For the major parties, policy documents represent a promise of their intentions, should they be elected as the governing party. While the policies of the Greens also appear in this form, their chances of gaining government are slim. Many voters must be most interested in what the Greens might do as a ginger group. Their policies may be seen in this context as ambit claims - a basis for bargaining with the major parties. The point of voting for the Greens would be to assist the Greens to moderate the behaviour of the major parties. There would be no expectation that their policies would, in fact, be implemented.
Alternatively, Green policies could be read as an outline for a Green Utopia, sketched now to initiate a groundswell of support for the future. Yet much about this utopia could well concern voters and few of its real problems are adequately addressed. Fear of the real meaning of the Green recipe for government and uncertainty about the Greens as a ginger group scares many voters. The paper will suggest that the Greens might do better by openly soliciting voters to choose the Greens as a ginger group, clearly separating their ambit claims from their utopian ambitions. In the paper I will also recommend a more adequate and attractive utopia as the Green Party policy for government.
Part A: Pamphlets, Policies and Popular Responses.
This paper is in part a response to my own ambivalence about the Greens as a party. While I have voted for the Greens for some time now, and also hand out leaflets for them at elections I have some strong concerns, both about the political wisdom of their strategies and the advisability of their long term plans for government. For someone from a background in the counterculture, the new left, environmentalism and the other social movements, there is much to be liked about the Greens, both in parliament as a ginger group and in terms of their stated policies (Greens NSW 1999; Australian Greens 1999). Along with policies on environmental issues, they also have strong policy commitments on feminism, multiculturalism, gay and lesbian rights, and Aborigines. These are not just window dressing but have undoubtedly informed the actions of representatives such as Bob Brown. As well as this, many of their policies take up issues normally associated with the left in its traditional and new left versions: union power; workers’ rights; democratic participation in government and workplace; redistribution through the tax system and social welfare; curbs on multinational capital; public ownership of key monopolies and public services.
Taken together, the policy statements of the Greens on issues to do with work and welfare suggest the inspiration of such writers on the left as Andre Gorz (1982) and Ted Trainer (1995). Like such writers, they advocate a reduction of paid employment and its fair distribution throughout the community - to a maximum of four, seven to eight hour days for any employed person (Australian Greens 1999, pol-soc1.3). At the same time a large fraction of the population would be involved in a sphere of community based work - analogous to Gorz’s ‘sphere of autonomy’(1982). People who are, for any reason, out of the paid workforce would be given a ‘Guaranteed Adequate Income’ by the state. They would not be expected to be seeking paid work unless they want to increase their income beyond that necessary for an adequate and comfortable way of life. This voluntary workforce would include all those who receive unemployment benefits or pensions today, as well as another group who take advantage of the GAI scheme to avoid paid work.
It would have to be said that so far the Greens have been monumentally unsuccessful in gaining strong electoral support for this package. In the 1998 Federal elections the Greens got only 2.3% of the primary vote in the Senate. The Democrats, another party with a fairly strong environmentalist platform, managed 8.5% in that election. So, one could argue that the combined vote in support of environmental policies amounted to 11% of the electorate (Derksen 1999). The vote of the Greens in previous Federal elections was a little better, in 1996 and 1993 it was closer to 3%. Again, in these elections the Democrats got between 5% and 11% of the vote (Palmer 1998). Even so, the combined vote of pro-environmentalist parties never got above 15%, which is enough to create pressure for some modest reforms, but not nearly enough for a large scale shift in the direction of society.
Results in Australia are similar to those in Europe. Green parties in Europe have done better than in Australia, but they are not in competition with a party such as the Democrats. In a survey of Green Party performance in Western Europe between 1978 and 1997, Muller-Rommel records that very high votes for Green Parties were between 8% and 10%, with most results falling between 1% and 7% (Muller-Rommel 1998). His survey also describes the political position of the Greens in Europe, showing that they share much with the Australian Greens: ‘strong programmatic concerns for equal rights (especially for minorities), ecological thinking, solidarity with the Third World, demands for unilateral disarmament, less emphasis on material goods, against uncontrolled economic growth, but for more individualism, self-realisation and self-determination’ (Muller-Rommel 1998, 145). While this discussion focusses on the Australian party and its NSW branch, many of the issues that I will raise here are also relevant to the European Green parties.
In the following discussion of the problems of the Green parties, I will draw upon the results of a qualitative study of attitudes to environmental politics in Australia. This is based on more than fifty interviews with over a hundred interviewees drawn from a wide range of class backgrounds and age cohorts. Some of these were focus groups, and some were one to one in depth interviews. The interviews were conducted by myself or by my students. Interviewees were friends or acquaintances of the interviewers, promoting a degree of openness that would not have been present with a more professional interviewer, unknown to the interviewees.
While interviewees were generally concerned about environmental issues there were a number of reasons given for voting for parties other than the Greens. Most interviewees were very disillusioned with the political process in general. However this did not lead them to prefer the Greens — they often argued that the Greens themselves were just another part of the manipulative political elite. Working class people tended to be concerned that the Greens were middle class activists who had little interest in the concerns of the working class — such as unemployment and the working class standard of living. Many interviewees rejected the Greens for their attacks on consumerism. They defended their right to own ‘their own’ car, to use clean white paper, or to throw all their rubbish in the one bin. Middle class interviewees saw the Greens as representing a culturally distinctive part of the middle class. The Greens were seen as hypocritically enjoying middle class privileges, while taking the moral high ground through an anti-consumerist rhetoric. Middle class interviewees were also concerned that if the Greens gained office, they would destroy the economy.
At the most basic level, most people rejected the Greens as ‘extremist’, ‘obsessive’, ‘unbalanced’ or even ‘flaky’. Despite attempts by the Greens to paint themselves as a moderate, sensible party concerned with issues beyond the environment, voters saw them as dangerous radicals whose actions could massively destabilize the status quo with serious consequences. They were accused of being prepared to pursue an environmental agenda, whatever the consequences for society. While there is much about these criticisms that the Greens cannot avoid, I will argue that there are various ways in which the Greens might be more successful with the electorate by being more honest about the implications of their policies.
In my examination of the implications of Green policies I shall be considering a number of relevant left wing discussions of alternatives to capitalism, the current global economy and the economic implications of alternative Green technologies. I shall argue that Frankel’s critiques of market socialism and Eurocommunism have much relevance to the policies of the Green parties (1983; 1987). I shall make use of the recent discussion of globalisation to argue that any country that attempted to implement the policies of the Greens would face severe economic and political repercussions (1997). I shall consider Trainer’s (1995) very detailed account of the costs of converting to alternative energy sources. Trainer’s argument confirms the view that Green party policies for sustainability could not be implemented without enormous economic upheaval. I shall also agree with a number of left wing environmental writers who claim that it is difficult to graft a sustainable society onto capitalism, as the Greens’ policies recommend. Like them, I shall maintain that some alternative ‘mode of production’, to use the marxist term, is more likely to be successful in the long run (McLaughlin 1993; Trainer 1995). Furthermore I will argue that these problems are at the heart of the distrust with which the electorate views the Greens. In a way the electorate already knows that the Greens’ policies cannot be realized without economic upheaval. The Greens’ apparent blindness to these issues gets taken to be manipulation.
I will organize this discussion through topics raised by the election pamphlet handed out by the Greens in NSW for the 1998 Federal Election (Cole 1998). Since the media gives such limited attention to the policies of the Greens, an election pamphlet is one of the few points at which the public may get some direct contact with the party. Using points raised by this pamphlet, it is possible to branch out into a wider discussion of the policies of the NSW and Australian Greens.
The Issue of Trust
On the front of the Greens election pamphlet, the heading reads, 'The Greens' in big type italics and underneath in somewhat smaller type 'People You Can Trust'. Undoubtedly this heading seeks to separate the Greens from other political parties in a context in which the electorate is known to distrust politicians. The Greens, unlike other parties, can be trusted to do what they say. This emphasis is somewhat ironic in view of my interview data, which suggests that the Greens and environmentalists in general are not trusted. A fairly typical discussion took place in an interview with Margie, a working class woman who believed that environmentalists were people whose strong commitment to certain issues meant that they lacked balance. Consequently their actions could be to the disadvantage of other people:
I'm basically saying on human nature, using human nature that people when they get fanatical about something lose their sense of - what's the word - judgement, you know.
As an example, she claimed that people who depended on the rainforest for wood for fuel could be impoverished by environmentalists who wanted to save the trees. She also argued that environmentalists had been responsible for the bushfires of 1994, as they had stopped the burning off that would have prevented those fires. Following these comments she admitted that she did not have good evidence for her views, that it was just hearsay:
Hey, this is sitting on the fence, talking about this. I don't actually know any greenies or ... and I hide from the news.
Here, what is taken as a key basis for trust is personal contact and acquaintance with the social group in question. Ultimately, there is no possibility of the Greens fulfilling these requirements for Margie since she sees them as a different, socially distinctive, and middle class group of people. In other words, her suspicion of political parties in general is readily extended to the Greens, because, like the members of other political parties, they are part of a social elite that is remote from her social circle. Interestingly, Greens are not distrusted because they are thought to be untrue to their word, or self serving, a common criticism of mainstream politicians in my interviews. Instead Margie is very willing to concede that the Greens are motivated by altruism and personal commitment. This is precisely the problem for her; their goals are extremist and their politics distrusted as extremism.
In another interview Petronella, a young Commerce graduate, was interviewed by her sister. She sees the Greens as dangerous extremists and she is also concerned by their attack on the consumer lifestyle. She distrusts all politicians and like Margie, also conveys the idea that the Greens are a remote and strange social group, whose inner workings are a mystery:
Well, I think that most people don't really know what the Greenie movement's on about anyway. The only people that know what's going on about it is themselves.
