Transport

HS2 wail – back to the future

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/02/2020 - 6:54pm in

Johnson will probably have a problem with the HS2 review. He wants to be popular, thinks he has been ‘lent’ votes in the north, but lots of his Tory MPs think that HS2’s increasing costs are prohibitive, it cuts through their blissful Tory shires – or perhaps it is just a gravy train. I confess... Read more

Bunches of bus problems

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/01/2020 - 7:00pm in

So the Department for Transport is to launch an Open Data service so we might actually know when the next bus is coming. We, in what used to be called the provinces, have been denied this possibility for years because, as we all know, bus competition works, and stiff competition leads to booming passenger numbers.... Read more

Rail ticket prices went down yesterday

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/01/2020 - 1:00pm in

No, not in the UK where they generally went up by 2.7% in spite of British trains’ poor timekeeping, but in Germany, where all long distance fares have gone down by 10%. In this way, more people should travel by train and the climate should be protected. … The reason is the federal government’s new... Read more

The History Book on the TUC from Its Beginnings to 1968

The History of the T.U.C. 1868-1968: A Pictorial Survey of a Social Revolution – Illustrated with Contemporary Prints and Documents (London: General Council of the Trades Union Congress 1968).

This is another book on working class history. It’s a profusely illustrated history of the Trades Union Congress from its origins in 1868 to 1968, and was undoubtedly published to celebrate its centenary.

Among the book’s first pages is this photograph show the TUC’s medal, below, which reads: Workingmen of Every Country Unite to Defend Your Rights.

There’s also these two illustrations on facing pages intended to show the TUC as it was then and now.

After the foreword by the-then head of the TUC, George Woodcock, and the list of General Council in 1967-8, the book is divided into four sections on the following periods

1868-1900, on the first Trades Union Congress and the men who brought it to birth.

1900-1928, in which the TUC was consulted by Ministers and began to take part in public administration.

1928-1940, which are described as the TUC’s formative years and the fight for the right to be heard.

and 1928-1940, in which wartime consultation set the pattern for peacetime planning.

These are followed by lists of trade unions affiliated to the TUC circa 1968 and the members of the parliamentary committee from 1868 and the General Council from 1921.

The text includes articles and illustrations on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into trade unions, including a photograph of Queen Victoria’s letter; from the beehive of 1867 to the TUC of 1967; the early leaders of the TUC and the political causes at home and abroad, for which they rallied trade union support; some of the events that led to the TUC’s foundation and the Royal Commission on Trade Unions; the TUC and the Criminal Law Amendment Act; working men voting during the dinner hour; working hours and conditions which the TUC wanted to reform, particularly of women and children; Punch cartoon of the sweated workers exploited for the products displayed at the Great Exhibition; Alexander McDonald, the man behind the miners’ unions; campaigns for compensation for industrial injury and safeguards for sailors; farm labourers’ unions, the public and the church; the advent of state education and the birth of white collar unions; mass unemployment and demonstrations in the Great Depression of the 1880; the trade union leaders of the unemployed and their political allies; squalor and misery in London; forging the first link with American unions; the TUC on the brink of the 20th century; the ‘new unionism’ and the matchgirls’ strike; the dockers’ strike of 1889; the birth of the Labour Party in 1906; passage into law of the TUC’s own trade union charter; the trade unions and the beginnings of the foundation of the welfare state by the Liberals; Women trade unionists, the Osborne Judgement; the introduction into Britain of French and American syndicalism; the great dock strike of 1911, and the great transport strike of 1912; the Daily Herald; Will Dyson’s cartoons; the TUC on the eve of World War I; the War; the wartime revolution in trade unions; the TUC’s contribution to the war effort; rise of shop stewards; the impact of the Russian Revolution on the British Labour movement; peace time defeat; the appearance of Ernest Bevin; the replacement of the Parliamentary Committee by the General Council in the TUC in 1921; the first proposal for the nationalisation of the coal mines; 1924, when Labour was in office but the trade unions were left out in the cold; the gold standard and the General Strike; the Strike’s defeat and punitive Tory legislation; the TUC’s examination of union structure after the Strike; TUC ballots the miners to defeat company unionism; Transport House in 1928; the Mond-Turner talks and consultations between workers’ and employers’ organisations; Walter Citrine and the IFTU; the 1929 Labour government; opposition to McDonald-Snowden economies; McDonald’s 1931 election victory; propaganda posters for the National Government; the 1930s; the state of industry and TUC plans for its control; union growth in the young industries; young workers fighting for a fair chance; the TUC and the British Commonwealth; the Nazi attack on the German unions; the TUC and the international general strike against the outbreak of war; the waning of pacifism inside the TUC; the Labour Movement and the Spanish Civil War; Neville Chamberlain and ‘Peace in our Time’; summer, 1939, and the outbreak of World War II; Churchill’s enlistment of the TUC and Labour Party in government; the coalition government and the unions; TUC organises aid to Russia after the Nazi invasion; plans for post-War reconstruction; the TUC, godfather to the Welfare State; the Cold War; the bleak beginning of public industries in 1947; David Low’s cartoons of the TUC; the drive for productivity; the Tories and the Korean War; TUC aid to Hungary and condemnation of Suez; the official opening of Congress House; TUC intervention in industrial disputes; trade union structure; from pay pause to planning; trade unionists given a role in industry; government pressure for a prices and incomes policy; TUC overseas contacts; and recent changes to the TUC.

The book’s an important popular document of the rise of the TUC from a time when unions were much more powerful than they were. They were given a role in government and industrial movement. Unfortunately, the continuing industrial discontent of the post-War years have been played on by nearly every government since Thatcher’s victory in 1979. The result is stagnant and falling wages, increasingly poor and exploitative conditions and mass poverty and misery. All justified through Zombie laissez-faire economics. Corbyn offered to reverse this completely, and give working people back prosperity and dignity. But 14 million people were gulled and frightened by the Tories and the mass media into rejecting this.

