Category Archives: environment

Green quantitative easing – good sense

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Richard Murphy and Colin Hines published the Green QE report, which is summarised below.

In March 2009 the Bank of England began a programme of quantitative easing in the UK – in effect, the Bank of England granted the Treasury an overdraft but to keep the European Union happy had to do so by buying Government gilts issued by the Treasury from UK commercial banks, pension funds and other financial institutions.

There were three reasons for doing this:

  1. To keep interest rates low;
  2. To provide banks with the money they needed to lend to business and others to keep the economy going.
  3. To make sure there was enough money in the economy to prevent deflation happening

No one was sure whether quantitative easing would work, and as we note, no one is sure for certain whether it has worked.

We do however suggest in this report that several things did happen:

  • The banks profited enormously from the programme, which is why they bounced back into profit so soon after the crash– and bankers’ bonuses never went away;
  • The entire government deficit in 2009/10 of £155 billion was basically paid for by the quantitative easing programme. If you wanted to know how the government met its costs, now you do; There was a shortage of gilts available for investment purposes as a result of the Bank of England buying so many in the market. Large quantities of funds were invested instead in other financial assets including the stock market and commodities such as food stuffs and metals.
  • The USA also undertook quantitative easing at the same time as the UK, which meant that despite near recessionary conditions commodity prices for coffee and basic metals such as copper have risen enormously. This has impacted on inflation, which has stayed above the Bank of England target rate;
  • Deflation has been avoided, although the relative role of quantitative easing in this versus the previous government’s reflation policies is unclear;
  • Interest rates have remained low.

However, one thing has not happened, and that is that the funds made available have not resulted in new bank lending. In fact bank lending has declined almost steadily since the quantitative easing programme began.

there is an urgent need for action to stimulate the economy by investing in the new jobs, infrastructure, products and services we need in this country and there is no sign that this will happen without government intervention.

For that reason we propose a new round of quantitative easing –or Green QE2 as we call it.

Green QE2 would do three things. First it would deliver the Green New Deal – the innovative programme for investment in the new economy the UK needs as outlined by the Green New Deal group in its reports for the New Economics Foundation. This would require three actions:

  1. The government would need to invest directly in new infrastructure for the UK.
  2. The government needs to invest in the UK economy, in conjunction with the private sector, working through a new National Investment Bank;
  3. The government must liberate local authorities to partner with the private sector to green their local economies for the benefit of their own communities, and it can do this by providing a capital fund for them to use in the form of equity that bears the residual risks in such projects.

A second round of quantitative easing should involve direct expenditure on new infrastructure projects in the UK.

For example there is a desperate need for new energy efficient social housing in this country, for adequate investment in railways, not to mention a reinstatement of the schools rebuilding programme. Undertaking these activities would give the economy and immediate shot in the arm as well as providing infrastructure of lasting use which would more than repay any debt incurred in the course of its creation.

This is the result of the ‘Keynesian multiplier’ effect. This is the phenomenon that occurs when government borrowing to fund investment takes place during a time of unemployment.

That borrowing directly funds employment.

That new employment does four things.

First it reduces the obligation to pay benefits.

Second, it means that the person in that new employment pays tax.

Third, it means their employer pays tax on profits they make.

And finally the person in employment can then save, which means that they help fund the government borrowing which has created their own employment.

As Martin Wolf, the eminent Financial Times columnist has said in this FT video: “Borrowing is no sin, provided we use the funds to ensure that we bequeath a better infrastructure to the future”.

This is what we believe the programme we recommend would do and this is precisely why it is appropriate to do it now when the cost of government borrowing is so low, a point Wolf and Skidelsky also make.

Borrowing now to spend into the economy is the basis for the first stage of Green QE2 – and of the Green New Deal.

Read the whole report here: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/16569/1/GreenQuEasing.pdf

 

 

 

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Professors Minford and Scott Cato: whose assessment will prove to be more accurate?

The BBC and other media outlets report the views of Patrick Minford, Professor of Applied Economics at Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University.

In his report From Project Fear to Project Prosperity, to be published in the autumn,  he predicts that a ‘hard’ Brexit will offer a ‘£135bn annual boost’ to economy around a 7% increase in GDP.

Minford, lead author of the introductory nine page report from Economists for Free Trade says that eliminating tariffs, either within free trade deals or unilaterally, would deliver trade gains worth £80bn a year. He has expressed the view that the British economy is flexible enough to cope with Brexit. The four elements in his calculation are listed in the Guardian as:

  • free trade, either via free trade agreements with the EU and the rest of the world, or if those are sticky via unilateral moves to remove our trade barriers
  • UK-run pragmatic regulation to replace the EU’s intrusive single-market regulation of our whole economy
  • our net EU contribution and
  • the cost to the taxpayer of the subsidy paid to unskilled EU immigrants, which we estimate at £3,500 per adult.

