In this long article, I review Ann Pettifor’s new book, The Case for the Green New Deal, arguing that plans for decarbonisation need to go beyond the ‘indirect’ state intervention advocated by John Maynard Keynes, to explore how workers and communities can be given more power to control the way the economy in the interests of people and planet is run through a significant strengthening of industrial democracy. I conclude the review by arguing for the creation of an Institute for Critical Pedagogy – along the lines of the Institute for Workers Control of the 1970s – to cohere and guide a movement for political education that could rebuild the confidence of the working class to take control of industry as part of a democratic eco-socialist transition to a decarbonised economy.
Since the first factories were built in the North of England roughly three-hundred years ago, igniting a chain reaction of industrialisation and economic growth that has since spread across the earth, the planet has warmed by approximately 1°C. This doesn’t sound like much, but already we are seeing the impacts of this global warming with unpredictable weather in the UK, rising sea levels, prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa, devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, and heatwaves and wildfires in as varied locations as the Arctic Circle, Greece, Japan, Pakistan and the US. The Western middle classes have been slow to recognise climate change as a serious threat because its immediate impacts have been felt – like many of the social costs of the globalised capitalist system – by the world’s poorest and least resilient.
According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if no further action is undertaken to slow down or reverse global warming, temperatures will increase to 2°C by 2050, rising to somewhere in the region of 3-4°C by the end of the century. Just half a degree would trigger huge migrations of people and mass extinctions of animals, IPPC predicts. Most coral reefs will be wiped out, ice sheet collapse in Antarctica becomes more likely, and sea levels would rise by at least 10cm by 2100. Financially, the difference in cost between 1°C and 2°C is estimated to be about $54 trillion and $69 trillion respectively. When it comes to a 4°C warmer world, even scientists are reluctant to model the consequences, given the devastation predicted for lower temperature rises. But suffice to say, we would be looking at a conflict-torn world with constant freak nature events, resembling something more like a JG Ballard novel than anything we would recognise today.
To keep global warming below 1.5°C, IPCC suggests there must be a 45% reduction in global carbon emissions by 2030, and that the goal of net zero emissions (i.e. emissions on the one hand and carbon reductions through absorption by trees, peat bogs and the like on the other hand cancelling each other out) must reached by 2050. While still placing human and animal ecosystems in significant danger, IPCC is clear that keeping to 1.5°C would require ‘rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems’. This is this challenge that activists, political scientists and economists like Ann Pettifor – in the US as well as in the UK and Europe[i] – are attempting to address with their various and now very fashionable theories of a ‘Green New Deal’.
Director of the PRIME (Policy Research in Macroeconomics) network, Pettifor is an enthusiastic Keynesian. Reflected in the name, the Green New Deal combines key elements of Keynesian macroeconomic policy – exemplified in Roosevelt’s original 1930s New Deal, as well as in post-war European reconstruction in the 1950s – and environmentalism to create a ‘blueprint’ for not just meeting the IPCC’s decarbonisation targets, but setting an even more ambitious one of net zero emissions by 2030. For Pettifor, who was involved in the creation of the first substantive Green New Deal document in 2008, the idea:
Recognises that in the future we must derive energy not only from renewable sources. We also need to expand and support ecosystems that suck huge amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air and store that carbon in trees, soils and oceans. But societies also need to end their dependence on a globalised economic system that drives climate breakdown and encourages toxic emissions; an economic system that leads to ecological imbalances alongside economic, political and social equality and injustice. Its name is globalised financialised capitalism. (10)
In other words, the GND seeks to combine within a single idea climate justice with economic and social justice, socialist and environmental movements – the latter she adminishes for having been ‘slow at understanding the and promoting the need for radical systemic change across all sectors and at a global and national level; that is change that involves state action’. (8).[ii]
While certainly the most comprehensive attempt to provide an economic (specifically financial) justification for a Green New Deal, Pettifor’s book also expresses a number of key contradictions that remain unresolved within the idea as it currently stands in its still relatively undeveloped and vague form – which is perhaps a strategic choice given the huge task of uniting the left around a single idea. These contradictions will be outlined in brief before arguing for a more concretely socialist Green New Deal, followed by an analysis of how education, specifically tertiary education, can contribute to such a truly and concretely transformational project. The reviews ends with a plea for a revitalised discipline and practice of critical pedagogy, to establish a renewed and re-united political education movement culture in the UK and beyond.
