Friday, 23 November 2007

A new economy

Last week I attended an inspiring conference Be the Change. George Monbiot kicked off. The problems we are facing, he said, are because capitalism is dependent on an ever increasing supply of goods and services… which are based on finite resources. In other words, freemarket economic growth is incompatible with an environmental and social agenda. The billion people who can afford to drive a car have greater purchasing power than the billion people who are struggling to feed themselves on the very same staple foods we can now run cars on - corn and wheat for example.

This is going to be a huge debate in the year to come, I think, as the majority of leaders still say we can essentially grow our way out of our planet’s crisis.Next up was Stewart Wallis of the New Economics Foundation (nef). I am in love with this organisation and everything that comes out of it. We’re running out of planet, he said. And the poorest are suffering the most. In 1900 the ratio of poor to rich was 36:1. Now it’s 75:1. He talked about the moral economy and how it is the right of every child to be brought up to consider the needs of others. Interesting, and true. His solution was devolution to local energy, food and community power while maintaining a global perspective.Change happens, he said, when people power start demanding it. It’s got to start with us. Maybe this wombat can teach us something.

1 comment:

James said...

There's some tricky distinctions to work through before we can even see what might work in future. One of the reasons things keep getting worse decade after decade is well-meaning green speakers throwing the economic baby out with the bathwater.

Yes freemarket economic growth is incompatible with environmental and social agenda. It's also incompatible with future economic growth since it eats up all the productive resources it needs to run. Natural resources, ecosystem services, healthy stable communities, even trust and investment flows are endangered. Why don't green speakers mention this? Business and politics might then be open to alternative forms of capitalism. But according to Monbiot there is only capitalism as we know it, no alternatives.

Capitalism doesn't have to be free to run amok and it doesn't have to depend on ever increasing resource flows, from nature to products to junk and greenhouse gases. The growth model of capitalism can be changed from linear (waste-making) to circular (resource-making) anytime. This would revitalise all sustainable development issues including inequalities and localisation. It can be done with just one economic tool - see But it might not happen at all if the loudest green speakers keep missing the point.