It should be noted that my interviews revealed a widespread distrust with all politicians, and a disillusionment with the behaviour of both major political parties. Typical comments were that it made little difference which party was in power, that nothing serious was being done about unemployment, that no one cared about the working class, that politicians were so preoccupied with their own political infighting that they lost sight of the real problems of most Australians, and that politicians served their own interests in terms of lurks and perks at the expense of the electorate. Many believed that politicians were working hand in glove with multinational companies to the detriment of ordinary Australians and the environment. These analyses were applied to environmental issues to argue that nothing serious was being done about the environment.
All this may well be viewed as a golden opportunity for the Greens. All they need to do is to convince the electorate that they are not extremists and that they are genuinely concerned with a broad range of issues and they would be set to get elected. I want to suggest three problems with this.
1) The Greens, and in particular Green politicians, are seen as a middle class elite, members of a more general class of politicians who do not truly represent people at the grass roots. This is the result of a structural reality in which politics has become the arena of specialists, removed from the community at large and distrusted as such. Cardan (1974) sees this as historically the result of the decision of the working class movement to concentrate on improving wage levels and consumer pleasures. While doing this the working class has allowed daily life at work to continue to be controlled by bureaucratic hierarchies. People have opted out of a political struggle that seems to have little impact at the level of daily life. Just as work and the union movement are dominated by bureaucratic elites, so too the workers' representatives in politics become just another bureaucratic elite. Cardan's comments can easily be applied to people's distrust of environmentalist political actions:
At best these are seen as the activities of 'specialists', cut off from the preoccupations of ordinary people. At worst they are seen as a tissue of lies and manipulation, as a grotesque farce with often tragic consequences. (1974, 91)
2) A second problem is that the Greens appear as representatives, not of ordinary people, but of a particular and socially strange section of the middle class, as members of a counterculture. This was a frequent theme in both working class and middle class interviews. Working class interviewees often suggested that demonstrators at forest sites were the unemployed and disreputable sons and daughters of middle class families; their wealth and privilege gave them the option of being involved in an activity which was merely fun for them while it had serious consequences for other people's jobs. Middle class interviewees often suggested that environmentalists were a section of the middle class whose countercultural lifestyle belied their class privilege and 'normal' jobs.
3) Linked to this is the fact that the policies of the Greens are not an indigenous response to what most people perceive as real problems. Taxing the rich, wide ranging environmental regulation of industry and agriculture, green taxes, voluntary unemployment, a shorter working week and less consumer goods is not what people generally come up with as satisfactory answers to problems of unemployment and environmental degradation. Instead, most interviewees seemed to believe that the usual political formula of full employment, increased growth, more wealth for ordinary people and environmental protection could actually be delivered. Deep distrust of politicians is based on the fact that both parties continue to promise this unworkable formula and neither can actually deliver it. Widespread support for the solutions proposed by the One Nation Party comes about in a situation where the only explanation for the failure of politicians to deliver the goods is seen to be dishonesty and self serving manipulation.
These views were exemplified in an interview with two industrial workers, Ian and Peter. They argued that environmental problems could be solved and full employment restored if the government was to pay people to engage in environmental repair work. This proposal is not too different from some policies of the Greens. However whereas the Greens accept that such policies require an increase in the revenue available to government, Ian and Peter denied this. This refusal to increase taxes was produced in a discussion of the cost of sewage plants being built to replace ocean outfalls:
Terry: But that's basically because people are not prepared to pay higher taxes or higher rates or whatever to deal with the sewerage in another way, isn't it?
Ian: I don't know, I think we pay enough taxes. We get a government that gives so much money to overseas and bloody ... They rather give it to the mob overseas, billions of dollars.
The interviewees were convinced that a fortune was being sent overseas to Rwanda and that all of our environmental and unemployment problems could be solved if this money was kept in Australia. They also argued that we should stop all imports and exports. While the Greens propose tarriffs to protect Australian industries, they are also aware that the result of this policy will be an increase in the price of some consumer goods. However Ian and Peter believed there was no reason that we should pay any more for consumer goods produced in Australia and saw no overall change in our standard of living from a policy of thorough industrial protection.
What I want to suggest about these policy proposals of my interviewees is that they make sense in a context in which political parties promise and promote the impossible economic and environmental mix described above. In this context, the reason for problems must be that politicians are not sincere and are not implementing the obvious solutions that members of the public can see to our problems; keep out imports to stop unemployment, cut out frivolous expenditures such as charity overseas and antique tables for politicians and we can have full employment, low taxes and sustainable growth.
Much of the above reveals problems for the Greens in securing the 'trust' of the electorate. As I have suggested, many of these problems inhere in the structure of the political context that the Greens inhabit. No amount of reassurances that they can be trusted will make any difference. As politicians the Greens will inevitably be seen as part of a powerful and distrusted elite. This is compounded by the fact that they represent a cultural group distant in class and viewpoint from most of the community. On the other hand, I will argue that the Greens are also complicit with the major parties in mystifying the electorate. Given the reality that the electorate is suspicious of the Greens, it is odd to subtitle the Greens’ pamphlet with a statement that they can be trusted. A better heading for a campaign pamphlet would feature the Greens as a party that was really serious about doing something. People do trust the Greens in this way.
The Greens oppose the GST as it would disadvantage people on lower incomes. We support real tax reform for low/middle income earners and increased tax on big corporations.
As suggested at the beginning of this paper, this policy promise can be read as the ambit claim of a ginger group that does not expect to get into office, or as an outline of their policies for some future period when a government by the Greens is more likely. The ambivalence of this reading causes real problems for the Greens in soliciting votes. As an ambit claim the implication is that this is a set of policies that the Greens in the Senate might support if they were put forward by the Labour Party. In such a context, 'tax reform' for middle and low income earners would mean lower tax rates for these groups and what is left unsaid but implied is that those on higher incomes might be taxed more highly along with big corporations. While such a set of policies would hardly be popular with big business, a small increase in company tax and tax on the upper middle class might be compatible with economic stability.
However this policy is also presented as a statement of the Greens' intentions were they to gain office. As such it is misleading in a number of ways, some of which can be discovered by examining the larger policy documents of the Greens, for which this pamphlet proposal can be read as a summary. Firstly, the overall context of Greens taxation policy is a very considerable increase in Government revenue necessary to carry out the policies of the Greens. This is put somewhat shyly in the Australian Greens 'Economics' policy when they say 'It is important that the revenue share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is raised'. The extent of this increase can be guaged by the aims for fiscal policy which explain this requirement - fiscal policy aims to 'raise a sufficient revenue base' to create a 'sustainable economy with appropriate levels of development in environmentally sound industries'. What this means is that the government will fund incentives to create sustainable production in cases where the normal operations of the market do not bring about this result, for example by funding the shift to alternative energy. The Greens also propose to fund an extension of such normal government services as Education, Health Care, Crime Control and Public Transport. They also intend to fund 'healthy programmes for third world aid and nature conservation' and incentives for private investment in community amenities. (Australian Greens 1999 pol-ecom 2.2.1) A more honest opening to the Greens Taxation Policy might read:
The Greens believe that there is no way to manage our environment sustainably and achieve social justice without a considerable increase in the funds available to the Federal Government. This must be through increased taxation.
Looking at the pamphlet as a document for a proposed government, the sentences on taxation for low and middle income earners are also less than candid. While the Greens oppose the GST, they intend to implement some very substantial indirect taxes, such as a tax on 'luxury goods', a carbon tax which is to be at least $5 per emitted tonne of CO2, increased taxes on users of private cars, to be levied by increasing the petrol tax and removing registration fees, a levy on disposable plastic bags in shops to be paid by customers, taxes on goods produced by technologies that do not make full use of available recycling possibilities or which use scarce environmental resources such as minerals, coal, timber and water, increased taxation on artificial fertilisers and pesticides (Australian Greens 1999 pol-ecom; pol-env). All these taxes would be similar to the GST in that taxation would be proportional to consumption rather than adjusted according to income.
In specific cases, the Greens suggest that the regressive effects of these taxes will be offset by compensations paid to low income earners. For example, in relation to the fuel tax, compensation is to be assessed 'on the basis of income and place of residence' (Australian Greens 1999, pol-ecom 2.3.13. 1). However the absence of claims like this for all of the new green taxes seems to indicate that compensation is selective and relates to areas where increases in prices are likely to affect the public directly, rather than in cases, like the extraction of minerals tax, that will affect the public by increasing the real costs of products. In any case, voters would be likely to have the same qualms about these assurances of compensation for low income earners that they have expressed in relation to the GST. Can politicians be trusted and how is a low income defined?
In general programmatic statements on these issues the Greens' policy documents announce their concern for the well being of the very poor in society: the 'phasing out of unsustainable activities should not further deprive people who do not have sufficient means to live', 'those sectors of society least able to bear the cost ... will not be disadvantaged' (Australian Greens 1999, pol-env 1.1.2; pol-env 1.1). They also propose that base rates of pay should be increased for the lowest paid so that it is possible for them to work fewer hours and live at the same standard (The Greens NSW 1999, Industrial relations 2.8). At the same time, the overall intention of the Greens policy is to reduce 'needless consumption', to 'reduce consumption levels and learn to live with fewer consumer goods' (Australian Greens 1999, pol-soc 1.3h; The Greens NSW, solids and waste 2.3.2). The various forms of Green taxes described above would have this effect, even though their main intention is to shift production to more sustainable technologies. This is because taxes are placed on production methods that are less sustainable, to increase the price to the point where more sustainable products become competitive in the market. The result would be that the consumer would be paying more of their income for a consumer item, meaning that their total purchase of consumer goods would be reduced. Other proposals, such as the four day working week, would have a similar effect.
