Writings from 2014

Economist-kings?

Spring 2007: the high-water mark of self-confidence for economic neo-liberalism. In March, both Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke publicly stated that they saw no danger of recession, and that the subprime fiasco had been ‘contained’. As late as mid-May, with the sub-prime crisis in full throe, still Bernanke felt able to say this: Importantly, we see no serious broader spillover to banks or thrift institutions from the problems in the subprime market. In July, Paulson claimed: This is far and away the strongest global economy I’ve seen in my business lifetime; and on August 1st, I see the underlying economy as being very healthy. Neo-liberalism remained a movement triumphal around the world. No bunch of poverty-stricken mortgage-defaulters – who could conveniently be blamed for the little local difficulty – were going to derail this ideology.

Constant growth can only make most of us poorer

George Monbiot is correct in his praise of Thomas Piketty's proposal for a wealth tax to counteract the insane levels of inequality now generated in our world, and in pointing out that only the Green party is prepared to back this obvious idea. However, we should be careful not to let Piketty's helpful intervention in the debate blind us to the severe limits of his own stance in political economy.

The real reason why libertarians become climate-deniers

We live at a point in history at which the demand for individual freedom has never been stronger — or more potentially dangerous. For this demand — the product of good things, such as the refusal to submit to arbitrary tyranny characteristic of ‘the Enlightenment’, and of bad things, such as the rise of consumerism at the expense of solidarity and sociability — threatens to make it impossible to organise a sane, collective democratic response to the immense challenges now facing us as peoples and as a species. ”How dare you interfere with my ‘right’ to burn coal / to drive / to fly; how dare you interfere with my business’s ‘right’ to pollute?” The form of such sentiments would have seemed plain bizarre, almost everywhere in the world, until a few centuries ago; and to uncaptive minds (and un-neo-liberalised societies) still does. But it is a sentiment that can seem close to ‘common sense’ in more and more of the world: even though it threatens to cut off at the knees action to prevent existential threats to our collective survival, let alone our flourishing.

Let's build a post-growth economy that works for the 99%

What would a post-growth world look like? Some would argue that it is not difficult to imagine a world without growth, as many countries are already living in it.

Japan stagnated for a decade and its economy has been left hollowed-out. Much of Europe is in negative or near-zero growth in the wake of the global economic crisis, and in none of these countries can a lack of growth be viewed as a good thing.

We see before our eyes the human cost of economic systems that are dependent on constant growth to function. We currently rely on growth for all kinds of purposes. As a substitute for the redistribution of wealth, for example - so long as everyone is getting richer, why worry if some are getting much richer than others?

An allegory of a ‘therapeutic’ reading of a film: of Melancholia

  1. This essay is a (more or less philosophical) account or allegory of my viewing(s) of Lars von Trier’s remarkable film, Melancholia (2011). It is personal, and philosophical. (The personal here turns out, potentially, to be philosophical.) Von Trier’s film in turn is clearly among other things a (brilliantly accurate) allegory of (his) depression; and it is also clearly (though at the very same time) much more than that. In expressing my experience of the film and the world (and my experience as a part time mega-melancholic – which is part of my basis for using the adjective “brilliantly accurate” in the previous sentence), my essay is inevitably personal, ‘person-relative’. Furthermore: This is an inevitable feature of therapeutic philosophy, the philosophy practiced most famously by Ludwig Wittgenstein. As the later Gordon Baker for example explained clearly2: such philosophy responds to the individual reader (/ viewer). And vice versa. In a kind of dialogue or (to use the term that Melancholia prefers) dance…

Progress: beyond the growth fetish

The UK has just experienced its annual budget announcement from the Government. It contained an extraordinary attack on the eco-agenda, including cuts to energy costs for manufacturers. On the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this morning, Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, backed this policy to the hilt. The budget celebrated instead ‘economic growth’ that has been achieved in the last year or so: Balls’s only cavil was that there could have been even more of it.

This GDP growth that is being celebrated by the Chancellor, George Osborne, and seemingly by nearly everyone else, is another unsustainable boom in consumption that is leaving behind those dependent on food banks and the long-term jobless. We will never have a stable, resilient economy, and we will never cease wrecking the planet so long as we chase economic ‘growth’ rather than economic resilience and rely on ‘trickle-down’ economics to look after the poor. In a wealthy country like Britain, we don’t need GDP growth; we need shorter working hours, flexible working, a Living Wage, family life, leisure time and rewarding work.

How UKIP and the Tory right will defeat themselves

Why are those so opposed to migration so blind to something that will cause it to increase so dramatically?

I’m not talking about the sheer barkingness and loose-cannonness of so many of UKIP's Councillors and MEPs; I’m not talking about how their plans to move to an American-style healthcare system (i.e. to dismantle the NHS) will doom them electorally once voters get to know about them; I’m not even talking about their barely-suppressed racism and anti-Muslim prejudice which will surely come back to bite them as Britain keeps becoming a more tolerant society. I’m talking about their outright climate-denial, and the consequences thereof, consequences that I think we are only just starting to understand.

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