding alternative ways of doing things, it is often part of the very nature of being quiet-spoken and tender that they are ignored by the vast majority of people . . .

sheeplike-followinghttp://kexino.com/marketing/following-the-business-herd/

The (re)distribution of wealth and resources is a major sub-current in degrowth thinking, and one of the most promising approaches in my opinion is the Universal Basic Income (UBI) idea. I probably do not need to extol the (perceived?) virtues of this here; I too see a lot of positives in the concept.

I do think it will be necessary to introduce monetary measures which aim to protect the environment and society. I do not wish to see irresponsible consumption rise as a result of redistribution, nor do I wish to see mass unemployment become an even more “acceptable” condition if it is against what people actually want for their own lives.  A responsibly planned UBI will thus have to incorporate or acknowledge other large system changes in my opinion. There is much more to this than eco-taxation, for example, and yet even this subject is hardly being mentioned by UBI groups. At best, eco-taxation is mentioned within the framework of financing mechanisms for an UBI, but I believe this is massively understating its relevance and importance.

To summarise:

polluter-pays

We need more participant pays mechanisms, which will involve identifying and monetarising the use of resources and pollutants. [As an aside, no, CO2 is not a pollutant in the general sense of the word. Then again, neither is salt, but I don’t want salt to find its way into my coffee, thank you very much, nor for more than threshold amounts to enter freshwater streams and rivers].

We need to find new ways of evaluating the consumption of energy, for example, and of taking into account both the direct individual use of energy as well as the energy embedded in products and services. This could be done via types of taxation or a secondary tier of payments which incorporates energy quotas and energy accounts (e.g. TEQs). An UBI would play a big role in making sure that poorer people in society would not suffer from certain higher prices/taxation.

We also need to look very hard at what work is, the nature of employment and being employed, and the frameworks associated with this extremely important element of our lives. What will meaningful participation look like in future, sustainable, degrowth societies?

*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. In his day job, Jeremy mostly does translations from German to English in the field of renewable energy. His paper may be read in full here.

 

 

 

 

Community Land Trusts

There are signs of a growing interest in initiatives long advocated by the New Economics Foundation: local currencies, housing co-operatives and credit unions. See footnote with links.

As more people feel the impact of the housing crisis some are solving their own housing problems. Martina Lees reports:

  • there are about 169,000 co-operatives that let tenants democratically control their homes,
  • more than 100 self-help housing projects are bringing empty homes back into use,
  • over 50 cohousing groups of private homes that share facilities
  • and 170 Community Land Trusts (CLTs) in England and Wales

The latest news noted relates to CLTs, half of which have been set up in the past two years. Together they have built almost 700 affordable homes, with another 2,300 on the way by 2020.

clt-wessex-passivhaus

Christow CLT: passivhaus buildings (more here)

Though all these initiatives are on a small scale at present, the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) is working to make community-led housing mainstream. Two examples:

Lavenham’s CLT bought a derelict storage depot for £1 from Suffolk County Council, which is granting planning on the condition that all 18 homes are for low rent or shared ownership.

clt-cornwall

Above: a development by one of several CLTs set up in Cornwall which has seen its young people leaving because of lack of affordable housing. In Rock, St Minver CLT paid a local farmer only £120,000 for the land where it built its first 12 homes – all sold at 31.3% of market rates to help younger people stay in an area where holiday homes have caused prices to soar. Cornwall council would not have given permission for the farmer to sell on the open market.

At the University of Salford, working with Community Finance Solutions, Pat Conaty – formerly of this parish – has been developing a national Community Land Trusts training programme that has been running courses since March 2011 for new groups and local authorities.

He believes that Community Land Trusts offer a community led ‘bottom-up’ approach to housing issues and creative, ecological developments.

Those who want to learn more should follow these links:

*

FOOTNOTE:

Housing co-ops:

https://concernedcooperators.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/grassroots-co-operatives-come-to-the-fo

http://www.radicalroutes.org.uk/

https://concernedcooperators.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/400/

Google reveals more in London, Glasgow, Sheffield, Coventry, Edinburgh

Local currencies

https://brixtonpound.org/

http://www.totnespound.org/

http://www.exeterpound.org.uk/

http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/stroud-pound.asp

Latest credit union

https://antidotecounteragent.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/tynedale-community-bank-is-launched/

Community land trusts – see links above