Friday, November 11, 2016

Don't settle into a more polarized state just yet, America.

Electors decide in December. Let's not try to squeeze into a Trump-shaped universe just yet.

There was no majority of votes cast for any single candidate on November 8th. AND the votes that were cast were not expressions of support as much as of fear, distrust or dislike of the other. So, no mandate.

We can in good conscience ask Electors to find a consensus candidate. We should insist that they discuss among themselves and find a candidate who most of them and who most citizens can agree would be a better choice.

We can still avoid a disaster. Who cares?

Jon and Tracey Stewart
Photo: New York Daily News

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

How to Fix Civilization

Civilization is unstable because of a systemic flaw:
Natural wealth is not shared equally.


If we charge fees to industries that put pollution or take natural resources, and set the fees just high enough to cause industries to cut down on environmental impacts (to the point that most people think they are being held to acceptable limits)..., we will have accounted for economic externalities AND we will have produced an economic measure of the value of natural resources to the economy and society. We will have fixed the defect that causes the economy to disregard the costs of destabilized climate, damage to the environment and depletion of resources.

The proceeds of fees should be shared equally worldwide. (We might decide to put some portion of this money toward support of public programs so that we can reduce or eliminate conventional taxes.)

A system that is calibrated against an absolute limit to to the overall extent of environmental impacts would have increasing fees when an economy is expanding, to prevent growing demand for pollution permits, etc., from causing the economy as a whole to blow past the limits (in terms of environmental impacts) acceptable to the people. The rising fees would put a damper on the pace of economic activity, thus preventing what otherwise could become an unsustainable boom. This damper on excess activity is a counter-cyclical influence that functions automatically.

With fee proceeds shared, everyone will continue to spend in support of their own basic needs, regardless of employment status. This would insulate the sectors of the economy that provide basic and services from the worst vicissitudes of the business 'cycle'. All people would continue to spend in support of these sectors during an economic downturn. Economic downturns, then, can never become so severe that they threaten social cohesion and stability.

Within this alternative paradigm, some people may choose to live a very simple life and reduce their need to seek income beyond their natural wealth stipend. When the economy slows, the falling demand for pollution permits, etc, would mean reduced fees (or reduced permit sale prices, if permits are bought at auction). This would mean reduced income for those relying largely or entirely on their natural wealth stipend. These people would feel increased incentive to enter the job market. Additional job-seekers would make business start-up and expansion easier. This paradigm would (again) provide a counter-cyclical influence. The economic system is less inclined to 'boom and bust'. The civilization is perhaps sustainable. (With pricing of natural wealth, there is an economic incentive to reduce impacts on the environment.)

A system of random surveys could tell us what limits people want on various kinds of impacts.

We talk more about minimum wage than we do about minimum income. That could change when we start talking about sharing natural wealth equally.


John Champagne


Equal sharing of Natural Resources promotes Justice and Sustainability

Integration of human society and the biosphere

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Put Public Funds Directly into the Hands of the People

Who should decide how to spend public funds?

Hardly a day goes by without another news report about supposed-to-be public servants violently assaulting the citizens who they are supposed to be protecting. (Until editors decide that the story is old and they move on to the next hot topic. Then we'll likely see those reports only if we look for them, or if an incident sparks an uprising.)

Hardly a day passes that we cannot hear new reports of corruption by elected and appointed officials somewhere in the world. Corruption anywhere is a threat to civil society everywhere because if we fail to create systems of government that are honest and responsive, we will suffer further erosion of trust in the integrity and value of our civil institutions. There will be some segment of the population that is more prone to being seduced by claims of a pure, perfect ideology, an alternative system, if the established order is in decline. Whatever fundamentalist, reactionary ideology is most prominently opposing the establishment will inevitably appear more attractive when contrasted with this unsustainable and corrupt system that we've made [even though the competing, reactionary ideology brings its own less visible systemic defects (less visible to adherents).]

In order to thrive, our society requires healthy institutions that enjoy the confidence of the people. We need to see and have confidence that governments and public officials are operating in the public interest.