Revolution or reform?
Perhaps predictably, the first of many questions that arise when reading Pettifor’s book, questions which tend to escalate into points of contradiction in key sections of the text, is whether she is advocating the reform of capitalism to avoid the climate crisis and make things better for the poorest sections of society, or for the overthrown of capitalism as a system that cannot help destroying the environment and exploiting people for profit. Given the extreme free-market approach of the last 30 years or so – what has become known as ‘neoliberalism’ – Pettifor’s repeated references to ‘system change’ could be interpreted as replacing this kind of capitalism with a kinder, more socialised, Keynesian version, with ‘education and healthcare for all and an economy based on renewable energy and sustainable public transport’ (131). This ambiguity is reflected in sentences like the one in the long quote above, which could be read as pointing to the globalised financialised aspect of the market system as the problem, rather than to capitalism itself.
This ambiguity is reflected in the use of ‘steady state’ economics as a theoretical basis for Pettifor’s version of the Green New Deal. Drawing on the work of Herman Daly, who derived the concept from classical political economy, particularly John Stuart Mill, steady state economics recognises that the economy is a ‘sub-system of a larger system, the ecosphere, which is finite, non-expanding, materially closed’. With any subsystem that grows without consideration for the ecosystem that sustains it, there comes a point when its expansion encroaches on the operation of the system as a whole. ‘We convert too much of nature into ourselves and our stuff,’ Daly argues, ‘and there’s not enough left to provide the biophysical life-support services that we need.’[iii] Daly’s ‘ecological economics’ – now an economic subdiscipline in itself – is useful for theories of the Green New Deal as it allows for the quantification of not only the natural and social costs of fossil-fuel driven growth, but also the remaining carbon available to economies attempting to meet the targets set by scientists and the IPCC. [iv]
However, for Daly also, the question of whether decarbonisation and/or a steady state economy – which is the kind of economy that would have to replace today’s growth-obsessed model if these ecological limits remain – is possible within capitalism is an open one. That decarbonisation would entail serious limits on capitalism, even a prolonged period of ‘de-growth’, thereby fundamentally transforming the way it operates, Daly is in no doubt. Daly would prefer a ‘a Jeffersonian-type, small-scale capitalism’ with strong anti-monopoly laws and limits on finance over full-blown socialism, as he is loathed to give up the market as distributor of resources and private-ownership as the basis of political freedom. This is a view shared by Pettifor, who imagines that, even though ‘much of the present economy may have to be dismantled, shut down, scaled up’ (106), the Green New Deal will be achieved by governments ‘working with’ the private sector within a ‘mixed economy’.[v]
‘We can afford what we can do’
This quote from Keynes assumes a kind of motto throughout Pettifor’s book, signalling not only the author’s close affiliation with Keynesian economics but also a deep contradiction between the Green New Deal as a political intervention on the one hand and a rationalisation for the reform of capitalism on the other. For Pettifor, what is crucial is showing that ‘we can afford to urgently end the globalised economy’s addiction to fossil fuels’ (xv – my emphasis):
A credible economic plan is necessary to finance the vast transformation necessary to save the planet and do so urgently. For the plan to be adopted widely, it has to ring true with the wider public, whose intelligence must never be underestimated. The plan must be honest and sound enough to cut through the fierce resistance and, at times, defeatism that will come from all quarters. (117)
Despite beginning the chapter ‘A Steady State Economy’ with a quote from infamous ‘School Strike for the Climate’ activist Greta Thunberg, in which she warns that ‘we must stop playing with words and numbers because we no longer have time for that’[vi], Pettifor spends a lot of time in the book arguing for an extremely orthodox Keynesian approach to financing the Green New Deal.
