November 25, 2017

An open letter to Judy Maciejowska

This powerful letter, dated 8 March 1995, was written to Green Party activist Judy Maciejowska in response to a letter from her which has unfortunately been lost.

Dear Judy,

I am sorry I have taken so long to produce anything in writing. This is not the document you asked for, it is me thinking aloud on how it should be done.

I think we are all agreed that the political movement we wish to create should be above all a socio-economic one rather than purely environmental. We agree too that the main target of our attacks should be the global economy, controlled as it must be by a small number of unaccountable and ungovernable transnational corporations, and that we should stand for its replacement by a localised, diversified and community based economy. Only such an economy, we must argue, can possibly be sustainable. There is no way in which the global economy can be. What is equally important is that it is only by creating such an economy that we can hope to solve the principal problems that quite rightly preoccupy the bulk of the people in this country.

My feeling is that the main concern today is insecurity, not just among working people but among the middle classes too.

  • They are worried about their falling purchasing power, and about losing their jobs; worried too about the disintegration of society, with the associated increase in crime, delinquency and general violence.
  • They are also worried about their health: about all the new viral infections – including Aids: – the resurgence of diseases science is supposed to have conquered, like TB, and the steady increase in the incidence of cancer, heart-disease, etc.
  • They also know that the National Health Service is being systematically dismantled and that they will have ever less access to medical care.
  • They are also worried about the environment, partly because they feel in their bones, that the chemicals in the food they eat, the water they drink and the air they breathe are responsible for much ill health, and they have ever less confidence in assurances to the contrary by experts, still less by politicians.
  • They are also beginning to realise that Britain is not a real democracy. They feel increasingly impotent to influence decisions taken by the government that must affect their lives and that of their children. The government is simply not interested in their opinion. It has decided in advance what it wants to do and nothing will budge it from the course on which it is set. It is increasingly clear to them that rather than represent their interests the government really represents those of a small number of large corporations with whom it is in cahoots, interests, that on the whole, are in direct conflict with their own interests and those of their communities.

Unfortunately, these worries are only too justified. Indeed, on current trends, and in particular with the development of free trade and the global economy, all these problems can only get very much worse. We must show why this must be so. We must show too that our society is incapable of solving the problems it is faced with, by virtue of the way it is structured. Societies of the past have largely been made up of families and communities. Our modern society, on the other hand, is organised into ever larger corporations and government institutions, both of which are committed to economic development, to the point of subordinating all other considerations to its achievement. This means that it is only capable of providing solutions which are consistent with the maximisation of economic development – i.e. technological solutions applied by the corporations and state institutions.

It is important to show too that these ‘solutions’ are consistent with the world view with which we have all been imbued since our most tender childhood. In terms of this world view all benefits and all wealth are man-made – the product of science, technology and industry – thus employment is man-made, and increased employment can only be provided by further economic growth and hence further scientific, technological and industrial development.

Social order can only be provided by building more prisons, engaging more policemen and equipping them with the appropriate technological equipment such as guns, armoured cars, etc.

Health is something that is obtained by visiting doctors, going to hospital and taking a lot of pills. Even democracy is man-made – the product of the social contract – before which people lived in total chaos.

If there is hope, it is that we have now reached a watershed, in that it is becoming quite evident to all that these ‘solutions’ do not work and that the world view that rationalises them is fundamentally flawed. Indeed there are no technological or institutional solutions to unemployment, [social] disintegration, ill health or the erosion of democracy. Such solutions are really but short-term expedients that at best mask the symptoms of the problems, leaving the real causes unaddressed. We can get away with doing this for a while, but not for ever. We cannot go on indefinitely, applying expedients that we know do not work, just because they are those that best satisfy the immediate interests of a small minority.

We must look carefully at these problems to show why our society, as it is at present organized, cannot hope to solve them, and we can then show what has to be done if we really want to solve them.

Poverty and Unemployment

Today in the U.K. these have never been higher. There are nearly three million unemployed in the U.K., and about 17 million in the European Union. What is particularly serious is that economic growth, that has traditionally been seen as providing the only solution to both poverty and unemployment, is not only increasingly difficult to achieve, but no longer provides more jobs or helps the poor.