Would we be better-off with an alternative political paradigm that puts public funds directly into the hands of the people? Each of us might be asked to decide how to spend a small, equal fraction of the total public budget. We would spend in ways that we think would benefit the public, with the condition that our choices must line up with the opinions of at least a significant portion of our fellow citizens. If I spend my share of public funds on things that, say, 50% of citizens feel promote the public interest... we could be pretty sure that my choices, whatever they are, will in fact promote the public interest at least somewhat and probably quite a bit. We can use public random surveys to know what people think regarding this or that public service (to find out to what extent people think particular services produce benefit for society and the larger environment). We can make a paradigm that, in its very operation, directs people's attention to the question of how public funds are being and should be used. Imagine a system of surveys that ask where more public funds should be directed, and where we should reduce public spending.

If I put a large fraction (say 80%) of my share of public funds toward support of programs and projects that three-quarters of citizens agree promote the public interest, I might be allowed more latitude in deciding how to use the remainder of my share of these funds. I might be free to use that smaller fraction to support programs that, say, 20% of citizens agree promotes the public interest. This question of what might benefit the community is a really big question, and one on which reasonable people might disagree. Within this paradigm, the most widely-supported programs would receive the bulk of the public dollars (or Bitcoins, maybe), while other programs (more controversial or experimental programs, perhaps) would also have access to reduced but still significant amounts of public funding.

If we apply more generally this idea of dispersing public policy decisions to all the people, we could manage environmental impacts in ways that are in accord with what most people think is acceptable. If we take a survey and learn that most people think we would be better-off and our children would be better-off if we were to reduce carbon emissions by, say, 40% over the next ten years, then we should have a policy that would bring about that reduction (about 5.5% per year). We can assume that some people would want a greater-than-40% reduction, while others would want less-rapid reduction or no reduction. Forty percent in ten years might be the median or average rate at which people think we should reduce emissions of carbon to the atmosphere.

We could issue permits for fossil carbon emissions (or carbon extraction) and auction the permits in a free market, with the number of permits offered corresponding to what most people think is acceptable. We can apply this idea to the management of all kinds of human impact on the environment.

When the decision of how to spend public funds is put into the hands of the people at large, no person would be forced to support a program with which they had a philosophical disagreement. With a sliding-scale criterion for eligibility, there would be no hard cut-off point for access to funds. No program manager would have reason to be hyper-concerned about achieving a particular qualifying score (50%, for example). Instead, all managers and providers of public services would have an abiding interest in improving their service or efficiency, regardless of precisely where they might fall on a public approval ratings scale.

Within such a paradigm, I suspect that there would be broad support for public sponsorship of secular (non-sectarian) schools, public parks, libraries, basic scientific research, public health services... I know that I would want to support these things. [One thing I like about secular (non-religious) schools is that we would be less likely or not at all likely to find the teaching of an 'us-vs-them' mentality. We would be more likely to see expressions of the idea that we are all Earthlings. We must work together to make a healthy global community and to solve the great challenges that confront us.]


Biological Model for Politics and Economics

Friday, November 29, 2013

Are Corporations Evil?

Or are we neglecting our responsibility to make them account for externalities? Should corporations pay compensation to the people in proportion to the harmful side-effects caused by their actions?

When we carry out our responsibility as citizens, we will create rules that guide operation of businesses to ensure that what is profitable to industry is also what is good for society and the larger community of life.

We make corporations the villains because they do bad things. But the bad acts they commit are not expressions of intrinsic evil intent. They do things to meet the needs of their customers in the most profitable way.

It is our responsibility as citizens to create the rules governing society. If harmful acts are profitable, we need to change the law. We should not blame corporations for their profit-seeking behavior any more than we would blame consumers for seeking the lowest price when shopping. Both corporations and consumers are economic entities. Seeking profit and seeking low prices is what they do. The problem we need to address is our own failure to make harmful practices costly to corporations. When putting pollution or depleting resources brings a substantial financial penalty to producers, then prices for things that are more harmful to the environment will be higher. Consumers will try to avoid buying those things because they are already inclined to avoid things with high prices. Corporations will try to avoid causing harmful environmental impacts in an effort to reduce costs of production, and thereby increase profits. The most environmentally-damaging industries will shrink or go out of business.

If corporations (if economic actors generally) were required by law to pay substantial penalties any time that they put pollution or take natural resources in pursuit of profit, then they would change their behavior and do those things less, because doing them would no longer be so profitable. The penalty could be in the form of a fee or a requirement to buy from a limited number of permits sold at auction. The fee amount would be greater (or number of permits offered would be fewer) if more people polled in a random survey wanted industries to try harder to reduce environmental impacts. The role of corporations in society is to meet consumer demand in the way that they calculate as most profitable or least costly. The role of citizens is to create the rules that businesses must follow. Those rules must include efficient and fair means of limiting overall environmental impacts to levels that most people feel are acceptable.

