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Videos about Economics & finance

Live blogs about Economics & finance

Patrick Alley talk

Patrick Alley feature

Patrick Alley featureAnd so to our last talk, from Patrick Alley of Global Witness, recipients of the TED Prize.

He’s here to talk about a perfect crime, involving a whole host of shady characters. Some are obviously shady. Others wear suits and look like you and me. They destroy habitats, and people’s lives and lifestyles. They are involved in industrial logging in the Tropics.

Logging can be divided into criminal and legitimate, much the same except that the latter has better PR.

Patrick visited Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge return, earning millions of dollars from the trade in illegal logging. Later he was in Liberia, where Charles Taylor used income from logging to prop up his regime. Taylor doled out the rainforests to a coterie of business men. As the logs and money flowed out, the arms flowed in. When Taylor’s timber trade was subject to UN sanctions, the business men escaped intact, or carried on in the Congo.

What makes the crime so perfect is that the shady characters are propped up by less shady characters.

The big myth is that industrial logging in the Tropics brings sustainable development. It is neither sustainable nor does it bring development. It has created the euphemism “sustainable forest management”. In the last decade, Cambodia has lost its forests faster than anywhere, and a generation of farmers has been forced off the land. This despite the World Bank’s involvement. The war ended in 2003 in Liberia, but the problems haven’t been solved, and discontent is growing again. But if sustainable forest management can’t work in a small country, where can it work?

In order to sell the myth, the logging industry requires people to buy in. In Sarawak, a few have become rich using loans from international bank HSBC. The WWF believe logging is inevitable, and want to try to regulate it. But active members of the WWF scheme are involved in illegal logging and human rights abuse. The FSC rainforest logo on loo roll is also problematic. It’s another tool used by loggers to cover their tracks.

Forests are the world’s lungs, regulating water and climate systems. They are home to about half the world’s biodiversity. We can do something, if we regard the rainforests as a fundamental part of the biosphere that gives more value than the financial return. Brazil has recognised indigenous rights, returning power from vested interests to the local communities, a step in the right direction. Similar smaller steps are being made in Liberia. Some rich countries are paying poor countries not to cut the forests down, but more money is needed.

What can and should be done? End impunity, and prosecute the criminals. Stop governments financing destruction using our taxes. Campaign against banks bankrolling the destruction. Encourage WWF to do their job. They need to condemn industrial logging straight out. Reduce our soaring consumption.

Otherwise, we will all, loggers included, become victims of the perfect crime.

Allyson Pollock talk

Allyson Pollock feature

Allyson Pollock featureNow, after a delicious locally-sourced (where possible) lunch, we are back for the first afternoon session, on the subject of health.

Allyson Pollock is a professor and writer on the privatisation of the NHS. She’s going back to the beginning, of the formation of the NHS in 1948. There were two main controversies: that it was unaffordable and that people would abuse it. Neither came to pass. Beveridge designed the NHS to combat the 5 Giant Evils of ignorance, idleness, disease, want and squalor. The key to the welfare state as a whole was redistribution, and that was fundamental to the NHS.

The architects also wanted to keep private interests out. There were few private interests back then… only the doctors voted no, but were fought off. Now they are the NHS’ staunchest supporters, and many protested outside parliament when the Health and Social Care Act 2012 was passed in the Commons.

She has brought along copies of both acts. The 1948 Act is a slim pamphlet. The new Act is a weighty tome. 

The new Act will remove the duty of the Secretary of State for Health to provide health care for all. That takes two pages; the other hundreds of pages regulate the new market, to determine who will get care and how it will be provided.

Risk selection is the basis of a market – how it is identified, priced, allocated and transferred. All this results in fragmentation, not integration. This is the main thing to remember from her talk.

Structures absolutely matter, as an engineer will tell you, and they follow functions, such as the duty to provide healthcare.

In the old system, the unit was the region. Everyone in the region was covered. In the new market, the unit is the insurance fund. Not everyone is covered, because not everyone can afford to pay.