Thus in France, though the economy increased by 80 percent between 1973 and 1993, the number of unemployed has risen from 420,000 to 5.1 million. In the U.K. in the period between 1971 and 1991 GNP has increased by 50 percent, yet unemployment has risen by 25 percent while the number of people living in poverty has risen from 6.6 million to 13.6 million, an increase of 106 percent – nearly one third of children in the U.K., now being part of households that live below the poverty line.

It is quite easy to understand why this has happened. Agriculture, which once provided most of the jobs, has not provided new jobs for decades. Less than 3 percent of the workforce in the U.K. is now involved in farming. Farms have got progressively more massive and more capital intensive, which means that machines have replaced people. This was not always considered a serious problem. On the contrary, the people released from their work in agriculture were required to work in the factories – which came to employ a considerable proportion of the workforce.

In the U.S. for instance, as late as the 1950’s 33 percent of the workforce was employed in manufacturing. But what happened in agriculture has now been happening in industry. Corporations in the manufacturing business have grown bigger and have introduced more and more elaborate laboursaving devices, and as a result, in the U.S. today only 17 percent of the workforce is engaged in manufacturing, a figure that is expected to drop to less than 12 percent within the next ten years.

As Jeremy Rifkin notes in his new book The End of Work, more than 1.8 million manufacturing jobs disappeared between 1981 and 1991 in the United States. In the steel industry for instance the new computerised mills can produce a ton of steel with less than one twelfth of the human labour required in a conventional steel mill.

This being so, during the last 15 years, both in the USA and the UK, just about all the new jobs have been provided by the service sector. But now what has happened in agriculture, and more recently in industry, is happening with a vengeance in this sector too. The most recent cutbacks in the US for instance have been in service industries such as banking, insurance, accounting, law, communications, airlines, retailing and hotels – and this is likely to be only the beginning as service industries also reorganize themselves around the new computer technology.

Other service industries such as education, health and welfare, which depend on government finance, will suffer even more as this is becoming ever less available. Indeed, if we are to compete with Third World countries such as China, where labour costs can be thirty to forty times cheaper than they are in the U.S. or Europe, we must among other things drastically reduce government expenditure. That is why throughout the industrialised world the welfare state is being systematically dismantled in the name of increased competitiveness.

At the same time companies, also in order to increase their competitiveness, are now systematically ‘out-sourcing’ or ‘down-sizing’ their operations, which means that they hand over as many functions as possible to contractors or else simply replace permanent staff with temporary staff. People are thereby just taken on when they are needed and then released. This is now called “just-in-time employment”. Companies no longer have long-term obligations towards their employees, such as pensions or responsibility for health problems arising, for instance, from work involving contact with polluting substances. People have thereby become totally commoditised and the only relationship between a company and its staff – other than its small permanent core staff – is a purely commercial one.

But it is not only blue-collar staff that will be affected in this way, but also white-collar workers. The introduction of ever more elaborate computers into manufacturing and service industries has led to a complete restructuring of the workplace. Only in this way is it possible to take the maximum advantage of the new computer technologies. The name given to this restructuring of the workplace is re-engineering. As this has occurred so have hierarchical management structures been abandoned and replaced by small teams that work together to process information and co-ordinate vital decisions. This involves eliminating whole layers of middle management and typically leads to a loss of anywhere between forty and seventy five percent of the jobs in the factories being restructured.

The computer-based productivity revolution is only one of the factors that must massively increase unemployment and generally reduce earnings in the foreseeable future. Equally serious must be the institutionalisation of global free trade under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Global free trade is of course a misnomer. The freedom provided is freedom for the large transnational corporations (TNCs), that already largely control world trade to further increase their control at the expense of the local companies catering for local, national or regional markets. ‘Global Free Trade’ is designed to provide TNCs with the optimum conditions for their further expansion – a single world market for all the goods and services they produce, a massive source of cheap raw materials, and an almost limitless supply of the cheapest possible labour, of which, by virtue of the computer revolution, only a small fraction is required.

They will also be almost entirely freed of government control, free in fact to straddle the globe in search of the cheapest possible labour costs, and the laxest environmental and fiscal regulations.

