11 January 2007

CBI to face truth crimes tribunal?

How should we react to news that the CBI, the lobbying group for British corporate capitalists, has set up a Climate Change Taskforce? Forgive me if I do not put out flags just yet. The priorities for such a body will be to make sure that the majority of the pain of climate change falls on the vulnerable while they are free to continue to hand large wads to shareholders. For me the CBI will always be represented by Digby Jones, the pig in the wig (see picture), who has caused more trouble to my blood pressure than any other radio hack of recent years.

We are asked to forget the fact that it was the CBI who provided spokesmen to oppose the arguments we were making about the impact of carbon-driven industry at a time when there was a chance to resolve the situation with relatively little pain—and paid for the bogus research that supported this case. An international tribunal for truth crimes would seem a more appropriate response than a slap on the back for finally accepting the truth.

So what is wrong with the corporate capitalism the CBI represents? In its present form it is driven by fossil fuels and hence is the major cause of climate change, but this aspect is not inevitable. What is inevitable, however, is growth, and the stealing of resources to turn into profits. It is a legal requirement of the boards of companies to maximize profits so that if they prioritise other imperatives, such as planetary survival, they can be sued by their shareholders. The treadmill of capitalism also requires inequality to persuade us to waste our lives paying for somebody else’s luxury yacht. There are few incentives as powerful as the threat of poverty and humiliation.

There is a workable alternative to this system of injustice. Business can be organised in co-operatives, where producers and consumers negotiate over the value created and how much should be paid for it. Without the class of absentee landlords that capitalism has at its heart—the investors or shareholders—there is plenty to go around. Working in a co-operative means taking more responsibility but it allow self-respect and dignity in a way being an employee never can.

And we will of course have some more traditional businesses in our green economy, operating within a strict system of regulation and with limits on the levels of profits that can be extracted. What about a maximum ratio of the lowest paid to highest paid in any company of, say, five times? Or an international minimum wage? Or a prohibition on moving resources like energy or waste beyond national borders? The market is not and never has been free. The rules it presently operates under were written by the sort of people who are members of the CBI for the benefit of their shareholders. We should be writing rules now for the market of the future—rules which would operate for the benefit of all the people of the world and the planet itself.

Porrit, Monbiot and their ilk have long been arguing for the need to ‘green business’, suggesting that only the capitalists can save us from climate change. Their conservative tendencies make them incapable of challenging the main source of the pressure on the planet, which is the capitalist system itself. Not only does it have an inherent need to create injustice, it is also an inefficient system. Far from resulting in efficiency, cut-throat competition wastes resources and lives, as businesses are founded in the certain knowledge that most of them will lose the competition and going into liquidation.

The CBI state openly that part of their reason for putting on green clothes is that they wish to attract the smart young people who are concerned about climate change to work for their corporations. That means you! They are well aware that for capitalism to adapt and survive they need our brains and our creativity. But we have better things to do, building an economy that is co-operative rather than competitive and where energy is the currency rather than money.

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