Of course, Green taxes in themselves create revenue and it may be that this could be a mechanism for reducing PAYE tax on low and middle income earners. This is suggested when the pamphlet announces 'real tax reform' for these groups. However the great increase in government expenditure that the Greens' programme entails makes any large moves to reduce overall taxation unlikely. The detail of their taxation policy does not claim that direct taxes will actually be reduced for middle income earners, though they do say that low income earners should 'pay less'. It reads in part: 'At present, PAYE taxpayers on lower to middle incomes pay more tax in proportion to their income than people on high incomes. This is unfair. The Australian Greens ... propose a greater range of marginal tax rates on a sliding scale, with particular increases for people earning very high incomes (over $100,000 per annum)' (Australian Greens 1999, pol-ecom 2.3.1.; 2.3.2). Drawing all this together, I want to suggest that the intention of the policy is that lower income earners will pay less direct tax and be compensated in this way for the increase in indirect taxation that Green taxes will occasion; that middle income earners would pay the same direct tax and also be affected by indirect Green taxes and that upper income earners and the rich would be taxed at a much higher level.
The end result of the policies that would bring about lower consumption is that a hierarchy of consumption levels would still operate in society related to the market value of labour and ownership of productive capital. However at every level of this, somewhat flattened, pyramid, real consumption would be less. While this is an understandable proposal, it is not really acknowledged in the election pamphlet, which instead seems to suggest only that taxes on low and middle income earners will fall. In the whole of the pamphlet, there is no mention of a general drop in the purchasing power of most Australians. The removal of this key element of Greens strategy from the election pamphlet is exactly the kind of manipulation that voters distrust in political parties. A second point is that the real political problems of this proposal are not adequately addressed by a policy which merely softens the effect on the very lowest members of society, those 'without sufficient means to live'. The problem is that the pyramid of wealth that would still exist under these policies would mean that aspects of the consumer lifestyle that 'low and middle income earners' have come to take for granted would still be available to the upper income earners and the rich, while they were unable to afford them.
To take an example, the Greens oppose 'all forms of intensive livestock agriculture' and aim to work with farming bodies to 'move away' from these technologies (The Greens NSW 1999, Rural Land Use Policy, 3.10; 3.22). Most middle and low income earners currently buy eggs and poultry from caged hens because there is a considerable price difference between these products and the free range hens. A Green government might remedy this cruelty to animals in a number of ways. It could subsidise poultry production so that farmers got the same return from free range poultry while consumers were not worse off. This would be unlikely since demands like this for government subsidy would be coming from all sections of the economy. A more likely scenario would be to place a tax on caged poultry so that it could only be sold at a price higher than free range poultry. Alternatively, new regulations to phase out caged poultry could be introduced. In either of these cases the result would be that the expense of all poultry would go up to what it now is for free range poultry. Low and middle income earners would have to cut their consumption of poultry while upper income earners would still be happily buying poultry products. This is just one trivial example but it would apply to a vast range of consumer goods, services, transport options, housing and holidays. Opposition to Green economic policies in terms of issues of status and class resentment are in no way acknowledged, discussed or dealt with by Greens’ policy statements.
In other words, a more realistic description of the taxation policies for middle and low income earners might read:
The Greens support a reduction of PAYE tax for low income earners and increased direct taxes for high income earners and the rich. The Greens oppose the GST because it would disadvantage people n low incomes. However, to fund Green programmes and to redirect production towards a more sustainable economy, the Greens would impose indirect taxes on selected industries and products.
The Greens' Assault on Capital
The last point of the pamphlet's discussion of taxation issues is the proposal for an 'increased tax on big corporations'. This is probably the most candid statement they make on taxation and could be assumed to give the answer to voters' questions about revenue for the expansion of Government activity proposed in the rest of the pamphlet. It might also be that the Greens believe it is safe to be honest about the tax on the capitalist class, since they are such a small proportion of the electorate. Yet there are also key elements of their broader policy documents missing in this declaration. There is no acknowledgement of intentions to undermine the wealth of the rich upper middle class; it is only corporations that are mentioned. Secondly, the tax on companies is merely the tip of the iceberg in relationship to a whole raft of proposals that would seriously diminish the power and wealth of the capitalist class.
Various proposals of the Greens would curtail the wealth of the upper middle class. These are, for example, the increase in PAYE tax for those earning more than $100,000 p.a., the tax on luxury items, the capital gains tax on homes that were in the top 5% of those sold in any particular state, the restriction of superannuation so it does not become a kind of government subsidy to the affluent (Australian Greens 1999, pol-ecom 2.3). A more drastic suggestion is that compulsory superannuation would 'need to be examined' in the light of the guaranteed adequate income, with a clear implication that government would not top up superannuation for any whose privately funded retirement income exceeded the minimal levels of the GAI (Australian Greens 1999, pol-soc 2.3.1). Other Greens' policies would undoubtedly affect the upper middle class in terms of their enjoyment of their wealth. For example, the Greens would not build new roads but would allow gridlock and petrol taxes to discourage driving - while existing lanes in major roads were given over to public transport (NSW Greens 1999, transport). So while it might be nice to own an expensive luxury car, it would be more practical to leave it in the garage than drive it to work.
Most of the above policies would also affect the very rich, the capitalist class in marxist analysis. In addition many other Greens' policies would specifically affect the profitability of business, the wealth of the capitalist class and the power of that class. The implications of Greens' policies are also to undermine the power of multinational capital in Australia. The multiplicity of policies that might have this effect is hard to summarize, but I will list some key examples.
A general policy of the Greens is the 'internalisation' of the 'massive' external costs of economic activity, through eco-taxes on minerals, coal, timber, water, waste disposal, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and air pollution. There is also a carbon levy imposed on all fossil fuels produced and used in Australia or imported into the country (Australian Greens 1999, pol-ecom 1.3c). What the concept of 'internalisation' implies is that rather than have the public pay for the costs of the damages caused by unsustainable and environmentally damaging business practices (externalisation of costs), these costs are built into the business in the first place through a tax paid to the government on behalf of the public at large (internalisation) (Australian Greens 1999, pol-ecom 1.3c; 2.3.13). These taxes would discourage environmentally damaging activities and would fund environmental repair when damage is unavoidable. The Greens are correct in thinking that the costs which are currently externalized are massive. It is important to note that many of these costs are not actually paid by anyone at the moment; the environmental damage just takes place and is not remediated by any public expenditure. Internalising these costs would seriously cut into the profitability of privately owned industry and agriculture.
Other restrictions on business would also affect profitability and wealth. There would be a ban on the use of family trusts to avoid tax, company tax would go from 36c in the dollar to 'at least' 49c in the dollar, there would be no tax deductibility for fringe benefits such as company cars, all share dividends would be taxed. These are all forms of increased taxation of the rich. Another policy that would affect profitability is the reimposition of tariffs to protect domestic industries to create a more self sufficient Australia. The result would be increases in the prices of goods used by industry and previously imported at a lower cost. Various measures would have particular effect on multinationals in Australia; a general policy of reducing foreign ownership and debt; the taxing of multinationals that attempted to use transfer pricing to conceal profits in Australia; the banning of all imports that were produced in countries where workers did not receive decent wages and work in good conditions; the banning of imports from countries that had not achieved food self sufficiency and environmental protection. The government would use increased overseas aid to encourage poor countries to grow their own food. If successful this could have a serious effect on our food export industries; for example much of our wheat currently goes to Indonesia, a country which in which local food production sometimes comes second to cash-generating export industries.
Adding to all this, we can mention all of the policies that in various ways seek to regulate and prevent environmental damage caused by industry and agriculture. These will be discussed in detail later, but it is easy to see that they involve an increase in the expense of production, an increase in the price of goods and a reduction in the profitability of investment as markets effectively shrink. For example the phasing out of coal and oil-fired power stations and their replacement with more expensive alternative energy options has implications for all industries that make use of electrical power.
Finally, if all this was not enough, the capitalist class is expected to wear a massive reduction in their power to control labour. This comes on two fronts; workplace democracy and the guaranteed adequate income. In many of the Green documents, there is a commitment to workplace democracy. For example, in the policies of the Australian Greens it states that all employees should be provided with work that is 'safe, satisfying, and socially useful' and all workers have a right to be involved in 'participatory planning'. More extensively, the Greens aim to develop 'flexible and democratic workplace patterns and structures' (Australian Greens 1999, pol-soc 3.1). Similar statements are made in the NSW policy documents. The connection between 'satisfying' work and participatory control over work is well made. It is hard to be satisfied in a work situation where one is treated as an object to be ordered about regardless of one's own inclinations. Yet as many commentators from Marx onwards have pointed out, this is the necessary precondition of capitalist production (Marx 1978). Workers sell their labour power to the owners of the means of production. Ultimately, marxists argue, the wealth of the capitalist class is the difference between the value that workers produce and the value of the workers’ pay. Workers have little control over their work and no control over its distribution — the product of their work is owned by their employer. The result is that most people are not satisfied with their work. It is merely something you have to do to make a living (Braverman 1974; Cardan 1974; Pfeffer 1979; Sennett & Cobb 1973; Willis 1983; Willis 1990).
What all this means is that the power to control work is essential for the capitalist class to maintain their wealth and profits. If workers had any real control over production, owners would have no assurance of making a profit. Workers might decide to raise their wages to the point where no profit was taken. They could give away their products rather than allowing the capitalist owner to sell them on the market. They could decide to produce another product entirely. They could just go slow and refuse to change their production methods to allow the employer to make a profit. The Greens’ promise to give ‘democratic’ control to the workforce is not meant seriously or it is a challenge to the power of the capitalist class at its key point of power.