Essentially, Pettifor argues that the loose monetary policy that has characterised the post-crisis years, should be rebalanced by in increased emphasis on fiscal policy. The following passage summarises precisely Pettifor’s application of the Keynesian economics to the Green New Deal:
The public authorities (in the form of the finance ministry) in charge of fiscal policy will use loan-finance to spend and support investment on productive activity that will transform the economy away from fossil fuels, create jobs and generate tax revenues. Public investment will provide the goods and services needed by society and the ecosystem, and by stimulating both private and public sector employment will also generate the income needed to fund this transformation. (104-5)
Essentially, the government borrows to spend in the productive economy – green technologies, infrastructure and jobs – which drives further investment and spending independently of government spending (the so-called ‘multiplier’), the latter is then recouped through taxes on individuals and corporations. Anticipating the kind of neoliberal criticisms of such brazen government intervention, Pettifor then plays with various numbers to show that governments could borrow in a sustainable way, for example by using Labour’s proposed National Investment Bank to issue ‘green’ government bonds to be bought by public pension funds and (perhaps nationalised) insurance companies.
While there is much to agree with in Pettifor’s Keynesianism (and much to disagree with, see below), to adapt Keynes’ phrase, we must afford what we have no choice but to do. This is the central point of not just Pettifor’s book, but all Green New Deal proposals. While Keynes no doubt helped US and UK governments rationalise the unprecedented intervention and public spending of the New Deal and welfare state respectively, it was the material conditions that ultimately justified what was in reality a series of political decisions and acts. After the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression in the 1930s, the ability of free market capitalism to provide material security for not just the workings class but also large swathes of the Western middle classes was shown to be a myth. The sharp increase in trade union and socialist party membership at the time forced governments to concede to working class demands to avert what looked then like the inevitable spread of communism across the world.
In safe hands
The kind of ‘people power’ that forced political action in the first part of the 20th century is replaced in Pettifor’s vision of a 21st century New Deal by the public as guarantor of financialisation. Here Pettfior is heavily influenced – as is current Labour Party thinking – by the work of Mariana Mazzucato, particularly her 2013 book, The Entrepreneurial State. In the book, Mazzucato debunks the neoliberal claim that the state and its public sector are parasitic on an inherently innovative private sector, showing through a series of case studies that the opposite is true: ‘the private sector only finds the courage to invest after an entrepreneurial state has made the high-risk investments’[vii]. Pettifor argues that the same is true of the financial sector, where the public as a country’s taxpayer base ‘effectively back’ the operations of speculators via the credit-issuing power of the central bank (87).
That these publicly backed resources are in ‘great demand’ from financial institutions provides a key ‘leverage point’ in forcing a transition to a green economy, Pettifor argues. ‘These valuable resources should only be made available to the private sector on terms and conditions that benefit the taxpayers on whose regular payments the system depends,’ she recommends (88). There is nothing to disagree with here. This is one of the few places in the book where Pettifor provides a concrete strategy for countering the inevitable intransigence of the capitalist ruling class when faced with genuine system change. However, this is the limit of Pettifor’s conception of people power – essentially restricting people’s role in the Green New Deal to consumers rather than as producers of social change – and points to a worryingly low estimation of the public’s capacity to exert direct control over the economy.
