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Friday, 29 May 2009

The need for a new model of the economy

Been thinking this crurent economic crisis should be an opportunity in so many ways - not just in terms of using it as an opportunity to re-direct the economy in a more sustainable and renewable energy manner - a la 'Green New Deal' - see - but equally, if not more fundamentally, to break with the dominance of neo-classical economics. While I've been writing and critiquing neo-classical economics for over 20 years for its limited focus (orthodox measures of GNP/GDP thus excluding non-monetised work and exchange, especially the gender labour in the domestic sphere, as well as of course the 'free' and unpriced 'gifts' of the ecosystem) and its promoition of 'economic growth' as a structural necessity for the economy (that is, the economy needs continual economic growth in order to stave off failure - impossible in a finite biophysical work, and undesirable in relation to human well-being), the recent 'Toxic textbooks' campaign
has reminded me of the need for a deeper reform of not just how we re-organise the economy but how we understand what the economy is. Part of the point here is that neo-classical economics is a) as value-based and ideological as any alternative account of the economy - i.e. it is a form of political economy just like Marxism, green political economy etc. but b) its dominance 'crowds out' these competing models thus supressing pluralism, debate and contention - why would we assume that there is one model for the economy and how to understand and conceptualise it, when we wouldn't accept that there is one model or conceptualisation of the polity or society?

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Post Celtic Tiger errata

Have just read Showcasing Globalisation?: The Political Economy of the Irish Republic by Nicola Jo-Anne Smith on my way down on the train from Belfast to Dublin. Its a good source of empirical data and debates about the Irish economy in terms of whether it really is 'globalised' or merely 'internationalised' and actually concentrated in terms of trade to a couple of countries - US and the UK in particular. Its also a rather infuriating read - lots of 'on the one hand...but on the other...' and frustratingly fails to come down with any analtyically insightful or normatively interesting positions. It contests that Ireland is a 'competition state' (Irish-style) as maintained by critics of the neo-liberal CT model such as Peadar Kirby or Denis O'Hearn yet does not outline what a 'competition state' is and how it differs from a 'welfare' or 'developmental' one. It also offers the most torturous account of the persistence of inequality in Ireland but maintaining this is not a major issue given the rise in absolute wages for most and the provision of a (bare and increasinly thread-bare) social safety net. But perhaps most frustrating of al, and which to my mind, really undermines the book's contribution, is there is no discussion of the dynamics of globalised capitalism or indeed the character of irish capitalism. It is as if one can blightly discuss 'globalisation' without mentioning capitalism!
Nevertheless, despite my criticisms, it is a good start to the debate about the CT and more importnant the post-CT siotuaiton, not least in Smith's argument that both the 'Whittaker moment' in the 1950s (which heralded the end of DeValera-style protectionism) and the social partnership model of the late 1980s ( of the commonly held features which explains the CT 'take off') were borne out of crisis. Where is our 'green Whittaker now' and is there a green version of social partnerhsip and the need to use and respond to the current economic (and growing political) crisis by restructuring the state, economy and civil society in Ireland?

Monday, 25 May 2009

Greens fight BNP and get Joanna Lumley's backing

Joanna Lumley, fresh from shaming the Labour government into giving justice to the Gurkhas has come out in support of the Green Party and publicly backed Green MEP Caroline Lucas

It also looks as if theonly way to stop the BNP Leader, Nick Griffin, from getting elected to Europe is to back the Green Party's MEP candidate Peter Cranie and

What's infuriating is the way the media are hyping the BNP up out of all proportion to their popular support - see article in Independent today

Infuriating for us, i.e. the Greens, since we're way out-polling them yet do you think the press gives us the same coverage? I suppose violence and jackboots sell...Ho hum...

Sunday, 24 May 2009

While working on the chapter about 'Resilience and the Transition Movement', I came across this remarkable UK Government report released last November - entitled 'Powering our Lives Sustainable Energy Management and the Built Environment, Its a fascinating read, commissioned by the Foresight programme of the Office of Science and Technology. While Transition towns gets two explict mentions, what I've found particularly interesting is one of the four scenarios outlined in the report - 'Sunshine State' - which contains some elements of the Transition vision. Here's some quotes from the report:

"International solidarity has fallen by the wayside in response to climate change and expensive energy. Instead the Government has fostered an emphasis on localism to respond to energy problems supported by a shift in social values after a period of outages and fuel shortages. A Sunshine Index is the main metric of progress, not Gross Domestic Product. Home insulation and other energy efficiency measures are universal following strong regulation. Retrofitting is sometimes done alongside adaptation work to help buildings cope with warmer and wetter conditions. Green roofs and parks are common as part of comprehensive local sustainable drainage systems to counter flooding. There are more local shopping streets and other community resources, partly because of planning decisions intended to promote local autonomy and partly because of municipal enterprise. New build commonly uses off-site construction methods, often from overseas. (Foresight, 2008: 71)

