UK gov't advisors call for a new society

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“The market was not undone by rogue individuals or the turning of a blind eye by incompetent regulators. It was undone by growth itself.”

From the Sunday Herald
By Rob Edwards

The economic system is broken, and attempts by governments to fix it by kick-starting growth and consumerism are “delusional” and “pathological”, the Westminster and Holyrood governments will be warned by their own advisers this week.

A ground-breaking report by the leading environmental advisers to First Minister Alex Salmond and Prime Minister Gordon Brown will deliver a damning verdict on capitalism and demand a radical shift to a fairer, more sustainable society.

The report has been compiled by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), a group of 19 experts chaired by Jonathon Porritt which advises Salmond and Brown on environmental issues. Entitled Prosperity without Growth?, it is to be published tomorrow.

The pursuit of economic growth, founded on the increasing consumption of material goods, has failed to bring social justice, prosperity or happiness, the report says.

“The narrow pursuit of growth represents a horrible distortion of the common good and of underlying human values,” the report concludes. “The market was not undone by rogue individuals or the turning of a blind eye by incompetent regulators. It was undone by growth itself.”

The report presents a fundamental challenge to the economic policies being pursued in London and Edinburgh, raising questions about some of the basic tenets of modern capitalism. We are living in an “age of irresponsibility”, it says.

“Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries, but question it we must,” says Tim Jackson, a professor at Surrey University and the SDC’s leading economics expert.

“The myth of growth has failed us. It has failed, spectacularly, in its own terms, to provide economic stability and secure people’s livelihoods.”

According to the report, inequality is higher in industrialised nations than it was 20 years ago. The rich have got richer, but the poor have remained poor, with wealth only trickling to a “lucky few”.

The environmental consequences have been “disastrous”, the SDC says. In the last 25 years the global economy has doubled, leaving 60% of the world’s natural ecosystems degraded and threatening “catastrophic” climate change.

The economy is “fundamentally broken”, argues Jackson. “A return to business as usual is not an option. Prosperity for the few founded on ecological destruction and persistent social injustice is no foundation for a civilised society.”

A society founded on the “relentless pursuit of novelty” undermines social well-being. “The economy itself is dependent on consumption growth for its very survival,” the report says. Market economics have to be questioned and consumerism has to be reversed, the report urges.

It recommends 12 steps to a sustainable economy, such as tackling inequality, changing work patterns and respecting ecological limits.

In Scotland the SDC is urging ministers to invest in infrastructure that creates low-carbon communities. “Rather than build more roads for more cars, the government must make it easier to use rail and buses, cycle or walk,” it says.

Jan Bebbington, the SDC’s vice-chair and an accounting professor at St Andrews University, said: “The Scottish government must stop thinking the pursuit of economic growth, no matter how sustainable the growth is labelled, is going to make Scotland flourish almost as a matter of course.”

But the Scottish Government stressed its purpose was “sustainable economic growth”. A spokesman added: “To suggest we stop trying to grow our economy, when we can see the effects of the recession around Scotland, is completely wrong.”

Sustainability was a “fundamental aspect” of economic policy, he argued. “That’s why we have set out actions to create thousands of jobs in sustainable industries that harness Scotland’s natural advantages.”

The Confederation of British Industry in Scotland also gave the report’s findings a cool reception. “The dismal picture portrayed by the SDC is not one we recognise,” said CBI Scotland’s David Lonsdale.

But Green MSP, Patrick Harvie said: “We have long argued for a vision of the economy which puts human values above shareholder value, and I’m delighted that the SDC is saying the same thing.”

1 Comment

  • Hi, you may want to flag up something about the Visteon car factory occupations taking place in the UK. At Enfield workers distributed leaflets that contained this statement calling for a transition from Car manufacture to green production:

    “As well as proper redundancy payments, some are suggesting that the skills of the workers who can make anything in plastic, should be used to make increasingly needed parts for green products – bike and trailer parts, solar panels, turbines, etc. Government investment in this rather than throwing money at bankers could be profitable & save jobs in the long term.”

    The occupation itself has now come to an end in Enfield(though Belfast Visteon is still in occupation) but the campaign is ongoing with sacked workers maintaining a 24 hour picket outside the factory.

