Command Economies, Coronavirus, Climate Change and Jobs

It has been obvious for many years that the climate emergency will only be solved by active government planning, direction and finance in what I have loosely called a ‘command economy’. The question of how our economy recovers after the coronavirus lockdown is paramount – business as usual (and climate catastrophe) or working towards Australia as a renewable energy superpower.

Writing in an irregular newsletter Peter Cook* President of the Dandenong Ranges Renewable Energy Association under the heading ‘Corona Conversations 3’ noted the following: “Last night on ‘The Drum’ and again on ‘Q&A’ some people were posing the question of what sort of society Australia wants to become post pandemic? A related and similar question is what sort of economy will we need and want? Outspoken climate activist from Gippsland Peter Gardner recently suggested that western governments “will move away from the ‘laisse faire’ of free enterprise towards that of a command economy”.

Cook added that “About the same time over 80 Landcare, environmental, farming and conservation groups suggesting a ‘hands on’ interventionist approach wrote to state and federal governments proposing the creation of 24,000 jobs in land rehabilitation as part of a post-pandemic stimulus package. Under the proposal, landscapes and infrastructure damaged by the recent drought and bushfires would be rehabilitated in part by people who had lost jobs as a result of COVID-19”.

Cook continued: “I hope this is a conversation that keeps going and that politicians realise that we should not go back to what was because community expectations of governments have changed permanently. In some ways, it is up to us to drive this conversation to where we want it to go. It may not become a command economy like Peter Gardner is suggesting…but it will need to be a much more proactive system of government.”

Another reader also questioned the meaning of ‘command economy’. She was worried in particular that the term meant an authoritarian government like that of China. In the blog that interested Cook I suggested that some form of conscription may be needed to direct labour to where it is most needed. Perhaps what I had in mind is a ‘mixed economy’ where capital and business has a role to play, albeit with them subservient to government and not the opposite (which is currently the case).

One historical example of an economic revolution of the sort that is needed is Germany in the 1930s when Nazi government direction, planning and coercion, saw the economy grow from the depths of depression in 1932 to one of substance and full employment by 1939. Business and capital played a significant role in this. This growth unfortunately involved the re-militarisation of Germany – achieved for all the wrong reasons and with eventually disastrous results.

This shows however, that governments have a major role to play and that it is possible to achieve the required changes. With noble and humanitarian aims and democratic and co-operative tools, the positive outcomes will benefit us all. Command economies and democracies are not mutually exclusive. The jobs suggested above by Cook, for instance, should involve far less government interference than is currently the case in the coronavirus pandemic. All that is missing is the will to act.

*Peter Cook can be contacted here.