Archive | April, 2009

Green Economics – by Matthew Bain

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17

The story of Adam and Eve teaches us about the nature of work: before the Fall, humanity existed in harmony with nature, and our work was to tend the Garden; afterwards our work became a burden and source of suffering, as we found ourselves struggling against nature. The Jewish psychoanalyst Erich Fromm describes the Fall in terms of alienation. Alienation means being out of touch with our own nature, with others, and with our surroundings and environment. The current economic system is both alienated and alienating, and even its so-called ‘winners’ are in fact losers. A psychological study from before the current financial crisis showed that hedge-fund managers

“had high levels of depersonalisation and a staggering two-thirds were depressed. There were similarly high levels of anxiety and sleeplessness. The more they earned, the more likely they were to have these problems. Twice daily, they consumed both alcohol and an illegal substance (mostly cocaine). For relaxation, they chose solitary pursuits: jogging, masturbation and fishing were common.” (Oliver James, writing in The Guardian)

Fallen from paradise indeed. Continuing his analysis, Erich Fromm uses the concept of idolatry. He contrasts worship of the true God – manifesting in the living creativity of productive work – with the worship of the completed, rigid product of work – money. He quotes Goethe:

“the Divine is effective in that which is alive, but not in that which is dead. It is in that which is becoming and evolving, but not in that which is completed and rigid.”

The current economic system is essentially idolatrous, positioning humanity as the servant of money, not the other way round. The purpose of Green Economics is to reverse this injustice, and return money to its proper place as the servant of humanity.

The cause of the current economic crisis is the huge agglomerations of private capital which have developed Frankenstein-like lives of their own and are neither understood nor controlled by their human ‘masters’. This private capital sloshes around the world, engaged in fruitless transactions such as currency speculation, credit default swaps, arbitrage etc, while billions of people remain unemployed or underemployed because of lack of access to even a few dollars worth of equipment. The role of Green Economics is to ‘unfreeze’ this capital, and let its moisture stimulate a grass-roots recovery. Measures such as a Tobin Tax on currency transactions would be welcome sources of funds, especially if channelled correctly.

A good example of Green Economics in action is microcredit, as pioneered by Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Microcredit shows that the lives of families can be substantially improved and the untapped potential of women in particular developed by small loans based on a system of trust and cooperation. It is so refreshing to see economic intelligence focus on the needs of people who were formerly excluded. Does anyone really think that we can revive the global economy by endlessly targetting products at the same wealthy 20%? The answer surely is to include the remaining 80%, by devising products and pricing which are in genuine sympathy with the needs of the developing world. Even if it means a short-term reduction in profits, it can only produce good results in the long-term. A bigger cake would benefit everyone – instead of the economics of envy where we are content as long as our own slice is bigger than our neighbour’s.

Microcredit is an example of ‘small is beautiful’ as articulated in the work of the green economist Fritz Schumacher. In Schumacher’s vision, the distance between people and money must be removed, and money brought into close proximity with people who need it, in practical forms they can use (appropriate technology). Access is more important than ownership, which happily avoids many sterile ideological arguments between Left and Right. Anathema to Schumacher’s vision of access and proximity are current corporate structures with their long chains of command, separation between shareholders, managers and workers, and myopic focus on short term profit. Amongst other ills, these lead to environmentally disastrous and unjustifiable distribution chains like supermarkets which send prawns from Scotland to Thailand for packing before being returned to the UK for sale, or which endlessly transport sheep around the country in search of the cheapest abattoire.

