Yesterday, the Living Garden section of the Newcastle Herald published an interview with me on their Profile page. After requesting (and publishing) a short bio they asked me a series of questions. Here is the transcript of my answers and note the whole profile was restricted to 800 words.
Economists usually want economic growth. Can we have infinite growth and a sustainable future in a finite world?
The short answer is no. The potential for economic growth has to be balanced against the constraints imposed by the natural environment, by the availability of productive inputs, and our sense of social equity. Mainstream economics is deeply flawed in this regard. It considers there is an infinite trade-off between ecology and growth. However, it fails to understand that the natural environment is a living system and can die unexpectedly if overused. Mainstream economics in general only considers things to be valuable if they can be priced in the private marketplace. Social benefits and costs are difficult to quantify because there is no market for them.
How do you define “sustainability”?
Sustainability is where:
(a) Everyone can find enough work with decent pay and conditions. This should be a primary responsibility of the Australian Government.
(b) All those who genuinely cannot work are provided a decent standard of living through government support.
(c) Governments ensure first-class education and health systems are accessible for all, irrespective of wealth and income.
(d) The footprint of production is balanced against the requirements of nature.
(e) Permaculture principles guide commercial and urban farming.
You recently worked on a report for Greenpeace on renewable energy. What did you find?
Our research demonstrated that the Hunter Region would benefit if coal-fired power generation was replaced by renewable energy. This would create thousands of well-paid jobs in the research, design, manufacture, installation, maintenance and export of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Claims that substantial net job losses would accompany this shift are wrong. The shift would create at least 9400 new jobs, compared to the estimated loss of 3637 jobs in coal-fired generation. The adjustment, however, would be painful and we advocate a just transition to ensure that the costs of restructuring do not fall only on workers in targeted industries and their communities. This requires government intervention and community partnerships. With strong government commitment, the Hunter Region could become a renewable energy hub, and in doing so revitalise the region’s manufacturing industry.
Note: You can download the entire research report and the modelling results from HERE.
You are not impressed with the Government’s proposed $42 billion stimulus package. What is your alternative?
The major problem is that the package ignores the unemployed. The Government estimates that the $42 billion will underwrite 90,000 existing jobs in the economy. Even at the top of the boom there were 500,000 people officially without work and around 600,000 underemployed workers. Even with the package, the Government forecasts that at least 300,000 workers will lose their jobs. The Federal Government could create 560,000 full-time jobs at the minimum wage for around $8.3 billion per year. The first thing it should do is purchase all the unwanted labour by offering what I call a job guarantee.
What is your vision for Australia?
The future is bleak unless we learn the lessons from the crisis, which include:
(a) National governments have to take a strong role in steering the economy to ensure there are enough jobs and public services available.
(b) A major redistribution back to wages is necessary to ensure growth can proceed without the unsustainable levels of debt that we have seen build up over the last decade.
(c) That markets do not deliver desirable outcomes unless they are heavily regulated and social interests are elevated to the highest priority.
Green Left Weekly Interview
I also did an interview last week among others for the Green Left Weekly on the causes of the crisis and its solutions. This link takes you to their Article.