One of the most frustrating aspects of living in the 21st century is the vicious circle we seem to be caught in. A book by John Bunzl and Nick Duffel provides an interesting way to think about that vicious circle, and suggests a way we might tackle it.
The book’s central thesis is that “competitiveness” as touted by economists and politicians is more than just a way to attract investments and jobs. It has a destructive unintended consequence: it actively prevents action on global and national problems.
To put this in a way that every Ecoactionist has heard before: we can’t do anything about climate change because doing so would make us unattractive to investment, and that would kill the economy.
Bunzl and Duffell call this destructive global competition or DGC. As long as there is one jurisdiction that ‘competes’ by offering low corporate tax rates, or lax environmental regulations, or some other incentive for corporations, then all the other jurisdictions have to do something similar. Otherwise, corporations move jobs elsewhere. No jobs results in no votes for a politician, and of course, unemployment for the citizen.
Bunzl and Duffel have proposed what they call a “SIMPOL” solution, which is short for SIMultaneous POLicy. In this scheme, a policy is developed, and citizens push politicians to pledge to support it. But because it is a ‘simultaneous policy,’ pledging doesn’t bind a politician unless all jurisdictions involved agree to it, and thus pledging is a safe thing to do, politically. And it gets issues out in front of the voting public to discuss and support.
This is a vastly simplified explanation of what’s in the book, and it would be worth your while to purchase it to read the whole thing. You can also check out their website: www.simpol.org. It would also be worth your while to use SIMPOL to push your local politicians on issues that you can about, as it’s a low cost way for you to take ecoaction. It’s one of many tools, and it’s probably a very good idea to throw absolutely everything possible at the problems we face.
That said, there are two weaknesses here. One is that unless SIMPOL goes ‘viral,’ it will take a long time before we reach any sort of critical threshold for politicians to really sit up and take notice. Politicians are asked to publically support or pledge to a variety of issues all the time. SIMPOL will have to have a loud and active majority to rise above the noise.
The second is that we need to question the whole narrative around competitiveness. There’s no question that the public and politicians believe that society-friendly policies harm competitiveness, and thus we are caught in a terrible DGC loop. But do these policies really hurt? Or can we demonstrate that they are either neutral or even positive?
There’s evidence to suggest that environmentally friendly policies like sulfur dioxide cap and trade and carbon taxes both work to reduce emissions and do not actually harm the economy. This article does a round up of evidence that shorter work weeks actually make for more productive employees. This Harvard Business Review piece suggests that happy customers are the outcome of ensuring your employees are happy.
Indeed, this might be the drum that we bang to appeal to both sides of the political spectrum. Environmentally and society-friendly policies are good for the people and the planet, while simultaneously (you see what we did there?) being good for profit.