This final post in my Schumacher series is based on the talk given at the seminar at Rhodes House by Ann Pettifor. Ms Pettifor is an analyst for the Global Financial Initiative, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, and the director of Advocacy International, as well as a co-founder of the Jubilee 2000 Project. She also correctly predicted the economic crisis brought on by the market collapse of 2008.
Her talk began with an anecdote that reinforced the disconnect between labour and purpose which Simon Trace’s Practical Action works to combat. However, Ms Pettifor’s example came not from somewhere in the developing world. Rather, she described the conditions of working in the Australian coal and iron pits. These pits are made not by creating old fashioned shafts (which have a smaller environmental impact) but are rather large open gashes which are accessed by enormous trucks. These trucks are sealed and operated by workers who do little more than oversee largely automated processes. They also operate on a ‘fly-in-fly-out’ basis, meaning that their time in the towns surrounding the pits is limited to the work week, from which they are shuttled back to their homes elsewhere in Australia. All these factors combine to create a labour population completely alienated from the communities in which it works, and work which is alienated from the labourers who perform it. Not to mention the environmental damage that is done by such frequent shuttle flights and such large-scale mining operations.
The responsibility for such alienated labour Ms Pettifor placed at the feet of current economic models, particularly for their reliance of consumption on vast scales. The problem, she claimed, is largely due to our current models’ need for continued consumption on credit, and the excessive faith placed by many policy makers in the Invisible Hand of the market. Massive consumption creates the licence and need for production on a correspondingly massive scale. Such production is harmful both to the environment and to people as individuals and in communities. However, the only way to curb consumption is some form of regulation.
Unfortunately, the panel was running short on time at this point, as I would have liked to have heard Ms Pettifor’s proposals for specific market regulation which would discourage consumption. When I have time, I intend to thoroughly explore her blogs at Green New Deal Group, Debtonation, and Prime Economics (all of which are also in the links on the left).
The one possibility for establishing moral regulation of the rhythms of the market that she did mention was connected with her work at Jubilee 2000. Drawing on social codes outlined in the Mosaic Law in Exodus xx 8-10 and Leviticus xxv, she proposed for pauses in our schedule of labour and retail. First, we might return to forbidding all nonessential work one day of the week. There really isn’t any need for most 24/7 services, and far from creating more freedom, they often increase the hectic pace of our lives. Second, we could allow the land to lie fallow for one year out of every seven. In addition to making agrobusiness unprofitable, this would have incredibly beneficial results for the environment, first and foremost for the replenishment of the nutrients found in the soil. And finally, every fiftieth year, all debts would be cancelled. This would prevent the creation of systems of usury that are based on selling packages of debt around the market (such as led to the 2008 collapse). It would also introduce a higher level of fiscal responsibility at the national level, discouraging situations such as the one in which the United States has found itself recently. After outlining her Jubilee system, Ms Pettifor remarked, ‘The Sabbath is market regulation; we deregulated the Sabbath.’ Now that’s market regulation that even Bible-thumping Tea Partiers should be able to get behind.