It is too often overlooked in all the discussions about the “transition” to a net-zero emissions economy that the most consequential transition is that from democratic capitalism to feudal serfdom.
This is the conclusion of American demographer and “blue-collar Democrat” Joel Kotkin, who has highlighted that the supposedly well-intentioned green policies being adopted across the West come at enormous expense to the working- and middle-classes.
As Kotkin wrote in ‘Spiked’ earlier this year, “extreme climate measures have driven the loss of traditional blue-collar jobs in manufacturing, construction and energy, while other environmental regulations have boosted housing prices.”
Kotkin’s thesis is that the West is on the road to serfdom. Rather than maintaining our capitalist societies where a large, asset-owning middle-class underpin a stable democratic system, we are becoming stratified feudal societies.
Home and small business ownership are declining, especially among the young and the less well-off, a group of technocratic elites are establishing themselves as permanent rulers in the apparatus of the administrative state, and corporate oligarchs are coming to dominate both the economy and broader society.
This transition has been occurring for some time, but it has been accelerated by the COVID-19-inspired lockdowns and the zeal with which Western governments have thoughtlessly adopted net-zero emissions targets.
Both play out as an aggressive form of reverse Robin Hood asset stripping, taking from the poor and giving to the rich.
Australia is now officially committed to a net-zero emissions by 2050 target.
But beyond the slogan “technology not taxes,” the Australian people do not know how the government plans on achieving its newfound ambition.
The UK Treasury, by contrast, recently released a Net-zero Review report (pdf) which provides some detail of how the UK government expects to reach net-zero.
The report includes a surprisingly honest admission from the bureaucracy: “The costs and benefits of the transition to a net-zero economy will ultimately pass through to households through a range of different channels.”
It includes a helpful chart that shows that, regardless of the specific policy or mechanism, the costs of net-zero will always fall on households, that is, everyday mums, dads, and workers.
This insight is evident to many but is too often obfuscated.
The slogan “technology not taxes” is not only meaningless but deceptive too. The range of taxpayer-funded schemes means higher taxes. Subsidising certain kinds of energy, electric cars, or solar panels means higher taxes. Requiring businesses to adopt technology they otherwise wouldn’t mean higher prices and less choice—effectively a tax by stealth.
The report also notes that the “highest income households emit around three times as much carbon as the lowest income households.”
But for all their calls for higher-income earners to “pay their fair share of taxes,” the political left doesn’t seem to ask for them to cut their fair share of emissions.
In fact, all too often, “taking action on climate change” just means taking away the jobs, cars, electricity, food, and hobbies of the lowest-income households.
The Telegraph newspaper in the UK, reporting on the Johnson government’s plan to get to net-zero, has noted that lenders could be forced to abide by targets for energy efficiency certification before they provide home loans.
“This could mean more expensive mortgages for homes that perform badly, to encourage the take-up of measures such as wall or roof insulation,” the report said. “However, the government did not provide any extra measures to help support energy efficiency measures for homeowners, after the failure of its Green Homes Grant last year.”
Translation: achieving net-zero will likely require putting mortgages out of the reach of working-class families unless they “upgrade” their homes to make them less carbon-intensive. And the government does not fancy providing any support for such upgrades.
This is the kind of policy that will ultimately be required in Australia. Many homes and older apartments are poorly insulated and require, in the minds of climate zealots, too much heating in winter and too much cooling in summer, increasing their carbon footprint.
The effect is pernicious and regressive. The poorest households will be faced with the choice between paying even more for a home and being condemned to the renter class.
Some on the political left have pointed out that Australia’s emissions reduction efforts to date have essentially been achieved by bribing farmers to not develop their land, but that to get to net-zero will require a far bigger bat.
That is true. And Britain is showing exactly what this means.
Homeownership will only be available to those able to afford certain kinds of technology. Car ownership will only be available to those who can afford expensive electric vehicles. Electricity will become more expensive, and gas could be banned.
As Carlos Tavares, the head of car maker Stellantis, said recently, this will fundamentally change the West.
“I can’t imagine a democratic society where there is no freedom of mobility because it’s only for wealthy people [to own cars] and all the others will use public transport,” he said.
Kotkin’s predictions are now playing out in real time. He is one of a few disillusioned leftists who realise that when the largest corporations, banks, financiers, and technology companies, along with governments, align on a policy that voters never agreed to, it cannot be good for working people or democracy.