Book Review  

The Case for the Green New Deal by Ann Pettifor

The Case for the Green New Deal by Ann Pettifor

I read this book expecting a description of a solution for the externalities generated by the industrial revolution.

Instead, I read nearly 180 pages of criticism of capitalism, globalisation and the financial system.

I welcome a cathartic analysis of modern society, where marketing and consumption have thrown up ills such as obesity, unnecessary waste and emissions.

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But a focus on solutions that go beyond the rather unrealistic, pre-capitalism based economies the author depicts, could have been more productive.

I agree with Ms Pettifor that one of the issues that is often neglected is earth’s capacity to absorb carbon, so an efficient economic analysis could still hit the wall of that carbon budget.

I also agree with some of the analysis of inequalities (particularly in very wealthy economies).

What I disagree with is the simplistic solution that seems to centre on green-collar jobs in a pre-capitalism context.

Claims for labour-intensive economies appear counter to progress. The trajectory through digitalisation is not for more labour-intensive, but up-skilled jobs.

Ms Pettifor advocates for carbon emission rationing over carbon taxes. She says those taxes are regressive, but there is little evidence that in a non-war environment, populations will voluntarily accept rationing of any type.

While the reference to a post-war situation could appear appealing to influence behaviour (for example, by bringing whole countries together for a common cause), there is little evidence of global co-ordination in the absence of conflict.

Almost 3,600 economists in the US supported a statement on ratcheting carbon tax, a border carbon adjustment system and carbon dividends.

This system, while not perfect or extensively tested, starts building what looks like a workable infrastructure of social and industrial incentives for innovation.

The problem with carbon pricing, Ms Pettifor says, is its current limited coverage, its poor experimental design and the lack of world co-ordination.

While I share sympathy with the failures of the status quo, I would favour continuing to work on transitioning an imperfect system into the best possible one instead of a utopian yet unworkable pre-capitalist future option.

Carlota Garcia-Manas is a senior responsible investment analyst at Royal London

Published by Verso Books