I am now in a very hot and humid Kyoto having left Australia yesterday in weather that was in some places 20 or more degrees Celsius above the norm for early Spring. The heat here and back home at this time of year is rather scary given what it portends. I also do not have much time today given I have been contending with various ‘moving in’ requirements. But I read an article on the plane last night which I think marks a divide between what ‘green’ progressives think and what I think is needed. I was talking to a friend the other day who remarked he was enduring what he termed ‘ecological anxiety’. In the week that followed, bushfires across Australia have started burning some months earlier than has been the typical pattern over a long period. There are massive ‘weather’ events now all around the globe and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the sceptics to dismiss these conjunctions as random or ‘we just haven’t had data long enough’ type ruses. Some ‘green progressives believe the solution lies in governments inducing the financial speculators to shift funds into ‘green’ investments so that profitability can be safeguarded. They also believe that governments will get more money to invest this way (through providing inflation-indexed sovereign bonds). Talk about a vision for increased corporate welfare. My starting point is that we should do everything possible to keep the speculators out of our policy moves to decarbonise. It will end badly if we rely on the gamblers for the solution.
The question is when is a Labour Party a Labour Party? The answer is: When it is a Labour Party! Which means when it defends workers’ interests against capital and when it defends families against pernicious neoliberal cuts or constraints on welfare. Which means, in turn, that the British Labour Party is a Labour Party in name only and the British people have little to choose from with respect to the two parties vying for government – Tory and Tory-lite! The British Labour Party has been abandoning its traditional role for some time now and while it is true that society and the constraints on government have evolved/changed, some things remain the same in a monetary economy. And that means that the statements from the Labour leader in recent days about fiscal spending austerity and a refusal to reverse some of the most pernicious Tory policies fail to recognise the reality. More spending will be required in the coming years not only to redress the damage done by the years of Tory rule but also to meet the challenges ahead in terms of climate, housing, education, health and more. The real question should be not whether more spending is required but what must accompany that spending by way of extra taxation. In my assessment, the next British government will have to lift taxes to create sufficient fiscal space in order to meet the challenges facing the nation with extra spending. Starmer is clearly not wanting to have that debate, which means the British people are once again being deceived by their political class. Taxes will rise with growth but I doubt that will generate sufficient space for the extra spending that will be required.
There appears to be confusion among those interested in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) as to what the implications for a green transition that will fasttrack the transition to renewable energy will require by way of government. I regularly see statements that government deficits will have to be ‘massive’ for extended periods because the private (for profit) market entities will not move fast enough to deal with the climate emergency in any effective way. The confusion inherent in these claims is that they fail to separate the ‘size’ of government from any particular ‘net spending’ (deficit) recorded by government. The two outcomes are quite separable and have to be if government action is to achieve sustainable outcomes, not only in terms of environmental goals but also price stability goals. So let’s work all that out. Failing to do so, leads MMT activists to make claims that open them up to criticism from those who understand the point I am making but have different ideological agendas. So they make erroneous claims such that ‘MMT just advocates big deficits’, or that ‘MMT thinks that deficits do not matter’. But they have been lured into that position, in part, by the social media behaviour of some MMT activists.
In Tuesday’s fiscal statement, the Australian government made a lot of noise about dealing with the climate emergency that the nation faces but in terms of hard fiscal outlays or initiatives it did very little, deferring action again, while ‘the place burns’. The Climate Council assessment was that the government “still seems to be on a warm-up lap when it comes to investing in climate action” (Source) and recommended the nation moves from a “slow job” to a “sprint”. I have previously written about the myopic nature of neoliberalism. There are countless examples of governments penny pinching and then having to outlay dollars to fix the problem they create by the austerity. The climate emergency is of another scale again though. And penny pinching now will cause immeasurable damage to humanity. Food security will be threatened. Urban environments will become unliveable. Pandemics will increase if we don’t stop clearing and if we release viruses stored in permafrost. And all the rest that awaits us. Now is the time to reset our understanding of fiscal capacity. It is already, probably, too late.