The nationalised NHS was simple, and it was easy to see who was in charge. Powers were delegated vertically. Areas were contiguous, so no-one fell through the gaps. The new NHS is a rats nest of bureaucracy – commissioning groups (CCGs) and regulatory bodies. It’s difficult to see who is in charge, and CCG structures are no longer area-based but insurance-based. Groups who can’t get access to GPs – such as asylum seekers or homeless people – will be excluded. Older people are at risk of being excluded by entrepreneurial GPs or if they have chronic conditions for which care is no longer funded. 

Services are being broken up across the country and put out to tender to commercial companies. There is a complete loss of planning on the basis of need. It’s about choice, but it’s not for patients to choose but to be chosen. The new commercial providers have the power to decide who gets access to care. The NHS is now just a logo providing money – £112bn per year – surrounded by companies like RBS, Virgin, PWC, Circle, Netcare. Many companies have no background in providing health care at all, others are based outside the UK.

Markets cost more, and the cost of health care as a % of GDP has increased dramatically. The US is an exemplar of inefficient market-based healthcare. Inefficiencies include billing, admin, profit, so only 60% is left for providing care and medicines. In the old NHS, only 6% went on admin etc. Then there’s also the waste of providing treatments that are not needed, missed prevention of illness, inflated prices of care and medicine.

What do we need to do? It’s our NHS. We can support David Owen’s NHS Reinstatement bill. Campaign to give the Secretary of State back the duty of providing health care for all. Campaign against hospital closures. Aneurin Bevan said the NHS will be there as long as there are folks left to fight for it. It’s our fight now.

Stewart Wallis talk

Stewart Wallis portrait

Stewart Wallis portraitOur final speaker (oh no!)

We’ve come up against environmental limits, and sailed straight through them. Will we generate our own big bang, or will we survive, or even thrive?

The impossible hamster. It doubles its size each week until puberty. If it doesn’t stop doubling in size, it will become a 9 billion tonne hamster at the end of the first year. Nature has limits, so why do governments think the economy can grow for ever?

Every year, we are using 1.5 planet’s worth of resources, and are on course for 3 planets by 2050. Of course we only have 1 planet, and in 1980 we were still managing to live on that 1 planet.

Arctic sea ice has decreased by 50% in area and 75% in volume. 15 of 25 of the major life-support systems are in decline, e.g. soil and pollination. Humans and other species are going to pay dearly for that. Previous mass extinctions weren’t caused by a single species, and took place over a minimum of 100,000. The current mass extinction is caused by humankind, and is happening over one lifetime.

Stewart doesn’t think we’ll have a big bang. Because he thinks there are no limits to human creativity. Technological changes will be necessary but not nearly sufficient. Population, consumption and inequality are major factors too. It’s not possible to raise consumption to the richest levels. But if we put the brake on our current economic model, we will cause all sorts of unemployment.

So we need a new economic model, where the goal is maximising well-being and justice within fair ecological limits. Well-being is about the quality of relationships, how much one feels valued and one’s work feels valued. Giving is the most important element of well-being, but is not valued by the current economic model. We need banks which are fair, stable and socially useful. We have a massive transformation to do there.

We need a revolution in our values, to the intrinsic values that Tom spoke of, seeing ourselves as stewards not consumers. We need to practise the same values at work and home, often very difficult.

We need to change what we measure, and therefore treasure. What gets measured gets done. GDP is like a speedometer, and is useless without oil gauges and other instruments, but even more importantly we need something to tell us whether we are going in the right direction. He proposes the Happy Planet Index, which measures happy life years (not just life expectancy) and ecological footprint, and we need to move to high happiness and low ecological footprint. Like Costa Rica, with higher well-being on quarter the GDP and quarter the resource intensity than the US.

We need to change and manage markets. They are human creations, and humans can control them. Markets make a good servant, a poor master and a disastrous religion. Markets are currently our religions. They don’t tell ecological truths. Purchaser power and consumer power are very unequal, and getting more unequal. So we need to change a lot of things, but we can do it.