When we see corporations as evildoers, we are less likely to see our own responsibility as citizens to create systems of governance that would require economic actors to account for externalities. Accounting for externalities will ensure that the cost of environmental impacts are reflected in prices for goods and services. If we assign fees to industries that extract carbon-laden material from the Earth, for example, in proportion to the amount of carbon it contains (and in relation to the amount of environmental damage caused by the extraction process), then fossil fuels will cost more. We will all get an effective signal (the higher price of fuel) that will tell us to burn less fuel. The industries that take carbon from the ground will shrink because they will not be able to sell as much fuel at the higher price. The threat to climate stability will be reduced. By adjusting the fees, we could achieve the rate of carbon extraction that at least 50% of citizens think is acceptable. (Random polls could reveal what most people want.)

We should recognize that corporations do not have any intrinsic desire to foul the air and water and deplete resources. They do these things only because we buy the products and services that they are able to provide by doing them. We have a responsibility as citizens to demand that corporations account for externalities. We must demand that industries pay some compensation to the people at large when they degrade the quality of that which we all own in common, or when they take natural resources in pursuit of profit. When we do this, industries will learn to meet market demand in ways that create less pollution or no pollution. They will shift to manufacturing processes that rely more on recycled materials and will reduce inputs of raw materials. We will all learn to not buy so much of that which is harmful to the environment. We only buy as much fossil fuel as we do today because it is deceptively cheap to do so. When environmental impacts are accounted for, prices will more honestly reflect true costs. We will make different decisions about how to live.

Why is there no connection drawn between the enormous environmental and climate stability challenges that we face on the one hand and the assault on human dignity and the serious threats to social stability and cohesion posed by extreme poverty and wealth disparity on the other hand? These two problems (environmental degradation and severe material deprivation) are related to our failure to share natural wealth equally. This failure points us back to the citizens' responsibility to create systems of governance that ensure that environmental impacts are accounted for AND that benefits of natural wealth are enjoyed by all.

The problem of financing the change to a sustainable society will be resolved when proceeds from pollution fees and from the sale of environmental impact permits are shared among all the world's people. With a natural wealth stipend going to all the people in the world, the money to finance the change will be in the people's hands. If we buy fuel, for example, we will be paying a higher price. We can use part of our natural wealth stipend to cover this cost. The corporations selling fuel may use this additional income to pay emissions fees. At the same time, higher fuel prices will encourage research and investment in carbon-neutral fuels. Higher fuel prices will cause some people to adjust their lifestyle to reduce their need for fuel. In fact, everyone will do this to some degree. For some, it will be easier to move to live closer to their work. Others may switch to public transit or invest in a fuel-efficient automobile. Each person will make the changes most suitable to their own situation. The fee mechanism (accounting for externalities generally) will ensure that everyone is alert to opportunities for how to reduce environmental impacts, but it will not create a need for a bureaucracy to tell people or corporations exactly how to do that.

Solutions to our problems can be found in our willing-ness as citizens to change the nature and character of government. Our government is an instrument through which we can fulfill our responsibilities to ensure an equal sharing of natural wealth and to define appro-priate limits to environmental impacts. The solution to our environmental problems is also the solution to our poverty and disparity problems: Charge fees to industries that pollute and extract resources; Give the fee proceeds to all the people, to each an equal amount. We will know that fees are set at the right amount when random surveys tell us that most people feel that overall rates of putting pollution and taking resources are not excessive. When we fulfill our role as citizens, we will live in the kind of world that we want to live in. We will have a truly democratic society.

A sustainable and just civilization requires that we use our moral sense

Systemic flaws are not reported

Equal sharing of Natural Resources promotes Justice and Sustainability

Saturday, December 22, 2012

More security for the least secure means more security for all

It is easier to tear down and destroy than it is to build and create. This is true whether we are talking about a tower of blocks, a work of art or a civilization. Our civilization will be stronger and more resilient when most people believe that we are all better off when we seek to improve our society and the health of the ecosystem that sustains it. Ideally, each of us should appreciate and fully identify in the development of a promising and beneficent global civilization. We should strive to make a world that recognizes the people as the rightful owners of natural resource wealth, so that the world we create together will not be a world that has more paving or pollution or noise or extraction of limited resources than what most people would say is acceptable.

