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Good idea: Starting from scratch

As the jobless count continues to rise, it has been predicted that bank bonuses could reach £6bn. Is this the sign of recovery, or is there an alternative? According to The Great Transition, a report from the New Economics Foundation (, there is.

Making the case for nothing less than a complete restructuring of society and the economy, it expounds the numerous problems of the old system. We were producing too much CO2, consuming too much and working too hard, despite growing inequality. Tying together climate change and social inequality, it predicts that a return to "business as usual", or a finance-driven society, will come at great expense, with up to £2.5trn in costs related to climate change and £4.5trn to social problems by 2050.

This is where it gets utopian, outlining drastic measures by which we could achieve a more equal society and save the planet in the process. Policy proposals start with the "great revaluing": "we need to make 'good' things cheap and 'bad' things very expensive", bringing environmental value to the centre of all decisions.

There is also the "great redistribution": a plan to give everyone a £25,000 community endowment to ensure equal opportunities. Funding would come from taxing inheritance by up to 67 per cent, thus reducing inherited inequality in wealth. If that isn't socialist enough for you, there are distinctly Marxist overtones in the suggestion that "company shares are progressively transferred to employees in a resurgence of mutual and co-operative ownership forms". It argues that markets must reflect social and environmental costs and be rebalanced against the public sector, making the state into "'us' and not 'them'".

Emphasising local production and community life, it suggests that a four-day week should be instituted to allow people to spend more time in their communities and reduce job losses, which will be inevitable as society becomes less profit-driven.

It's nice to see a bit of optimism in these austere times. The Great Transition's proposals are extreme, but that should not detract from the value of its message, which is that to ignore the two ticking time bombs of climate change and global inequality is dangerous and wrong. The report sets out steps that can be taken straight away (in the event that policymakers aren't keen to restructure the entire economy) and recommends that the government agree a global deal on climate change, reduce working hours, and introduce an eco-friendly tax. Well, you've got to start somewhere.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Mob rule