    There’s an excellent article by Dave Morris (who became famous for his role as a defendant in the McLibel trial, the longest trial in British history when he and Helen Steel took on McDonalds:'s_Restaurants_v_Morris_&_Steel) below:


    Many of us in Haringey (including active members of Sustainable Haringey) have been actively supporting the inspirational industrial dispute involving the Ford Visteon workers in Enfield. The workers seized control of their car parts factory for 8 days after the company sacked them all with 6 minutes notice, saying the company had ‘gone bust’… That occupation has received global publicity and a flood of messages of support from all over the world. The dispute continues as a 24hr picket outside the plant, and growing calls for debate and solidarity throughout the ailing car industry.

    The leaflets distributed by the workers mentioned the possibilities of alternative, green production. Here’s a more detailed look at this key issue for all workplaces in the future, based on discussions with workers inside the occupied factory…

    Dave Morris
    Sustainable Haringey communications group


    A report from the Ford Visteon occupied car parts factory – Enfield North London

    Being shown round the Enfield factory during the 8 day occupation by the workers, its clear that the workers anger at their bosses, is matched by their pride in their manufacturing work. For over 15 years the factory has been making primarily plastic mouldings for Ford, Jaguar and Land Rover cars and vans * dashboards, gearbox casings and the like, often quite intricately assembled as well as cast. But, they could make just about anything out of plastic, given the right moulds. Changing the moulds to allow the workers to cast different products would take as little as half an hour.

    Apparently the workers have been suggesting to their bosses for several years that they should diversify into making different products. They saw how the car market was going, and they have the same environmental concerns as everyone else, too. Garden furniture was one suggestion which was put forward * maybe not an especially ‘green’ product itself, but a lot greener to have it manufactured in the UK, than made in China and shipped halfway across the world.

    Another idea originating from the workers was to make recycling bins. In the surrounding areas they live in, there is currently a shortage of recycling bins (something to do with Germany soaking up all the spare capacity!) * so why can’t they make them here, they suggest?

    Many of the workers had 20 years or more of manufacturing experience. The factory used to employ 1500 workers * now there are only 200 left. It used to make electronic parts like the dials for dashboards * some of those workers were still working at Visteon this year and could have easily turned their skills to making parts for the growing
    industry of energy monitoring, for example.

    They are open to suggestions. Plastic parts for bike trailers, for bus interiors? “Definitely. We don’t work here because we love cars!” one says.

    But the bosses had refused to listen to any suggestions that had been put forward by workers over the last few years. Workers said the bosses’ response had been that if they turned to making different products ‘we’d be a laughing stock at the automotive shows’. One worker said when he started he’d been told ‘you’re just a pair of hands’.

    The bosses fail to see that in fact these workers had more ideas and vision than the bosses whose only concern seems to be to save their own faces and arses!

    It’s reminiscent of the Lucas aerospace company in the 1970s, where management sacked trade unionists for having the temerity to come up with their own ‘alternative corporate plan’ to make ‘socially and environmentally useful products’ like wind turbines, health monitors, and electric vehicles, rather than military aircraft. Nonetheless, the plans, which were developed with the help of supportive technical academics, went into production or prototyping, but Thatcherism killed of many of these initiatives which were ahead of their time. So now, whilst the wind turbine industry supports quarter of a million jobs in Germany, it supports only about 7000 in the UK.

    These ideas * that workers should be able to take control of what they do – are ideas whose time has come again. Meanwhile the government claims it plans to create hundreds of thousands of ‘green jobs’, but then allows its manufacturing base to crumble away, throwing countless people onto the dole, rather than step in to convert these factories to green production.

    Whilst the Enfield Ford Visteon workers hope their union negotiations will bear fruit – and get them (at the very least) the redundancy and pension protection that Ford has tried to cheat them out of – they face an uncertain future without the manufacturing jobs that they depended on for their livelihoods.

    It seems like if we want a ‘just transition’ to a greener, fairer society, and green jobs, we’ll have to make it happen ourselves – working together as workers, activists, trade unionists, and academics. Hopefully, the vacuum left by a total absence of effective government action, might be filled by the kind of spirited fightbacks and developing understanding and connections that we’ve seen at the Enfield factory, over the last 8 days.

    We all know that over the coming months capitalism will continue to reveal its true, brutal face. As one of the organisers said today, thanking all those assembled for their support: “This is a beginning, not an end”.