Strong trade unions are working people’s best method for expressing their economic and political demands along with a strong Labour party, one that works for working people, rather than solely in the interest of the employers and the financial sector. Which is why the Tories want to destroy them and are keen that books like these should be forgotten.

Let’s fight against them, and make sure that books like this continue to inspire and inform working class people in the future.

 

Labour’s Green Transport Pledge – Electric Buses

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/12/2019 - 9:57pm in

This is another story from Saturday’s I. The Labour party has also promised to introduce electric buses if they come to power. The article about this, written by Hugo Gye, ran

Labour has promised to replace every bus in England with an electric vehicle if the party wins the general election.

All of the country’s 35,000 buses would be powered by electricity rather than diesel or petrol by 2030 at a cost of £4bn, Jeremy Corbyn said. The pledge is the latest in a string of promises on public transport, partly funded by cutting the amount of money spent on road improvements.

Over the next 11 years, every bus in England that is not fully electric would be taken out of service and replaced by an electric vehicle to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At the moment just 2 per cent of the country’s buses run on electricity. the switch would be paid for by a “green transformation fund”, part of Labour’s plans to ramp up infrastructure spending through borrowing.

Mr Corbyn said: “This policy will bring our bus services into the future and help revitalise our high streets and rebuild local communities.”

Conservative Transport Secretary Grant Shapps responded that Labour would pay for the plan by raiding budgets for vital road upgrades.

Labour said devolved administrations would receive money to enable them to carry out a similar policy.

The air quality in British towns is very poor. There have been a series of articles in the papers revealing that townspeople suffer poor health as a result of the air pollution around them, and some of this is obviously vehicle exhaust. Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin, wants to improve air quality by taxing the most polluting vehicles, including buses and taxis. However, so that this doesn’t affect ordinary people, he’s allowing older cars to go untaxed. This has proved highly controversial, as it means that public transport in this city will become more expensive. It seems far better to me for the government to replace existing fossil fuel buses with electric vehicles than to place extra taxes on them. Of course, this also calls into question the decision made after the War to scrap the trams across Britain, as these were also run on electricity. Continental cities didn’t, and as a result some of them – I’m thinking here of those in the Netherlands – may be greener.

But I’m convinced that this is no mere empty promise. Corbyn and his team are sincere about their policies they intend to implement. Unlike the Tories, who have consistently broken their manifesto promises and whose present promises to improve public services either have not been costed or would be inadequately funded. Which means the Tories really aren’t serious about honouring them.

And remember how David Cameron declared that his would be the greenest government ever. Which lasted right up to the moment he put his foot inside No. 10. Then all his election promises were forgotten, he took the little windmill from his house, and went ahead with allowing fracking and privatising Britain’s forests.

Unlike the Tories, Labour is serious about the environment and renewable energy. Vote for them.

‘I’ Reports Labour Intends to Renationalise Local Bus Services

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/11/2019 - 9:05pm in

There was an article by Hugo Gye in yesterday’s edition of the I for 19th November 2019, reporting that the Labour party is planning to renationalise the local bus services, which were privatised in the 1980s by Maggie Thatcher. The article runs

Labour will open the door to the nationalisation of England’s buses if it gets into power in next month’s election, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

The party would give all councils the right to take control of their local bus services and give free bus travel to anyone aged under 25.

The move, which will form part of the Labour manifesto when it is published this week, is the latest in a string of nationalisations announced by Mr Corbyn. But bus industry officials insisted it would do little to improve services.

Speaking at the CBI conference in London yesterday, the Labour leader said he would encourage individual councils to take direct control of bus networks when franschise contracts expired. He added: “We need to integrate bus and rail services, we need to re-empower local authorities to develop bus services if they wish.”

The plan – which would apply only to England because transport policy is devolved – would give councils that right to remove franchises from private companies such as Stagecoach, Go-Ahead and FirstGroup. The nation’s bus network was privatised and deregulated by Margaret Thatcher in the 80s, although in London it is still heavily regulated by the city’s mayor.

Katy Taylor, commercial and customer director at Go-Ahead, said: “The biggest issues we face are congestion and council cuts, and regulation would do little to solve either of these. While bus usage continues to fluctuate in some parts of the country, our experience in cities like Brighton – where ridership is higher than anywhere else outside of London – shows that public and private sector working together is the best way to deliver a transport service.”

Labour’s bus policies are similar to its rail nationalisation scheme, in which each train franchise would be brought into public ownership as soon as its current contract expired.

The party has pledged to nationalise a number of public services if it wins on 12 December. This would including buying the country’s water system and the National Grid.

This is great news, as the bus service we currently have in my bit of Bristol is appalling. The bus company has cut services and I’ve heard that they regard it as a country route, even though it is actually within the city limits. People have complained to the council and the bus company, FirstBus, but all they got were letters from each blaming the other.

I was at school when Thatcher privatised the buses, and can remember the immediate effect. The new, deregulated bus company immediately reorganised the bus routes to send its buses down one of the major roads into town. The result wasn’t greater efficiency, but less. The buses were caught in the traffic jams that built up, so that buses that should have got all the schoolkids from my bit of south Bristol into school in town well before the 9 O’clock bell got in much later.

And FirstBus’ reputation in Bristol generally is so low, that the company has acquired the nickname ‘WorstBus’.

The much vaunted competition that Tories claim will always improve services hasn’t worked either. There has been an alternative bus company set up, and for a while that ran some good services to our part of Bristol. But these also seem to have disappeared or been cut back.

There are some excellent bus services run by charities, but people should not have to rely on volunteer organisations for a good, efficient bus service. Clearly the buses in Bristol need the support of local authorities, because privatise enterprise alone simply isn’t up to the job. It seems that the bus companies are too interested in creating a profit for their shareholders than providing a service for their customers. Indeed, the greed and profiteering by the directors of the newly privatised companies, like Ann Gloag, and the shabby way they treated their workers, customers and people they’d hit in accidents, was so bad that every fortnight Private Eye seemed to be running a story about them.