However, unlike Transition, the Foresight study has the ‘Sunshine State’ scenario involving greater fossil fuel use (Foresight, 2008: 75), but like Transition, it notes that “In one of the Project’s future scenarios, Sunshine State a community approach, relatively uncommon in the UK today, becomes increasingly prevalent” (p.92). However, there is an intruguiing mention (nothing more) to an Energy Reduction Strategy (p.174)

The 'Sunshine State' scenario (who or what committee came up with this lame and non-informative title?!) is outlined in the report as follows:

"It was a world away from the ‘live for the present’ consumerism of the last part of the 20th century, and the shock has led to the emergence of new social values, which reinforce the importance of self-direction and self-determination, but also the need to try new ideas to resolve problems. Although there is technological innovation in this world, the principal driver of change is the development of new social institutions, many of which are about better ways of sharing limited resources at a local or community level. One of the motivations for this has been deteriorating mental health outcomes, worsened by climate change anxieties, which could have had huge public health costs if not addressed. Many of the new social institutions consider tackling mental health to be their priority, particularly in terms of the impact it has on the isolated and more vulnerable members of society who perhaps do not have strong family support structures in place. This is a world where almost anything which can be decentralised has been…. Expectations have shifted from the turn of the century, this world is slower and it is different, but it is still an affluent world by any historical standards". (Foresight, 2008: 171; 175)

However, from reading the coonclusion and recommendations of this report, its clear–and perfectly in keeping with the UK government’s strategy as outlined in its 2006 Energy White Paper – that energy decarbonisation is preferred to energy descent. That is, decarbonisation with energy consumption the same or rising (based on use of nuclear power and carbon capture and storage or sequestration) is the strategic option as opposed to prepating our people and infrastructure for a life with less energy (based on renewable, green and clean sources of energy). That an official document even comes that close to considering a future energy scenario such as 'Sunshine State' one out lined in this report, while welcome, it only adds to one's disappointment to see it will have absolutely no effect on UK energy, climate change or sustainable development policy.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Time to re-think economics not just the economy

Have been reminded of my long-held belief in the dangers of one conception of economics dominating our thinking by the recently launched 'Toxic Textbooks campaign (wesbite here on Facebook here

It is not just that the dominant neo-classical view on economics is deeply problematic, or normative (supporting an individualistic, utility and profit-maximising view of the self, is sexist and blind to ecological limits and realities), but its systematically 'crowding out' alternative views on economics. More pluralism is required in the teaching of economics to undergraduates as well as in the mainstream media, but it seems to me the best place to start is in the academy where economics is taught. I vividly remember my own undergraduate economics course as one where I was fed a diet of strict neo-classcial macro and micro economics, finance/monetary economics, an optional module on the history and modern origins of economics (now an increasing rarity in most undergraduate economics courses in the UK, Ireland and the US), and a right-wing version of 'market socialism' by Moore McDowell (brother of the former Progressive Democrat minister for Justice, Michael). There was no discussion of or even mention of Marxist economics, green economics, feminist approaches, etc. THis is not to completely dismiss neo-classical economics out of hand but simply to say a) neo-classical economics is not value free, scientific or neutral, but an ideologically-informed conception of 'political economy' and as ideolgical and normative as feminist, green or socialist economics and b) what has neo-classical economics to fear from some pluralism in economic thinking?

The current economic recession and evident failure of the neoliberal globalised, deregulated model is a chance not simply to change economic policy and strategy but also economic thinking - to change that is the grammar (rules) and not simply the language of economics.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Day 2...Apathy leading to the far-right gaining

Its by accident I set up this blog - did it inadvertently while attempting to become a blogger for the 'progressive economy' blog of TASC - but now I've set it up I'll try and use it for odds and sods. Been avoiding working on my book, Vulnerability, Sustainability and Green Politics - well not exactly avoiding - tied up with helping the European elections - for the Green Party's candidate Steven Agnew - - as well as doing some Transition Town work and doing my bit for developing awareness and support for a 'Green New Deal' for NI - spoke to Morning Star reading group (mostly members of the communist party and Trades Union movement) on Wednesday - interesting discussion to say the least. At that meeting I said there was a real sense of the 1930s around - not just to do with the recession and proposals such as a Roosevelt inspired 'Green New Deal' but also the discernable shift in working class suppport for far-right parties such as the BNP in the UK (where the Greens are the only party that can stop them getting their first MEP) and Libertas in Ireland or Jim Allister's 'Traditional Unionist Voice' here in Norn Iron. What worries me (and others) about the forthcoming election is that the apathy people feel in the wake of the MPs expenses scandal, will mean people won't vote, and as always in these situations the extremists and determined tend to win.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Hmmm...the beginning

First post...hmmm how does this work? Got three kids downstairs playing merry hell, slugs have eaten my lettuce, book to read and write a review by tomorrow and also campaigning to do - for the Green Party's candidate in NI - Steven Agnew. May put up something on the 'Green New Deal' which I'm involved in and also writing and thinking about as a way of tackling the multiple 'crunches' we're facing - finanical, economic, jos, climate change, energy insecurity and food - not bad eh?