Finally, we need to change the engine of the system. We should maximise returns not to £££ investment but to scarce natural resources. We need to have job creation as a goal, to see employees as assets and equity holders instead of as costs.

Here’s what everyone can do – evalute our work, our  lives and communities, what we buy, what we demand. The last is the most crucial. That’s why nef is working very hard with other organisations to create a movement for change, to bust myths, and to train collaborative leaders.

One personal story from Stewart’s years at Oxfam. During the Rwandan genocide, 170,000 refugees were moved to Uganda and Tanzania. Oxfam had exhausted its resources on providing clean water. But 1 million had also crossed into DR Congo, and had 50 miles to the nearest good water supply. Cholera set in, and it became clear that the UN forces weren’t going to manage. So Oxfam decided to risk going £5m into debt, and put out a massive appeal. They raised £25m in a very short time, and saved an estimated 70,000 lives.

Sometimes the impossible is possible if it’s a right cause and all sorts of people can come together.

More Information

The Impossible Hamster

new economics foundation (nef) website, and on Twitter

nef’s Paint a Fish campaign

Patrick Holden talk

Patrick Holden portrait

Patrick Holden portraitOur final session is about looking to the future, and feeding the future is a key issue.

Patrick wants to discuss food, so as has already been said, we’re all in. Farming has become more and more intensive, industrial and unsustainable… and unfit for purpose. His credentials for speaking draws on his decision, with 5 other possibly naive young people 40 years ago, to go back to the land in west Wales. And they put their organic principles into action.

Although the commune didn’t last, the farm did. They have had a herd of Ayrshire cows, and grew carrots for Cranks Restaurant and latterly for supermarkets and wheat milled on the farm. Now his son is turning the Ayrshire milk into cheese on the farm. So Patrick has been able to watch the land over a long period of time.

He has come up with a set of unifying principles which can be applied across scale, continents and climate: soil, health, diversity, resilience, culture and economics.

  • Over time it is possible not only to maintain but to build soil fertility.
  • Re health: pests, parasites and diseases reveal to us our management deficiencies. Instead of treating the symptoms of disease, we should be investigating the causes of health.
  • Diversity: if we farm with the grain of nature, it should be possible for biodiversity to work in harmony with respectable yields. The modern conservation movement mistakenly tries to protect nature against agriculture, and will always lose because big agriculture is the stronger force.
  • Resilience is about being able to weather sudden shocks. One way is to minimise exposure to fossil fuels.
  • The social, spiritual and cultural dimension is really important, otherwise we won’t be able to persuade young people back to farming.
  • The rest of the talk is about economics…

Forty years ago, the Common Agricultural Policy subsidised all sorts of unsustainable practices. So Patrick got involved in writing up organic and sustainable principles. Very valuable, but organic still only makes up 5% of the total market, not enough to break through into the mainstream. Why? Because the polluter isn’t paying, and the right practice isn’t getting rewarded.

True cost accounting is what’s needed. He talked with his mum a few weeks ago about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s failure to persuade people to buy better-reared but more expensive chickens. If all the hidden costs were factored into the equation, the cheap bird wouldn’t be cheap at all. His mum asked Patrick what was the real price of the cheap chicken… He didn’t know, but he is on the case, and is meeting soon with a group of experts to understand what all the externalities are, put a price on them, and work towards policy making the polluter pay.

What are we going to do in the meantime to tackle big agriculture not in the public interest? We should change our buying criteria for staple foods. Go into your supermarket (not too often!) and only buy your staple foods which are local, regional or at least national, and whose story of production is known and certified sustainable. It will be difficult, but don’t give up. Go to the customer services desk, and ask them to change their offering. And if they don’t, take your custom elsewhere. If everyone here changes their actions, then they will encourage others, become scaled up, and we will have taken a final step in creating a much more sustainable food system. Thank you.

More Information

Sustainable Food Trust

The Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit

Foresight report into “The Future of Food and Farming”

Patrick’s Do Lecture on “Why local is the answer”