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Sunday, 24 July 2016

Book recommendation: "A Citizens' Income" Clive Lord

Given that Clive Lord is running for the leadership of The Green Party, I decided to read his book "A Citizens' Income" and was very impressed. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting an introduction to green political thought. He manages to explain some rather complex ideas in a way that is straightforward and understandable, which is no easy task.
The first part of the book deals with the ecological crisis facing the planet and why we need a complete 'paradigm shift' to have any hope of solving it, meaning a shift in the fundamental world view shared by a significant number of people. Lord explains the exponential principle underlying economic growth and how the main problem humanity faces concerns 'the tragedy of the commons'. Put simply the tragedy of the commons is the tendency of people to make rational decisions which are in their short-term self interest but go completely against our long-term interests and those of the planet. For example a situation where nations recognise the long-term dangers of climate change but each individual one is reluctant to reduce their emissions if it affects their individual nations' economic growth. Lord uses the example of Easter Island as an example of a society that went to pot because of the tragedy of the commons (hence the cover design showing Easter Island statues), where a once thriving community destroyed all of its trees and much of its wildlife and ended up in a state of perpetual war and cannibalism as a result. Lord elaborates on some of the possible future consequences of unfettered growth and environmental destruction in the disturbing chapter, "Racism and the Environmental Crisis".
That is not to say that the book is one long doom laden prophesy of a 'Soylent Green' future, far from it. The second part of the book offers an optimistic possible way out and route to achieving a 'paradigm for sustainability', meaning a cultural attitude shift in the direction of green living. Lord suggests that the establishment of a 'Citizens' Income' is essential to this. A Citizens' Income would be a guaranteed payment to everyone, regardless of whether they are in work or not and free from any means testing or penalties. Lord argues convincingly that this would break the link between providing people with the means to sustain themselves and endless 'job creation' which takes no account of whether the jobs are environmentally beneficial or destructive. Lord argues that a minimum wage does not work because it fails to break this link and also that means tested benefits simply mean that the poor are subsidised by the slightly less poor rather than the wealthy. He devotes several chapters to explaining the economic arguments behind this with much convincing data. Lord ends on a positive note:

"As long as there is uncontrolled expansion of either population or economic activity, the Tragedy of the Commons is in motion.... The escape plan set out here may be improbable, but it is possible. The same logic applied to both the slave trade and child labour. The first to renounce either risked putting themselves at a commercial disadvantage, but an overwhelming consensus nevertheless developed in each case and they did disappear". (Clive Lord "A Citizens' Income" , pub. Jon Carpenter 2003,  page131).

Clive Lord recommends the following books be read as well:

Colin Hines "Localization - A Global Manifesto", Earthscan, London, 2000.

Clive Ponting "A Green History of the World", Sinclair Stevenson, London 1991.

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