What is more, governments will desperately vie with each other to attract exporting industries to their shores in order to obtain access to foreign exchange. This, our government is already doing, as can be gauged from a brochure from the Invest in Britain Bureau run by the Department of Trade and Industry. This brochure boasts of Britain’s pro-business environment:

  • It assures prospective foreign investors that labour costs in the UK are “significantly below other European countries”;
  • “The UK has the least onerous labour regulations in Europe, with few restrictions in working hours, overtime and holidays”;
  • “there is no legal requirement to recognize a trade union”;
  • “the UK government is committed to reducing regulatory and administrative burdens to business”;
  • “no new laws may be introduced without ascertaining and minimising the cost to business”;
  • Prospective investors are also assured that “unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape” are being removed;
  • “there are no exchange controls on profits overseas”;
  • “there are 100 percent allowances on trade related research”.

In order to make good these promises, Michael Heseltine has set up Deregulation Task Forces that are busily eliminating what remains to protect the interest of workers and to preserve what remains of our environment. In other words the standard of living of the working people in this country is being systematically reduced – as a matter of government policy, so as to try and make our industry competitive with that of countries where labour costs are twenty to forty times lower – a cynical as well as a totally futile excuse.

The Welfare State itself is seriously under threat. Indeed how can we remain competitive with the Chinese and the Indians if we are to bear the immensely costly burden of a welfare state? It is more realistic to predict its systematic dismantling in the years ahead in the interests of international competition.

Clearly the interests of the working people of this country, and indeed of many other sectors of society, such as small farmers, small shopkeepers, small businesses the unemployed, the sick, and the elderly, cannot be protected within the context of the global economy we are creating, dominated as it will be by large capital-intensive transnational corporations.

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Social Disintegration

There is another reason why people rightly feel insecure. We are seeing today a veritable epidemic of crime. It is increasing from year to year.. A study by Humberside Police Superintendent John Taylor, predicts that by the year 2000 the number of recorded crimes in the U.K. will have increased to 4 to 6 million per year, and only one in four of which is likely to be solved. Taylor considers that recorded crimes are merely “the tip of an iceberg”, no more than a quarter of those actually committed.

But it is not only an epidemic of crime that we are witnessing but an epidemic of a whole constellation of closely associated social aberrations, such as divorce, illegitimacy, child abuse, general violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide. Why is this occurring? The government refuses to see it as a social phenomenon.

Michael Howard attributes the increasing crime rate to sheer “evil” – without bothering to explain why evil should be so much more in evidence today than say fifty years ago. The Labour party tends to attribute it to growing poverty, unemployment, and the erosion of social services, i.e. it sees it as an economic problem. This is partly true, but the trouble is that crime and the other social aberrations mentioned above have been increasing even during periods of growing affluence and high employment and when the social services were still very effective. Such a period was that between 1955 and 1972, which saw the trebling of the crime rate in England and Wales and the doubling of the illegitimacy rate.

It is far more realistic to attribute the growing incidence of these problems to economic development itself – part of the price ‘we pay’ as Professor Barton of Bristol University puts it “for the adaptation of our social arrangements to an economic system which brings us such great material benefits”. Economic development is necessarily accompanied by social disintegration, and hence by the development of an atomised society which inevitably leads to social alienation, or what the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, referred to as ‘anomie’.

People are seen as suffering from anomie “when their lives are empty and purposeless, deprived of meaningful human relations” – which must necessarily be the case when their families and communities break down. Clearly impoverishment and unemployment can only make matters worse. If people are excluded from the social system they can clearly no longer identify with it. Unfortunately with the development of the global economy this social alienation can only get worse, as can delinquency, and all the other social aberrations.

Development leads to social disintegration for a number of obvious reasons. The first, and the one that generally tends to be ignored is that, as it proceeds, so do companies and state institutions systematically usurp all the functions that were previously fulfilled by the family and the community. Thus families no longer have to bring up their children, look after the sick and the old, produce their food, or even cook it. By losing its functions the family can only disintegrate, and this is precisely what it is doing.

