We had the chance to sit down with Paul, a well-known commentator and journalist, as he visited Bristol for a Festival of Ideas talk. He was economics editor on BBC Newsnight before joining Channel 4 News in 2013. During his fifteen years as a public service broadcaster he has covered stories as varied as Hurricane Katrina, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Occupy and the Arab Spring.

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What was the inspiration behind your new book?

I have been reporting on the financial crisis since the first day it began, in 2007 in the UK. I’ve seen it morph into a political and social crisis, particularly in Europe and America.  An economic system that doesn’t work leading into evaporating consent for democracy, the rule of law and human rights. And coming down the track is a new threat of algorithmic control. States and corporations using intelligent machines to control our behaviour.

I wrote the book because I believe there is a common core to these problems. The hollowing out of the human self over the past 30 years of free market economics, where we have forgotten how to be 360-degree human beings. We have become ‘eminently governable’; we can be pushed around. I argue in the book that the defence with all of these things begins with us, in the space between our brains and the tips of our fingers.

What does a Green New Deal look like?

The Green New Deal bill introduced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey in the US should be required reading in every school, and certainly every bank. It contains for the first time an inspired vision of how a market economy can engage in a rapid 10-year transition towards zero net carbon. Every car hybrid or electric, cities with free mass transport systems and a new energy system. The question is how to pay for it. It is not going to be easy.

There is a theory that central banks can just print the money. The government then runs a deficit and the central bank buys the deficit forever and you end up with Japan-style debt. Interestingly, I actually think that is sustainable, but I don’t think that is the only thing we need to do. We live in a world of constrained resources, and governments need to take seriously borrowing to investing in green technology and to create multiplier effects for that investment.

Has enough changed since the financial crash?

Since 2007, I’ve been saying that there is something structurally wrong with the economic model – I call it neo-liberalism but you can call it what you want. I believe it is a model of coercive imposition of market relationships into non-market parts of human life.  It produced a boom and bust cycle and that is what has gone wrong. We have gone on to add $57 trillion to the debt mountain. This indicates that there is something deeper wrong. We are now entirely reliant on central bank money for the dynamism of capitalism. 

The big banks can understand that they are effectively underwritten by the state and that will carry on for a long-time. Banks will survive as long as the central banks are keeping the economy on life-support with free money but I want to know, is it going somewhere?  What is a new form of capitalism that can manage a transition to a zero carbon economy and to a socially just form of capitalism? Ethical banks like Triodos have a role – and the first thing they can do is expand their footprint.

‘Clear Bright Future’ (Penguin Books) is out now from all good bookshops.

Paul was speaking in Bristol with the Festival of Ideas on Thursday 10 May 2019. A full recording is available here.

Triodos Bank UK will sponsor this year's Festival of Economics in November 2019. Sign up for information here.