The local bus company in Bristol wasn’t brilliant by any means when it was under council ownership, but it was better than what followed with privatisation. Thatcher’s policy of privatisation and deregulation of public services has been a miserable failure right across the board. It’s ‘zombie economics’, and the only reason it hasn’t been put in the grave long ago is that the rich 1% – including the media barons boosting the policy – massively profit from it. While the rest of us have to put up with substandard services.

It’s time to vote the Tories out, and bring in someone who will improve public services in this country. And that person is Jeremy Corbyn.

 

The Cars That Ate Paris, by Stephen Pascoe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/10/2019 - 2:11pm in

There’s a feeling that has been gnawing at me for a long time now.1 Each time I go to the petrol station, take out the bowser and start to fill the tank of our family car, an overwhelming sense of guilt, dread and wastefulness comes over me. I can’t stop thinking about the profligacy embedded in this routine act of daily life: the energy-intensive life cycle of extracting, refining and transporting this oil halfway across the globe; the insanity of burning it for one’s personal mobility; the perilous environmental consequences of the carbon emissions from it; and the billion or so other vehicles like mine on the roads of the world.2

Yet here I am, along with my family, locked in this toxic relationship with the bowser, and with the internal combustion engine. Once upon a time, living in the inner city of Melbourne, we survived without a car. We took public transport, or we walked. Occasionally we borrowed a car to go shopping, or to get out of town. Being a carless household was difficult, but possible, in that particular urban environment. Now we live in the wide expanses of southern California: the infamously centreless, ever-expanding suburban periphery with its endless seas of cars pulsing on its prodigious freeways, and its vast tracts of housing built on the assumption of universal car ownership. Here, trying to survive without a car would be socially suicidal; and the imagining of alternatives feels near impossible.

Our quotidian reliance on the automobile is but one example of a more generalised politics of complicity that characterises our relationship to the making of an uninhabitable earth.3 By a ‘politics of complicity’ I mean the condition of being wholly aware of one’s participation in a destructive system, knowing the seriousness of this participation, but feeling powerless to do otherwise. This condition permeates nearly every practice of contemporary life, from using electricity powered by fossil fuels to travelling on aeroplanes, consuming meat and dairy products or negotiating the layers of plastic that wrap our material lives and suffocate the food chains on which we rely. Being complicit means being called upon to perform continuous, small acts of ecological destruction in order to satisfy a basic requirement, or as a precondition for participation in social life. Yet our complicity is unevenly distributed. It can be mixed up with virtuousness, such as when a vegan purchases jackfruit ‘crab’ cakes or plant-based ‘beyond meat’ burger patties, only to discover that their food is packaged in multiple, unrecyclable layers of plastic. Or we can be subject to competing complicities: is it better for me to draft this essay on recycled paper or to plug into a computer powered by coal-fired electricity?

In searching for a way out of the debilitating malaise of the present moment, we can look usefully to the frameworks of earlier generations of radical environmental critique. Alan Roberts (1925–2017), the Australian physicist and ecological theorist in whose honour this essay is written, provided one such example in his prescient and far-reaching critique of the bases of contemporary consumerism. While several strands of Roberts’ thought are of lasting significance to our present climate emergency, it is his politicising consumption from an environmental set of principles that I have chosen to draw on in the present essay.4 In The Self-Managing Environment, a collection of essays published in 1979, Roberts combined insights from Marx and Marcuse to argue that we had entered the ‘consumerist stage’ in the history of capitalism, a period based on a ‘majority dependence of the economy on prior and intensive shaping of the mass of consumers’.5 The atomised form of social life expressed through the nuclear family had led to the proliferation of energy-intensive lifestyles based on individual household units: domestic appliances, television sets, motor cars and various other gadgetries had become falsely synonymous with the ‘good life’.6 Consumerism had soullessly but effectively reduced the individual to his or her act of purchasing on the market, in place of more satisfying forms of social exchange. Identifying the emptiness and alienation at the heart of capitalism was a familiar refrain of Marxian cultural criticism; Roberts’ great contribution was to tease out the environmental implications of late-twentieth-century capitalism’s hegemonic consumerist ethos. In his analysis, consumer society threatened the environment because of its ‘unlimited appetite—unlimited precisely because its objects are so unsatisfying’.7

Whereas Roberts came out of a theoretical tradition promoting collective forms of social life and the deconstruction of individualism, many contemporary approaches fall into the trap of ‘lifestylism’—that is, the conviction that personal agency in consumption can be the catalyst for systemic change. According to the logic of lifestylism, if a sufficient number of enlightened and conscientious consumers cease purchasing problematic products, then production will necessarily shift to accommodate demand. The faulty logic of this blind faith in the magic of market forces is revealed upon even the most cursory examination. Firstly, as Roberts recognised, in a consumer society demand is not a given: demand is created through advertising. In other words, it does not objectively relate to some pre-existing need; rather, advertising shapes and determines consumers’ perception of need so that it aligns with the interests of producers. Moreover, the very possibility of ‘conscious consumer choices’ is structured around the differential terms of social class and purchasing power.8 Lifestylism’s ideology inevitably collapses into distinction seeking: a logic that asserts, ‘I can be exonerated of our collective sins by my individual virtue’. (I performed a subtle form of this in the second paragraph of this essay by implicitly lauding our household’s temporarily car-free existence.)

However, it is not sufficient to debunk the errors of lifestylism and to recognise instead that systemic factors precondition the terms of our individual choices. The consciousness of our manipulated personal participation in civilisational annihilation demands that we engage more systematically in the creation of alternative forms of social organisation as we move to decarbonise our way of life. I have chosen in this essay to focus on automobile dependence for several reasons. Of all our toxic ‘lifestyles’, the car mediates our relationship to fossil fuels in the most naked form, as my petrol-station anxiety suggests. It is also universal, posing a challenge to rich and poor countries alike. It affects the full gamut of settlement patterns, from city to country and the many spaces in between. It is also, arguably, the issue in which questions of social justice are most entangled. In a world that has been remade for automobility, the car has been constructed, mentally and practicably, as a key to economic empowerment and the right to mobility.

