An open letter to Helen Clark UNDP re climate and the economy


Late last night I engaged with you in 140 character tweets on the topic of climate and the economy. You were expressing the strong desire that we can have economic growth at the same time as halting climate change. And I pointed out that unless and until you reform the money system you are going to get a growth imperative built into the economy.

Helen, I believe the future of life on the earth depends on people like me pointing this out to people like you. There are a great many people wanting the same thing – a thriving economy AND a liveable climate. We need it desperately.

I see that your current meeting is another high powered one. Called The Global Commission on Climate and the Economy it has on it the Chairman of the Bank of America and the former chairman of the China Development Bank, the Vice Chairman of Deutsche Bank Group, as well as someone from the International Energy Agency with the UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. Nicholas Stern is there and so is a trade union representative as well as many ex Prime Ministers.

I see the purpose of this Commission is to “analyse and communicate the economic benefits and costs of acting on climate change.”

It looks as though the plan is to go down the path of green growth, to change towards sustainable energy sources. That is what economist Nicholas Stern and many others want. It is a good goal but not enough. It is just too limited.

But that is like mopping up a leaky pipe without stopping it leaking. It doesn’t get to the core of the problem.

What the bankers on your committee won’t tell you is that the function of banks is to create money and create it as interest bearing debt. You must know that having been Prime Minister of New Zealand for nine years. The country’s money supply comes into existence every time a bank makes a loan and disappears every time a loan is paid back. But it must keep on increasing. That’s the design of it.

What you have probably never had time to find out in your busy life is that when a bank creates the principle but not the interest, there is not enough total money in the system to pay off the debt and the interest. So someone has to get another loan. This increases the money supply and the money supply can’t be bigger than the number of trades in an economy. So the economy has to grow. See the Parable of the Eleventh Round for a story to illustrate this.

That is the growth imperative. It is built in to the current dysfunctional money system. You can’t have a thriving economy without growth in this system. All the time there is pressure to grow the total number of exchanges in the economy. And it can’t be done on a finite planet. Christchurch is helping our GDP grow because it had an earthquake. The economy grows when tobacco consumption or gambling rise. The economy grows when dairy farmers pollute the rivers with their runoff. Stupid.

This is not just debt money but it is interest bearing debt money. There is a world of difference. The latter has many other damaging and negative consequences like rising debt, instability and wealth concentration.

But let’s concentrate on the growth imperative.

Over the last couple of years there have been two excellent articles written by economists from the IMF and by economists from the Bank of England. Michael Kumhof of the IMF subsequently talks at a January 2013 seminar on Financial Reform for a Sustainable Economy here. Economist and former money trader Bernard Lietaer co-author of a Club of Rome book called Money the Missing Link in Sustainability speaks at the same seminar.

Gosh it is sad. Here you are at this high powered meeting of bankers, ex and current politicians, energy experts, CEOs of multinationals seeing if you can stop climate change without damaging economies. You are trying to find a way to get a thriving post fossil fuel economy and yet you are still working blindly. The paradigm of creating money is just not within your vision. The idea of radically reforming the tax system is probably far from member’s minds. Sad.

Look around the room and think “Who among you know that if we go on blindly allowing banks to create money as interest bearing debt we are never, never going to get sustainability?” Tragic.

And whatever decisions you make at this Commission, I hope you get on to the issue of tax policies. Can we in fact have a sustainable economy while we fail to tax the monopoly use of the commons – land, natural resources and the cultural commons.

So it won’t be any use having a series of indicators on green growth (as does the OECD). They want to monitor the natural asset base. Well if there aren’t tax policies that protect that asset base that base will just deteriorate. Measuring is good, but you might as well implement tax policies that are going to protect that natural asset base in the first place.