I gave my immediate answer to this crisis in my blog on 24th January 2016, but the real danger is much wider. Sanity requires that we cut down CO2 urgently, yet the Chinese are producing 800million tons of steel for which there is inadequate demand. Among the reasons are overshoot, and it is still rational to drive competitors out of business, but I have seen nothing in the media linking this issue to the Paris agreement on climate change. The consequences of failure are unpredictable, but are almost certainly not in the interests of the Chinese economy. But how do we get them to see that?
The logic remains commercial and competitive. Some might say ‘capitalist’, but although they are beneficiaries not victims, I think it is more helpful to see capitalists as in the iron grip of the ‘imperative’ logic which I explored in a blog, on 16th November 2014, though I also commented on the Chinese economic downturn on 1st November 2015.
This Financial Times article on the chances of rescuing the British steel industry consists of the FT’s finest brains, yet none make the connection with climate change. There is a mention in the comments stream – to berate Britain’s ‘lunacy’ in not responding as France and Germany have done (reducing the cost of electricity) to China’s dumping. If you dismiss the threat of climate change, then it is indeed Britain’s response, started by Ed Miliband, but pursued by the changed government post 2010, which is lunatic .
It seems odd that this government has failed to remove something designed to reduce climate change where such ‘lunacy’ would have been crucial, when they have done that consistently over all other areas. This is not wisdom after the event – see my blog on 24.1.2016. Except that it is not odd at all. This government’s priority is pro-chinese, on Chinese terms, hence its blocking EU anti-dumping moves . An appeal to, and possibly help for China to reduce CO2 emissions- now that really would have been incredible . But the outlook for the British steel industry is bleak.
So what , if anything can be done? I fear the only hope lies in the slimness of the Conservative parliamentary majority, but unlike issues of Tax Credits or disability cuts, the affected MPs are probably all Labour anyway. My own cry over spilt milk concerns the Green Party.
Locally, the Green Party has issued pleas to save the steel industry, for reasons I agree with, as explained in my blog in January. But nationally, that should be accompanied by the startling declaration that it goes directly against Green Principles. The first rule in the ‘Tragedy of the Commons is no one can afford to put themselves at a disadvantage. The Green Party could, consistently, have been pointing out climate change measures as the only real sanity, but being equally forthright in doing the wrong thing wherever, as now, doing otherwise would but Britain at a disadvantage until everyone agrees to co-operate.
This is where the Basic Income principle should be coming into its own. In the worst case scenario, that nothing is done to save the industry beyond salvaging specialist units, the Basic income will be a lifeline to otherwise stricken communities. But it will also enable the industry to become more competitive by allowing wages to fall without the affected workers being any worse off, or even allow automation to proceed where it would not without a Basic Income.
I am disappointed that Guy Standing has never to my knowledge linked his ‘Precariat’ thesis to climate change issues. He makes the case for a world-wide Basic income on the grounds of cyber-generated automation. Opponents point out that technological change has always caused fears of redundancy, yet has always produced new jobs instead. Even without J.M. Keynes wondering why we are not all on a three day week or less by now, the Basic Income means that there is no need to worry about mass unemployment. People will find useful things to do, and some of those things might actually be jobs they are paid for.
If only the Basic income was in people’s minds, we could be on the threshold of an appeal to China – and Saudi Arabia, which is gripped by the same logic – to look a bit further than their immediate short term interests, in their own long term interests. The steel crisis increases the urgency of such an appeal.