As you know, we are approaching a tipping point and must change our ways. We must act now. It’s time for new ideas. And in case you’re still waiting for evidence, listen up: the private sector can’t solve this one, we need the government to lock us down. Or so warns, or fantasizes, an author in a publication called MarketWatch which appears to be an investment newsletter most of the time but at this point suggests resurrecting every failed collectivist scheme from the 20th century in the hopes that this time they will succeed in the name of smashing capitalism and saving the planet. Somehow the solution is always the same, only the alleged crisis changes.
This modest proposal by an author with a PhD in economics, so not a climate scientist, involves a few simple steps to “do capitalism differently”. For instance “Corporate governance must now reflect stakeholders’ needs instead of shareholders’ whims.” Yup, whims. So much for homo economicus.
This idea will require “productive cooperation among the public and private sectors and civil society.” A theory we’ve heard before in other contexts. Thus “government assistance to business must be less about subsidies, guarantees, and bailouts, and more about building partnerships. This means attaching strict conditions to any corporate bailouts to ensure that taxpayer money is put to productive use and generates long-term public value, not short-term private profits.” And why indeed should we nationalize factories when we can nationalize people?
If you find this prospect alarming, well, you ain’t heard nothing yet. “Far more is needed to achieve a green and sustainable recovery. For example, governments might use the tax code to discourage firms from using certain materials. They might also introduce job guarantees at company or national level so that human capital is not wasted or eroded.” And of course “Finance needs fixing, too.” And we’re just warming up here: “Because markets will not lead a green revolution on their own, government policy must steer them in that direction. This will require an entrepreneurial state that innovates, takes risks, and invests alongside the private sector.”
A splendid plan that worked very well in the 1970s. So are you done yet? Not quite. “Finally, we need to reorient our energy system around renewable energy—the antidote to climate change and the key to making our economies energy-secure. We must therefore evict fossil-fuel interests and short-termism from business, finance, and politics.”
Just that? Evict short-termism from human thinking and all will be splendid. Except if you want to look before you leap, don’t, because we must act in the short term and without sober second thought: “The window for launching a climate revolution—and achieving an inclusive recovery from COVID-19 in the process—is rapidly closing.” And if it doesn’t, the government will slam it shut with you inside just in case.
Others of course would go much further. Like the Equinox Initiative For Racial Justice which finds the European Green Deal to be neocolonial and seems to feel that abolishing rather than completely changing capitalism would be a useful if timid first step. Then “It is time for justice, accountability and a complete overhaul of economic systems. Our collective survival depends on it.”
Now we are pulling your leg. Slightly. Both pieces are quite real. But the main MarketWatch one is nearly a year old now, having appeared in September 2020 and only coming to our attention recently. So why did we comment on it now?
For one thing, it seems to encapsulate an important line of thought that is now bearing some dubious fruit. The financial system, public, private and parastatal seems quite entranced by these ideas. And the BBC now reports that a British government think tank says switching to electric cars isn’t enough, the state must force people out of their cars for their own good environmental, medical and social. The socialist appetite grows with the eating.
Which is our second reason: The piece is basically timeless. There were people making the same arguments twenty, forty and a hundred years ago. Dust off some John Kenneth Galbraith airport paperback and you’ll find it all peddled as fresh and new then as well. Of course in any given historical period the crisis was different. It could have been war, overpopulation, resource depletion or anything else that staggered out of the swamp bellowing “We’re all going to die!!!” But it was no less urgent and the solution was always the same.
Fifty years from now, we would bet if there were any prospect of being around long enough to collect, a very different crisis will be trendy. And with only a few edits, this piece could be run again. Because it doesn’t matter what’s happening. They always know what to do: You surrender your freedom to a massive state that engulfs everything and is run by professors.