BBC Radio 4’s Last Word programme included an obituary for Mary Kemp, a leading figure in the rise of the Green Party.
Thirty years ago, with Derek Wall, Mary Kemp was co-author of A Green Manifesto for the 1990s. Kemp and Wall’s asserted that the idea that global capitalism will cure the planet’s ills is a delusion. They defined themselves as “anti-growth, capitalist hostile Greens.” The definition of “capitalism” they adopted seemed to embrace the entire working of the free market.
Yet how would they have inhibited the working of the capitalist system they opposed? Would they have created a siege economy? Banned travel outside the country? In the absence of a price mechanism, how would decisions on production and distribution have been taken? Presumably there would have been high fences and disciplined border guards who would have kept us all inside the country?
What would the end of capitalism in one country have achieved? There would have been an exodus of all of those who had the means to leave. There would have been a collapse of trade. There would have been severe restrictions on civil liberties.
Is this the sort of society the Greens would envisage? And how would its adoption by one country address global issues? Perhaps the aspiration is not limited to one country, but there is a hope for a return to a worldwide pre-industrial society. How likely is such a vision? How likely is it that the international community would turn its back on Twenty-First Century life and embrace a life free of capitalism?
There seems a good deal of millenarianism within the environmental movement, people who are like Christian fundamentalists in their belief that their vision of the future is the only one possible and that to accept their ideas will usher in some Golden Age. Realistically, to assert that capitalism in the world must come to an end is as wild an idea as the notion that everyone should convert to some narrow sectarian religious belief.
And who would be most hurt by a project to eliminate the working of the free market in a country? Who always gets most hurt by bans, prohibitions and levies?
An end of capitalism in one country would mean the wealthy would depart, taking their money with them. Shortages of consumer goods would lead to a mushrooming of the black market comparable with that in the old Soviet Union. Rationing would place a premium upon particular items and allow for profiteering. It would take a voice out of the international community: create a pariah state.
A Green manifesto seems not to have much to commend it.