The ‘guaranteed adequate income’ scheme is another challenge to the power of the capitalist class to control labour. Under this proposal, people who were out of the paid work force for any reason, including a decision on their part not to work, would be paid an income which is described in Greens’ policy documents as adequate to ensure that ‘people enjoy self-esteem, security and material comfort whether or not they have paid jobs’(Australian Greens 1999, pol-soc 1.2c). The relative affluence of life on the GAI is necessary if the scheme is to work to produce environmental benefits. Its intention is to remove the stigma from unpaid work. People would be adequately paid even if they chose to engage in voluntary work, ‘such as caring in the home and volunteer work in the community’, including organic gardening and earth repair (The Greens NSW 1999, work 1.7). People would be able to move in and out of the paid workforce. There would be a reduction of hours of paid work and an inevitable reduction in the production of consumer goods in paid work. This is the environmental payoff of the GAI policy. It would break what is a vicious cycle from the environmental perspective. Need for income — paid work — increased production and demands for consumer goods as compensation — need for income.
What I want to suggest is that this policy is a nightmare for the capitalist class, since it means that people are under little pressure to put up with work situations in the paid workforce that are not democratic, enjoyable or socially useful, as the Greens suggest they should be. Like the policy on workers’ control, it would actually deprive the capitalist class of effective control over the workforce. Presuming that it was ever actually implemented as promised, the outcome would be the quick demise of capitalist industry and the subsequent appropriation of deserted factories and farms by the community!
The summary of the Greens’ assault on capitalism above might give the reader the impression that the Greens intend some replacement for the system of private industry and employment that now dominates society. However, much in the Greens’ policy documents suggests that this is not the case. For example they write that ‘criteria such as profitability and efficiency are important in structuring a workplace’, even if they are secondary to the provision of safe, socially useful and productive work (Australian Greens 1999 pol-soc 3.1). Clearly, what is intended is some kind of balance. The power of the marketplace is reduced while market principles, private ownership and paid employment are still of very major importance in society.
So far I have looked at two issues that arise here. One is that the capitalist class would correctly see much in these initiatives as a serious threat to their current power and wealth. The broader policy documents of the Greens do not actually announce this diminution of capitalist power as policy but they clearly envisage it as advisable. A second is that some of these proposals actually seem radically inconsistent with the capitalist class continuing to have any power at all, and to entail the actual dissolution of private ownership. This is not acknowledged at all and goes against the whole drift of the Greens’ strategy for government, which is a strategy of balancing the requirements of private industry with those of social justice and the environment.
Looking at these issues, what is not discussed, whether in the pamphlet or in the policy documents, is the likely reaction of the capitalist class to such measures. As the recent book ‘Global Trap’ documents, the most likely reaction of the capitalist class to even a mild assault on their privileges, would be to withdraw capital and investment from any country that attempted such a programme. The effects on the economy would be devastating. In a summary of the current situation the authors note:
At a world level, more than 40,000 transnational corporations of varying shapes and sizes play off their own employees (as well as different nation-states) against one another. A 40 per cent capital gains tax in Germany? That’s much too much: Ireland is happy with 10 per cent, while Malaysia and some states in the USA have done without anything at all for five to ten years. Forty-five marks an hour for skilled labout? Much too expensive: Britons work for less than half that, Czechs for a tenth. Only 33% subsidization of new plant in Italy? Much too little: in Eastern Germany the state gladly contributes 80 per cent. (Martin & Schumann 1997, 7)
Giving examples of the way this power can be used to control political processes, the authors consider such examples as recent developments in Sweden. Sweden, as they note, was once famous for its high taxation and extensive social welfare provisions. Since the late 1980s, these restrictions on capital encouraged Swedish companies and owners of wealth to move more and more jobs and capital overseas. The government was forced to cut taxes on higher incomes and had to follow this up by cutting back social services. In 1994, heads of Swedish companies threatened to move their companies abroad unless the government reduced the budget deficit and cut still more out of government spending. These announcements led immediately to a situation in which the governments’ fixed interest bonds could not be sold, ‘the exchange rate of the krone nose-dived, and share prices followed in its downward path’(Martin & Schumann 1997, 67-68). Interest rates for the government and all other borrowers of Swedish crowns soared. The government caved into the pressure and announced severe cuts to their budget.
There is no doubt that developments of this kind would be the immediate reaction of company owners and multinational businesses in Australia, if the Greens were to begin to put in practice even a small part of their programme. If the party remained committed to its policies the ultimate outcome would be a severe recession in Australia with soaring unemployment and a great reduction in the taxes available to the Greens as companies ceased business and wealthy employees lost their jobs. This disaster would be accompanied by a massive increase in benefits payable to the unemployed, which would already have been increased by the GAI. The supposed revenue which the Greens had intended to use to provide for environmental reform would be cut drastically by these developments.
In the context of a book written for European readers, authors of 'The Global Trap' recommend a Europe wide assault on capital as the only solution. They argue that companies would have to wear higher taxes, higher wages and environmental reform if these solutions were adopted by every country in the European union at once. They believe that the capitalist class could not afford to cut its investments in every European country simultaneously. I do not find this argument very convincing, as the book itself shows how easy it is to locate profits and industries in countries outside Europe that are desperate for investment. At any rate, the solution they advise has no immediate application to Australia. There is no obvious partnership of countries that we could join that could challenge the power of global investors by threatening to remove a sizeable part of their world market.
The arguments cited here against the feasibility of policies like those of the Greens are quite commonly made and many authors of Greens' policies must be aware of them. My own feeling is that the Greens half expect that Australia would be economically isolated if their package of reforms was to be enacted. My guess is that they believe that a rapid move to government ownership or government funded worker cooperatives could deal with such problems. If necessary, productive property that was deserted by its owners could be confiscated without compensation. They hope that a mixed economy would still work, with local capitalists maintaining ownership of their companies, even though foreign capital deserted the country. This solution could only intensify global economic sanctions against Australia.
In this scenario, only a small portion of the economy would remain capitalist. For the rest, a soviet style economic system would operate, but without soviet style political dictatorship. The Greens would aim to contain the effects of this crisis so that the result was not massive unemployment and poverty. The unemployed would receive the GAI or be re-employed in government owned companies. The state would merely make sure that the money supply matched the productivity of private and government industry and all employees would experience sharp real drops in their purchasing power. In the context of a soviet style economy, the 'printing money' solution, so stigmatized in its appearance as One Nation policy, would not just be advisable, it would be implied by the reality of these new ownership structures.
Two problems with this scenario are a good note to conclude this section. One is that the full extent of the Greens' package might in fact imply the replacement of capitalism rather than the mixed economy of regulated capitalism that Greens' policies announce as their intended goal. Further than this, the immediate outcome of economic disaster that I have sketched is nowhere announced to the electorate, in either campaign pamphlets or in the longer policy documents. It is not even discussed as a possible outcome. This is despite the fact that the phenomenon of 'capital flight' is frequently mentioned by run of the mill commentators in the middle class media in Australia. Even less is the large scale replacement of private ownership by government-owned industry and agriculture envisaged anywhere. From the point of view of the electorate, the suspicion that the Greens are 'extremists' is totally justified since their policies would represent an extreme assault on current economic stability in Australia. Worse than this, the suspicion that they are just 'politicians' who are manipulating the electorate is also justified since the full implications of their policy package are neither announced nor discussed. Whether voters consciously perceive these issues is hard to say. I suspect that their response to the Greens' campaign pamphlet would be to rightly suspect that it could not be easy to implement all these highly desirable reforms. They would wonder whether the Greens were naive or were hiding something.
The sense in which the Greens bolster the manipulation practiced by the major parties is as follows. The Greens only mention one part of their assault on capital, the increase in company taxes. However the pamphlet says nothing about the way the capitalist class would predictably react to this increase and their other measures. The implication is that these measures are some kind of mild reform that could be implemented in the context of business as usual. This goes along with the mystifications practiced by the major parties. Neither of these parties ever clearly communicate to the electorate that not a lot can be done within the constraints imposed by multinational capital. Instead, they always suggest that 'the right package' of reforms will achieve all the goals that the electorate desires. Disillusion with the failure of any political package to deliver is one of the main causes of distrust of political parties. Paradoxically, the Greens could do a lot better by admitting that their policies entail major sacrifices in private consumption and would involve wholescale disruption of the economy through capital flight. The Greens cannot remove people's suspicion that they are 'extremists' and might have more success by coming clean about what their extremism implies.
If the Greens were to accept my analysis here, their pamphlet might include a statement of the following kind:
Many people have realized that the only way to fund adequate government programmes and environmental reforms in Australia is to tax the rich. It is also clear that tighter regulation of industry and agriculture is the only way to stop environmental damage. However it is usually argued that the rich would respond by pulling their investments out of our country, and pulling the plug on Australia's international trade.
If this happened, there is no doubt that it would be a difficult time for all of us. However the Greens are confident that a spirit of cooperation and common purpose would lighten this hardship. We would take over the industries that rich investors deserted. The Greens in government would make sure that we all had secure jobs and an adequate standard of living. What we have to gain is control of our own country , turning Australia into a world model for an environmentally sustainable future.
Social Policies of the Greens
The Greens are often thought to be fixated on environmental issues to the detriment of all other concerns. The reality is that the Greens’ policies on a range of social issues are quite thorough and it is clear that their policies place them on the left of the Labor party, as critics of both the Coalition and the increasing pragmatism of the Labor party in office. Of all the policy headings in the pamphlet, only three out of the eleven deal with exclusively 'environmental' issues. One of the non- environmental headings is 'Taxation', which I have already discussed. The other seven are indigenous issues, employment, industrial relations, public assets, health, cultural diversity and social services. On all these issues the Greens put forward a left wing position. For example they want to keep public assets such as Telstra in public hands, expand Medicare, restore and improve child care, aged care, education and welfare. They want to use public money to create jobs to deal with unemployment, they want to defend and extend the power of unions and the arbitration system. They support Aboriginal land rights, and oppose race, gender, sexual and ethnic discrimination.
