Last year Ineos threatened to close their Grangemouth refinery, yet now they are planning a massive fracking operation to keep it going. But all capitalists are locked into a desperate, world-wide competitive struggle. As I noted last week, what started as novel opportunities leading to the agricultural, and then the industrial revolution, morph inevitably into imperatives.
The threat to close Grangemouth was not idle. The Wikipedia entry points out that two UK refineries have closed in recent years. From Ineos’ point of view, either the refinery remained viable, or it ceased operations. Ineos was able to force workers to accept an effective wage cut, so they did.
So how do they square that with this grandiose plan? If the refinery is to stay open it makes sense to expand it if the resources are available. They are. As long as economic growth continues ( that’s you and me buying more and more things, making more and longer plane trips . . .) then the demand for oil will keep the price high enough to make fracking viable over a huge swathe of Scotland. If Ineos doesn’t, somebody else will. I have made clear my own horror of hydraulic fracturing.
But what exactly is our Green answer? What if protesters succeed in blocking this economic opportunity? World-wide competition won’t go away. The refinery closes. There are no other jobs in the area. Workers are thrown on the mercy of Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions workfare schemes. And the Citizens’ Basic Income would solve all this?
It won’t, on its own. It is not a pancea. But one of its effects is to make lower pay feasible because earnings are only topping up. But another aspect of a transition to a sustainable economy is a reduction in expectations. Until now the system has always kept material expectations rising, so that inevitably the system crashes every so often, causing hardship, not a gentle fall in expectations.
The Citizens Income will allow expectations to fall gradually. And this means everybody’s expectations, not just those at the bottom of the pile, who are despised as undeserving: an acceptance among the better off that saving the planet for future generations might have to involve less inequality, i.e. higher taxation. A gradual reduction in buying habits, and a slowly developing culture of repair and recycle, instead of the sudden dislocations of all recessions so far.
There is one aspect of the transition to sustainability in my book I have not dwelt on until now. There will be a period during which because, for example, an oil refinery in Scotland can be more competitive than oil refineries elsewhere because the Citizens’ Basic Income enables workers to accept lower pay, or even more drastically, the whole plant is automated. The wealth to fund the CBI is still there because the refinery is still refining. Meanwhile the former workforce can do their own thing. How? They will show you. I have confidence that people are happier and healthier working in some shape or form.
This does not of course remove the spectre of fracking, not immediately. But what if, say South Korea is forced to shut one of their refineries because lower wages or automation had been made possible here by the Citizens’ Basic Income?
Just as capitalism spread due to the opportunities it introduced, so will the Citizens’ Basic Income. Once it is world-wide, the series of ineffectual conferences intended to avoid global warming can begin to deliver. Perhaps Paris, December 2015 is a bit ambitious as a target.