MEP Molly Scott Cato (left, speaking in the European Parliament), who read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, giving up her professorial chair at the University of Roehampton after election, says that Patrick Minford’s  modelling is based on the UK unilaterally removing all restrictions and tariffs and trying its luck in a global market. According to LSE economists who have analysed his work, this would mean a massive fall in wages and the “elimination” of UK manufacturing.

Minford views the EU as a costly protectionist club, but in reality, Scott Cato continues, the single market eases internal trade and reduces costs: “In the real world, proximity, common standards, and rapid movement of components matter, hence the importance of the customs union. UK manufacturing is largely foreign-owned and revolves around assembly of components manufactured elsewhere in the EU. Ironically, this makes it even more important that we stay in the customs union, to ease the passage of components across borders”. She ends:

“Minford’s work is indicative of the whole Brexit project: based on the illusion that the UK has some manifest destiny that allows us to stand alone in a globalised world. It is high time this phony economics was sent into retirement”.

 

 

 

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Paul Hohnen: a better physically connected Europe could deliver multiple benefits

In the Financial Times today, Paul Hohnen* writes about the ‘hard realities of climate change’ showing across Europe, with the historic drought in Italy and Spain being only the latest example. He continues:

What seems increasingly clear is that Europe, with or without Britain, needs to invest hugely in climate abatement and adaptation infrastructure.

 A better physically connected Europe, in the form of enhanced inter-country electricity grids (for sharing surplus renewable power) and upgraded water catchment and distribution systems, could deliver multiple benefits.

In addition to reducing the risks to food, water and energy supplies, now and in the future, a grand European project to become collectively more resilient to energy and water stress could be just what is needed to give Europe the new and positive shared narrative so urgently needed. Not to mention the jobs, economic growth and technological innovation involved.

The EU’s enormous political and economic achievements over the past six decades are at risk on multiple fronts, including the environmental.

An ever closer power and water infrastructure union would help demonstrate why the European project is as relevant as ever.

*Mr Hohnen was trained as an international lawyer, closely involved in the 1992, 2002 and 2012 UN sustainability summits, as well as in a wide range of climate change and other global treaties. He worked from 1975 to 1989 as an Australian diplomat at the OECD in Paris (global economic, development and environmental issues), at EU institutions in Brussels, and in Fiji and Sri Lanka. He was with Greenpeace International (1989-1997, as Head of Climate Policy, later Director, Political Division), and Strategic Director of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). An independent consultant since 2004, his clients have included government ministries, intergovernmental agencies, business and non-profit organisations.

Read his views on the broader canvas in Reasons to be both hugely disappointed and very excited

 

 

 

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Universal basic income (UBI)

Amazon has revealed its latest plan to automate American workers out of existence with its futuristic machine controlled grocery store.

According to a study by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the use of robots and other manufacturing efficiencies was responsible for 88% of the 7 million factory jobs lost in the United States since peak employment in 1979.

The Economic Security Project (ESP) – a coalition of over 100 technologists, investors, and activists – has announced that it is committing $10 million over the next two years to explore how a “universal basic income” (UBI) could ensure economic opportunities for all.

Elon Musk, the iconic Silicon Valley futurist, predicts “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income or something like that, due to automation.”

With political uncertainty across the Western world highlighting rising levels of economic inequality, many others across the political spectrum are considering adopting UBI in the future, giving everyone a guaranteed minimum payment. In the 21st century to date there have been pilot projects in America, Canada, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya, Brazil, Holland, Finland, Italy and Scotland, described briefly in Wikipedia.

UBI – one of three main economic reforms?

James Robertson shared news (scroll down to 4.The Practical Reforms) of a meeting of the North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress at which there was co-operation between supporters of two of the three main reforms in total money system reform – land value taxation and basic income. Alanna Hartzok, General Secretary of the International Union for Land Value Taxation, expressed a hope for future meetings at which supporters of all three policy proposals could discuss the relationship between reform of the money supply, introduction of land value taxation and the replacement of welfare payments by a citizen’s income.

UBI – life enhancing?

Just as Green parties everywhere have said for many years, Elon Musk expects that UBI will enhance life with ‘ownwork’: “People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things and certainly have more leisure time.” Others, however, believe that without the need to pay for rent and basic necessities, people will not be motivated to work and will not make good use of their basic income and free time. Cynics will – and do – dismiss ‘the happiness agenda’ (Layard, Norberg-Hodge) and the recent Landmark study which found that most human misery in the Western world is due to failed relationships or ill-health rather than money problems and poverty.

If accompanied by a more comprehensive education?

