Sunday, 10 June 2018

Trump is right to break the cosy arrangements on trade.

President Trump is right. There is something wrong with global trade, and with the deals that make them possible. What we need, however, are the right kind of solutions. Solutions that help the producers, the farmer and farm workers, as much as the consumers. Solutions that help the planet heal itself from pollution and loss of habitats. Solutions that lift people out of poverty. Solutions that prevent the 'need' to grow crops destined to destroy lives through narcotics abuse. We need a new global deal that produces sustainable economies with social and environmental objectives. The G7 scurry around trying to repair a broken system. They are rightly angry that Trump has given up on that system, but neither Trump nor the G7 have the right solutions. So they fight over the entrails of a broken system.

The neoliberal view of 'free markets' meeting needs is a myth.  Markets are neither 'free'  nor good at meeting social and  environmental needs.  Indeed, the neoliberal view has no need for  'social need'. It gambles our future without heeding the consequences.

The 'free' market has no 'social conscience' - there is no market measure or price for social need.  You can't buy it or sell, thus for global markets it has little value. The neoliberal wants a 'reduced State' which means substantially reduced public spending.

Many are appalled at poverty levels increasing, yet there is no market for 'ending poverty'.  Growth without social provision won't meet social need. But let's take another example - the environment.

There is an urgent need to end and reverse deforestation - I know it, you know it - but in what market can we effectively express that demand? Certainly not though the price of goods, because as demand for goods increases, so does deforestation.  Did you really want that when you bought your last packet of corn flakes?  Cheap food comes at great expense.

As the human population continues to grow, so does the need for more food. Rising demand has created incentives to convert forests to farm and pasture land to grow food and for biofuels.

It is estimated that 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation. Yet, some 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year—equivalent to 36 football fields every minute. 17% of the Amazon rain forest has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching. Did you want that when you bought a can of corned beef?

Deforestation is happening as I write this piece, and it will continue while you read it.

Once a forest is lost to agriculture, it is usually gone forever—along with many of the plants and animals that once lived there. It is the major threat to bio-diversity.  Did you want that the last time you bought a bar of chocolate?

What global market is there that enables you to ensure that more trees are planted rather than destroyed?  Global markets have failed.  They have failed to protect the planet, and we will all pay the price in the end.

The problems are immense, and require more political courage than is currently available, and it requires global action.  We need a new kind of global deal.

Here in the UK 85% of domestic demand for wood products is met from imports, amounting to a value of around £6 billion annually.  Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Russia and Estonia together account for nearly 90% of all UK sawn softwood imports.  We need to build more housing and this will require more wood unless other materials are used. We know that whatever we do there is an environmental impact, both locally and globally.  In terms of our environmental impact we are not an island. Our choices have impact on others across the globe and on future generations. Big global corporations trade with little accountability for their impact on local environments or the social consequences of their actions. 


The cost of pollution is real, but it is rarely factored into ‘production costs’. The cost of polluting now is met by future generations or by the public in clearing up the mess, or adjusting to the consequences of climate change. Those who produce greenhouse gas emissions are therefore imposing potentially huge costs on other people over time, yet our tax system doesn't reflect this, and nor do our market choices.  Markets will not produce a miraculous cure for the environment.

So Trump is right to break the cosy arrangements fostered by the G7.  Yet, he has no solution to the problems facing our planet.  He buries his head in the sands of climate-change denial.  But let's be clear, so too do the G7.  Whilst paying lip service to the problems they refuse to face up to the politica realities of the solutions.



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