It is telling that the issue that ignited the revolt of the gilets jaunes was the price of petrol. This movement has had most traction among the communities of the périphérique, the people living in the forgotten zones outside the privileged urban centres. Such classes are reliant on the car as a consequence of the progressive disinvestment in France’s once-extensive rail network over many decades.9 The case of the gilets jaunes has captured most international attention, but similar protests have erupted elsewhere in recent years. When the government of Mexico removed price controls on gasoline at the beginning of 2017, the 20-per-cent rise in costs for consumers led the opposition to call for a ‘peaceful revolution’. Protestors blockaded freeways and petrol stations across the country for several weeks before thousands were arrested.10 In January 2019 a whopping 130-per-cent increase in the price of petrol in Zimbabwe inspired a similar nationwide strike that lasted several days until it was put down. The repressive government crackdown killed at least twelve people.11 It is communities such as these, across the globe, that will be most vulnerable to price hikes and sudden precarities in the supply lines of oil in the volatile years ahead.

The term ‘automobile dependence’ was coined by Perth-based academics Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy in their landmark 1989 Cities and Automobile Dependence: An International Sourcebook. It caught on quickly among researchers in the field of transport planning, as it suggested a collective pathology requiring urgent intervention. It captured what one writer has called the ‘insanity of normality’.12 The harmful symptoms of this societal sickness have been systematically documented elsewhere.13 Without wishing to exhaustively rehash them here, the car’s ‘externalities’ include the respiratory conditions that are endemic among residents living alongside freeways; the wasteful, land-intensive patterns of development that come with planning for car dependence; and the exclusion and alienation of non-drivers in places without adequate public-transport provision.14 The path dependency of automobile dependence is most extreme in the United States, where driving is inseparable from participation in the public sphere, and the practice of citizenship.15 (To illustrate: under ‘motor voter’ legislation, citizens are eligible to register to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles when applying for a driver’s licence.)

The engineering of captive consumer economies dependent on the lifeblood of oil has occurred in the century since the First World War: a remarkably short space of civilisational time, and a blip in planetary time. First in the United States in the 1920s, then throughout most of the world in the post–Second World War period, the age of mass car consumption spread in tandem with the rise in home ownership, the electrification of cities, and the development of what Timothy Mitchell called our ‘carbon intensive lifestyles’.16 At every step of the way, the forces that engineered this great dependence—the car companies, the oil companies, the road builders, the paid lobbyists—have sought to discredit their critics, and to delay and defer action that would dent their profit margins. Employing tactics similar to those of the tobacco industry, fossil-fuel magnates have successfully contained the threat of regulation while expanding their reach into new markets of captive consumers. Their oil-stained hands have been implicated in numerous wars, coups d’état and violent occupations in petroleum-producing countries. However, the history of the automobile has not been simply a conspiracy of capital. Driving upon the monumental American freeway network stretching from coast to coast, financed by successive waves of tax dollars from the New Deal to the Reagan era, one rides on an artefact of public-minded ambition, the promise of progress, and the illusion of freedom. The automobile intoxicated the twentieth century with its seductive claims of liberation. We are all now paying the price.

The title of this essay pays homage to the 1974 cult classic that was the first feature-length film directed by Peter Weir. The Cars That Ate Paris is a searing mix of satire, black comedy and B-grade horror that still speaks to our unhealthy relationship with automobiles. The fictional ‘Paris’ is actually a small Australian country town (Sofala, New South Wales) that lures visitors with a series of signs on the highway promising work. Once they approach the town on a narrow, windy road, the unsuspecting drivers are blinded by bright lights, causing them to crash. The smashed-up cars are then towed into town, where the Parisians proceed to scavenge off the wreckage of the vehicle. If they have not been fatally maimed already, the driver and passengers are then taken to the local hospital, where a psychopathic surgeon performs ‘experiments’ that turn them into catatonic vegetables.

The film’s protagonist, Arthur Waldo, the survivor of an accident that has killed his brother, miraculously avoids this treatment when the mayor takes pity on him and adopts him into the family. Arthur is a diminished and traumatised subject who wanders the streets of Paris in a state of shock, gaslighted into believing that he has a serious psychological condition: a fear of cars. Meanwhile, in addition to Paris’ sinister organised racket, a band of hooligans driving repurposed wrecks from the town’s crash industry terrorise the townspeople with their crazed driving and prevent Arthur from leaving Paris by blocking the road out of town. After finally being brought to justice via a public burning of their cars, they return to exact revenge with their now-weaponised vehicles, covered with spikes. In the orgy of violence of the film’s climax, the hooligans gruesomely impale one of the town elders and destroy the buildings of the main street. Arthur is convinced to kill one of the hooligans by getting into the driver’s seat and reversing into him repeatedly inside a garage. Instead of recoiling in horror at his act, he declares with quiet satisfaction: ‘I can drive!’ Healed of his motorphobia, he drives out of town joyously to the soundtrack of sentimental French music as the credits roll.

The Cars That Ate Paris is a ruthless critique of the implicit violence and anxiety of the automobile age. It is a monument to the anti-consumerist spirit of the time and place in which it was made, animated by the same spirit that permeates Alan Roberts’ writing. Despite the potency of the campaigns waged in the 1970s by community activists, engaged artists and scholars, the automobile was culturally rehabilitated in the following decades.17 Before his untimely passing, the internationally renowned Melburnian transport scholar Paul Mees (1961–2013) used to joke that against all odds we had somehow learned, like Dr Strangelove, to stop worrying and love the car once more. In these crucial missed decades, the promoters of car dependency shock-absorbed their opponents’ criticisms and enacted reforms to their production processes. Improvements such as switching to unleaded petrol, increasing fuel efficiency and, most recently, developing electric engines have all promised to tame the car. They can be seen as successive chapters in the search for a technological palliative to soften the environmental impacts of car dependency but leave the basic condition intact (conveniently sidestepping its structural inequalities in social and economic terms).