In a revealing quote, Pettifor explains that a ‘social revolution’ is made by ‘those with the greatest expertise and experience’ whose responsibility it is to ‘improve and implement’ the Green New Deal strategy outlined in the book (66). Of course, Pettifor could be thinking of the ‘organic intellectuals’ that emerge within the working class as it develops its own intelligence and strategy through struggle. But for me there is more than an echo of Fabianism here, with its paternalistic and technocratic approach to reformism. ‘We have little faith in the ‘average sensual man,’ admitted Beatrice Webb, for example. ‘We do not believe that he can do much more than describe his grievances, we do not think he can prescribe his remedies.’ This sentiment was shared by Pettifor’s economic idol Keynes, who admonished the Labour Party for allowing those who ‘do not know at all what they are talking about’ – i.e. working-class leaders like Kier Hardie – to exercise too much control.[viii]
To adapt another Great Thunberg quote, we need to do more homework, otherwise we are going to repeat the mistakes of the past. The limits of Keynesianism are shown clearly by the experience of the 1960s, as the New Deal in the US and welfare state in the UK began to unravel along with their economic foundations. In his 1975 book, The Socialist Challenge, Stuart Holland reflected that the failure of Labour’s 1964 ‘National Plan’ – which similarly to Pettifor’s Green New Deal promised economic transformation based on Keynesian principles – was due to a lack of attention to the power of multi-national corporations take these government stimulants with one hand and stick two fingers up at national and local economic and social needs with the other. If governments have any chance of influencing the economy in favour of these needs, Holland insisted, then they will need to act directly and ‘decisively’ to tackle this ‘mesoeconomic’ power through public ownership. [ix]
Such ownership in the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ – with Holland suggesting the immediate takeover of the top one or two most profitable and efficient firms in each productive industry, and compulsory planning agreements for the rest – would give socialist governments genuine power to direct production to social need, while also gaining access to key information about these markets that can inform realistic price restraint and taxation policies. As part of sectoral planning agreements, Holland suggests that measures to increase worker participation in decision making and corporate planning should also be explored. In contrast to the failed ‘social contract’ of the 1960s, which only served to exacerbate the contradictions between the Labour government and powerful trade unions, a genuinely socialist social contract would seek to increase worker participation in decision making and corporate planning at a national level via sectoral collective bargaining, backed up by the power for workers to ‘hire and fire’ managers within their firms. Influenced by Holland’s ideas as well as the example of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ work-in, Tony Benn in the 1970s also encouraged workers – for example at Lucas Aerospace – to come up with their own corporate plans based on ideas of ‘socially-useful production’. [x]
While Pettifor notes the ability of multi-national corporations to shift money around their international subsidiaries to avoid paying taxes, she does not suggest any way of dealing with their power to frustrate fiscal and monetary policy other than via the reintroduction of capital controls. But as Grace Blakeley notes in her excellent new book Stolen, it was to a large extent the setting up of these subsidiary companies that undid the Bretton Woods system, which was designed to prevent another Wall Street Crash by limiting capital flows around the world. Having forged his politics within the Bennite left of the 1970s – a period marked decisively by Holland’s influence – Jeremy Corbyn seems to understand well enough the need to tackle meso-economic power. At Conference last month, Labour announced a new policy programme, ‘Medicines for the Many’, which promised to take on the big pharmaceutical companies that ‘deny life-saving and life-changing medicines to ill patients by charging extortionate prices’ by making public funding for pharmaceutical research conditional on the resulting drugs ‘being priced affordably for all’ and, most importantly, by creating a ‘new, publicly-owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to our NHS,’ thereby forcing incumbents to fall into line.
Alongside Labour’s exciting but under-developed ideas concerning ‘alternative forms of ownership’ [xi], both Holland’s work and Corbyn’s Medicines for the Many strategy provide a model for how to decarbonise the economy quickly and decisively. Labour would do well to tackle the UK’s worst climate change offender, BP, first – a fossil fuel extractor recently placed in the top 20 global polluters by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute. [xii] Bringing in a total revenue of $304bn last year and producing 2.35 million barrels of oil a day, BP plans to increase its oil production by 20% over the next twelve years, contributing 7.6 billion tonnes of CO2 in the process. Firms like BP could become leading lights for a Green New Deal in the UK, if nationalised and converted within a national plan to the production of green energy. However, as the TUC points out in its report ‘A Just Transition to a Greener, Fairer Economy’, these opportunities will not be realised unless the workers most affected have a seat at the table where key decisions are taken. ‘They should be able to contribute to solutions, not be told after decisions have been made,’ the TUC writes.
What about education?
