Saturday, 12 November 2011

Ministerial tango!

I just sent the new States House members the following email (subject line: Responsibility) ahead of the elections for Chief Minister and the subsequent selection of new Ministers for the various Departments.  I am expecting that too many narrow viewpoints will lead to a less than ideal outcome. Those who get elected here too often have, or rapidly develop, a kind of defensive armour that prevents them from seeing much outside their preconceptions.

Dear States Member,

I am writing to you ahead of the vote for Ministers. If you need to know why you should give any attention to my words, I have included some of my credentials at the end of this email.


Soon the house elects a new Chief Minister and, subsequently, Ministers for the various Departments. It is surely crucial that the House selects knowledgeable Ministers who are fully aware of the situation that Jersey and the world faces - only then can plans and policies have a hope of being appropriate.

Ahead of us we have environmental and economic challenges the likes of which the world has never seen before and Jersey cannot isolate itself from its responsibilities for planning to meet these. Our finance industry is dependent upon the international economy continuing to grow, which current events suggest is highly unlikely in the near to mid term, possibly ever again. Counter-intuitively, attempting to restore conventional growth, particularly in the developed nations, should be seen by the new Ministers as a very high risk strategy, if they are fully aware of the consequences. Jersey also has a much higher environmental responsibility per capita to get things right, owing to our very high global impact (because of our wealthy consumer society).

Ominously, neither of the two current candidates for Chief Minister appeared to clearly understand the question that I asked at the St Lawrence senatorial Hustings about the urgent need to adopt new ways of measuring economic success. If we continue to rely on the two dimensional conventional remedies of classical economics, which have been partially successful in the past, then we will inevitably fail to deal with the big, unprecedented challenges we face. We have now reached the point where any further conventional global “growth” is arguably uneconomic growth because the marginal long term costs of conventional growth are now outweighing the marginal benefits.

Apart from the Chief Minister, the three Ministers it is most critical for the House to get right are those of Treasury, Economic Development and Planning and Environment. It is so crucial that it might be better to elect no-one to these posts rather than the wrong ones.

When you vote, make sure to elect Ministers who explicitly acknowledge the full scope of the challenges we are up against and who express at least a willingness to investigate the new non-classical disciplines in economics that offer hope of engineering a sustainable civilisation. To do anything else is fundamentally irresponsible, both to the electorate that put you in your place and to the other seven billion inhabitants of this increasingly crowded world.

If you still think that merely tinkering with the constitution, how the States operates and restoring growth-as-we-knew-it is in any way a valid responsible strategy, then you will be of no use for solving the real, serious problems - indeed, you will be part of the problem.

The time ahead is crucial to everybody’s futures. Naïve, ill advised glass-half-full thinking, that looks to the policy successes of the past and imagines that all we need is more of the same, should not sway your votes.


Nick Palmer

• I sit on Planning and Environment's J.E.F. - Jersey Environment Forum - one of the two environmental think tanks set up by Freddy Cohen

• I am a committee member for, and media spokesman of, J-CAN - Jersey Climate Action Network

• I write an internationally respected sustainability blog - Sustainability and stuff according to Nick Palmer - that takes a light hearted but serious view of the dilemmas we face

• I helped with research for, and contributed ideas and text to, the significant climate change book "What's the Worst That Could Happen"

• I am expert at puncturing the tidal waves of politically motivated climate change denial propaganda. Some of my arguments are regularly used in the top scientific climate science blogs, to which I also contribute

• I have a grounding in the newer, deeper forms of economic thought, such as Daly's ecological economics, to which I allude in the text above, which show how the free market can be tuned to deliver both sustainability, economic development (not growth), prosperity at the same time living within our environmental means and renewing that which has been deteriorated. All this with little regulation necessary. This form of economics is as close to "the answer" as is available



Darius Pearce said...

Hello Nick, well I'm trying to track down some info on the steady state economics ideas.

Do you have any suggestions for where to start, I've read the blog entries but would be interesting to see more.

I'm still at the stage where I am not convinced that a government can ever succeed in this so some links on implementation perhaps?

Nick Palmer said...

Hi Darius,

FWIW of all the candidates who responded to my question, you were in the "top three" who understood it at all. Mark, of course, and Stuart are fully aware of these ideas.

The "steady" in steady state economics should not be taken to mean that nothing would change, it just refers to an economy which is not growing (or, preferably contracting) in non-sustainable material and energy resources demand. Economic development is allowed in such an economy and could best be described as doing the same with less (resources) or doing more with the same. There's nothing like restricted access to resources to fire up human ingenuity and enterpreneurship to make things better without doing further damage.

Long term, if we find a sustainable way of accessing resources in space, such as the asteroid belt, then we could redefine available resources and some forms of growth could return. As a past reader of 50s and 60's science fiction, I try to stay optimistic about what humanity could do if we just did things sensibly.

The "godfather"of newer economic methods is Herman Daly

link to assorted books by Daly

This is his magnum opus updated

Ecological Economics, Second Edition: Principles and Applications

Here's a few websites on the general subject.

Daly news blog - the Daddy

Darius Pearce said...

Not sure I do understand it all... yet. Thanks for the links, hopefully soon I will.

I do think that we are getting to the point where the price of oil, and perhaps more importantly water, is going to create the necessity for invention.