The latest chapter in this ameliorative history—as seen in the reification of Tesla, and the utopian promise of the electric car more generally—is a textbook example of what Roberts called the ‘technological fix’.18 (Mees, for his part, spoke of ‘technological fetishism’.) In searching for the technological magic bullet, techno-utopians engage in wishful thinking and a singular, unilateral approach to a complex problem. Applying the sort of methodical dissection that is a characteristic feature of Roberts’ essays, one can identify at least five objections. First, in a time when we have needed collective solutions, the electric car has catered to the few, offering a way for the rich to purchase away their guilt but leaving the many behind (a classic instance of the logic of lifestylism we dissected above). Second, current production levels are nowhere near those that would be required to solve the problem on a global scale, which in the crisis of climate change is the only scale that matters (to say nothing of all the energy implications of that production). Even if one can look past their other problems, the proportion of new electric vehicles will remain infinitesimal for the foreseeable future, the time in which we must radically act.19 Third, global levels of lithium, required for electric batteries, are fast being depleted and their extraction is polluting communities that lie close to mines.20 Fourth, the electric car offers no solution for the billion cars already on the road, unless manufacturers can accept or be subsidised into converting the engines of existing vehicles. Fifth, electric vehicles use the same synthetic rubber tyres that are now believed to be the largest contributors to the scourge of microplastics in coastal waters.21

Since the international accord was signed there in 2016, ‘Paris’ has come to stand for the last remaining hope of survival in the ecological emergency that is fast bearing down on us. It was in the French capital that the reluctant ratifiers of Kyoto—notably Australia and the United States—finally committed to meaningful targets for reducing emissions. The Paris framework allows each signatory to determine emissions-reduction strategy within its national borders. So far, few of the signatories have shown the stomach to address auto dependency. Of those countries taking tentative steps, France, which began clumsily to address the problem via a fuel levy, has seen the wrath of discontented and disenfranchised motorists in the form of the gilets jaunes. Whatever criticism one might make about the effectiveness of the agreement, the subsequent coming to power of climate-change-denying leaders in Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Scott Morrison means we must fight for whatever scraps of its potential are left. There is every reason to legitimately fear that the cars of the world may eat Paris once more.

***

It’s 23 July 2019 and I am in the car with the kids, to whom I have yielded control of the radio dial. Against the background hum of the air-conditioning, the commercial-radio announcer declares that ‘it’s the start of a heatwave today. It’s gonna be in the 90s [Fahrenheit] in LA and the OC, up in the 100s in Inland Empire, but you’ll be much cooler in your new Jeep Wrangler! We’re giving away ten this week to lucky callers’. Meanwhile, Paris—the real city, not the fictional Australian town, nor the metonym for international coordination—is sweating through its hottest day ever recorded: 42 degrees Celsius. The time for action is long overdue.

No magic bullet will singlehandedly wean us off our dangerous dependence on the car. But we need nonetheless to break the cycle of contemptuous self-righteousness and find collective solutions. In implementing our post-petroleum future, we need to put people at the centre of planning once more, and to confront the vested interests that stand in the way. In doing so, we might try to recapture something of the spirit of the 1970s and the example of Alan Roberts. When Roberts appealed to the concept of ‘self-management’ as being necessary to confront ecological crises, he meant the meaningful control of social life by communities rather than the interests of corporations or bureaucratic managers. He recognised that the ‘massive change in popular values’ required to overcome individualised consumerism would only come about through the experience of struggle.22 As ‘consumers’ we do possess some power, but it needs to be properly politicised, and built on cross-class alliances as we imagine solutions beyond the strictures of our present automobile dependence. Instead of shifting what we buy and do as individuals, we should be taking to the streets together.

Instead of kneeling at the altar of consumerism and absolving ourselves of sin in the Tesla showroom, we need to fight for our collective right to universal mobility via high-quality public transport. It must be safe, reliable, affordable, and air-conditioned for the hot periods of the year that will now be the reality of virtually every region of the globe. Given the urgency of our crisis, we may not have the time, or the readily deployable budgets and labour power, to undertake massive-scale investments. It won’t all be high-speed rail and fancy underground trains. Much will be simple but effective thickets of on-road buses, powered from renewable sources. Cities from Curitiba to Toronto to Zurich to Kerala have shown how it can be done.

Such networks can be deployed on existing roads almost immediately, with minimal financial impost. For instance, when Melbourne held the 2006 Commonwealth Games, lanes on many of the key inner-city roads were temporarily repainted as exclusive lanes for official vehicles. It was implemented without chaos and road users adapted. It could be easily done again, this time for buses, with a particular focus on the much-neglected outer suburbs of the city. As I write this, the city of Los Angeles is considering a proposal to give over single lanes on city roads to dedicated busways.23 The plan is a decent start but should urgently be extended across the metropolis and into the contiguous suburbia of the surrounding cities. In order to wean people off the car, we must actively create incentives for public-transport use, thereby making the alternative a competitive option. Adopting the kind of ‘network planning’ advocated by Mees and others, we should design services on the basis of legibility, reliability and convenience. Expanded and interconnected public-transport networks need to meet the needs of users, not the narrow operational logic of transport bureaucracies limited in imagination.

We must demand a moratorium on the construction of all new freeways that cater only to individual motorists. On those that remain, we ought to immediately implement massive planting of vertical gardens on the columns and flyovers—as has been recently trialled in the ‘Via Verde’ project in Mexico City—to help absorb carbon dioxide and filter air pollution.24 On the same freeways, we should dedicate lanes to public transport, properly connected at crossroads to other lines. (This also has begun in Los Angeles, but all too often with poorly designed stops and interchanges that are hostile to users). We should also take advantage of previous investment in existing rail networks and continue to invest in them to make them accessible across all parts of the network. As we move to decrease our dependence on petroleum, we must acknowledge and take seriously the unequal impacts of energy transition on disadvantaged communities—the spatially isolated, transport-poor regions that will bear an uneven proportion of the rough shocks ahead.

