The Put People First march

People in the City are muttering about being invaded by a horde of Swampies this weekend, for the Put People First march. There’s sure to be a lot of angry rhetoric – and rightly so – about the failure of free market capitalism.

But what exactly is the protest demanding?

Here are some of the protest’s policy points:

 1) Compel tax havens to abide by strict international rules.

 2) Insist on fundamental governance reform of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

 3) Make all financial institutions, financial products and multinationals transparent and publicly accountable.

 4) Ensure a massive investment in a green new deal to build a green economy based on decent work and fair pay.

 5) Invest in and strengthen public provision of essential services.

 6) Push for a deal at Copenhagen to agree substantial, verifiable cuts in greenhouse gases, which will limit temperature increases to well below 2°C.

It strikes me that most of the proposals are already government policy. Brown is already pushing for reform of the IMF (ie get rich emerging markets to stump up more cash), and he’s already pushing for closure of tax havens.

The EU has already committed itself to ‘substantial verifiable cuts’ to limit global warming to 2 degrees (although most scientists now say we’re already facing over 2 degrees warming). But what global level of CO2 ppm is the protest demanding governments aim for? 550, 450, 350? Just demanding ‘substantial cuts’ is letting the politicians off the hook.

The ‘protest’ seems actually to support government policy, rather like a fake grass roots march organised by the Kremlin. Not so much grass roots as astro-turf.

I am, however, interested in proposal 3:

Make all financial institutions, financial products and multinationals transparent and publicly accountable.

To make the entire economy ‘publicly accountable’ – does that mean making sure they obey laws (this is a form of public accountability that already exists) or putting a representative of government on their boards, and in effect bringing the entire economy under government control?

This might be a bit steep, but the protestors would be on much firmer ground calling for the nationalisation of the banking system.

Even the FT’s Martin Wolf has suggested that banks may have to be run as, in effect, public utilities in the future, because their function has been proved too critical to the public good to be left to private risk-takers. So too have the economist Nouriel Roubini and Pimco CEO Mohammad El-Erian.

As Wolf points out, if banks are too big to fail, then they shouldn’t be privately-owned because, clearly, the profits are privatised while the losses are socialised.

This is a basic, simple point that we have not yet fully grasped as a people, which the Left certainly hasn’t fully grasped, and which the government is terrified of dealing with, because the UK economy created over the last 30 years relies so heavily on financial services and the City. If the City was nationalised, how would the UK make money? From the Premiership and reality TV?

One part of the City which does look set to prosper is the European Climate Exchange, in Liverpool Street, which is the site of a Climate Camp protest this Saturday. The climate camp’s website says:

We will convergence [sic] on the European Climate Exchange, Hasilwood House, 62 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AW at 12:30 exactly.

Bring a pop-up tent if you’ve got one, sleeping bag, wind turbine, mobile cinema, action plans and ideas…let’s imagine another world.

I interviewed the CEO of the climate exchange yesterday, Patrick Birley, who was bemused by the targeting of the exchange for protests. The EU emissions trading scheme , which makes up the majority of the exchange’s business, is easy to criticise, and certainly had major faults at the beginning of the scheme.

But most intelligent environmentalists support some form of cap and trade system – George Monbiot does, Oliver Tickell does, Global Commons Institute does, Jonathan Porritt does. It has been proven in the EU, and in the US (for the Montreal Protocol) as a practical way to incentivize business to reduce their emissions.

What alternatives does the Climate Camp propose, before it abolishes cap and trade?

The most obvious and rational alternative is to simply not do it. There are a wide variety of ways to reduce emissions that are appropriate for different individuals, communities, companies and countries. Any of many ways forward should be evaluated (along with important factors like equity and social justice) on the criteria of whether or not it allows us to move away from extracting and consuming large amounts of fossil fuels. Carbon trading does exactly the opposite of this – it sanctions further fossil fuel burning. Climate justice now!

Great. Thanks guys. Meet you next to the wind turbine. Let’s convergence.