Also, as economic development proceeds, the cost of living increases and eventually people’s salaries are forced down, as is occurring today. This means that in the average family both husband and wife now have to go out to work. The family is thereby deprived of still more of its essential functions, and the absence of both parents during working hours deprives the children of the protective family environment in which they should be brought up if they are to become stable and responsible adults.

In some cases grandparents or family friends can deputise for the absent parents, but often the children are simply neglected and their chances of becoming delinquents or drug addicts, or of being unable to form stable relationships and create stable families when they grow up are correspondingly increased. A recent report has predicted that by the end of the century 50 percent of children in the U.K. will be brought up outside the family. If this situation is allowed to materialise, we can expect a still sharper increase in the incidence of all these social aberrations.

The same is true of the community. In general, today, it is little more than a geographical expression, whereas previously it was a highly cohesive unit of social organisation, providing its members with great security. The community cannot survive the mobility built into modern industrial society. Nor can it survive the destruction of the local economy which provides it with its economic infrastructure and that creates many of the bonds required to hold it together. Nor can it survive the associated transfer of political power to distant bureaucracy or ultimately to the vast transnational corporations whose activities must necessary lead to the further disintegration of the family and the community and to the further impoverishment of their members.

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People are also quite justified in fearing for their health. In spite of the wonders of modern medicine, the incidence of just about every disease – both degenerative and infectious – with the possible exception of smallpox and poliomyelitis – is increasing worldwide. Diseases we thought had been mastered, such as tuberculosis and malaria, have now become two of the world’s biggest killers. What is more, the pathogens involved have become increasingly resistant to the drugs that are normally used against them, and these diseases are thereby becoming increasingly difficult and more costly to treat. At the same time, diseases that were once rare are now becoming more common and new diseases or diseases that previously only affected animals of other species, are beginning to affect us – some of them, like AIDS, now becoming epidemic.

Modern medicine is in fact in a state of crisis. There is increasing evidence that much of the medication prescribed by doctors, even for run-of-the-mill diseases, is ineffective. The World Health Organization agreed some years ago that only a minute percentage of them were of any use. However, this has not been allowed to affect health care policies in industrial countries – nor for that matter in the Third World. Indeed, when the Bangladesh government decided to ban imports of all those medicines the World Health Organization regarded as useless, President Reagan threatened to cut off all aid if Bangladesh discriminated in this way against the products of the American pharmaceutical industry.

If the bulk of modern medicines are under suspicion, so are the much vaunted high-tech medical and surgical procedures. For instance there is little evidence to suppose that heart bypass operations, which are performed in ever increasing numbers, can actually increase the life span of someone with clogged up arteries, nor is there any evidence that putting people into intensive care units is of any real value, nor that chemotherapy or radiotherapy increase the chances of survival of cancer patients. More and more operations are seen to be unnecessary. Indeed, surgeons have recently admitted that in the U.K. two out of three operations performed today are quite unnecessary.

That National health care services are not really concerned with improving the health of our population is further suggested by the estimate made by Professor Ross Hume-Hail of McMaster University, then a member of Canada’s Environmental Council, that about 80 percent of the money spent in Canada on health care goes towards treating people who would almost certainly die within the next ten months, regardless of whether they are treated or not. The situation appears to be the same in other industrial countries such as the U.K. Recently it has been estimated that no more than 10 percent of illnesses are affected by high technology medicine.

It is generally agreed that if our government were really interested in the health of its electorate then the accent would not be on cure but on prevention. However, the money spent on prevention today is an insignificant fraction of the total money spent on health care – in the U.S. it is no more than 0.3 percent of the total. Attempts to induce people to lead a healthy life rather than just take medication have largely failed. The best known example was the Peckham experiment in the 1930s. The plan was successful for about 10 years, but was closed down in 1948 by the newly introduced National Health Service, which was only interested in conventional medical services.

Why is health care in such a mess? The main reason is that it has become very big business. The ‘medical industrial complex’, is far bigger than the more celebrated ‘military industrial complex’. In the USA it employs some 10 million people, and its turnover is now $600 billion (1989) $200 billion of which is spent on drugs and equipment provided by a limited number of large corporations such as Dow Chemicals, American Cyanamid, Hoffmann-Laroche, etc. These corporations now largely control the medical foundations, such as the National Cancer Institute, the National Cancer Society, as well as the Department of Health. As a result, health services, rather than be designed to cure disease, not to mention reduce its incidence, are primarily designed to sell drugs and equipment.

