Recent twitter entries...

Vince Cable takes a shot a NEF's 'Prosperity Without Growth' --and completely misses the bear

I was horrified at Lib Dem shadow Chancellor Vince Cable’s attitude and behaviour at the Base Show Wednesday.

Vince Cable has a pretty good understanding of the imperative to address climate change but he’s shockingly still missing the bear on the interaction between the environment and climate change, and the economic crisis.

On Wednesday at the Base Show, Cable took a cheap shot at Tim Jackson and the decroissance or “degrowth” movement, showing he hasn’t got a clue!

Talking about the dual problems economic recession and climate change, he said:

“Now how do these two problems… interact? In the short term it’s been rather bad news for the environment. If you look at British opinion polls environment certainly climate change has dropped right off most people’s radar screens. They’ve got other things to worry about, they are more preoccupied with how they manage their jobs, about managing their household balance sheets, and a lot of anxiety about the economy dominates. Environmental issues, at least in the short term, have fallen down people’s list of priorities.

" And I think probably also, environmentalists who advocated zero growth , well, we’ve got zero growth in fact, we’ve got minus growth and it isn’t very nice. And I think people somehow wised up to this idea that all this puritanical non-consumption of resources we were being told was a good thing is actually really rather painful if you’re one of the people who was losing your job in the process. So recession has played very badly in terms of its environmental impact.

"Secondly, on the global scene there’s this lethal, what’s called this 10, 10 problem. 10% unemployment in the United States, 10% growth in China. So far the Chinese and the Americans have coordinated their activities relatively well in this recession but anybody who talks to anybody in American politics will tell you there is enormous tension building up in the system, resentments. The Obama administration has so far managed it well, clamor for action for protectionism, many ways return to atavistic prejudices of the 1930’s as this big new power growing up building a power station every week or every day I think. How do we cope with this?

"There’s a very strong resistance to people telling the Americans that they’ve got to calm down and deal with the climate….

[talks about science]

"The question now is how we bring together the concerns we have about the economy with the imperative dealing with the issues of climate change. I think they are compatible if the case is properly made… so how do we find a way out of this box.”

He then goes onto mention (ironically) restructuring British economy away from finance and dependence on London, and the need to concentrate on physical infrastructure projects for transport, new energy systems, a digital infrastructure, renewables infrastructure, etc, and the necessity to create growth.

“At the moment there is no mechanism for financing this because PFI has largely broken down, stock markets are unlikely to generate long term time horizons, private equity 5 year time horizons normally most companies will not embark on all this stuff because of political risk. There needs to be some mechanism that can bring in the enormous value of savings that we know is locked up in pension funds and insurance companies looking for a safe return with these very important needs for long term infrastructure much of which centers on low carbon future and long run environmental much more friendly economy. A lot of political will and a lot of imagination will be required to bring those things together. But I think the conclusion I have is that in both the short term and the long term there is a way in which economic recovery can be very firmly tied into an environmental agenda.”

During the Q&A I got lucky and was called on, I asked if the lack of financing for infrastructure and green projects couldn’t be resolved very simply by implementing what the Stiglitz Sarkozy report suggests (I didn’t even mention the New Economics Foundation because of his swipe at Jackson) and revaluing the economy, he replied:

“Well I obviously buy into that, to give the government credit they did produce a set of green accounts. They have done this technically but they haven’t made much use of it. It’s just sort of sitting there on our shelves. The technical side of the work has actually been done. It’s not easy-- there’s a lot of things you can’t quantify easily but the idea of getting parallel green accounts with the economy and what it tells you, which is not surprising, is that very often when we think we’re getting better off, we’re actually getting worse off if you factor in the environmental costs.”

(His equally uninformed answer to my second query, relating to personal carbon budgeting aside,)

Yes, Mr. Cable, it would show we are getting worse off. Then we would have something to change and work at wouldn’t we and wouldn’t that change make low-carbon, infrastructure projects more valuable?

If he buys into it, why isn’t he getting it?!

He has apparently never ever bothered to actually read anything about decroissance or flip through Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth (Jackson who contributed to a study commissioned by parliament) because if he had he would see that the problems he’s talking about can be resolved by changing incentives in the economy in a way that will encourage long term investment and conservation.

The potential in a huge rallying campaign behind changing society’s outlook and getting everyone on board to improve not only our long run well-being and ensuring growth of our society (not in terms of GDP growth, but as a people) wouldn’t make people turn against a government. Come one dude! You could solve long-run infrastructure investment, encourage savings, and shift the view of economic markets away from short-run returns in one move (well, likely a series of coordinated moves, but still). Long-run investment is low-carbon economy is “degrowth.”

With all the public support Cable has, I’m frightened.

And this is the man people want to be the next Chancellor under a hung parliament? CRINGE. I take back everything I ever said about the British public being generally better educated than the American public.

Though I won’t fault Cable entirely, the folks at NEF need to realize that the general public is (sadly) swayed by pretty language. Simply joking that ‘yeah, we should’ve thought about the “degrowth” title a little more carefully’ isn’t going to cut it. They’re spending too much time locked up in their tank rethinking the economy, they’ve forgotten that the use of language is as important as using language to begin with. I don't mean to be too hard on NEF, but I'd like to see a little more of the "do" bit in their motto.

Update 1: Read Andy Wimbush's (blogmaster at NEF) much more eloquent response to Cable.

Comments (0)

Post a Comment