13 November 2008

Green New Deal: What's the Deal? And How Green Is It?

Chatter about this mind-catching proposal is everywhere in green circles. My hearty congratulations to the authors who have managed to capture the imagination and direct it towards economics. I've been trying to do that for some time and know how challenging it can be.

It is fairly inevitable in a recession that the government will become a more significant part of our economy. If nothing else, as the economy as a whole shrinks, the public sector grows relative to the private sector, where jobs are dependent on immediate spending. Add to this that, in a civilised society, we pay something to those who are out of work and the balance is bound to shift towards government spending.

This means our money - either now or in the future - and therefore we have a democratic right to decide how it is spent. Some of the proposals for this spending from Labour and the Tories are very far from green - such as the building of more roads and other vast infrastructure projects. We need to think big but also think local: this would be the heart of a truly green new deal.

For me the priorities for spending would be local green banks, preferably organised as mutuals, which could lend money to small, local businesses according to strict criteria about their sustainability. This would underpin the growth of the local green economy and ensure that we emerged from the recession with a much greener economy.

And more important than money, we should be thinking about food and energy. As the pound sinks on the foreign exchanges we will realise the foolishness of government statements that food security is of no strategic importance. As we negotiate in international markets from a position of weakness we will regret the fact that our main export is financial services. Who will buy? Hardly anybody at all I would have thought.

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