Environmentalist Vandana Shiva points out that it is not enough to stimulate the small and beautiful, we must also fight the big and ugly! The much-trumpeted economic growth in India benefits only a small section of the population, and in fact harms many more. Why should there be a burgeoning steel industry in Orissa when the people there use no steel in their houses? 100% of the steel is in fact for export, and Dr. Shiva argues that Orissa is being used simply because it is convenient for wealthy countries to ‘outsource’ their pollution and exploit the poor conditions and pay of Indian workers. Global trade frameworks such as the WTO seek to increase the opportunities for such exploitation and should be resisted. Instead, the green vision of globalisation requires humane minimum standards for labour throughout the world. In place of the industrial and capital-intensive development agenda foisted on poor countries by organisations like the World Bank and IMF, a people-centred approach is required, as implemented by NGO’s such as Practical Action and the Jeevika Trust.

The life and work of Mahatma Gandhi show how economic activity is a key part of our struggle for genuine freedom, including its spiritual and political dimensions. Many of Gandhi’s most successful campaigns such as the Salt March and the Khadi movement demonstrate the liberating character of work which emphasises self-reliance and the strengthening of community. Perhaps demonstrating his origins in the Modh Bania merchant caste, Gandhi was always delighted to sell Khadi (homespun cotton) to the people who came to see him as he travelled around India by train, contributing funds for the independence struggle. It is important to remember that business and trading are vital expressions of life: but they must be harnessed to serve life, not oppress it.

Genuine entrepreneurship is to be encouraged and nurtured, but our governments must not allow any more of our public services to be cannibalised by big business. Under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), £68bn of public infrastructure has been built in the UK, for which the public is committed to payments of £215bn to private consortia, even though these projects could have been delivered and run 30% more cheaply by the public sector. There is no genuine initiative or entrepreneurship in this ability to divert public money into private coffers, and we can no longer allow our politicians to maintain their supine posture towards big business. The time for strict regulation of big business in the public interest is now – and this same regulation should give our small businesses a space to breathe. Our now publicly-owned banks should be prevented from gambling on derivatives and instead be forced to make credit available to small businesses.

The prospects for Green Economics depend on our ability to protect existing communities in the developing world, and build new types of extended community in the developed world. Community strength is the real solution to consumerism and the creeping commoditisation of our lives. Community bonds built on shared interests and mutual respect enable us to pool scarce resources and use our collective imaginations instead of always relying on cash. The Landshare scheme in the UK is in its infancy, but already boasts 3,600 registered land owners, including the National Trust, who are willing to share some of their land as allotments for 28,000 would-be growers. New cooperatives are forming to buy village post offices and pubs threatened with closure, and revitalise them as centres of community life.

The epic Western “Once Upon A Time in the West” offers a microcosm of modern economic development accompanied by banditry – showing how the railroad pushed across North America, costing many lives. In one scene we are shown that the only thing that can stop a gun is a wad of cash, but the question in my mind is, “how can we stop a wad of cash?” The answer offered by alienated economics is “more cash” – therefore carbon trading schemes are invented to ‘incentivise’ governments and industries not to kill us in their crazy pursuit of money. The actual answer is “love” – only love can stop money. Motivated by love, Green Economics seeks to skilfully and creatively combine our great religious and cultural traditions, which transmit our collective wisdom, with well-selected and appropriate modern technologies. As Greens we should not spend all our effort devising technical solutions, because we should recognise, like Gandhi, that the main change required is of the heart.

The Kettling – A Masque for Our Times – by John Rowley

Director: Sir Paul Stephenson
Script: Sir Ian Blair
Producers: The Metropolitan Police
Troupe: “The Darth Vader Clones”
Extras: Thousands of Unwitting Citizenry

