Goldsmith gives work to some under-employed SpinWatchers, like Claire Robinson and Jonathan Matthews on his spectacularly loss-making Ecologist – he has underwritten debts of £864,675 to date – though all they gave him for his money was ‘perhaps the world’s gloomiest magazine’ (Constant Economy, p 7).
The source of Goldsmith’s gloom is other people, and too many of them, or what he calls ‘simple mathematics’: ‘the human population is growing, along with our hunger for resources – but the earth itself isn’t’ (Ibid. p.10). Fear of other people is what the Goldsmiths talk about round the fireplace at night. Urbanisation, Goldsmith’s uncle Edward told the Alternatives to Growth conference in 1975 ‘is a particularly frightening prospect, since it is in the existing conurbations that the ills from which industrialized society is suffering are to be found in the most concentrated forms’ (in Dennis L Meadows (ed), Alternatives to Growth: a search for sustainable futures, 1977, p331). ‘It seems unnecessary to list these ills…’ added Teddy. Zac, worries about refugees, ‘the movement of hundreds of millions if not billions of people’ (Constant Economy, p 14).
But Zac’s mathematics is simplistic, not simple. He was expelled from Eton before they got on to multiplication, and can only do addition and subtraction, so he does not understand that by increasing productivity, people get more resources from the same earth.
Goldsmith has been told that the Green Revolution has increased yields, but does not believe it. ‘For decades, the dominant view has been that feeding the world requires ever bigger more industrialised farms’ Goldsmith protests, reluctantly admitting that ‘industrialisation of agriculture has sometimes increased yields, but it has also destroyed the very land we depend on’ (p 71). In World grain output rose from 400 million tons in 1900 to 1.9 billion tons in 1998, and yields per hectare have continued to rise (from 1.1 tons to 2.7 tons between 1981 and 2000). In the face of all the evidence, Goldsmith insists that more people could be fed if farmers gave up chemical fertilisers.
There are 6.6 billion people on the planet today. With organic farming we could only feed 4 billion of them. Which 2 billion would volunteer to die? Norman Borlaug, Green Revolution pioneer
Goldsmith cherry-picks – if that is the right word – the worst possible factoids, not bothering to check if they are right. So he says that Britain imports between forty and fifty per cent of its food (Constant Economy, p 70). But at the then Ministry of Agriculture, Farms and Fisheries pointed out, this estimate is wrong. Britain produces more than 100 per cent of its sheep, pork, milk, wheat, barley and oats; more than ninety per cent of poultry and eggs; more than 80 per cent of beef and veal, and potatoes. Only butter (77 per cent) cheese (65 per cent) and sugar (64 per cent) are lower than four fifths domestically produced (Britain, 2000, HMSO).
Goldsmith is not only reluctant to see the world fed he does not want it housed, either. ‘When politicians are faced with housing shortages, the reaction is always the same: promise to build more homes’ (Constant Economy, p 145). Goldsmith makes a good case against the Urban Task Force mantra that we must ‘build up, not out’, on the grounds that in-filling our cities will lead to overcrowding and worse. But then he goes on to say that the countryside ought not to be sacrificed either to ‘unnecessary homes’. ‘Unnecessary homes’? Nobody now thinks that Britain’s housing shortage is unreal – since the industry has for the last twenty years failed to build enough to replace its ageing stock. What is the thinking ‘blue skies thinking’ that Goldsmith is asking our politicians to make? Coyly, Goldsmith admits that in his book ‘there is an issue that deserves a chapter to itself but which has been omitted: population growth’ (p 21). Goldsmith’s solution to the energy question is similar: ‘generate less energy in the first place’ (p 111).
Goldsmith’s cautious case for curbing the masses subsistence and dwellings needs coercion to make it work. He has a curious attitude to state power. On the one hand, the businessman complains that government is ‘hugely intrusive’ with ‘the sheer volume of red tape, laws, directive and guidelines imposed’ (p 85). But in the next breath Goldsmith demands yet greater regulations. He wants regulations on animal welfare. And he wants regulations against ‘unfair competition’ from farmers in the developing world to stop them selling us ‘the same low-standard food from elsewhere’ (p 86).
With breath-taking hypocrisy, Goldsmith, who avoided paying taxes in Britain as a non-domicile until he was standing for election, says ‘we need a major shift in the tax bias, one that is dramatic enough to change behaviour and the way we do business’ – ‘our approach must be bullish and brave’ he says (p 29), though how that will not tempt his Tory pals to do as he did and avoid taxes altogether is not spelled out.
Still, a Goldsmith government can always try to terrify people into giving up more of their rights. Goldsmith has a load of scare stories that could have been culled from the pages of Ripley’s Believe it Or Not. Goldsmith warns that one in every hundred three year old girls are entering puberty ‘could that be linked to GM soya based infant formulas’ he asks: ‘We don’t know’ (p. 49). And then there is the threat from ‘the genetically engineered klebisella’ which ‘could theoretically have ended all plant life on this continent’ (p 51)!