To rationalise these policies, moreover, every disease is wrongly interpreted in such a way as to make it appear amenable to a technological solution – one that requires the use of products and equipment manufactured by these corporations. The trouble with prevention is that it does not require the use of such products and equipment. It largely involves leading a healthy life, taking exercise, eating a varied diet of fresh and non-polluted foods, drinking non-contaminated water, and generally leading a stress-free existence.

What is more, to lead such a life is only possible if at the same time we seriously curtail many of the highly polluting activities of the chemical, food-processing and nuclear industries, and in general if we reduce the capital intensity of our agricultural and industrial activities. This in turn could reduce the rate of economic growth, for which reason alone, prevention is irreconcilable with the priorities of modern industrial society, still more so with those of a society that has become dependent on the functioning of the global economy, dominated as it must be by vast stateless transnational corporations who are accountable only to their shareholders.

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Environmental Destruction

The public’s increasing environmental concerns are also quite justified. Economic activities do not occur in a void, as our economists seem to believe. They occur within the context of our society and its natural environment which they affect and are in turn affected by. Though sustainability is today a buzzword, neither the impact of our economic activities on our society, nor on its natural environment, are in any way sustainable.

Thus every year some 15 million acres of agricultural land are simply abandoned because, as a result of our agricultural activities they have become eroded, desertified, compacted by big machines, or transformed into a salt desert by modern irrigation schemes. Clearly this cannot continue indefinitely, nor can the loss of agricultural land to urbanization, which has led to the loss of a tenth of China’s agricultural land in the last fifteen years, and which at the current rate will have deprived us in the UK of nearly all of ours by the year 2157 (see the 2nd Land Utilization Survey).

Nor can we continue to cut down some 40 to 50 million acres of pristine forests a year – an area the size of England, much of which may never grow back again, especially in the tropics. Nor is it remotely conceivable to continue for very much longer draining wetlands, destroying coral reefs, contaminating our rivers, groundwaters, seas, and oceans, with chemical and nuclear wastes on anything like the present scale. Nor can we continue for long generating those chlorine-based chemicals that are rapidly destroying the ozone layer that protects living things from lethal ultra violet radiation, or emitting the present levels of greenhouse gases that are rapidly changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and destabilising world climate.

Together all these highly destructive activities are making our planet correspondingly less habitable, damaging our health, decreasing our ability to feed ourselves, and generally increasing poverty and misery. If they are not rapidly brought to an end, it is but a question of time before our planet really becomes uninhabitable – and on the current trends we are talking about decades rather than centuries.

It can be argued that the United Nations and its specialised agencies are now taking. a much more active interest in dealing with our environmental problems. We have just had the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which set in motion a complicated procedure for tackling such problems as global warming and the loss of biodiversity. But in reality little was achieved at Rio, and the actions taken since on global warming and biodiversity are totally inadequate.

This is largely because, from the start, Rio was dominated by the International Chamber of Commerce and the Business Council on Sustainable Development (BCSD) representing the world’s largest transnational corporations (TNCs) that provided most of the funding. At the various ‘prepcoms’, or preparatory meetings, representatives of these powerful bodies made sure that embarrassing issues such as the role of international trade and of transnational corporations in causing environmental destruction should be kept off the agenda, as should nuclear energy, the disposal of chemical and nuclear wastes, industrial agriculture, etc.

They also made sure that the only body within the United Nations concerned with the activities of TNCs – the United Nations Centre for Transnational Corporations – (UNCTC) should be closed down or more precisely reduced to the status of a small and toothless section of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

As we have seen, in order to maximise competitiveness and attract as many foreign exporting industries as possible to their shores, governments are committed to a policy of systematic deregulation, which means eliminating any environmental or social laws that increase costs to industry.

In any case, with the ratification of the GATT Uruguay Round treaty, many, if not most, of the already hopelessly insufficient and rarely implemented legislation, that has so far been grudgingly enacted by national governments, is likely to be declared ‘GATT Illegal’, i.e. as constituting a ‘non-tariff barrier’ to free trade.