The Revolutionary Committee re-named 1st April this year as “Financial Fools Day”. By chance, your own newly-appointed Theatre Critic chose to review the Premiere of “The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse”, a play billed as the highlight of the day’s Carnival and Serious Intent. Humour and satire would mock The Capital Village Idiots for their greed, arrogance and selfpreening stupidity. At 2 o’clock, the four huge masks of Pestilence, War, Famine and Death, each attended by dancers, singers, jugglers and clowns, would converge from the four Quarters of the Land in Capital Village square.
My daughter had a University project to complete on “Street Theatre as Protest” so made sure we got there early. We knew exactly where to go because the Committee had agreed assembly points with The Police. Thousands were expected for the free show despite the Powers stressing, perhaps a tad salaciously, the prospect of a ‘bit of violence’.
What we didn’t know, as we hopped on the bus, was that we were about to experience an attempt at a most astonishing cultural ‘coup d’état’. Nor did we expect to play two bit parts on TV, screened to prove, many hoped, the futility of amateurish nonviolence in the face of well-orchestrated State violence. My daughter and I gave them the footage they wanted and, as a result, I was on the evening TV News for 4 seconds and in The Guardian for half an inch the next day.
When the G20 Meeting was fixed for London, the forlorn Sir Ian Blair must have seen a wonderful opportunity to boost morale in The Met and catch the attention of politicians. If his lads excelled themselves, especially in his ‘piece de resistance’, he could grab prime-time News around the globe. Simply obey the media maxim, “If it bleeds, it leads” and ensure he could utter the refrain, “They hit us first, Your Honour”.
Kettling offered the perfect solution: an ultra-modern crowd control technique demanding just a bit of discipline. Imagine the stills in “The Daily Wind-Up”: perfectly aligned Clones, slick weaponry, unruly Mob subdued. TV sequences showing our calm and inexorable advance, the first blow by a corralled protester, the efficient, effective response. Bingo! A display of controlled violence commanding the respect and admiration of all. Consultancy contracts would flow again.
Police culture frames protesters as “The Enemy”. TV sight-bites demand a clash, “Us vs Them”, and simple codes – weaponry, discipline and colour – to identify the goodies: Us. Black is best because, like the night, it threatens violence and heightens weakness. Police Forces love it – always forgetting that it also signals Evil, the dark side, The Shadow. When did they ever wear blue?
So what do we see at the G20 protest ? Black helmets with dark facehiding visor, black stab-proof jackets, luminescent yellow waistcoats, black trousers and boots; each equipped with the latest hand-held pain-inflicting weaponry and electronics, again all coloured black. Rehearsals held at Heathrow, Kingsnorth, etc.
Can I guess the Summary of the Police’s internal project memo?

US:
Aim: To re-assert our world-wide reputation for efficient and effective policing.
Target Audience: Leaders, Ministers of Homeland Security, Chiefs of Police, Generals.
Methods: Demonstrate mastery of latest crowd control techniques, especially “Kettling”, and surveillance products. Priorities: Protect 1. The G20 Leaders. 2. Property. 3. Us. 4. Them.

THEM:
Types: Research indicates all ages, classes, sectors and interest groups. Probably liberals.
Reasons for Assembly: The Financial Crisis.
Targets: The Financial Elite – Banks, Politicians and other collaborators including Us.
Qualities: Anger, frustration, resentment ie violent. Amateurs.
Purpose: Carnival a cover for violence.

THE IDEAL VENUE: An enclosable arena with vantage points for VIPs, gear and Control room. Consider Bartholomew Lane where the all-glass Royal Bank of Scotland sits right opposite the all-stone Bank of England. At one end, Threadneedle will be throttled by crowds leaving Lothbury as choke point; at the other, our boys in black. [Note to Director: Clones must be able to understand that Kettling means bringing the right amount of water to the boil, simmering for hours, extracting the juiciest morsels and storing them in the deep-freeze.]

Perhaps this conceit is too flaky for you, Reader ? How come, then, that the RBS, the most hated of Banks, has its plate-glass wall left entirely unprotected when every other window in The Village had been boarded up ? How come there were no Clones within 60 yards and that none moved until it 26 was attacked ? How come that, on the roof of The Bank of England [the most despised], stood 60 Servants of the State with their HD watching gear ? [You don’t get to get up there without The Governor’s permission !] How come that, high up behind the glass, RBS employees taunted protestors with £50 notes ? And how come the Clones and their Beasts were kept secret from The Committee and so well hidden ?
Now see The Gaffer watching his 100 Monitors. When enough ‘water’ had assembled and just before “The Four Horsemen” could converge, he gives the signal: “Let the Wild Rumpus Begin!” So, as seen from The Gods … Lights! Cameras! Action!