Perhaps most important, we must transform our respective alienation—our quiet, individualised sobbing at the petrol station—into more constructive and empowering ends.

 

Notes

1 I thank Rachel Goldlust for reading a draft of this essay and providing me with helpful feedback.

2 ‘Number of Cars Worldwide Surpasses 1 Billion; Can The World Handle This Many Wheels?’, Huffington Post, 23 August 2011.

3 David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, New York, Tim Duggan Books, 2019.

4 I am drawing mostly on the essay ‘Consumerism and Its Needs’, in Alan Roberts, The Self-Managing Environment, London, Allison and Busby, 1979, pp. 32–50.

5 Roberts, The Self-Managing Environment, p. 34.

6 Hall Greenland, ‘Physics Teacher Became a Pioneer Ecologist’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 January 2018.

7 Roberts, The Self-Managing Environment, p. 174.

8 For probing recent critiques of neoliberal consumerist individualism, see Martin Lukacs, ‘Neoliberalism has Conned Us into Fighting Climate Change as Individuals’, The Guardian, 17 July 2017; see also Vijay Kolinjivadi, ‘Why a Hipster, Vegan, Green Tech Economy Is not Sustainable’, Al Jazeera, 6 June 2019.

9 Ian Klaus, ‘To Understand American Political Anger, Look to “Peripheral France”’, City Lab, 12 June 2019; Olivier Razemon, ‘La France paie cher sa dépendance à la voiture’, Le Monde, 7 December 2018.

10 Kate Linthicum, ‘Protests Erupt Across Mexico over a Sudden Spike in Gasoline Prices’, Los Angeles Times, 3 January 2017.

11 ‘Uneasy Calm in Zimbabwe Amid Stay-at-home Fuel Price Protest’, Al Jazeera, 16 January 2019.

12 John Whitelegg, ‘Editorial’, World Transport Policy and Practice, vol. 20.2/3, May 2014, special edition in honour of Paul Mees, pp. 4–5.

13 For useful introductions to the problem, see the work of Paul Mees, especially A Very Public Solution: Transport in the Dispersed City, Parkville, University of Melbourne Press, 2000, and Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age, London, Earthscan, 2010.

14 George Monbiot, ‘Cars Are Killing Us. Within 10 Years, We Must Phase Them Out’, The Guardian, 7 March 2019.

15 Gregory H. Shill, ‘Americans Shouldn’t Have to Drive, but the Law Insists on It’, The Atlantic, 9 July 2019.

16 Timothy Mitchell, ‘Carbon Democracy’, Economy and Society, 38: 3, 2009, pp. 399–432. 

17 For a highly readable account of historical battles over the automobile in Melbourne, see Graeme Davison, Car Wars: How the Car Won Our Hearts and Conquered Our Cities, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 2004.

18 Roberts, The Self-Managing Environment, p. 24.

19 In recent weeks additional reports of Tesla’s financial woes have emerged. See Russ Mitchell, ‘Tesla Loses $408 Million as Technology Chief J.B. Straubel Departs’, Los Angeles Times, 24 July 2019.

20 Monbiot, ‘Cars Are Killing Us’.

21 Rosanna Xia, ‘The Biggest Likely Source of Microplastics in California Coastal Waters? Our Car Tires’, Los Angeles Times, 2 October 2019.

22 Roberts, The Self-Managed Environment, p. 175.

23 ‘Editorial: Want a Transit System That Actually Works? Then L.A. Needs Bus-only Lanes’, Los Angeles Times, 13 July 2019.

24 Notwithstanding legitimate concerns about the intentions and implications of this project, it at least represents a low-cost, immediately deployable strategy for mitigating some of the toxic effects of existing freeways. It should be seen as part of a wider solution, not itself the sole solution. See Lisa Martine Jackson, ‘Mexico City’s Vertical Gardens: Seeds of Change or Cynical Greenwashing?’, The Guardian, 30 October 2018.

The ‘I’ on Labour’s Manifesto Policies

Thursday’s edition of the I, for 10th October 2019, carried an article by Nigel outlining Labour’s election promises. The article ‘What will be in the Labour Party election manifesto’, stated that ‘Jeremy Corbyn aims to target areas for radical change’. These were itemised and described as follows

Brexit

The plicy issue likely to be at the heart of the election campaign. One in office, Labour would spend three months negotiating a new Brexit deal with Brussels to enable Britain to remain in customs union with the European Union and be closely aligned to the European single market.

It would then organise a referendum within six months, offering voters a choice between Labour’s deal and remaining in the EU. Labour would hold a special conference to decide which side it would endorse in the referendum.

Taxes

Labour says its tax-raising plans would only affect give per cent of taxpayers. It is currently committed to increase income tax rates to 45 per cent for salaries over £80,000 and to 50 per cent for salaries over £123,000.

Cuts to corporation tax would be reversed and the rate would be fixed at around 26 per cent. 

Infrastructure

Labour is pledging to spend £250bn on upgrading the UK’s transport, energy and broadband infrastructure. Another £250bn of capital would be provided for businesses and co-ops to “breathe new life into every community”.

Nationalisation

Labour would bring the railways, Royal Mail, the water companies and the National Grid into public ownership so “essential services we all rely on are run by and for the public, not for profit.”

Minimum Wage

Workers of all kinds would be legally entitled to a UK-wide minimum wage of £10 an hour. LOabour says the move will make the average 16- and 17-year-old in employment more than £2,500 a year better off.

Free Personal Care

A new National Care Service would help elderly people in England with daily tasks such as getting out of bed, bathing, washing and preparing meals in their own homes and residential care, and provide better training for carers. The £16bn annual cost would come out of general taxation.

