Does the great disruption also mean ‘big government’?

We presented Paul Gilding‘s important book on the Great Disruption yesterday. On his blog, he discusses whether getting humanity out of this mess also means ‘big government’, and his answer is an emphatic yes. Paradoxically, this has not come about through a left conspiracy, but through the actions of free market ideologues themselves.

Paul Gilding:

“Views of Tea Party types in the US, who genuinely believe the climate threat is a conspiracy cooked up by people with a secret big government agenda, is not the dominant view of the corporate sector. However the general view – that government can’t be trusted, that markets should be left to do their thing and that imposing limits on behavior is inherently dangerous – is widespread and mainstream among those with their hands on the market levers.

Whatever the merits of this argument – and it is certainly true that the record of western governments in such areas is, at best, mixed and arguably poor – the effect of it being leverage to resist change is now clear: We will now move into an era of big, interventionist government that will last for decades and will impose tight controls on market behavior. The percentage of the economy controlled directly or indirectly by government will increase and the market will inevitably become less efficient in the process – it being true that interventionist government and central planning are generally economically inefficient but socially effective – war being the clearest example.

Why is the arrival of such an era now so clear?

We can see, after the Copenhagen and Cancun climate conferences, that the pace of response to the climate threat is not going to keep up with what the science says is needed. There is no dispute on the science – none of any consequence – that is holding back action. Both conferences saw governments universally agreeing that 20C was the maximum level of warming we can tolerate and the right scientific framing for policy. (Many scientists and an increasing number of countries argue it’s too high, but no one credible argues it’s too low.) So the science is clear but the action is slower than the science demands. We can lament this but that doesn’t change it.

How this will all unfold is not driven by politics but by science. The world is going to get ugly and there will be significant economic cost as a result. We are going to have rising sea levels and extreme weather causing widespread disruption, damage to infrastructure, geopolitical instability and large refugee flows. We’re going to have food crises and resulting social and economic upheavals. We will see ocean acidification and the collapse of fisheries.

While we won’t be able to prevent all that, we will, once it really takes hold, certainly then act to stop it getting worse. Guess what all this means? Big government.

What do you think is going to happen when large areas of expensive coastal real estate are damaged and even larger areas collapse in value as a result? An insurance crisis, a credit crisis and economic costs – all requiring big government intervention. Guess who steps in when there’s a food crisis and asserts new controls over trade and the market? Big government. What’s going to happen when major infrastructure is threatened by rising seas and extreme weather? Do you think the market will be left to run its course when power supplies, airports and freight transport facilities are threatened? No, government will step in and fix it. It will be messy, ugly and inefficient but it will certainly happen.

By that stage, there will also be a sense of crisis and associated political demand for dramatic emissions reductions. The nature of the lag between emissions reduction and impact means the required cuts will then, by necessity, require draconian measures – as I argued in the paper I co-authored on the One Degree War Plan. That too will require the heavy hand of big government.”

1 Comment Does the great disruption also mean ‘big government’?

  1. AvatarRobert Searle

    In Transfinancial Economics,or TFE, great changes do not have to come from “Big Government” necessarily. Rather much of it could come about via so-called Facilitation Banks which would notably have powers to create repayable loans but also notably non-repayable capital as special commercial grants.

    The following extract maybe of interest, and comes from the Talk section of the p2pfoundation entry on TFE where a newer, and more lucid intro on the subject exists, and which may soon appear on the first page (possibly replacing the older, more complex, and less authorative presentation of the subject).

    “….Critics will probably point out that elected governments alone should have the power to create Facilitation Finance as new non-repayable debt-free money rather than mainly private companies (though they could be part owned by the state if desired). The reason for this approach is that it is hard to see that a country like the US which is still a world economic power (at the time of writing) would frown on the idea of greater government interventionism in the so-called Free Market Economy. Thus, something like FBs maybe be more acceptable, and their influence towards a more environmentally, and ethically centred business developments would be more agreeable. Rather than more, and more regulation (which ofcourse could be difficult to pass into law by many countries notably America) they would be able to “nudge” commercial enterprises as never before to reform themselves using financial incentives (ie. commercial grants, and interest free loans). Ofcourse, quite a number of businesses to a limited degree try to appear green to their customers as they see this as a good selling point. Some business leaders would claim that using normal market strategies rather than resorting to “subsidy” like incentives should be possible. However, TFE takes a different position.”

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