“THE KETTLING”

SCENE 1

Stage Left: Flank to flank Mounted Horsemen appear from nowhere and line up behind shoulder to shoulder black Darth Vader Clones, ‘bats’ at the ready, still and awesomely silent. Slowly, those in the Pit realise they are there. Tension mounts.

SCENE 2

Centre Stage: On cue, a hooded Provocateur smashes a massive iron girder against the plate-glass window. A “Well done” here for the Prop Dept.

[This is when your critic and his daughter unwittingly act into the script by attempting to stop his blows, shouting “We must be Nonviolent !”. This proves predictably futile as his every blow raises a huge cheer of support. He is a Stekhanovite titan remorseless, unstoppable and immune to pleas and pathetic tugs at his arm. We are on the stage created by his back-swing and in full view of a thousand lenses. As we leave in despair, I curse all loudly and roundly for not coming to our aid. A few paces on, a very tall white guy, my age, shaven-headed, long, nicely cut beige coat, leans down and in a well-spoken whisper says: "Ex-Army! Soldier! Front-line! I like what you did there, Sir, but if I were you I’d get out. Quick. You just upset a lot of people, you know, and it only takes one blow and you’re down. That way, over there. OK? Gottit?"]. Who in hell was he ?
Now trapped and crushed and no EXIT signs in sight [who forgot them ?], the crowd becomes a Mob. A psychic entity has been born with self-awareness and a goal. It knows what it wants: Revenge! our species’ most violent emotion. Dissent is pointless; only a Satyagrahi could have stopped it.

SCENE 3

The breaking glass triggers the main move. Beasts and Clones advance slowly squeezing people ever tighter together, pumping up the adrenaline of Fear and Panic. 200 people escape through jagged glass into RBS, conveniently emptied of computers and well sealed from the bankers above. 27 Many were arrested for Trespass or new crimes under the Terrorism Act. “There’s our quota and maybe a bonus. Just the ticket.”

[It is at this point that your Critic and his daughter make their escape, as directed by my soldier, through a scaffolded narrow way. So the rest of this Review is mere anecdote, rumour and double-checked facts.]

SCENE 4

The Power Lines halt, the Mob squeals but is now contained, subdued by overwhelming physical force and the mega-phoned sound-wall. Notice how this Scene is a theatrical breakthrough: the playwright casts the rules of Narrative Thrust aside and insists that it last six or more hours. He clearly hoped for some tele-visual theatrics as the absence of water, food, lavatories or escape routes ratchet up the tension. Men can piss against walls but the women ? The Clones ignore all pleas for help: “Keep them penned, get the Alsatians a-growling and a-snapping, wave your truncheons about, show who’s Boss. Controlling the scared is easy. Lovely job.”

SCENE 5

9pm. After the prime-time News deadline has passed, begin to let the prisoners out. Take Name, Age, Address, Telephone Number, Email, Referee, DNA, Money and Iris Scan. I jest but wait till the next time. “Let them out slowly, belittled, demeaned, tired and weak. That’ll show ’em. Nice one.”

SCENE 6

During the Night. Feed juicy morsels extracted and pictures recorded on to the informal National Database, delete planted provocateurs, store forever and star those with a bit of Previous. “Handy info for ‘a bit of Pressure’ in the future.”

