Tag Archives: environment

IF socialist THEN IF democratic AND distributed_power THEN Green_Party

I always like ‘crossing the streams’ of my apparently disparate obsessions. Last night my long term fascination in whether the Free Software movement can survive a war with software capitalists, collided with my recent interest in the Green Party.

I have struggled for years to find any political party in the UK that comes close to my political ideals. I am economically Left, Right in terms of Liberty and think the environment is sending us very strong signals that capitalism has been a more destructive failure than communism. I believe in equality of opportunity rather than equality and in distributed rather than centralised power. I prefer incremental change to the unpredictability of revolution. I see little difference between nationalism and racial or religious hatred. No party quite fits my shopping list but at the recent General Election, I decided that the current Green Party comes closest, so far.

Richard M. Stallman, instigator of the GNU Project, who kicked off the the GNU GPL (General Public Licence) and indirectly, the CopyLeft movement has turned his attention to politics in recent years. Arguably, his life’s work, Free Software, is the practical application of ‘social ownership of the means of production’ but RMS is the ‘Marmite’ of the Free Software community. His almost total lack of pragmatism and slightly abrasive personality towards anyone who disagrees with him divides opinions but I have learned over the years to never question his basic logic. He has a habit of being right, even when it is inconvenient.

I have become increasingly suspicious of large corporations and hierarchical power structures. RMS’s idea on ‘too big to fail’ is the best economic solution to monopolies I’ve ever seen: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2013/02/04/fixing-too-big-to-fail/

In his ‘political notes’, at (https://www.stallman.org) on the day of the UK election, RMS wrote this:

“18 May 2015 (Revitalizing the Labour Party)

Making the Labour Party good for something depends on bottom-up community organizing. Acting like a right-wing party produces a right-wing party.

Perhaps instead of revitalizing the Labour Party, Britons should go Green.”

I also noticed that his preferred US presidential candidate is an independent who describes himself as a ‘Democratic Socialist’. This is surprisingly different to the ‘Social Democrat’ “…view of reform through state intervention within capitalism” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_socialism

“Decentralised socialism”. “…seeing capitalism as incompatible with the democratic values of freedom, equality and solidarity.” Maybe I’m a Democratic Socialist now. Are you?

If RMS thinks the British Labour Party has lost touch with socialism, then I’m a little more comfortable about having thought the same for the last few years too. I was unhappy with the LibDems prioritising economic growth over environmental danger and perhaps I understand better now where my intuitive reaction to that came from.


Politics is Broken

Politics is often discussed in terms of a left-right scale:

The political compass https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_compass adds a second axis that ranges from libertarian to authoritarian. Recent developments have also made Nationalism, coupled with concerns about immigration and environmentalism, adding important third and fourth axes of political identity but making the graph very hard to draw.

Throughout human history, we have learned to balance our self-interest as individuals against the interests of the group that we are a part of: our family, tribe, or nation; to maximise the chance of survival of our DNA overall.

In general, thinking primarily about self leads to a belief that people close to us are also more deserving of rewards than other people. These ‘better’ people, families and countries should be allowed to rise up to take their natural place at the top, from where they can distribute excess wealth to the less deserving, poorer people. This is the thinking of the economic Right Wing. Along with that goes property protection and inheritance rights, low taxation for wealth creators, national pride and the belief that the indivdual is entitled to exploit the environment for personal gain. If you don’t, someone else will. Along with this ‘self’-focussed attitude goes a similar pride about groups you feel a part of. If you becoming wealthy requires an irreplaceable mineral being extracted from under someone’s house then it will probably happen. This is Right-Wing thinking and may be coupled with a religious justification for the apparently selfish actions being undertaken.

Left-Wing alternatives prioritise the interests of the group above the individual. People are treated as though they are equal. The less fortunate are helped, by redirection of resources from those who have more. Socalist thinking leads towards break-down of nation states into a single world order, which must necessarily be authoritarian to keep everyone (outside the control structure) equal. Left thinking can be applied over time, so that resources must also be shared with people of the future. Traditional socialism promotes the idea of common ownership of property and the ‘means of production’.

In most parts of England we have:

UKIP – Economically Right-Wing but pretending to be the party of the common worker while  supporting inheritance rights and low taxation for the very rich. Simultaneously arguing for the nationalist interests of the UK but against the nationalist interests of Scotland. Not strictly ‘racist’ but do think that people born in Britain deserve better lives than foreigners. They believe in liberty for people already in this country, as long as immigrants give up their own cultures and adopt ours (still to be defined.)