This is in no way a new agenda for the Greens and what is particularly interesting from the interview data is that few interviewees perceived the Greens as a left wing party in this sense. One of the most common comments of interviewees was that they might consider voting for the Greens if they had some policies on issues other than the environment and that it would be irresponsible to vote for a party that was exclusively focussed on one issue. For example, Beth, a middle class woman responded to a question about whether she would ever vote for an environmentalist party with the following statement:
If they were sensible enough about it and it wasn't just. I mean you can't just vote for someone because they've got some environmental issues that they want fixed. Because that's not going to help run the country.
Another widespread concern is that the policies of environmentalist parties would disadvantage the working class. For example Petronella, whom I have mentioned before, discussed these issues by linking the supposed narrowness of environmentalist concerns to the danger to the working class and the disadvantaged:
Maria: With people with Green politics, do you think issues like poor housing is, like, presented?
Petronella: No. I picture the Green politics just to care about the environment, not really with people. I picture them to be more concerned with environmental issues, not with people issues.
She linked this to the way environmental reform would disadvantage the working class by removing working class jobs:
I think the working class will be disadvantaged. Because if environmental issues are pushed, that means there'll be less jobs for the people who work in industries that are destroying the environment, so the working class person will be the most disadvantaged by the environmental movement.
This was a very common perspective amongst my interviewees and often it was linked to specific cases of environmentalist concern, such as forestry, fishing, housing development or heavy industry.
Clearly, one could say that people's ignorance of Greens' real concerns for social justice reflect a media dominated by capitalist interests. However I would argue that this media conspiracy is effective partly because there are some real alliances between the capitalist class and employed people in relation to environmental issues.
In the following discussion, Martin, who is Mandy's husband, begins by pointing out some of the environmentalist issues that he supports and Mandy's sister, Adelle, agrees. However, following earlier negative comments from Adelle about environmentalists, I try to probe the difference between Greenpeace's protests on the water, which she supported, and environmentalist opinions on forestry issues:
Martin: Well they don't actually all go on just forestry alone, do they, the greens? Well, Greenpeace, you got that.
Adelle: I like the ones on the water.
Mandy: ((Laughs)) You like the ones on the water!
Terry: Well, yeah, yeah. That's interesting, so you kind of, when they're saving the whales, you think that's fine, you don't have a problem with that?
Terry: Is that because it's not involved in our jobs in Australia, is that the big problem with the other stuff?
Mandy: I'm just wondering Adelle, if that opinion of it had any to do with Dad working in, when he used to work in the, when he used to work with the logs years ago.
Adelle: Or even Mick was saying around the work.
Mandy: Yeah, see we come from a real country family. We all come from the bush.
Martin: That's why I was going to bring that up, from Scone. And what's the name of that where they're logging up there? Barrington Tops. Well they're logging there now, Adelle's uncle, Mick. Well anyway, he's, he's a man on the country all his life and he's explained it to us.
Adelle: And he knows the land.
Martin: And he said. What they're chopping down now is nothing to what's going to grow anyway and he's saying, they've just picked a little spot which people are making money on and causing a ruckus over really nothing, yet ...
Mandy: See, most of our family, they come from Wauchope and it used to be a timber town. And I think maybe a lot of our views about chopping the trees down and the unemployment whatever. I think that's possibly.
Terry: So are you worried that the environmentalists are, you know, going to wreck the timber industry.
Adelle: Ohh, no. I don't think they'll ever do that.
Mandy: ((Laughs)) Those bushies stand firm.
In the later part of this discussion Martin, Mandy and Adelle collaborate to reject environmentalist attacks on the logging industry. Their presentation of these issues refers to an Australian icon - the 'man on the country' who 'knows the land' - in opposition to impractical city folk who base their views on mere theory or sentiment, a dichotomy popularised in the Crocodile Dundee movies. For Mandy, Adelle and Martin, this iconic support is mustered in defence of working class jobs. The problem with environmentalists is that they attempt to prevent activities that 'people are making money on' with a consequent danger to jobs. Adelle and Mandy have both a father and an uncle involved in the timber industry. They identify themselves with these people as members of their family, including them in Mandy's statement 'we come from a real country family'. Adelle and Mandy round off this discussion by arguing that environmentalists will never defeat the united power of the country people - 'those bushies stand firm'. The term 'bushies' conveys the concept of a popularist cross-class alliance of people involved in the same industry - timber production, fitting with Beck's view that environmental issues can disrupt traditional class political boundaries (Beck 1995a; 1995b).
Two different contexts are relevant to this issue. The first context is environmental campaigns with the Greens as a minority party in parliament; the second is the stated policy of the Greens as a recipe for government. In the first context, the result of a successful environmentalist campaign can be to reduce employment. Obviously the key example is forestry but many other kinds of environmentalist campaigns create similar conflicts. Taking some examples from my local area, battles to retain urban bushland in the Hunter Region are always fought in the context of jobs. Developers propose construction of housing in the most profitable areas - next to beaches and Lake Macquarie, and are correct in arguing that housing developments at these sites are likely to be successful because the locations are sought by home buyers. Those who are resisting these developments are accused by all and sundry of depriving the unemployed of potential jobs. The proposed new airport for Newcastle is also a case in which protection of wetland habitat and environmental amenity for Newcastle residents is pitted against the argument of jobs. In all cases like this, a good argument is that when environmental campaigns are successful, existing jobs are lost or promised jobs do not eventuate. For an electorate that is extremely concerned about unemployment, this is always a relevant issue.
Environmentalists can fairly respond that they in fact advocate generous redundancy packages or the creation of alternative work for those who are put out of a job. Such proposals are often advocated by peak environmental lobbying groups as well as by the Greens as minority parties. This argument does not work very well when jobs are merely promised. The Greens undoubtedly believe that a job promised is not a real job since abolishing it does not cost any real person their job. But as I have argued, the public perception of a conflict between the environment and jobs is also premised on cases where jobs are promised.
The problem of promised jobs is one issue. A more central one is that as a minority pressure group the Greens do not control the whole agenda in which environmental decisions are made. The Green Party and environmentalist lobby groups can have an influence. A sustained campaign, backed by real pressure from the electorate, may actually stop a particular development from going ahead. However, for the mainstream parties to go further than this and actually fund replacement jobs or redundancy packages is very unlikely. Since the major parties have no intention of taxing the rich, the funds for such initiatives would have to come from taxes on the middle and working class. This would be politically difficult. It would also be politically difficult to single out specific groups of redundant workers for special favoured tretment. A largish part of the rest of the electorate is struggling on unemployment benefits or badly paid in jobs that they detest. Politically, the singling out of groups - - such as forestry workers - for special treatment will be seen as grossly unfair by other groups in the community that have been made redundant by the usual operations of the capitalist economy. The mainstream parties could not offer everyone a generous unemployment income. Such an offer would increase demands on government revenue and also drive up the cost of labour across the board.
So, although there may be a few instances where special treatment is seen by major parties as the answer to political pressure from the working class, mostly environmental campaigns will only win at the cost of jobs. The result of all this is that the electorate correctly perceives environmentalists as contributing to campaigns that may cost jobs. It is of little avail to protest that environmentalists have another solution to these problems since the outcome is controlled by other parties.
The context of the Green Party in government is more difficult to discuss. I find it hard to assess whether the Greens' package for government would increase or decrease hours of paid employment taken as a whole. In a way, issues such as possible capital flight and international isolation make it impossible to forecast the outcome. Often, it is suggested that environmentalist proposals will actually create jobs. The NSW Green Party is quite definitive in their pronouncements on this matter:
The Green movement has been inaccurately portrayed by mainstream media as a movement which wants to stop progress and put people out of work. In fact, the task of creating a sustainable society will create more work than it eliminates. Much more human endeavour will be needed to ensure that the best use is made of our resources and that environmental degradation is minimised (NSW Greens 1999, industry policy 1.3).
There is a certain logic to this position. For example, if we were to impose a carbon tax, as the Greens' policy advises, the money would be used to improve and expand public transport, to develop alternative energy sources, to reduce taxes on employment, such as payroll tax, and to compensate low income earners so their overall spending capacity was not greatly reduced (Australian Greens 1999, pol-ecom 126.96.36.199). All of these uses of the carbon tax would increase employment. As well, the carbon tax would mean that alternative energy would become more attractive in the marketplace, leading to the creation of jobs in that industry.
Against this is the fact that to be effective a carbon tax would have to bring up the price of fossil fuel so that fossil fuels were in competition with what are now more expensive alternative sources of energy. The result would be that power would become more expensive, leading to an increase in the price of all commodities that made use of power, and a consequent reduction in consumption and employment in the rest of the economy. These considerations apply to almost every policy of the Greens in which government intervention is to be used to redirect the economy to more sustainable outcomes. Nothing at all is said about this issue in the policy statements of the Greens. It is hard to predict how these two factors would balance out. Taking transport as another example, would reduced spending and employment in private transport be balanced by increased employment in public transport? Initially, the creation of the new infrastructure of public transport would be a massive project but ultimately, there would be less employment as well as less energy used by a system that replaced 30 cars with one bus.
Overall, I would argue that any policy which has the goal of reducing consumption would have to reduce hours of paid employment, at least in the long run. Another comment in the NSW Greens' policies relates to this:
The introduction of labour saving technology and more efficient work practices has resulted in massive increases in productivity, and therefore company profits in recent years. Workers should also benefit from this, but instead of large pay rises it should be in the form of shorter working hours (NSW Greens 1999, work 2.3.4).
The point is that if workers were to take this increase in productivity in the form of increased wages the result would be an increased demand for consumer goods. This would not be compatible with reducing consumption to a sustainable level. So in this policy statement, what is envisaged is actually a reduction of working hours across the board; in other words a decrease in paid employment.
