Wednesday, 29 September 2021

WTF is going on??

This post first appeared on the Radix UK blog...

“Nobody in politics seems to know what the real problems are, let alone how to fix them. The government lurches from one ‘fix’ to another, and seems to think that the public finances can be repaired by taxing employees and employers alone, with no additional taxation on wealth. Mr Starmer seems to think that following what Tony Blair did makes sense.Tim Morgan, Surplus Energy Economics

What on earth is happening? Not only are we reeling from Brexit and the aftermath of a pandemic, but something else appears to be going on too. So we have panic buying of fuel and shortages of medicines and probably food as well.

Both sides of the Brexit ‘debate’ appear to be blaming each other for this, which hardly helps matters. But since similar shortages are also happening across the USA, we have to assume that this is actually about other influences too – extreme monopolies creating shortages in order to raise prices.

To put that in UK terms, we might call it ‘economic centralisation’. This is what happens when governments have allowed the UK market to be dominated by only two companies making carbon dioxide for the food industry – both of them foreign owned.

Put like that, small CAMRA beer makers and small publishers (like the Real Press) – or, to mention Sarah’s company – small dye studios like Sarah Burns Patterns, may be part of an eventual resurgence.

But not yet. The truth is that, just as Tim Morgan has suggested for some time, the number of fixes we have imposed on our struggling, debt-ridden economy in the past two decades, are finally now catching up with us.

This kind of crisis tends to happen every four decades. But when it has happened before – in the late 70s or the late 30s or the turn if the century between the 1890s and 1900s – we knew that what should happen next. This time, we have managed to suppress economic debate, so we seem to have new idea.

Reading the Sunday Telegraph last weekend, you can see the cracks in English conservatism emerging – between those hopeless remerging climate change sceptics complaining about the price of energy, and the letters complaining about why on earth we are still building homes without solar panels.

I know which side I am on – on the radical side that looks much further back for their solutions. It seems to me that most of our current difficulties stem from the Thatcher-Reagan period in the 1980s – and the really stupid idea that monopolies somehow don’t matter.

But I know that Tim Morgan’s analysis goes deeper, suggesting that we have reached a period when it now takes more energy to generate energy – leading to his predictions of serious economic problems and resulting peculiar political results too.

What we desperately need is leaders who understand the sheer complexity of the new world. We unfortunately have a prime minister who believes it has something to do with games people play at Eton.

We have run out of tricks and fixes. We need the kind of clear-out of the political classes that happened after Dunkirk in 1940: it is time, in fact, for the politics and economics of national survival.

But nobody is even setting out their stall about what that might mean in practise yet. Some voices who might do that: Michael Gove, Lisa Nandy, Daisy Cooper – let’s hear from the next generation…

Monday, 13 September 2021

We need to experiment with paleo economies

This post first appeared in the Radix UK blog...

In case anyone is at all interested, I have begun a peculiarly fearsome diet called the Wahls Paleo Plus - which involves eating very little except for meat, fish and vegetables, also minimising carbohydrates like potatoes. 

I’m doing it because I am convinced it will bring back some of my missing voice, which has been slowly dwindling since I was working at the heart of government in 2012, and is now largely AWOL.

The point about this blog, though, is to unpack some of the ideas behind paleo. For one thing, I don’t know how to pronounce it - which is odd given that it is short for ‘paleolithic’, a term coined by my great great grandfather, Sir John Lubbock, in his 1865 bestseller Prehistoric Times.

Given that, there's no suggestion that we need to go back to paleolithic times, or even neolithic ones. Just that if we can organise a simpler diet based on what human beings ate in a more natural state, then health begins to sort itself out. This is what one healthy eating website says:

“The Wahls diet is a type of paleo diet. The key difference? The Wahls diet tells followers exactly how much of a certain food to eat, namely vegetables and protein. The protocol specifies that followers eat six to nine cups of non-starchy vegetables a day and four ounces of protein (fish, specifically twice a week). Plus, it has a specific focus on veggies, which Dr. Wahl posits gives the mitochondria the power it needs to convert food to energy, healing the body in the process.”

Dr Wahl herself seems to have rowed back the symptoms of MS using this diet, which of course puts her on the opposite side as the technocratic medical establishment.

Now, I have been wondering whether escaping tickbox technocracy might involve thinking about what a paleo economy would look like.

Like a paleo diet, this might not mean going back to a pre-monetary barter or gift economy as set out by Marshall Sahlins in Stone Age Economics.

Sahlins, who died in April, said that hunter-gatherer societies are able to achieve affluence by desiring little and meeting those needs/desires with what is available to them. This he calls the "Zen road to affluence, which states that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate." 

It may be that, to reach this better kind of zen, we need to go back to a period before the 1870s in England, when most communities had access to their own food and processing, plus locally-owned newspapers, breweries, slaughter houses and banks - and I now believe that these four are crucial to making local economies work.

Of course, by the1870s, it was too late for so many of our heaving cities. It might be sensible to go back to the kind of economies people lived in during the twelfth century, when there was very little poverty, at least in England.

I have written about medieval economics before. The real question here, as it is with paleo diets in fact, is how we get from here to there. I certainly don’t want to encourage the kind of puritanism that might lead us collectively towards both.

It is also worth remembering that neither will be permanent, but both involve a great reset. What unnerves me is how much our existing legal frameworks frustrate either task. In economics, they currently encourage scale, monopoly and dehumanising size.

About the diet: watch this space... ...