Coming To Terms With AusterityPosted on 22nd December 2011 by stevelawless
The recession is starting to bite deeply in Brighton and Hove now. Protection for grants and preventive services have been promised by the City Council but this is only a proportion of the income of the voluntary sector. There is significantly more competition for the reducing pool of funding and ironically more voluntary sector resources are expended in chasing it.
Government fantasies of increased philanthropy along the lines of the American model during the most difficult financial climate for decades is just that, fantasy. One of the Cities most important infrastructure organisations, the Working Together Project, has put the wheels in motion to close down by the end of the financial year. The Business Community Partnership is being kept afloat with volunteer time. A number of other organisations that make an important contribution to well-being in the City are cutting staff hours and serving redundancy notices to enable them to survive.
At the same time the shops are full of smart phones and I feel under an obligation to buy presents that are not needed and will probably not get used and the bank bosses are threatening legal action to get paid multi million pound bonuses they have not earned and they do not deserve.
I have just read James Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia. He makes the case that the planet can not sustain our current standard of living. The atmosphere already has unprecedented levels of CO2. The population of the planet has more than doubled in the past 30 years. The planetary mechanisms for absorbing CO2, the forests and coral reefs, are being denuded or are dying. If we do not do something radical to reduce carbon in the atmosphere the planet will not be habitable for more than a handful of humans by the end of this century. Yes we have to stop using fossil fuel but we also have to reduce our standard of living and our proliferation as a species.
Our economy can only work on the basis of economic growth. Current government aims are to increase growth again, prop up failing economies and try and carry on business as usual until the next and inevitable bigger crisis. Ironically this can only endanger our survival as a species. So it is interesting to realise that at a time when capitalism clearly isn’t working, even for the wealthy first and new world, arguably it has never worked for the third world, there is a need to abandon the market economy all together. 40 years ago E. F. Schumacher in his book Small is Beautiful argued this case. Those in power did not listen then and they will not listen now. George Monbiot, in his book “Heat” points out that in the future we will look back and marvel that we could walk into hot running water to wash every day, have a larder full of food and power on tap to run a thousand gadgets.
But let me dream for a moment. If we were to abandon an economic system that is unjust and no longer works we could adapt to a fair and planned system that delivers social justice for all, a minimum standard of well-being and the possibility of a future for human beings. This would require some radical solutions. We would have to manage population, energy and food production and we would have to come to terms with greater austerity in Europe and North America.
But those that have the most also have the most power. They will continue to make the poorest pay for the latest business crisis. Organisations that support those most in need and who have the poorest life opportunities will go to the wall or downsize to survive. Many of us will continue to do our bit, stop flying, use public transport, reduce our consumption, work to improve well-being and social justice. But this will not be enough.
One example of our profligacy is the way that we have fished one of our valuable food sources, cod, to near extinction. Ironically the last time that cod stocks increased was during the second world war when fishing had to be abandoned and the economy had to be planned. We do know how to adapt to austerity in a war situation.
The Council is currently seeking participation in its budget setting process. In many ways the principles set out in budget papers are right. Greener policies and protection of the most vulnerable. I am not convinced that the spending proposals really deliver this though. To do so would mean cutting back on much of our beloved culture and services. This would not be politically popular. Maybe it is time to change the messages and argue for us to come to terms with austerity. When we do that maybe we will be able to safeguard that which is most valuable.