I note that in the Greens' policy documents, specific policies address the problems of redundancy in forestry by promising generous 'structural adjustment' packages - presumably including large redundancy payouts (NSW Greens 1999, forestry and wilderness 2.2) As well, a more general promise is made on these matters to 'support the creation of adequate compensation programs for people and communities who are socially or economically disadvantaged through policy shifts towards ecological sustainability, e.g. the mining and timber communities' (NSW Greens 1999, social equity 3.3.4). However, if the Greens were actually in government they would face a political problem with this which would be similar to that faced by the mainstream parties today. In the context of the Greens in office, it would be difficult to award generous redundancy payments to specific groups in the population, when a large group of the rest of the population would be living on a guaranteed adequate income that would fall well short of the median wage. How many of those on the GAI would be unemployed because of Green restrictions on private companies? It would be hard to say which groups were the specific victims of environmental regulation by the Green government. It would become very difficult politically to single out particular groups in the workforce for special compensation in cases where their jobs had been abolished through Green legislation. Instead, all those unemployed through the changes in the economy that followed on implementation of Green policies would have to get the same basic package - free retraining; new government-funded employment opportunities in setting up environmental infrastructure; the GAI. Understandably, many employees would prefer existing well paid jobs to this scenario.
Despite these cautionary remarks, the Greens' policy for government is a lot less ambivalent on the issue of jobs than the actions of Greens as a minority party or as community activists. In government the Greens would intend to employ everyone who really wanted a job, while cutting work hours and providing the GAI as a means to reduce overall hours of paid employment and distribute them fairly. If private industry failed to provide adequate employment for those displaced by Greens' policies, the Greens would move to expand government employment, if necessary by taking over and replacing areas of the economy that had ceased to be profitable for private companies.
In the current context the main political problem with the Greens' social policies is that people do not take them seriously. They believe that Green policies would lead to unemployment because of a current context in which almost every environmental struggle involves an attempt to save the environment at the expense of existing or proposed jobs. While most people do not think this is an easy choice, they often support jobs at the expense of environmental values. They see the environmentalist movement as pursuing environmental goals at the expense of jobs, especially working class jobs. The Greens could do better by addressing this issue directly, rather than just by presenting a range of social policies that people take to be mere window dressing. A candid discussion might make the following comments:
The Greens are not a party that is only interested in environmental issues and ignores everything else. On questions of inequality and social welfare, the Greens stand for the values that have been deserted by the Labor party in recent years.
As a minority party in parliament, the Greens will support policies to defend and expand government services such as Medicare, public education, and social welfare. We will support the capacity of employees to defend their wages and conditions through the arbitration system and union action. We will attempt to persuade the major parties to do something effective about unemployment by funding job creation.
Many people think that environmental protection costs jobs. Sometimes this is true. It is unfortunate that we have an economic system which makes us choose between jobs and the environment. In this situation, the Greens believe that any one who loses their job because of environmental reform should be given a generous redundancy package. The major parties refuse to do this.
In government the Greens would rearrange work and employment completely. Hours of paid work would be reduced, making sure that everyone who wanted a job could get one. For those who preferred to care for children or engage in voluntary work, the government would provide a modest but adequate income. Much new employment would be required to create a sustainable economy at the same time as jobs in environmentally damaging industries would be phased out.
Environmental Policies of the Greens
Three headings in the Greens' pamphlet are devoted to environmental issues. They are 'environment', 'transport' and 'Sydney Airport'. On environment the pamphlet commands 'No uranium mines ... No woodchipping of old growth forests. No nuclear reactor'. The heading on transport issues demands an increase in public transport and bicycle routes. In relation to the airport the Greens call for the replacement of Kingsford Smith Airport in the centre of Sydney with an airport outside the Sydney basin, connected by fast train. Inevitably, this is just a sample of the elaborate detail of Greens' policy documents on environmental issues. I will sketch some of these policies with the aim of showing the extent to which the Greens plan to regulate and intervene in the economy. The expense of many of these reforms implies either a drastic increase in government revenue or a sizeable reduction in the profitability of much private business, or both. Beyond this, the outcome, partly acknowledged, is a reduction in private consumption. Another issue is the massive increase in bureacratic control of private and business action. Looking at the interview data, we can illustrate the unpopularity of a programme of this kind and suggest some of the reasons why people reject it. The cost of such a programme and its impact on the economy is outlined in some studies that have been made by environmentalist writers. Marxist critics also wonder whether this degree of interference in the private economy would allow the mixed market /government economy model of the Greens to actually work economically.
I will focus on two policy documents of the NSW Greens to begin this discussion, Transport Policy; and Coastal Management Policy.
Beginning with Transport Policy, the election pamphlet notes that Howard committed '$5000 million for roads but only $40 million for rail and nothing new for urban public transport'. The NSW Greens Transport Policy of course deals only with NSW and the total cost of proposed changes is not given in the policy. The major source of funding for the proposals is undoubtedly the fuel levy. The policy claims that a fuel levy at eight cents per litre would gain $250 million dollars annually in Sydney alone, which could be put into public transport and bicycle transport infrastructure (NSW Greens 1999, transport 3.12.1). If we estimate the share of Federal transport spending on NSW as $1000 million, it seems as though the Greens are suggesting that their new transport policy could be funded without any overall increase in taxes - in other words, the fuel levy in the whole state, combined with some other taxes that I will mention, as well as some use of PAYE taxes if necessary, could pay for the whole program without actually increasing government spending on transport. I find this implausible. For a start, the Greens would have to continue maintenance of the existing road network, even though all new road building would cease. Secondly, the list of major proposed transport innovations to be funded by Government within the Greens policies would dwarf the fairly minor improvements in roads funded by the Howard government, the most expensive of which have been upgrades to major highways and some new urban motorways in Sydney.
There is a strange gap in the Greens' discussions of the financial aspect of these policies. On the one hand, they say that users of private transport - such as private car drivers and the road haulage industry should pay for 'the full costs of their transport choices', including what are now such externalities as 'environmental and social impacts, the costs of traffic congestion and damage to roads' (NSW Greens 1999, transport 2.2.4; 3.18.8). The main vehicle for this policy is to be the fuel levy, but this is is to be supplemented by parking fees and fines, as well as tolls and financial penalties to developers of new real estate in areas without adequate public transport (NSW Greens 1999, transport 3.5.2). So these various taxes are to pay for road maintenance and the environmental costs created by private users. This is in keeping with the intention to internalize the costs of current transport choices. Yet on the other hand these taxes also have another purpose. They are also the only named source of funds for the new transport infrastructure that is to replace private motoring and road haulage.
The revenue required by the policy is not merely to cover the costs created by private users, without having to resort to PAYE taxation, but also to fund a whole new set of infrastructure innovations, also without having to resort to PAYE taxation. This is only possible if the revenue raised by these various levies is actually in excess of the amount required to fund the 'real cost' of private transport usage. From the point of view of the overall economy, the effect is the same as an increase in taxation, since a large number of consumers have their private disposable income reduced to pay for these new transport policies. It is a puzzling policy. It aims to depend on a group to fund public transport that the policy is designed to progressively eliminate. If the policy is successful, there are fewer and fewer funds with which to create the new green transport infrastructure.
To try and get an idea of the scope of proposed spending, we can list some of the major innovations in transport provision proposed by the policy. For example, the electrification of public transport, by creating trolley buses, light rail and new heavy rail lines would require a major investment of funds in all large cities, making the new electric vehicles, laying rail lines, where necessary buying land in urban areas for rail corridors, putting up cable lines, providing electricity supply and so forth. One of the aims of this policy is to phase out private motoring to achieve fuel self suffiency in Australia, so there is no doubt as to the extensiveness of this proposed increase in public transport infrastructure. Another goal with a similar implication is that the maximum door to door time for public transport between any two parts of Sydney would be 1 hour 15 minutes, with a public transport boarding stop less than 600 metres from everyone's front door. Some of the extra routes mentioned to achieve this goal are light rail services to the CBD, Warringah, the Eastern Suburbs, the Inner West and elsewhere, as well as new heavy rail lines between Parramatta and Chatswood and Hurstville and Chatswood. Other rail lines would be upgraded. For example, freight lines would have to be upgraded to cope with the increased demand that would result from a policy designed to increase the costs of road haulage, to remove its competitive advantage over rail. All public transport vehicles would be 'comfortable, and entirely accessible to cyclists, the disabled, frail, elderly, and bearers of reasonably sized goods up to 30 kilograms'. Clearly, all current buses, bus stops, railways stations, and train carriages would have to be considerably modified and vast new fleets of state of the art public transport vehicles would be provided to allow the convenience and speed of public transport promised in the policy. New infrastructure to support the use of bicycles would include secure, waterproof bike lockers at transport nodes to provide for 40% of Sydney's one million bikes. There would also be a building program to provide safe cycle ways both on and off road. Workplaces would have to instal lockers, bike security and showers for employees (NSW Greens 1999, transport).
Making an overall assessment of the cost of Greens transport policies in comparison with current policies is difficult. The costs to government of the present system are both direct and indirect. There is no doubt that endless construction of six lane roadways and repair of heavily travelled major roads is very expensive, and would be largely eliminated under these proposals. Some externalized costs of private transport, such as hospitalization of accident victims, are also paid by government. Against these undoubted costs of the current system, the cost to government of creating a totally different system of transportation, dependent on public transport and bicycles is itself major, and surely would have to be well in excess of the current annual government spending on transport. In the long run, it would have to be cheaper to the economy as a whole to move goods and people around the place in a more energy efficient fashion. But in the short run, public transport policy is one of many policies of the Greens which create an increase in the funds required by government and reduce the private spending available to the community. Even in the long run, the replacement of private transport is not without cost to the economy. Currently, the production of all these expensive machines for private transport is an important profit making part of the economy of any developed country, and provides employment. The hidden subsidies to car manufacturers and private car users are not an accident of lobbying by a powerful cartel at the expense of the rest of the economy; they are understandably seen as an incentive to maintain a profitable industry that employs people.
