Planning After the Pandemic – Imaging the World Anew

ARUNDHATI ROY in Ft today.

And the FT Editorial board

The climax of the neo-liberal wave in planning was of course the NPPF and the ‘do what you like, where you like when you like’ philosophy, since watered down considerably in practice.

Certainly the planning system we inherited was forged in the post war welfare state. That was both a benefit and a curse.  Planning was seen as a national priority, but unlike other nations it was seen as primarily the activity of the state rather than a shared endaeover of place making.  Also generations of UK planners were taught that planning was a form of negative licensing and closed their minds to planning systems elsewhere and before the 1948 settlement.  It presented an easy attack surface to those who saw in any form of regulation state failure.

The Washington consensus is dead, neoliberalism is dead though will revive in new forms.  The promise of planning will revive.  By the promise of planning I mean the art and science of town planning applied to places, cities and regions.  The promise of making places better through coordination and applying principles of good design at all scales.

The worry of public investment in the neo-liberal age was future generations would pay the debt.  Helicopter money?  Bond vigilantes would trash your currency.  But if every country is printing money all you trash is the burden of debt.  It is the fallacy of composition in neoclassical finance texts.  Now every country can effectively wipe out and refinance their public debts at zero interest rates.  The losers in such a scenario are those that depend on bond maturities for future retirement income.  Here the state will have to substitute some basic income.  So with future debts no longer a concern the issue becomes one of resource reallocation in the real economy today, how the working population can produce enough resources to cope with an increasing aging population.  Clearly the worst thing to do in such a scenario is to burden your young working population with debt.  A new social contract is needed.  We wipe out your student debts but you have to work to support our aging population, though jobs guarantees if necessary.   Part of that social contract has to be a right to a home.  We need to redistribute assets in land (for example from a land tax) to fund housing for the working population.   Another key part has to be investment in a green new deal to reverse and adapt to climate change.

None of this suggests abolition of the private sector.  None of it suggests heavy handed and officious regulation.  Indeed the redistribution of resources necessary will place a strain on the real economy, far more will need to go into investment rather than consumption.  Tiger like growth measures will be needed to recover from a lost 5 months of production. There can be no more excuses for not building what we need to secure the new green social contract.