The findings indicate the need for a broader education, giving some concept of good marital and parental relationships, an understanding of the country’s social and taxation systems and the development of expertise (until the Plain English Campaign succeeds) in interpreting official forms and negotiating online applications.

Increasing apprenticeships and retraining for those who become redundant is worthwhile but far more input is needed. The Sure Start focus involving parents and children from the earliest days was working very well until funding was cut by the coalition government in 2011, instead of building on its success.

Harrow mothers campaigning after 4 Sure Start centres had been given notice to quit

There are now 1,240 fewer designated Sure Start centres than when David Cameron took office – a fall of 34 % according to figures obtained by the Labour Party in a Freedom of Information request. The North East and London have seen the biggest fall in numbers, with over 40% of centres closing. The closure rate is increasing countrywide and councils have listed other centres which may well have to go this year.

Compensating for the cost of UBI

A total audit would balance the expense of an enhanced Sure Start programme and the cost of UBI over time, by quantifying:

  • reduced expenditure on the NHS and prison service due to the improvement in mental and physical health
  • and lower expenditure on policing and social services due to less stressful household and neighbourhoods, diminishing the intake of legal and illegal drugs and reducing crime.

So, in the foreseeable future, will 3D printers and robots take care of the necessities? And will basic income lead people to begin to improve relationships with each other and the rest of the natural world?

 

 

 

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Fioramonti: growth is dying as the silver bullet for success – this may be good thing

In May, Lorenzo Fioramonti*, Professor of Political Economy, University of Pretoria, wrote an article for The Conversation, republished in Quartz. He opens: “GDP as a measure of growth fails to account for damages caused to the environment by industrial activity”.

In his new book “Wellbeing Economy: Success in a World Without Growth” he points out that the “growth first” rule has dominated the world since the early 20th century. No other ideology has ever been so powerful: the obsession with growth even cut through both capitalist and socialist societies”.

Edited extracts

He asks: “What exactly is growth? Strangely enough, the notion has never been reasonably developed” and presents a view beyond that limited to an increase in overall wealth (common sense): “Growth happens when we generate value that wasn’t there before: for instance, through the education of children, the improvement of our health or the preparation of food. A more educated, healthy and well-nourished person is certainly an example of growth”. He then outlines the paradox: “our model of economic growth does exactly the opposite of what common sense suggests”. Here are some examples:

  • If I sell my kidney for some cash, then the economy grows.
  • If a country cuts and sells all its trees, it gets a boost in GDP. But nothing happens if it nurtures them.
  • But if I educate my kids, prepare and cook food for my community improve the health conditions of my people, if a country preserves open spaces like parks and nature reserves for the benefit of everybody, it does not see this increase in human and ecological wellbeing reflected in its economic performance.

But if it privatises them, commercialising the resources therein and charging fees to users, then growth happens.

Preserving our infrastructure, making it durable, long-term and free adds nothing or only marginally to growth. Destroying it, rebuilding it and making people pay for using it gives the growth economy a bump forward. Keeping people healthy has no value. Making them sick does. An effective and preventative public healthcare approach is suboptimal for growth: it’s better to have a highly unequal and dysfunctional system like in the US, which accounts for almost 20% of the country’s GDP.

Wars, conflicts, crime and corruption are friends of growth in so far as they force societies to build and buy weapons, to install security locks and to push up the prices of what government pays for tenders.

The earthquake in Fukushima like the Deep Water Horizon oil spill were manna for growth, as they required immense expenditure to clean up the mess and rebuild what was destroyed.

Disappearing growth

However, Fioramenti brings the good news that growth is disappearing; economies are puffing along- even China, the global locomotive, is running out of steam. And consumption has reached limits in the so-called developed world, with fewer buyers for the commodities and goods exported by developing countries.

Energy is running out, particularly fossil fuels, and global agreements to fight climate change require us to eliminate them soon. Measures to mitigate climate change will force industrial production to contract, limiting growth even further.

The future of the climate (and all of us on this planet) makes a return of growth, at least the conventional approach to industry-driven economic growth, politically and socially unacceptable.

Fioramonti continues: “Decades of research based on personal life evaluations, psychological dynamics, medical records and biological systems have produced a considerable amount of knowledge about what contributes to long and fulfilling lives. The conclusion is: a healthy social and natural environment.

As social animals, we thrive thanks to the quality and depth of our interconnectedness with friends and family as well as with our ecosystems. But of course, the quest for wellbeing is ultimately a personal one. Only you can decide what it is. This is precisely why I believe that an economic system should empower people to choose for themselves. Contrary to the growth mantra, which has standardised development across the world, I believe an economy that aspires to achieve wellbeing should be designed but those who live it, in accordance with their values and motives”.

He points out that even the International Monetary Fund and mainstream neoliberal economists like Larry Summers agree that the global economy is entering a “secular stagnation”, which may very well be the dominant character of the 21st century – an apparently disastrous prospect for our economies, which have been designed to grow – or perish.