While public transport and bicycle users would undoubtedly find the Greens’ transport policy very satisfactory, those who preferred to drive 'their own' cars, as my interviewees so often put it, would no doubt experience it as a nightmare of regulations, inconvenience and increased expense. The increase in the cost of fuel through the fuel levy is probably the most obvious of these issues. Private car users would see themselves as paying for the creation of a public transport system which was driving them off the roads.
The most important issue in terms of convenience would have to be the planned takeover of sections of the roadway for public transport and bicycles. This is not clearly announced as Greens’ policy except in so far as the policy promises to create new legal means to effectively enforce transit lanes, reserved for buses. However this implication can certainly be drawn from other aspects of the policy. As stated above, the policy indicates that there are to be no new roads. It also announces that travel by light rail and trolley cars, on existing roads, with connections to heavy rail, will be arranged so as to enable trips across the whole of Sydney of no more than one hour fifteen minutes. As Sydney is already close to gridlock at peak hours, it would not be possible to achieve this outcome without reserving lanes in all existing arterial roads for public transport. As well, many arterial roads would also be narrowed for private cars by having bike lanes reserved as well as bus lanes. The obvious result is that it would not really be possible to commute except by public transport and bicycle. Driving private vehicles might be possible for trips outside of peak hour periods, but even then, traffic jams and time taken would multiply.
Other regulations of private transport are also proposed, such as a reduction in engine capacity for all new cars to a maximum of half the average current capacity of cars on the roads that have been built in the last five years. Exceptions would be allowed for people with a demonstrated need to use larger vehicles. Restrictions on engine size would be very unpopular with many current users of cars, who see their cars’ power and speed as expressions of wealth and masculinity. High taxes on parking would also be used to dissuade people from use of their cars (NSW Greens 1999, transport policy). As I will argue later, a lot of opposition to these measures would come from those who perceived them as bureaucratic interference in people’s legitimate choices of leisure and transport. Many people who might see the necessity for some change to public transport could also be unhappy about what would be perceived as forcing people to choose that option.
Coastal Management Policy
The ‘Coastal Management’ proposals of the NSW Greens have some similar implications. The ‘coastal zone’ is defined by the policy in terms of ecological boundaries, so that it is all land and water bodies ‘from the head of the catchments of watercourses flowing into the South Pacific’ and also includes the sea itself to three nautical miles offshore (NSW Greens 1999, coastal management 2.1). Some items of increased spending are the following.
A comprehensive, adequate and representative system of reserves and marine parks would be established, meaning that some current forestry land would be removed from commercial use or private agricultural land would be purchased. Later the policy speaks of a fund to acquire ‘significant coastal lands currently in private ownership’ (NSW Greens, coastal management 3.4).
This would be an expense to government in purchasing land for reserves. It could also be an expense to the economy as a whole. Some bushland now used for commercial forestry would be reserved. The industry could replace these sourcs with plantation timber or reduce production. Another impact on the economy would come about as some of the most profitable real estate development on the coast for housing or resorts was removed from private hands.
There would be a ban on beach haul fishing and coastal sand mining, another policy that would restrict currently profitable business enterprise.
There would be a moratorium on land clearing in coastal areas, up to five kilometeres from tidal areas, another policy that would restrict real estate development and agriculture.
No development would be permitted in areas that might be required for a ‘comprehensive, adequate and representative’ reserve system (NSW Greens 1999, coastal management 3,5).
This statement refers to requirements that each different assemblage of plant and animal species be protected through reserves and wildlife corridors that allow the maintenance of species biodiversity. To be effective this policy actually would require the buying up and replanting of some areas that are currently cleared for agriculture. The Carr Government has recently backed down from a set of proposals of this kind, reserving only a quarter of the forestry area recommended by scientists as necessary to preserve biodiversity.
Coastal cities, suburbs and villages are not to be allowed to expand beyond existing urban development, another policy which spells out the restrictions on profitable coastal real estate development and building.
High rise and multi storey buildings adjacent to the shoreline are not to be constructed; another reduction in profitable enterprise.
Wetlands are to be protected, even when they are currently in private hands; i.e. farmers will not be permitted to drain them or turn them over to the production of tea tree oil.
However the policy goes on to promise to compensate private landowners for this wetland protection, another drain on the public purse, already burdened with the acquisition of a comprehensive system of reserves.
The most expensive programmes are those to do with effluent disposal.
Sewage is to be recycled to ‘become a resource rather than a waste product’ (NSW Greens 1999, coastal management 3.20).
This means that all current disposal of sewage through ocean outfalls is to be abandoned. Instead the sewage will be pumped to inland treatment ponds and recycled through reedbed and sand filters, with the solids being extracted as fertiliser, the dissolved nutrients re-used by being pumped onto plantations and the water available for re-use. This is a massively expensive investment of new sewage treatment hardware, including the purchase of urban land for sewage disposal purposes.
Another policy is to stop ‘industrial, agricultural, and domestic pollution and discharges from entering waterbodies’(NSW Greens 1999, 3.21).
Aimed at zero pollution, this policy would impose heavy costs on every form of industry and agriculture, and would require the government to fund an extensive increase in bureaucratic supervision of the activities of private businesses.
For example in the case of agriculture, the use of artificial fertilisers is one of the main causes of effluent run-off, but even organic agriculture can produce effluent run-off. Another cause of effluent pollution is the feeding of animals in feedlots and cages. The most usual practice is for feedlot effluent to drain away to the nearest watercourse. To prevent such outcomes farmers would have to abandon farming practices which caused runoff to enter waterways or invest large sums of money in remedial measures. For example, farmers would need to fence off creek beds and plant reed bed systems to trap effluent run off from agricultural operations. They could use earth constructions such as swales and dams to trap water and effluent on their own properties. Such solutions are not cheap. Most farmers today would know that they are contributing to water pollution and would do something else if there was no cost involved.
While all these costs and regulations might be unpopular with taxpayers and businesses, another set of regulations for Coastal Management would interfere with what many see as their rights to leisure.
One of these is ‘banning the use of vehicles for recreational purposes on beaches, dunes and undeveloped headlands’(NSW Greens 1999, coastal management. 3.1.4).
This policy is aimed at the use of 4WDs in ways that harm the environment. It would add to those that would impede the use of private cars for city transport.
Another is ‘limiting the use of certain watercraft in sensitive coastal areas’ (NSW Greens 1999, coastal management 3.15).
This policy is designed to ban waterskiing and jet skis from areas with mangroves (or a potential for mangroves to be re-established), as well as in areas where their use conflicts with other less motorized leisure pursuits. Many consumers would regard this as an annoying affront to their leisure lifestyles, and even people not directly affected could see it as heavy handed state control of leisure.
The Environmental Policies as a Whole
These are but two of the environmental policy documents of the NSW Greens. There are also policies on rural land use, total water cycle, urban air quality, biodiversity, bushfire, coal, pollution, energy policy, planning and the built environment, industry, housing and national parks. All these policies combine the following elements.
They require a sizeable increase in government spending.
Their effect is to reduce the profitability of key industries and agriculture.
They would reduce employment in many cases, by increasing the costs of production, and reducing the potential number of sales of the product. While there might also be new jobs created by this programme there is no doubt that many existing jobs would be lost with a consequent sense of insecurity for those involved.
The overall effect would be to reduce the real purchasing power of many consumers.
They involve a massive increase in government regulation and supervision of industry, including bans, tax policies and incentives of various kinds.
They increase the regulation of consumer conduct in a great variety of new areas and would be perceived by many as an intrusion on their rights of choice as consumers.
The Unpopularity of the Greens' Environmental Package: Alienation Now and in the Mixed Economy
I will turn now to a discussion of the unpopularity of such a programme. My interviews suggest a number of key areas of this programme that are unpopular. In an earlier section of this paper I have considered the issue of unemployment so I will take it for granted here that unemployment and job insecurity are key issues - with environmentalists widely being perceived as cavalier in their attitudes to other people's jobs. However, objections to Green policy go further than this. Environmental regulation was frequently seen by my interviewees as a restriction in their control over their own private space and leisure options. For example, during my interview with the two industrial workers, a local incident was narrated to illustrate the annoying intrusiveness of new environmental regulations on backyard 'burning off':
I mean I burn a bit of rubbish, I got a chook pen at the back of my place, I had a tin, I burned a bit of rubbish, papers, you know, me personal papers, the old woman at the back there must have rung the brigade, the Fire Brigade they come along there and there must have been half a dozen blokes there, right and he's come in to my place there and he says, 'Is there a fire round here?' I said, 'Ohh, just burning a little bit of rubbish there', I said. They've got to be paid and all of them people they've got out there, you know, for what?
This statement encapsulates common themes in relation to environmental regulation. It is an intrusion on one's personal space and area of choice - these are 'personal papers', the Fire Brigade, a menacing half dozen men, come into 'my place'. The implication of their intrusion is that the interviewee is irresponsible and cannot make his own decisions about whether to burn off or not. The intrusion is invoked by the epitome of moralizing righteousness and surveillance, an 'old woman'. We can note the way Peter links the same themes to a discussion of regulations on commercial fishing. In the interview Peter told me that he and his son were keen amateur anglers and had a small runabout. In line with much recent discussion I asked him if he would support a ban on commercial fishing to replenish fish stocks in the area:
Well there again, Terry, I don't really - I don't really get involved in that sort of thing I mean - uhh, I mean if they're fishing they're fishing for a living, those guys aren't they? Why should I stop 'em. I mean they don't come up to me and say well listen, uhh, you've been there twenty years, how about giving me son a job, something like that, you know.
