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Economy

Creating a financial enlightenment

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Today, we stand on the shoulders of enlightenment thinkers who argued for reason over blind faith and ancient tradition. They argued for the scientific method and scepticism over dogma. They fought for liberty under the law rather than tyranny, democracy over absolutism, capitalism over mercantilism and corrupt royal monopolies.

The age’s explosion in free thinking and literature explored philosophical, economic, political and scientific arguments from every possible angle and liberated the west from the legacy of inflexible traditions, ancien régimes and planted the seeds of the Industrial Revolution.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant eloquently described the enlightenment as the “freedom to use one’s own intelligence”.

The emancipation and enfranchisement of slaves, women and the poor all came from this thinking.

Sadly, a form of anti-enlightenment has entered the public discourse about economics. Capitalism has assumed a quasi-religious status for some, where the maximisation of profit and growth at any cost is the highest mission for investors. All other systems and approaches are to be sneered at.

The dogma is powerful. It infects politicians, corporations, financial institutions, intermediaries and the supposedly neutral media. The only role of government is to facilitate the endless pursuit of profit and growth.

Research and evidence is no longer required to preserve the free market faith. Private sector: good and efficient; public sector: bad and inefficient. Unfettered markets: ideal; state intervention: repugnant and irredeemable. These assertions do not stand up to research, but evidence is not required by those with faith.

Blind faith and adherence to Smith, Friedman and Hayek is the new economic dogma. Free thinking is heresy.

These intellectual minnows bastardise the work of enlightenment thinkers using a pick-and-mix approach to support their own prejudice and interests, regardless of the underlying complexity and nuance of the original philosophy or treatise they often cite.

However, selective reading is endemic in all religions. Further evidence of capitalism’s dogmatic religious status is that it has now assumed this convenient religious tendency towards highly selective reading.

They demand blind faith but not to everything the original thinkers wrote.

What is often ignored is Adam Smith’s argument about the principles of taxation (wealth, property and luxury goods, not income, never income) and the role of moral sentiments in the acceptability of capitalist activity. Out-sourcing production offshore is a no-no to Smith.

Meanwhile Friedrich Hayek’s eloquent exploration of the total failure of the free market to deal with externalities such as pollution, deforestation or health and safety is brushed aside as inconvenient by his modern disciples.

The high priests of capitalism now label as socialism or Marxism the very things their philosopher forbears argued were fundamental to the legitimacy and functioning of the system they espouse. Environmentalism equals socialism. State intervention in failing markets equates to Marxism.

Most enlightenment thinkers were theists and had a deep moral or religious ethic. Their genuine belief in God and an ethical framework led them to assume that humanity’s animal instincts could be curtailed. Margaret Thatcher’s own religious convictions led her to the mistaken belief that those with the most wealth and power would use it for good. The market could be freed up, because people were essentially good and moral beings.

The last 30 years have shown this to be anything but the case. Profiteering at society or the environment’s expense is de rigeur for the cheerleaders of modern capitalism.

Wealth and power have concentrated to the worst excesses of the Roman Empire. This wealth and power is then (ab)used to protect and shore up itself. The richest 300 people in the world have more wealth than the poorest 3 billion.

The law protects only those who can afford it. Crash the global economy and get a knighthood; steal a bottle of water and go to mil for six months.

Plutocracy has triumphed over democracy, economics is replaced by plutonomics. Crony capitalism and too-big-to-fail corporate monopolies and cartels fetter and distort the market more than any individual state could.

Private sector failure leads to unprecedented state bailouts and a redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the rich in a reverse Robin Hood move. Massive and systemic private sector failure is then used to further shrink the public sector, under the badge of austerity.

We need a financial enlightenment.

We need functional, highly competitive capitalism. We also need the people to own natural monopolies as mutuals, co-operatives or through the state. The private sector can obviously be involved as it brings certain skills but its license to operate in these areas is subject to the democratic will of the people, their free scrutiny and oversight. Utilities and rail operators have lost this license to operate.

We need functional, competitive democracy with a completely free exchange of ideas from conservation through communism (in its truest sense) to capitalism (in its truest sense).

But what democracy needs to work is an educated, demanding electorate: President Eisenhower’s “alert and knowledgeable citizenry”.

The narrow selection of backgrounds and perspectives in governments, Parliament, Congress and national assemblies around the world leads an ever growing mass of voters to choose none of the above. This is incredibly dangerous as parties are hijacked by their more extreme wings and extremist, single issue parties aim to plug the gap.

We need the rule of law to vigorously protect the environment, society and the free market against those with the most wealth and power, be they individuals or corporations. Those who harm the planet, people and prosperity should be rigorously pursued and prosecuted. You should lose your liberty if you make a profit from someone else’s death. In every other walk of life, except investment, this is called murder.

At the heart of the problem and solution is investment. Investment, more than any other human activity, shapes the world we live in, the societies to which we belong and the environment upon which we depend. All of the problems in the world stem from investment and its unenlightened, unsustainable, irresponsible and unethical framework and tendencies.

Investment that makes a positive environmental and social impact can be an incredible force for good. The functioning capitalism it invests in can lift vast swathes of the global population out of poverty. Sustainable investment in functional capitalism is the best system we have. The people owning natural monopolies is a healthy part of the economic mix.

For those who use their own intelligence, rather than adhere blindly to an economic dogma, this seems a reasonable approach: to take the best of investment and capitalism and blend it with the best of ownership by the people.

That would yield a financial enlightenment.

Further reading:

Pick-and-mix dogma is unethical and intellectually dishonest

Free markets need to be free

Witnessing financial capitalism’s failure

Capitalism’s woes will not be solved by 16th or 19th century economic theories

Enslaved by free markets

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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