The TUC also points out that a ‘just transition’ will also require new skills to be developed across the workforce for new types of role, which will mean a ‘dramatic increase’ in government investment in education. New institutions will need to be created at local and regional levels, the TUC suggests, which ‘bring together unions and employers to identify what training and support they need to upgrade and utilise their existing skills’. Lifelong learning accounts should be granted to all adults ‘so that everyone has a personalised budget for training’, the TUC continues, and well-funded and free-to-workers ‘skills for transition’ programmes should be delivered in and out of workplaces. All in all, the TUC rightly argues that ‘proper funding’ of the adult education sector is ‘essential’ if anything like a Green New Deal is to be successfully implemented in the UK. Like the TUC, Pettifor insists a Green New Deal would draw ‘millions of unemployed and underemployed people into the vast areas of work needed for the transformation of the economy’ and reward these and existing workers with ‘meaningful tasks, resourced with skills, training and higher education’ (100).
That education only appears at this point in the review reflects both its status as an afterthought in most theories of the Green New Deal, including Pettifor’s. In my own work I have been developing a vision of tertiary education based around democratised, ‘socially useful’ colleges and universities. [xiii] These institutions, by sourcing their services from local, green co-operatives while extending their extensive resources to wider communities as part of regionally co-ordinated transition plans, could become ‘anchor institutions’ for a Green New Deal. While ‘community wealth building’ models in Cleveland in the US and Preston in the UK show how social wealth can be kept within local and regional communities, the Lucas Plan provides a model of how socialised colleges and universities can become hubs of democratic planning and planet-centred technology – to coin a phrase from the work of Mike Cooley – while also allowing workers from carbon-intensive industries and those thrown out of work by the irrationality of capitalist production to acquire new, socially useful skills within these projects to find meaningful work within the new green economy.
However, there is a deeper project for radical educators that needs to start now. As Hilary Wainwright has rightly pointed out, if plans for transformation like the Green New Deal are to be truly inclusive and democratic, then there will need to be a ‘profound cultural shift’ in the way that the economy is managed, along with a significant boost to the ‘self-confidence of working and would-be working people’. [xiv] Wainwright notes the radical enlightenment tradition of asserting not just political and economic equality – which are of course, fundamental – but also cultural equality. ‘This idea was expressed first as an ethical principle, an insistence on the fundamental equality deeper than the economic inequalities that dominate today’s world,’ she writes. ‘A principle which was expressed originally as the basis of political right to representation.’ By the 18th century, according to Wainwright, this belief in cultural equality argued for ‘in terms of the need to find a means by which it is expressed by all, for the benefit of all’. Wainwright quotes Thomas Paine:
It appears to general observation, that revolutions create genius and talents; but those events do no more than bring them forward. For there is existing in man [sic], a mass of sense lying in a dormant state, and which, unless something excites it to action, will descend with him, in that condition, to the grave. As it is to the advantage of society that the whole of its faculties should be employed, the construction of government ought to be such as to bring forward, by a quiet and regular operation, all that extent of capacity which never fails to appear in revolutions.
This tradition of British democratic socialism is also present in the Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Stewards Committee’s ‘Corporate Plan’ for Socially Useful Production in the 1970s and the ‘people planning’ of the Greater London Council – both projects that Wainwright was intimately involved in.
For Stephen Cowden and myself, this tradition – which Colin Waugh, in the pages of this publication, has traced to the formation of Independent Working Class Education, arguably culminating in the Plebs League in the early 20th century – is also present in the work of French philosopher Jacques Rancière. [xv] As Cowden argued in an excellent response to Patrick Ainley’s review of our book, The Practice of Equality, ‘Rancière is important to the Left because he returns us back to the question of equality which offers us a way out of the post-structuralist quagmire’. [xvi] ‘Whilst the liberal tradition of equality is expressed through abstract statements of political citizenship, Rancière’s conception sees this as something which emerges when people reject or come out against something – the anti-poll tax movement in the UK or the Gilets Jaunes movement in France at the moment are examples of this,’ Cowden writes. ‘What Rancière is taking us back to is the Radical Enlightenment conception of equality. This is of course where Joseph Jacotot, the central figure of [Rancière’s 1991 book] The Ignorant Schoolmaster, comes in.’