Here Peter suggests that the freedom of choice to be employed in any profitable industry is not something that should be interfered with by other people. It becomes unfair since you are controlling someone else's activity while you would resist control of your own activities. These are just a few examples of many instances in the interviews where people expressed their dislike of environmental regulations that were considered to deprive them of freedom of choice. A very common theme was that environmentalists had stopped people 'burning off' the bush with the result that disastrous wild fires had destroyed homes and farms.
Many interviewees were directly critical of environmentalist attempts to curtail consumption in any way. Petronella inveighed against recycled paper, claiming that it was of poor quality and had become so prevalent as a result of environmental pressure that it was difficult to buy anything else. She claimed she did not have time to recycle rubbish and opposed any government attempts to impose rubbish recycling:
Well I don't believe they should make it legalized and enforce people, enforcing them to recycle their rubbish. That's not really fair. I believe it should be up to the individual. Like they're just talking about taking away all the large bins and making people have small bins so that you're forced to recycle, but that's not really fair because I mean. What are you going to have? Fifty bins in your house. One for newspaper. One for glass. One for this. You've got no room. Your house will be a pigsty.
As with Peter, the term unfairness conveys the idea that environmental regulations are a kind of restriction of one section of the population by another section; they unfairly mandate one section of the population - environmentalists - to use the power of the state to determine the actions of another group. She defends her own refusal to recycle in terms of aesthetic choices that are related to a puritan horror of untidiness and dirt; seen as embodied in the 'disgusting' animal, the pig. She was equally militant on the topic of car ownership:
Maria: Because of the materialistic lifestyle, do you think resources such as oil are going to diminish?
Petronella: Yes, because people have become used to a certain standard of living. You know, everyone wants a car. You can't. There's not one person that doesn't aspire to have their own car. Or their own - sort of thing.
Here, she recognizes some of the environmental problems of car ownership but argues that freedom of choice must come first. The term 'aspire' is interesting because it implies that the desire to own your 'own car' is a kind of spiritual quest for self expression, a universal attribute of the human spirit. The way this is extended to other consumer goods is conveyed in the phrase 'or their own - sort of thing', which also suggests that it is the unique expression of individuality, 'doing your own thing' which is at issue. She generalizes this perspective to argue that it is impossible to curtail consumption through government regulation:
Maria: How do you think we can make people consume and waste less?
Petronella: I don't think you can do that. There's no way that you can force people. People are used to a standard of living. You can't make them change radically overnight. It's a slow process.
Here, she allows that it might be necessary to change people's behaviour, but this is only permissible as a slow change achieved through education and expressed in voluntary changes in behaviour. It is not ethical to 'force' people to change their behaviour through government regulation.
Attitudes of this kind were common among interviewees who rejected environmentalism and the environmentalist parties. To make sense of this, it is necessary to decipher the link between what marxists call 'alienated labour' and consumerism. When marxists say that labour in a capitalist society is 'alienated' they mean that people do not take creative pleasure in their paid work, what they do at work is ultimately dictated by those who own the company or direct the public body in which they work. They are not engaged in work which they themselves conceive as useful, important or interesting but in work which they are ordered to carry out, regardless of their opinions. As well, they have no control of the product of their labours. Disposal of the goods or services that they produce is in the hands of the company or department. The reason why people work, despite their resentment and resistance to this situation, is to earn money to live. Ultimately this alienation from work comes about because the means by which things are produced, the 'means of production', are owned by the small few. To have access to the goods produced, ordinary people, the 'proletariat' must sell their labour power (Marx 1978, 66-125; 203-217).
In my own interviews I found dissatisfaction with work a very common theme in the accounts interviewees gave of their political positions. When Ian, Peter and Ken, the industrial workers mentioned before, were asked whether they felt their work was a contribution to the well being of the community they denied it. Instead they felt they were just there to do a job, to make money for the company. They were not appreciated for their work. Given the opportunity they would not work in the plant:
It's just a job. You're there to push the stuff out and you push it out. You're only. If you've got stuff to make for export, for America, we had a couple of months, a couple of years ago now, we haven't done that for a while. Well all you do, that's going to America. It's just a number on a screen. You know where it's going to. You just make it and that's it. Export stuff, it's just export stuff. You don't make much difference about it. The company don't give you a slap on the back and say, ohh well done, you done this, you done that, you don't get no appreciation, you're only just a number and that's it.
Following this there was some discussion as to whether managers might be rewarded with a new car if they exceeded their targets. They agreed that they had no way of knowing how the company might treat staff at the management level. They recalled occasions when the workers had been given some recognition after a year of very high production:
Ken: A few years ago, we broke the record and we were taken, the three or four departments, we were all taken to the rec club and they had food and beer and drinks for that afternoon, for four hours, that's, that was what they gave us, nothing else.
Ian: Bugger all.
Ken: We got a biro.
Peter: It didn't work.
A structural analysis that emphasizes alienation in work provides a context for explanations of the cultural dominance of consumerism. As Cardan puts it, the working class has put its political energy into improving its standard of living, in increasing the absolute level of the material goods that it receives for its alienated labour, leaving the issue of the control of the means of production, of alienation as such, basically untouched. These developments are not the result of some kind of capitalist conspiracy but represent an interaction between the working class and capitalists. The capitalist economy has come to depend on the expansion of the market in consumer goods that results from continuous working class pressure on wages (Cardan 1974).
Such an analysis sees consumerist materialism as a compensation for the frustrations incurred in alienated labour. People demand material goods in order to have some area of life in which they exercize power and make choices. This analysis is supported by ethnographic studies of the daily culture of first world industrial societies. Looking at the lifestyles of young people in Britain, Willis argued that their consumerism is far from mindless and passive. Instead, the creative use of consumer products assists people in developing social contacts, pursuing lifestyle choices formed and spread through friendship and informal association. It is in this realm that people are beginning to develop real alternatives to alienated labour. Using this interview material he argues that in the realm of alienated production, capitalism depends on stifling people's desires for free creative expression. By contrast in the realm of consumption, capitalism succeeds in marketing its goods and services by encouraging free creativity and hedonism in the choice and use of products. As a result consumerism is taken up in opposition to the repressions associated with work, production and schooling (Willis1990).
A contrasting ethnographic analysis by Sennet and Cobb looked at working class adults in the United States. The people interviewed for that study saw their material possessions as proof of their commitment to hard work and thrift. They valued possessions as signs of personal worth, as indications that they did not deserve the contempt and indignities heaped upon them. Their possessions proved they were worthy people in a situation where their class position was normally taken as a sign of failure, unintelligence or laziness. The powerboats, gas guzzlers and houses in the country that environmentalists understandably criticize are taken by these people as proofs of sober and serious industry (Sennett & Cobb 1973). Within my interviews this position was most often taken by older opponents of environmentalism. These people would often joke that the 'greenies' wanted to take us back to the 'stone age'. Their particular ire was reserved for the 'feral' wing of the environmentalist movement. They saw ferals as lazy and ill kempt young people who avoided employment and tried to big note themselves by silly political stunts.
What both these consumerisms have in common is the sense that material consumption is an arena of choice and power that is valued precisely because of the absence of choice, creativity and power in the world of paid work. In the present context materialist consumerism successfully offers itself as the main vehicle for enriching social and creative pleasures. This is because other avenues are definitively closed off. One writer who has made this connection is Theodore Roszak. He writes that while environmentalists castigate discretionary consumer spending for its environmental effects, they have 'been unwilling to recognize, let alone condone the connection between consumerism and the search for personal fulfillment' (Roszak 1992, 253). He argues that guilt inducing lectures will never work if one fails to ask why consumerism is so appealing. The desires that lie behind conusmerism are 'the craving for specialness, distinction, personal worth' (Roszak 1992, 252). These central desires get little outlet in a hierarchically ordered mass society, where organizations depend on suppression and control.
Looking at these issues, we can see why the Greens’ policies are so unpopular with much of the electorate. They combine increasing regulation of leisure and consumer choice with lower real wages and fewer consumer goods. There is an unwelcome intrusion of government supervision into the area that is closely guarded as a compensation for work. There is a threat to freedom of expression through consumer choice.
In the Australian context, the defense of the car is a potent symbol of these issues, and one that was taken up with great gusto by almost all my interviewees. The control of powerful machinery and the sense of being able to control one's direction constantly at whim become symbols for personal power and autonomy. The choice of vehicle as an expression of personal style is also an issue. As well, the car expresses another aspect of capitalist culture that is hard to avoid given the structure of work. As marxists point out, the individualized wage contract and the competition for jobs pits people against each other as individuals. At the same time cooperative action at work is enforced as part of the requirements of capitalist production. This context produces a community of strangers. Outside work, what is sought is voluntary social relationships. To travel on public transport in the company of 'strangers' is like an extension and intensification of the working day. The privacy of one's 'own' car and later 'house' is a refuge from other people and the enforced social contacts of work. Nothing less than a complete reorganisation of the experience of work could make public transport an 'attractive' alternative to the private car.
Clearly, we can use this account to understand resistance to environmentalist regulations at the present time and to the environmentalist program and policies now. We can also envisage the impact of these issues in a future mixed economy. In a future mixed economy, as proposed in Green Party policies, the problem of the relationship between alienated labour and consumerism would not go away. If most people were working in private employment or for some government department, they would still experience alienated labour. They would see their work as necessary to get a wage. Their experience of work would be that they did not have control over their work and were not generally choosing what work to do. Their work would not be the pursuit of what they themselves found interesting and useful but would be the implementation of instructions from above.
As in the present society, this experience would provide a powerful motive for the accumulation of private consumer goods as a compensation for paid work. As in the present economy, consumers would have lots of reasons to resist environmental policies that might diminish their private incomes or lead to unemployment on a lower income than that which they received in their job. As stated above, I doubt whether this situation could be mitigated to any serious extent by introducing elements of workplace democracy into the mixed economy. One might also note that in this situation, low-paid government-funded environmental repair work would be experienced as forced labour, just as it is in the present economy.