Unfortunately for The Met, “Kettling” has been universally panned by Critics of every persuasion. Its Producers, Directors, Actors, Techniques, PR, the lot have been lambasted. Rather than enhancing a reputation for playing by The Rule of Law, some of their leading front-line actors have been caught cheating, lying, slapping, pushing, beating with shields and ‘bats’ without provocation and, now possibly, killing an innocent citizen. Some hid their numbers and others had Medic inscribed on their jackets whilst wielding a truncheon. More of our millions spent on gizmos and overtime and they catch no one but themselves. It beggars belief !
And the security priorities ? 1. Put VIPs on a virtual island. 2. Tell Village elders to board up. 3. Dress Clones for war. No problem. 4. As for those violent, malevolent hooligans, Kettle, corral and treat as data. Did you 28 know that The Queen’s imperative on all Police Medals reads “Guard my people” ? Now we know how they read it.
So why did they ‘kettle’ the G20 demo ? It was unwarranted but necessary if you accept a wider view. How many Leaders flew home that week to a Police Force less violent than ours ? OK then, who? Three? Now recognise that our IPCC will almost certainly investigate and prosecute according to our rather elegant Rule of Law. Justice could well be done. And how many Leaders would love to import all that ? Lots – even China wants to open up. “So Rejoice in that, thee Nay-Sayers and Cynicks ! Thy cup of Rights is more than half full !”
Now step up a rung on this ladder and look even wider. See how the percentages of the uneducated, the unhealthy and the impoverished continue to grow inexorably, despite ye do-gooders ? See how the democratic, liberal population is dwindling and how an ever-burgeoning majority are oppressed by autocratic regimes, each prepared to use the full force of their armed services to retain power ? [Haim Harari in What is Your Dangerous Idea?, 2006].
Go yet higher and suffer real shock and awe. Can you see the ‘coup du monde finale’ proceed apace ? There, stampeding towards you are The Four Unstoppable Horsemen of Our Apocalypse whipping their vast steeds to a frenzy. The seas rise, the atmosphere deteriorates, the sun burns, our leaders without even a peasant’s remedy for Gaia’s Fever. Pestilence, Famine, War and Death gallop across business-first fields, culling billions: the ignorant, the weak, the poor and those trying to escape. This is our mythic reality.
What then of your despised crowd control techniques ? Think who might pay us to train their own. Won’t you be grateful as you hide with your family and loved ones if your authorities have rehearsed well ? What then of our so civilised principles of Social Justice and Nonviolence ? Who gets in the boat and who has to swim ? Guess who owns the boat. Can anybody even sketch a happy-ending ? Maybe a few, but do we listen ? Elites dream only of the safety of the past; only the young relish the radical, but do we trust them ?
Finally, how does Nonviolence stack up in the real world ? You will be aware of the following position but I rehearse it before you to invite your demolition of it:
“There is no pro-active word to describe Nonviolence because all religious, political, military and cultural elites know they would be unnecessary if its principles were fully followed: inequality is violence. Just as pure Religion seeks paths to Nonviolence so practical Politics seeks ways of applying power: power is violence and depends upon it. All Religions teach Nonviolence until they are controlled by the State: they then abandon its teachings. Whenever a people arm for defence, they will eventually use them for attack. Violence breeds violence; its absence creates a need. The media supply the people with a full daily menu of violence to satisfy this demand: 29 thereby also reinforcing the culture of fear. Fear incapacitates people: thereby facilitating the implementation of power. This is why all successful practitioners of Nonviolence are regarded as enemies of the State.” [Adapted from Mark Kurlansky, Non-violence: the History of a Dangerous Idea, 2007.]

On the 3rd April, we listened to Hazel Blears defend the Police on Question Time. Referring to the demonstrators, she asked us all: “And what would you do if you were confronted by black-hooded hoodlums wielding sticks ?” My daughter turned to me and said: “What a creep !” We had a good laugh at Blears’ willful ignorance and insufferable Brown-nosing. I had no idea I would end up weeks later so very, very gloomy.

John Rowley is a Trustee of the Gandhi Foundation and has organised many events for the Gandhi Foundation including the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Gandhi’s death which was held in St Martins in the Field, London.

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