But it is also a window of opportunity for change. With the disappearance of growth as the silver bullet to success, political leaders and their societies desperately need a new vision: a new narrative to engage with an uncertain future.

This article is part of a series to be published following the release of Lorenzo Fioramonti’s new book: Wellbeing Economy: Success in a World Without Growth (MacMillan South Africa). Lorenzo Fioramonti does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above. The idea that the economic “pie” can grow indefinitely is alluring. It means everybody can have a share without limiting anybody’s greed. Rampant inequality thus becomes socially acceptable because we hope the growth of the economy will eventually make everybody better off.

 

 

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Not ‘commercially viable’? Fracking: environmentally, socially and financially a bad investment

The decision to sell its share in Third Energy, announced by Barclay’s chairman will be welcomed by many. Mainstream media, however, are failing to report this; five pages were searched and all witnessed to publicity coming only from campaigning groups – a snapshot of the first page may be seen below.

Third Energy, a Barclays subsidiary, which had a licence to frack just south of the North York Moors national park has “not become a profitable investment”. This is due to local opposition, which delays companies’ progress, according to Barclay’s chairman John McFarlane, speaking at the bank’s annual general meeting.

Barclays’ has now announced that it will sell its stake in fracking company Third Energy “in due course”.

Steve Mason of local campaign group Frack Free Ryedale said in a press release: “Clearly fracking is a bad investment environmentally, socially and financially. Where is the long term future of this industry? Why would you put money into an industry that is increasingly rejected by communities and could get banned at anytime?”

 

 

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Moving towards a new, balanced, green economy

Dr Christine Parkinson’s recently published book sets out the following series of measures which could move us towards a new, balanced, green economy:

  • introducing greater incentive schemes to encourage businesses to develop, use and market greener technologies and to penalise those who don’t. Examples of this could include: using and developing renewable forms of energy; phasing out motor vehicles which use petrol or diesel and introducing those that run on easily-accessible clean energy;
  • investing in research institutions which have the ability to develop innovative solutions to today’s climate-change problems;
  • introducing legislation to reduce the use of the motor car, such as restricting the number of cars owned by each household, unless they run on clean energy;
  • phasing out coal-fired power generation, ending fossil fuel subsidies;
  • introducing a carbon tax on those companies who continue to use fossil fuels;
  • rebalancing the economy, so that the rich are not rewarded for irresponsible behaviour that adds to the carbon load;
  • setting targets for meaningful reductions in carbon emissions by an early date, as suggested by Desmond Tutu in his petition (chapter 1) and ensuring that the calculations for this are correct;
  • phasing out nuclear power and nuclear weapons worldwide and re-channelling the money saved into the incentive-schemes and investments mentioned above;
  • proper funding of those institutions regulating the tax system, so that tax evasion and avoidance is properly penalised;
  • shifting the tax system to penalise those activities which need to be discouraged, such as greenhouse gas emissions and the accumulation of wealth;
  • banning certain household appliances and gadgets, which are not necessary and only add to the carbon load;
  • establishing a new institution, which will monitor the use of fossil fuels by companies and promote, and provide support for, the use of greener forms of energy;
  • encouraging less air travel, by raising awareness about the damage this is doing to the planet and encouraging airlines to invest instead in technologies that do not damage the planet;
  • working globally with other partners to reduce deforestation;
  • re-balancing international trading systems, so that goods and animals are not transported unnecessarily across continents and seas, adding to the carbon load;
  • encouraging countries worldwide to be self-sufficient in terms of goods and resources, so that goods are not imported which can be produced internally;
  • re-thinking and re-balancing entirely transnational trading systems;
  • working globally to find a better means of international co-operation in working jointly to reduce and reverse that damage that is currently being done to the planet;
  • encouraging partnerships between local government and local cooperatives and social enterprises;
  • encouraging the setting up of local groups (3G groups), where individuals can meet together to share what they are doing to reduce their carbon emissions and to encourage each other to keep going with it, even if the majority of others are still in denial (3G stands for three generations – the amount of time we have left).

She continues: “Some of the ideas above are already being worked on, and others are not about changing the economic system but about reducing carbon emissions, but I hope these are a starting point for others to add to, if we are really serious about taking meaningful anti-climate-change measures before it is too late”. 

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“Three generations Left” can be ordered direct from the publishers, using this link. Whilst much of the book is viewable on this website, she would prefer you to buy a copy as any profits from the sale of this book will be used to fund her son’s work amongst slum children in Uganda.  Last year was a difficult one for this project (Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Network), as due to the devaluation of the pound post-Brexit, monies sent from the UK to Uganda had lost a fifth of their value. Contact:  ChristineEP21@gmail.com.