Conservatives – Economically, now extremely Right-WIng but increasingly restricting the rights of individuals so clearly authoritarian. Want a small state but are increasingly determined to impose a ‘city-state with major’ model on regions that have already voted against it. Risked the Union in a failed attempt to block Scottish Nationalism but have promoted an EU referendum that risks English nationalists provoking the Scots to break up the UK and the UK withdrawing from the EU with completely unkown results, given that the Conservatives have a very poor record of gamesmanship in international diplomacy.

Liberal-Democrats – apparantly consistent with their balanced, centrist values. They broke a promise about tuition fees while reaching a coalition deal with the Conservatives to ensure stable government during the banking crisis.

Labour – A supposedly Left-WIng party that only supports equality for people who have a job and as a reaction to UKIP became increasingly against immigration. During the 2015 Election it was exremely difficult to detect what they believed in but their time in office saw them not nationalise failing banks or railway services or engage in building of publically funded social housing. They instead supported the private funding of state services and encouraged free market economics but failed to enable adequate investment in renewable energy like our European competitors did.

Greens – A very Left-Wing party that puts the environment ahead of everything. Some policies do not appear to be completely worked out but it is early days. Working with their direct opposites UKIP on the single issue of voting fairness, after both parties faired very badly under the FPTP system, so can clearly be very pragmatic to get a result that takes them in the right direction.

Making Energy Greener is Only One Quarter of the Trilemma

For some years, the leaders of the energy industry have been warning us about the coming ‘trilemma’. These 3 lemmas, push-me-pulling-you in different directions, are:

  • Environment – Energy generation and supply must be ‘green’ – ideally it should only use renewable resources, not release carbon into the atmosphere or cause pollution – including noise, additional road traffic, interfering with daylight or spoiling the scenery. Oh, and you shouldn’t make half the country uninhabitable for the next 10,000 years with a nuclear explosion. Preferably. Sadly, that’s expensive.
  • Price – everyone wants their energy to be as cheap as possible. Old, vulnerable and poor people need it to be cheap or they may have insufficient heating in the Winter and die. Gas was quite cheap, until everyone started buying it and everyone started to become dependent on Russian pipe-lines.
  • Security of supply – Customers want as much electricity as they ask for, whenever they want it, at no notice. This is known colloquially as ‘Keeping the lights on’. They even want energy if the sun doesn’t shine or the wind isn’t blowing or a power-station goes off-grid or a fuel is temporarily in short supply due to war, natural disaster, strike action or political protest or unrest. Reliability is neither green nor cheap.

The trilemma has traditionally been balanced by using a mixed portfolio of nuclear, gas, coal and renewables (wind and increasingly photo-voltaic cells with water-heating panels to reduce demand.)

There is fourth lemma that the energy industry and politicians find distasteful to talk about:

  • Profit – They need to make money. Arguably, this is also a security of supply issue, as generators that fail to make sufficient profits will close down plant, which after a while may not be economically viable to bring back on-line. ‘Profit’ is another dimension, in my opinion. The energy companies operate in a privatised, market-capitalist environment. They are owned by private investors. They are not only competing with the problems above, and with each other but with other industries in which their investors might choose to invest. Energy companies were traditionally regarded as a safe bet. They were a place to put your money for a small guaranteed return on investment during unstable market conditions. Then Ed Miliband, the UK’s ‘Leader of the Opposition’  announced that if Labour are elected at the next General Election, he plans to freeze energy prices. He doesn’t plan to freeze costs and he can’t reduce competition in international energy markets. This Government has reduced support for green technologies; the next might ban profits. It’s a real ‘quadlemma’.

If the Labour Party doesn’t know that this is a Bad Idea then they don’t understand market economics, or worse: they do understand, but they are lying to us, in the hope of turning public opinion to support  nationalisation of  the UK energy industry. I don’t know if that would necessarily be a bad thing but I’m a little tired of being lied to and treated like a child who should “shush while the grown-ups are talking”.

The press and the political parties have rounded on the energy industry, particularly the ‘Big Six’ but I haven’t seen any meaningful evidence to support their attack. Have you? They should stop telling us what to think and provide data, so we’ll think it for ourselves. How do the profits of the energy companies compare with the supermarkets or BT or the mobile phone providers or Google? Are any of those large companies with small tax bills that  seem to have their protection earning more that the energy companies? Why not give us the data, to prove that we are being exploited? Why don’t the energy companies defend themselves more vigorously? What are they all afraid of?