Free Prescriptions

Prescription charges would be abolished in England. They are already free in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

More than 80 per cent of English prescriptions are already issued free of charge, but in other cases patients pay £9 per item.

Boost Doctor Numbers

The number of GP trainees in England would rise by 50 per cent to tackle a recruitment crisis. Labour says it would mean an extra 27 million GP appointments per year.

Scrap Tuition Fees

One of the party’s most popular policies at the last election, Labour is committed to scrapping university tuition fees in England and Wales, which currently stand at a maximum of £9,250 a year.

It would also cancel existing student debt, which the party says has reached “unsustainable” levels.

End Rough Sleeping

Labour would end rough sleeping in five years by allocating thousands of extra homes to people with a history of living on the streets.

Outlaw Fracking/ Increase Renewables

Fracking would be banned “once and for all”, with Labour putting its emphasis on developing clean and renewable energy.

The party wants 60 per cent of UK energy from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030 and would build 37 state-owned offshore windfarms. it is pledging to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a Green Industrial Revolution.

Scrap Ofsted

The schools inspectorate, which the party claims causes higher workload and stress for teachers, would be abolished and replaced with a two-stage inspection regime.

A Four-Day Working Week

Labour would cut the average working week to 32 hours within ten years, but with no loss of pay. It would end the opt-out from the European Working Time Directive, which lets firms sidestep EU rules on limiting hours to 48 a week. Zero hours contracts would be banned.

Overturn Union Legislation

Margaret Thatcher’s union legislation would be scrapped as a priority, and moves begun towards collective bargaining in different sectors of the economy.

Reverse Legal Aid Cut

Labour would expand legal aid as a priority with help focussed on housing cases and family law.

These are all policies that this country desperately needs, and so you can expect the Tories, the Lib Dems and the lamestream media, not to mention the Thatcherite entryists in the Labour Party itself, to scream ‘extremism!’ and do everything they can to stop them.

And you can trust that the party is absolutely serious about honouring these promises. Unlike David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris Johnson, all of whose promises about restoring the health service and reversing cuts, bringing down the deficit and ending austerity, have proven and will prove to be nothing but hollow lies.

We need to relearn the art of adequate spending for public purpose

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/10/2019 - 9:30pm in

The GIMMS team have been away and had a very busy two weeks travelling between Brighton, London, Manchester, Leeds and Newport for a variety of events.  All in all, it has been very successful and well worth the effort. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting lots of enthusiastic and lovely people across the country and we hope that over time the interest can be carried forward into real action in local settings.

The recording of the Brighton Fringe Event at which Professor Bill Mitchell spoke is now available here and we are working on editing the training session in London and the recording of GIMMS event at the Green Party Conference.

So, from this week normal service is resumed for our MMT Lens with a round-up of the key events over the last two weeks.

 

Cardboard placard at a protest with the slogan "Fight today for a better tomorrow"Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Boris Johnson is spending. Well, not his own money, of course, but he has authorised a multibillion-pound government spending programme not to mention substantial tax cuts for the wealthiest. After nine years of unnecessary and harmful austerity politics a focus on fiscal rather than monetary policy, which is in a predictable dead end, is to be welcomed although strangely it seems to reflect many of Labour’s spending promises. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, don’t they?

As part of the spending review by Chancellor Sajid Javid some weeks back, Boris Johnson in his speech at Conference promised investment in the NHS and social care, education, transport and roads, local government, police and the environment. And again, strangely, all those things that it has been busily cutting over the last 9 years because it was claimed we couldn’t afford them are now back on the spending menu. It is tempting to ask the question but where will the money come from since it’s the one that the Conservatives have most often asked Labour when they have announced their policy and spending programmes.  It has also been tempting for some like Paul Johnson from the IFS to wonder whether Boris’s proposals for tax cuts were feasible given his public spending promises.  That is, of course, if like Paul Johnson you accept the too often trotted out household budget version of the state finances which says that government relies on tax and borrowing in order to spend which GIMMS readers surely must know by now they don’t in a country where the government is the sovereign currency issuer.

These spending promises and tax cuts drive a coach and horses through the notion that government spending is constrained by taxpayer revenue. It also tells us very clearly that some politicians know exactly how the money system works and let’s be honest it’s not been the first time that the Tories have opened the public purse to serve a specific political agenda! Those computer keys at the Bank of England will be red-hot if the promises are kept.

After having been told in no uncertain terms that there was no money and that we all had to pull in our horns to get the public accounts back into health suddenly there’s money but an equal question in people’s minds about how it will be paid for. And that cannot be surprising given that the household budget narrative reigns in the public consciousness.

As usual and in response to the government’s plans, some of which were announced prior to the Conservative conference, there have been alarm bells ringing in the usual quarters both political and institutional about the impact on the deficit and debt and borrowing levels.

The government’s spending plans sit contrary to the 2% of GDP limit which was set for the 2020-2021 fiscal year and suggests a rowing back from the traditional Tory mark of fiscal prudence. It remains to be seen how much of this is an electioneering ploy and whether it will translate into reality. However, interestingly, as government announced its spending plans there was trouble brewing in its own party as voices of dissent were being raised at a party fringe meeting where MPs, representatives from the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs indicated that although they recognised that people had suffered through austerity they believed that the government had not gone far enough in cutting public spending. John O’Connell, Chief Executive of the TPA went as far as to reject the word austerity saying we should refer instead to ‘living within your means’.

It is shameful to note that there are people who, whilst acknowledging that austerity has caused suffering, want more of it. The household budget framework of taxing to spend and the resentment felt by some that ‘their tax’ is funding freebie public services for all lies at the heart of it and reflects the neoliberal ideology that the state should take a step back and abandon people as authors of their own fate. The idea that ‘living within one’s [financial] means’ is a better measure of economic success than pursuing public purpose to benefit people materially and in terms of well-being is an indication of how far we still have to go to challenge this narrative. Not only do we need to counter the notion of ‘taxing to spend’ with the correct description ‘spending to tax’ we need to correct the idea that living within one’s means relates to money. The only ‘living within our means’ we need to be doing relates to our resources whether that’s people or the materials used in the production of goods and services that we benefit from. The only balance we need to make is the one between spending and resources.

