The Greens as a “pro-market” party

This article on Stuff by Hamish Rutherford caught my eye: “Greens pro-market: Russel Norman“:

Russel Norman says he is more of a disciple of market forces than is the National Party.

The major issues of sustainability can be solved by setting the right incentives and prices, he says.

However, Norman said he was a strong believer in market solutions.

“If you look at the Greens, or at least our policies, they are pro-market,” Norman said.

“Lower company tax rates, price signals for carbon – let the market resolve the issue.”

The Green proposal for a Green investment bank, which would use state capital to invest in renewable companies “is identical to what [British Prime Minister] David Cameron set up for the UK”.

Norman said National chose which motorways to favour for political reasons, without properly conducting cost-benefit analyses, while the approach to tax credits was a test “of whether [Economic Development Minister] Steven Joyce likes your company”.

“Everyone says National doesn’t pick winners … but if you look at what they’re actually doing, they’re not pro-market, they’re Muldoonist.”

I find this a very interesting line of argument which highlights just how far the Greens have tried to paint themselves as moderate. It seems remarkable to me that they are promoting the fact that they are “pro-market” as a selling point, and it remains unclear to me how much this pro-capitalist argument can stack up against the ultimate need to move towards a properly sustainable economy.

At some point, capitalism or “market forces” are going to come into conflict with preserving the Earth’s environment. The Greens themselves acknowledge this point. One part of their charter reads:

“Ecological wisdom: The basis of ecological wisdom is that human beings are part of the natural world. This world is finite, therefore unlimited material growth is impossible. Ecological sustainability is paramount.”

The trouble lies when you extrapolate out from where we are now to where we need to be in the long-term. I guess the dream of “green economics” is to externalise every previously internalised environmental problem, so that every time you’re doing something which will impact the environment, you’re going to pay for it. However to reorient capitalism such that it internalises all relevant environmental externalities is close to impossible. I think it’s suspect even at a theoretical level, but if you just consider the challenge at a practical level, how would we work out and agree on how much damage environmental pollution is doing, and therefore how much people should be paying?

The Greens would probably concede that in the long term growth isn’t going to be possible forever. But they would probably point to the current political and social context and say: “this is the best we can do at this point in time”. And I think that’s what this rhetoric highlights –  the impossibility of talking about anything but more “green” growth. In New Zealand today, and probably forever, political expediency will necessitate political parties buying into capitalism and trying to make a flawed system better from the inside.

The problem is this rhetoric of moderation means that important ideas and debates about the future direction of New Zealand, and the world, are not happening. Borrowing an analogy from elsewhere, it’s like we’re passengers on a train heading towards a chasm. Some of us know the chasm exists, and that if we stay our current course, we’ll crash. We want to do something, but we don’t want to be painted as radical by trying to stop the train. So instead we’re advocating that the train slows down a bit, because that’s what’s possible right now. Ultimately, we’re going to have to pull the emergency stop lever, even if others decry us as extreme. The actually radical option is staying our course even though we know where it takes us.

Further reading

See also the interesting exchange after the above tweet as Russel Norman responds

https://twitter.com/gtiso/status/504499324206579712

https://twitter.com/gtiso/status/504499728466182144

They’ve also been posting these infographics/images on Facebook and Twitter:Which party is more fiscally responsible? Bigger surpluses + Lower debt

We will deliver larger surpluses and pay down debt faster than National
Surpluses are serious business

Last updated 23 November 2014

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