American industry is already bringing law suits against the European Union to get a number of its laws protecting the environment and human health declared GATT Illegal. An example is the law against importing meat from livestock that has been fed with hormones and in particular bovine growth hormone.

At the same time the European Union is targeting many of the laws passed by the environmentally conscious Californian State Legislature, as well as the U.S. Federal Government. The U.S. representative at the prepcom that preceded the Rio conference, estimated that up to 80 percent of the U.S. environmental laws could be declared GATT Illegal. For those reasons, as we move towards a global economy, not only must the impact of economic activities on our environment increase, but at the same time so must environmental regulations be systematically eroded. In these conditions the protection of our environment becomes effectively impossible.

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The Erosion of Democracy

The public’s growing powerlessness is also a fact. Britain considers itself to be a democracy – more so, the mother of all democracies. But this is increasingly less the case. The powers of local government are being increasingly usurped by Westminster, and delegated to ‘quangos’ – non-elected bodies run by government nominees, mainly important industrialists who support the government. Trade Unions have been divested of almost all their powers, while those of the police have increased, and the right to demonstrate against Government abuse has been all but removed by the Criminal Justice Act.

Democracy is meant to be government by the people for the people, but the people of this country are ever less involved in governing themselves, while government policies, rather than serve the public interest, are increasingly those that best serve the interests of a small number of powerful companies.

With the current productivity revolution and the development of the global economy these trends can only accelerate as the interests of more and more people will have to be sacrificed in order to attract foreign investors to our shores, and as the Westminster government delegates ever more of its powers to the European Commission and the World Trade Organization – and hence the stateless transnational corporations that control them and for whom the welfare of the British people can be but a very minor preoccupation.

What is of particular relevance is that those who are being sacrificed will make up a very considerable proportion of the electorate, maybe even the majority. It will include the bulk of working people, a considerable number of office workers, technicians, middle-echelon executives, together with most of our small farmers, small shopkeepers, small businessmen – indeed all those who depend for their livelihood on the local economy. It will also include all those who are ideologically committed to the local economy as essential to the preservation of what remains of the family, the community, the quality of our lives, our natural environment and democratic government.

All these people, belonging to very different socio-economic categories, and whose interests have so far been seen as wildly divergent, will now have in common a dependence for their welfare, indeed for their survival, on the reconstitution of local economies, and hence on the reversal of the basic policy of all three major parties. This vast sector of society will, in fact, be politically unrepresented.

Any hope of a political solution to our growing problems, must thereby reside in the formation of a new political party – or perhaps a number of political parties that differ in various ways but that have in common an overriding commitment to the , same basic policy. Opposing them will be a de facto alliance between the three major parties of today – though, it must be a question of time before they are forced to abandon their present commitment to the global economy – unless they wish to renounce all but the outward trappings of democratic rule.

Significantly, John Gray, an influential Conservative intellectual, has recently written a book whose main thesis is that the only hope for the Conservative party is to abandon its commitment to free trade. To do so, of course, would lose it the support of the TNCs on which it depends.

In the meantime, we are faced with a completely new political alignment, a situation already predicted by that remarkable ecological philosopher Wendell Berry. It is worth quoting him on this subject in full.

“A new political scheme of opposed parties . . . is beginning to take form. This is essentially a two party system, and it divides over the fundamental issue of community. One of these parties holds that community has no value; the other holds that it does. One is the party of the global economy; the other I would call simply the party of local community.

The global party is large, though not populous, immensely powerful and wealthy, self-aware, purposeful, and tightly organized. The community party is only now coming aware of itself; it is widely scattered, highly diverse, small though potentially numerous, weak though latently powerful, and poor though by no means without resources.

The natural membership of the community party consists of small farmers, ranchers, and market gardeners, owners and employees of small shops, stores, and other small businesses, community banks, self-employed people, religious people, and conservationists. The aims of this party really are only two: the preservation of ecological diversity and integrity, and the renewal, on sound cultural and ecological principles, of local economies and local communities.”

This is the ‘political scheme’ that all responsible people must join together to build up.

Yours sincerely,

Edward Goldsmith.


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