Green Movement suggests new economic agenda, to include replacing GDP with the GPI, raising taxes on environmentally unfriendly products, raising capital gains and corporate taxes, and transitioning to renewable energy

by Billie Frenkel, Tani Goldstein 08.25.11

The tent city protests have placed the nation’s economic system at the front and center of the current public discourse. In addition to the government-appointed committee of experts and the one appointed by the protesters themselves, a solution seems to be emerging from unexpected quarters: An environmental New Deal.

This is an ambitious program formulated by the Israeli Green Movement, designed to shape a new – and green – economic policy for the State of Israel.

Movement members have recently put the finishing touches on a position paper called, “A Green New Deal for Israel.”

The document adopts the central points of a project entitled “Green Growth for Israel: Tomorrow’s Economy,” which is being formulated with the help of economists, environmentalists and social scientists.

The program draws its inspiration from similar projects carried out in other places around the world based, in turn, on a UN program, The Global Green New Deal, launched in March 2009.

In the position paper, the members of the movement demand comprehensive reforms in energy policy, so that energy production transitions to renewable sources – such as wind, sun and water. They demand that every future power plant be based only on renewable sources so that eventually all electricity in Israel is generated by them, such as in Norway.

According to movement activists, the transition to renewable energy could create 30,000 new jobs in R&D, plant installation and maintenance, and technology exports, in addition to the tends of thousands of jobs that would be added to the economy thanks to investments in recycling, water purification, and the improvement of public transportation.

The movement also demands to increase taxation on environmentally unfriendly products, such as fuel, large and/or old cars, and private swimming pools. In addition, they demand a reduction in taxes on environmentally friendly products, such as public swimming pools, recycling plants, and solar panels.

The movement also endorses the demand made by tent city protesters for accessible and affordable housing and the demand to raise capital gains and corporate taxes. According to the Green Movement, the moneys raised should go towards improving public transportation, developing renewable energy technologies, and improving Israel’s water situation.

Moreover, the movement opposed the National Housing Committees Law; instead of fast-tracking building permits in open spaces it demands implementing the construction of the 160,000 housing units that have already been approved but not yet built. This could be accomplished by means of cutting through municipal bureaucracy and building infrastructures.

‘GDP concept is bankrupt’

In order to measure the goals that have been suggested, the Green Movement proposes from the outset that the state exchange its standard tool for measuring growth for the GPI, or Genuine Progress Indicator, a tool used in recent years by some nations, such as the United Kingdom, instead of the traditional GDP.

The GPI, formulated with the help of the Association for Sustainable Economy, measures not only the scope of product, but also the rate of social equality or inequality, crime rates, the state of public transportation, green spaces left standing, and how the nation deals with its pollution problems.

It should be noted that, while Israel is relatively high up in the world in terms of per capital product, it is only in the middle range – that is, among developing nations – when measured by the GPI.

“The concept of the GDP is bankrupt,” says Racheli Tidhar Caner, co-chair of the Green Movement together with Prof. Alon Tal. “The government is happy to wave around the notion of economic growth. In that case, why are people taking to the streets? Don’t the numbers show that everything’s great? But that’s not what people experience.”

According to Tidhar Caner, “In the current economic system, children living next to polluting plant who come down with asthma are good for the economy, because money changes hands in their treatment. The external costs of parents missing days at work are not included in this arithmetic.

“The same is true of using private vehicles: When people buy more cars, are stuck in longer traffic jams, and use more fuel, the GDP goes up. But no one counts the cost of missing hours of work, air pollution, traffic accidents, and so on. The alternate index we’re suggesting includes all the costs, also the external ones, and is therefore more genuine.”

A Zionist pioneering vision

Within the Green Movement, there is a sense that the program provides answers to the demands made by the protesters. “The steps suggested by the program are based on the social democratic vision emerging from the middle-class protest demands,” says Tidhar Caner.

“The new public discourse presents a remarkable opportunity to explain the connection between a social economic view and an environmental economic view and to make it clear that they are one and the same and integral to the social vision of green organizations and the political vision of the Green Movement.”

Referring to the question of where the money is going to come from, she replies: “Our answer is that proper investment in green infrastructures, for example, can provide jobs. This is also true for taxation: it’s necessary to change the system and tax polluting and damaging conduct accordingly. Why, for example, should a plant be exempt from paying for the pollution it’s creating while the working person has to set aside almost half of his or her earnings to pay income tax?

“People who choose to drive enormous Jeeps in city centers should also pay higher taxes, because they pollute more than other drivers and take up more parking space. People who choose to use more polluting appliances should also pay more, while people who make a point of buying energy efficient appliances ought to be rewarded.

“This is true also of the real estate market: a young couple buying its first apartment should be eligible for benefits, while those buying second or third apartments should pay higher taxes.”

Still, people in the movement also hasten to point out the differences between their demands and those of the tent cities. “The protesters are worried about defining their protest as political,” says Sagit Porat, chair of the Steering Committee of Tomorrow’s Economy.

“But their protest is directed at government policies that have failed because of the failures of the government and its ideology, and therefore the desire to change things is of necessity political. We are proposing a different system; it is explicitly political and incorporates social solidarity and the closing of gaps with environmental thinking.”

Tidhar Caner stresses that even though some of the principles that the Green Movement would like to implement have already been adopted by various nations around the world, what the Israeli movement is proposing is a new, comprehensive vision that has not yet been put into practice anywhere else.

“We’re proposing long-term thinking,” she says. “You cannot manage a nation’s resources only on the basis of looking at the coming term in office. The resources won’t always be there and economic decisions have to take than into consideration.”

She further notes that “unlike other political parties, the Green Movement has much more than a platform: we have a far-reaching vision that suggests a different way to formulate policy. If Israel adopts it, we will be the first nation in the world to adopt such a vision in its entirety.

“After all, we are the descendants of the original Zionist pioneers, so let’s follow in their footsteps and also be the first to relate to our planet in a fair way, make a living off of it in the right way, and preserve it for the sake of the generations to come.”

[Translated from Hebrew by Susann Codish]

Source: ynet,7340,L-4113269,00.html