Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
Although the overwhelming majority of us share the same language as the UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, it is becoming increasingly evident that many of us do not live in the same existential universe as her. In a recent BBC interview, she was asked if it is fair for her government to create a tax system that enables the wealthy to acquire even more wealth whilst the economic position of the majority would be so little changed as to make no measurable difference. She said it was fair. For clarity’s sake the question was put to her a second time and she gave the same answer. (BBC 1, Sunday with Laura Kuensberg, 4 September 2022)
On hearing this it occurred to me that if such a scenario were presented to children in nursery school in the form of a game, they would straight away call foul. They would see that giving to those who have much at the expense of those who have little is wrong. Donald Trump did this when he gave $2 trillion in tax giveaways to the ultra-rich.
The sense of not living in the same universe as the Prime Minister, and many of those who yield enormous economic and political power, is reinforced by the case that in spite of ecological catastrophes occurring on a regular basis in various parts of the world directly linked to the nature of the global economy, Liz Truss has placed economic growth at the heart of her premiership. This is akin to a doctor prescribing to a sick patient the very thing that made them sick. We would immediately see the absurdity of this if a smoker were told by their doctor that the way to heal their diseased lungs is to smoke more cigarettes, in fact as many as they could per day, rather than give up smoking.
Liz Truss proffers that economic growth creates jobs and thereby puts money in everyone’s pocket. This is not necessarily the case, there is for instance no correlation between economic growth and people on the shopfloor earning more money. Think of the people who work in the Amazon distribution centres. Economic growth can be accelerated by automation in which few workers are needed. As the present high rate of inflation shows more money in your pocket compared to 12-months ago does not mean you can buy more than what you bought last year. Economic growth that increases air pollution, which in Belfast kills 5,000 people a year and incapacitates many more, is not something we should applaud. It is in fact impoverishing, not only in terms of the human suffering caused but on the cost to the NHS.
Given our heavy reliance on fossil fuels economic growth means a warmer planet, the annual cost of which runs into hundreds of billions of dollars; death, injury and sickness, lives uprooted the pollution of water, the loss of crops, agricultural land and the destruction of physical infrastructure and habitat. The floods in Pakistan in September illustrate this. More than 33 million people were made destitute, 1,600 people died and a third of the country flooded. Reconstruction, as in providing health clinics, hospitals, schools, homes, water treatment plants, warehouses, roads, communication systems and community centers, will take years and cost billions in hard currency. More recently storms of various magnitudes, thought to have been intensified by climate breakdown, have caused death and destruction in Cuba, eastern Canada, Dominican Republic, Luzon the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Florida and Vietnam.
The type of economic growth favoured by the Truss government reduces the health of the biosphere to the detriment of all including future generations. Continual economic growth in a finite world is pure fantasy. Young children will tell you that the consumption of a limited amount of something, a packet of crisps for example, leads to a lesser amount in the packet until eventually the crisps are all gone. So with the resources of the earth, most of which are not recycled after use. In our linear economy the plastic crisp packet will either end up in the ocean or in a large hole in the ground along with the estimated 6 billion crisp packets used in the UK every year.
It should not be over-looked that belief in continual economic growth is not only the wrap around goal of the Truss government but also that of most of the political parties on these islands and beyond. I have no doubt that our political leaders and major economic investors would derive some benefit, and save all of us a great deal of misery, from reading E.F. Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful (1973). Its critique can be summed up with words to the effect that ‘if we won the battle with nature, we would find ourselves on the losing side’. (p.11) In other words, to treat the economy as separate from the biosphere is to be blind to the fact that we are the Nature we are destroying.
It seems that those who believe in continual economic growth can’t grasp the basics of mathematics or simply don’t care that its pursuit will leave us all destitute in a decade or two, including the very wealthy and those of Liz Truss’s generation. There are alternatives, namely those which mimic the dynamics of what is conventionally thought of as the natural world.
– – – – –