I would like to see a revitalised critical pedagogy tradition that linked these traditions within a renewed movement for working class, independent political education in the UK and beyond. There is already a vibrant political education movement emerging at the grassroots of the Labour Party, for example with the World Transformed – which now boasts many local branches – and the Ella Baker School of Organising, which recently held an important conference in London on new organising methods. Critical pedagogy itself has a long tradition of activism drawing on the work of Paulo Friere and ‘open’ and alternative traditions of Marxism, particularly in the global south. However, if we are to create a confident working-class culture that is able to seize and democratically control the means of production in the interests of people and planet, all of these traditions must be united within a new movement for workers control, like there was in the 1970s. Wainwright urges for something like the Institute of Workers Control to be created, suggesting an organisation to provide ‘Education for Economic Democracy’ perhaps. But what about an Institute for Critical Pedagogy?
I would like to end this article (thank you for reading this far), with the words of Tom Mann, a self-educated miner who later became a leading figure in the 1889 London Dock Strike, a founding member of the Independent Labour Party along with Keir Hardie and was the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s (now amalgamated within Unite the Union) first President. Mann holds a special significance for me as he was born in my home town, Coventry.
There is no possibility of achieving economic freedom, nor even of taking any steps towards that end, unless the workers themselves are conscious that what they suffer from, as a class, is economic subjugation and consequent exploitation by the capitalists. Moreover, unless the workers themselves protest against this subjugation and exploitation and themselves for organisations for the specific purpose of persistently fighting the enemy until freedom shall be won – then all else is nothing. The strong right arm of the Labour Movement is direct economic organisation. This alone makes possible concerted action, whereby the workers may be enabled to decide the conditions under which production shall be carried on. [xvi]
[ii] All page numbers refer to Pettifor (2019)
[iii] Both quotes taken from an interview with Daly in New Left Review (109)
[iv] ‘Assuming the world pumped out about 42 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2018, we would have to cut 6 billion tonnes per year – roughly equivalent to the entirety of US emissions in 2019 – to hit [net] zero by 2025.’ (125)
[v] This point is directly contradicted at other points in the text where Pettifor recognises the unlikeliness of the capitalist ruling class in supporting a truly transformational Green New Deal, for example: ‘Mobile agents in globalised, deregulated financial markets have very little interest in supporting states that need to wean economies away from dependence on fossil fuels and from the all-powerful corporations that dig up, distribute and make money from those funds.’ (29) This quote also betrays a confusion as to how closely intertwined finance and monopoly capitalism are in reality.
[vi] Taken from a speech Thunberg made to the Vienna Climate Conference on 1 June 2019
[viii] Both Webb’s and Keynes’ quotes are taken from Hilary Wainwright (2018) A New Politics from the Left. London: Verso, pp. 13-16
[ix] Much of this analysis is taken from a post on my new blog, Forging the Weapon: https://medium.com/forging-the-weapon/public-ownership-in-the-commanding-heights-of-the-economy-c66dd906f86b
[x] Labour (2017) ‘Alternative Forms of Ownership’: https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Alternative-Models-of-Ownership.pdf
[xiii] Ridley, D. (2019) ‘How to create truly public tertiary education system under Labour’ in Education for Tomorrow: https://educationfortomorrow.org.uk/how-to-create-truly-public-tertiary-education-system-under-labour/
[xiv] Wainwright, H. (2019) ‘Taking popular participation in economic decision-making seriously – it ain’t easy!’: https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/commissions/taking-popular-participation-in-economic-decision-making-seriously-a-it-aina-t-easy
[xv] Waugh, C. (2009) ‘Plebs’: The Lost Legacy of Independent Working Class Education. Post-16 Educator (Occasional Publication): http://www.ifyoucan.org.uk/PSE/Home_files/PSE%20Plebs%20pamphlet.pdf
[xvi] Both Ainley’s review and Cowden’s response are in Post-16 Educator, Issue 97, October to December 2019, which is available here: http://post16educator.org.uk/. The book reviewed is Cowden, S and Ridley, D. (Eds.) (2019) The Practice of Equality: Jacques Rancière and Critical Pedagogy. Bern: Peter Lang
[xvi] Mann, Tom (1910) ‘Forging the Weapon’, in Coates, K and Topham, T. (Eds.) (2005) Readings and Witnesses for Workers’ Control. Nottingham: Spokesman, pp. 27-8