Last Monday, I wrote about the global need for us to abandon meat production for food, and, instead take up plant-based diets. Many people interpreted that argument as a personal attack on their dietary freedom, which indicates they fell into a fallacy of composition trap and declined to see the global issue. As part of my series on the Degrowth agenda, the other aspect about food which is important is that we have a propensity to produce too much food and distribute what we produce unfairly. I will deal with the distributional issues in another post. Today, I want to talk about the over-abundance of food in nations which means too much land, water and other resources is devoted to its production with commensurate negative environmental consequences. One manifestation of that phenomenon is food loss and food waste, which are different terms for the segment of the food supply chain where wastage occurs. If we are serious about dealing with the environmental disaster then we have to eliminate or dramatically reduce wastage. This will require significant investments in some nations to improve storage etc and a dramatic change in other nations in terms of attitudes to aesthetics, packaging, and more.
This is Part 6 of a series on Deep Adaptation, Degrowth and MMT that I am steadily writing. I have previously written in this series that there will need to be a major change in the composition of output and the patterns of consumption if we are to progress towards a sustainable future. It will take more than cutting material production and consumption. We have to make some fundamental shifts in the way we think about materiality. The topic today is about consumption but a specific form – our food and diets. Some readers might know that there has been a long-standing debate across the globe on whether a vegetarian/vegan diet is a more sustainable path to follow than the traditional meat-eating diet. Any notion that the ‘meat’ industry is environmentally damaging is vehemently resisted by the big food corporations. Like anything that challenges the profit-seeking corporations there is a massive smokescreen of misinformation created to prevent any fundamental change. New research, however, makes it clear that we can achieve substantial reductions in carbon emissions by abandoning meat products in our diets and the gains are disproportionately biased towards the richest nations. I have long argued that I find a fundamental contradiction in those who espouse green credentials and advocate dramatic behavioural shifts to deal with climate change while a the same time eating meat products. The recent research supports that argument. So Greenies, give up the steaks and the chickens and get on your bikes and head to the greengrocer and start cooking plants.
This is Part 5 of an on-going series I am writing about the issues facing societies dealing with climate change and other elements which come together as a poly crisis. The series will unfold as I research and think about the topic more through my Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) lens. Today, I am concluding the analysis of the questions relating to the ageing society and the resulting skill shortages, that the mainstream narrative identifies as key ‘problems’ facing governments across the Western world. Like any issue, the way the ‘problem’ is constructed or framed influences the conclusions we come up with. Further, the tools use to operationalise that construction also influence the scope and quality of the analysis and the resulting conclusions. As I explained in Monday’s blog post – Degrowth, deep adaptation, and skills shortages – Part 4 (October 31, 2022) – the use of mainstream macroeconomics fails to deliver appropriate policy advice on these questions. But further, when we introduce multi-dimensional complexity – such as degrowth to the ageing society issue – the mainstream approach becomes catastrophic. MMT is a much better analytical framework for drilling down to see what the essential problem is and what are non-problems and thus creating the questions and answers that lead to sound policy. Today, I show why the existence of skills shortages really provides us with the space to pursue a degrowth strategy while not causing material standards of living to collapse. They are better seen as indicator of what is possible rather than a macro problem.
It’s Wednesday and so we have a few brief items relating to monetary policy and property scandals before a final music offering to calm our nerves.
This is the third part in a on-going series that I am writing about Deep Adaptation, Degrowth and related concepts, all of which are designed to provide some sort of pathway beyond the current mess that the world is in with respect to climate, inequality, poverty, excessive consumption, and excessive population growth. Today, I consider how Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) fits into the transition agenda and discuss the labour market dislocation that will accompany the transition to degrowth.
This is Part 2 of a series on Deep Adaptation and MMT that I am writing. The first part – Deep Adaptation – Part 1 (August 22, 2022) – introduced the concept. I have recently written about the coming together of a number of crises which I consider to be all linked and part of the end of normal business as we have known it. See – The global poly crisis is the culmination of the absurdity of neoliberalism (July 18, 2022). Thinking about the social aspects of that conjunction of crises, we understand that advancing material prosperity is still a goal that we should seek to achieve for millions of the globe’s citizens, who live in abject poverty with little food and housing security. But then, when we consider the ecological dimension we see immediately how the social goals have to be solved within a constrained envelope of overall material deprivation. The question then is how can we move forward towards achieving that duality. There are various propositions out there – Green New Deals, Green Growth, etc. I think they are all flawed and that proponents tend to become captured by the power relations that have created the current mess. That is where I think the concept of Deep Adaptation comes into play. Which brings me to a starting point in understanding where these institutionalised ‘green’ conservations have lost their way. Today, I am writing about growth and degrowth, because there are a lot of misunderstandings out there about this apparent conflict.