Predictably, news of the government’s spending and taxing plans brought out the debt sirens on the left who have been posting FB memes that the national debt has soared under the Tories to almost £1.8 trillion since 2010. It is disappointing to note in the face of the real consequences of austerity that the language narrative about how government spends is still dogged by household budget explanations, ‘rising deficits’, ‘increased borrowing’ and ‘mounting national debt’.

The Conservatives response has been that the government’s prudent management of the public accounts has given them the fiscal space to spend. In fact, the Prime Minister trotted out the usual nonsense that the Conservative Party had ‘tackled the debt and the deficit’ left by the last Labour government and suggested disingenuously that it has only been able to increase investment in schools and hospitals because it had ‘cleared up the wreckage they left’.

All these descriptions used by both the right and the left wing lie within a flawed mainstream paradigm. On the one hand, the Conservatives have used it to defend the need for austerity to deliver their own ideological agenda and claim fiscal superiority over their political rivals. On the other, Labour persists in the language of tax and spend and finding the magic money tree in the Cayman Islands to fund their laudable progressive programmes. Even John McDonnell could not resist saying that the proposed tax cuts would ‘rip out £10-£20bn a year from our already decimated public services’.  When clearly, they can’t and won’t!

It is regrettable that the public finds itself still caught in the headlights of a long deceased monetary narrative the consequences of which live with us now and will continue to do.

Instead of taking the debt sirens at face value in their criticism of the rising national debt under the Conservatives we should instead be evaluating their economic record. Who gained from their spending and taxing policies and who lost out?   Measuring success by the state of the public accounts from the size of the deficit/debt or whether the government has balanced the budget or achieved a surplus is quite simply incorrect and tells us nothing about the context of the state of the public accounts.

This can best be evaluated with a brief look at both the government’s spending plans, its policy agenda and the on-going consequences of cuts to public spending.

The government whilst it is planning to spend £25bn on improvements to the road network it has not been similarly generous to the bus network which amounts to only £220m. Combined with its already announced spending on the environment of around £432m which is a fraction of the amount needed to address the challenge of climate change demonstrates the Conservative’s complete disregard for the environmental challenges facing us. Apart from the fact that since 2010 government has cut spending on subsidies to bus companies which have forced the closure of 3000 bus routes (not to mention all the other consequences of cuts to public sector spending including the NHS, social care, education policing and local government) this would have been a good time for substantial investment in sustainable public transport instead of giving precedence to roads and cars.

Of course, as indicated earlier, it cannot be denied that a domestic spending programme is a good move at a time when the figures show that the world seems to be sinking towards recession. However, it should not be surprising, given who has authorised the spending, that it is still framed within a neoliberal framework of privatised public services and public money going into private profit whether that’s the NHS and social care or privatised transport networks. It does not suggest a reversal of neoliberally inspired agenda which the Conservatives have been pursuing under cover of austerity.

It also ignores the on-going consequences of public sector cuts, reforms to welfare and the introduction of Universal Credit on the well-being of citizens and indeed the economy.  The scandal of the huge rises in homelessness is bad enough (the Charity Crisis estimates some 24,000 people last year) but just last week figures published by the Office for National Statistics revealed that 726 homeless people died on our streets in 2018. The figures showed a 22% rise over 2017 which was the biggest increase since data was first collected in 2013

The Chief Executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes, responding to the figures and at the same time putting a human face on the statistics said:

“It is heart-breaking that hundreds of people were forced to spend the last days of their lives without the dignity of a secure home. This is now the second year running where we have known the true scale of the human cost of homelessness, yet still the lessons from these tragic deaths go unlearnt.”

Add to this the record numbers of people, as reported by the Trussell Trust earlier this year, who are using foodbanks along with increasing food insecurity and the spectre of malnutrition, far from turning the page on austerity, the consequences of it remain with us and will do for some time to come unless we get a change in government.

Just a quick look at other news from the last couple of weeks emphasises that just the promise of spending is not going to fix the damage quickly. Behind just these few headlines lie the reality of the harm that has been caused by austerity and government policy choices.

“England sees ‘worst summer on record’ for A&E waits”,

“Alcohol tax cuts cause nearly 2000 extra deaths”,

“Severe obesity among children aged 10 to 11 at record high…. Figures highest among children from the most deprived communities”

 “Unprecedented’ rise in infant mortality linked to poverty”,

“Nursing vacancies hit record high leaving patient care at risk”

For the lie of balanced budgets our economy has slowed, people have got poorer and inequalities have risen, and our public and social infrastructure is cracking up. And all the while the rich have got richer and appropriated an immoral share of the country’s wealth – all with the helping hand of government.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. There is an alternative world and it is up to us to bring it about not just for our sakes but for our children who will bear the burden of our inaction if we turn away.

It starts by understanding these simple concepts:

“A sovereign government is never revenue constrained because it is the monopoly issuer of the currency. In other words, its public debt level is irrelevant in terms of its capacity to spend in the future, unless it deliberately constrains itself with voluntary fiscal rules.

Such a government is never financially constrained in its future choices by its past fiscal position. 

Fiscal Space is [not] about financial resources. It can only be about real resource availability in a modern monetary economy where the government issues its own currency.”

Bill Mitchell 2017

It is both encouraging and exciting that the orthodox narratives are being challenged now in the mainstream media as modern monetary realities get an airing even if sometimes critically. The debate is moving on. We just have to ensure it reaches a successful conclusion.

 

As we said in our introduction, the video of Professor Bill Mitchell’s talk on the Green New Deal has been published on our YouTube Channel.

 

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The post We need to relearn the art of adequate spending for public purpose appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.