A society that recognizes the people as rightful owners of the Earth's natural resources will not tolerate inequitable exploitation of this shared legacy. An owner of natural resources is one who has a right to use these resource, a right to share in the enjoyment of natural opportunities. So not just humans. An owner has a right to stop others from messing up the resource, and a right to receive compensation when damage is done or value taken. (Human beings are a life-form unique on the planet; unique in our ability to devastate ecosystems that sustain other lifeforms. Any sense within us that we have a right to use what we find in the environment and to enjoy the benefits of clean air and water, we must acknowledge a similar sense in our fellow inhabitants. If other lifeforms also have a right to share in the benefits of natural wealth, we need to limit how much we actually disturb the ecosystems that sustain them. We could do this when we recognize those rights and resolve to limit our disturbances only to levels that (most people agree) are respectful of the rights of our fellow Earthlings and are therefore also respectful of our conscience.

If fees are charged to those who use or mess up wealth of the commons (natural resources), the proceeds should go to the people. A guaranteed minimum income for everyone on Earth could result from the collection of fees for use of natural resources in agriculture, industry and commerce. A minimum income would decrease the problems associated with disparity of wealth and would end abject poverty, while the universal nature of such a payment would ensure that no one would forgo productive work for fear of loosing their public property dividend. As our economy becomes more fair and transparent, more people will come to feel an ownership in the system. They will be more likely to want to protect and improve rather than destroy. By making the least secure among us more secure, we will make everyone more secure.

Attaching fees to the use of natural resources would create a mechanism whereby citizens could exert their will on the larger economic system, to define appropriate limits to potentially harmful human activities. What levels of pollution and what rates of extraction of resources are acceptable? We could all share in deciding limits to human activities insofar as those activities impinge on the commons. If most people polled in a random survey say that they want stricter limits on monoculture or paving or a particular kind of pollution, for example, then the associated fee would increase, causing industries to try harder to reduce the offending activity. And the inverse is also true: Any activity that had been discouraged more strongly than the people now deemed necessary would have its associated fees reduced. The actual conditions on the Earth that result from the sum of all human activities would come to reflect the expressed will of the people, as reflected by random polls. (We can know that a poll is reliable and that it can serve as the basis of public policy if anyone is able to take a second poll and thereby verify the first one. Solid and reliable documentation of methodology could compliment (or substitute for) repeating a poll for verification purposes.)

In such a democratic society, we would not allow loss of biodiversity, pollution of our streams and rivers, high rates of mineral depletion, (including fossil fuels), loss of our starscape every night of the year to light pollution--at least, we would not allow these things beyond what is acceptable to the people. Given a voice in the management of natural resource wealth (which owners should have) we likely would not consent to the conditions in the world as we've made it thus far. When we fully apply our principles of ownership and fair compensation to questions of natural resource wealth management--when we recognize commons or public property rights in our accounting--much will change. We will have a synthesis of capitalism and communism in a truly democratic society. We will have a civilization that is sustainable or much more likely to be so. We will have a more just society.

Systemic flaws are not reported

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Critique of the Gaia Brain paradigm, a Biological Model for Politics and Economics

Title: Gaia Brain: Integration of Human Society and the Biosphere

Summary: On the basis of an analogy between how nonhuman organisms (from unicellular to bees) affect and are affected by their environment and how economic forces affect the use of natural resources, this paper proposes a radical transformation of human life: Children are to be educated differently, governments as they now exist will be abolished, and the labor market will be liberated from its current constraints.

The detrimental impact human beings have on the environment presents us with the "greatest challenge" the species has faced since it began to walk and talk. Economics provides the key to its solution: a "resource fee" that will be assessed to every product and service. These fees will penalize the use of environmentally damaging things, providing the "feedback mechanism" that is needed so that human culture will be in touch with its impact on the biosphere. This fee will provide the marketplace with information about the product's or service's environmental impact. They will be determined democratically by every person on the planet. Proceeds will be used to support "things we would like to see more of."

Evaluation: This paper is eminently clear; the author is able in a few paragraphs to present and weave together findings from microbiology, ethology, and economics into an intriguing and intelligible picture. On the basis of his assessment of the current "environmental crisis," he proposes an interesting (and to me, novel) solution. An effective way of affecting people's behavior is through their wallets, so charge them for the damage they are indirectly doing to the environment. The author also recognizes a number of problems which might be raised to this suggestion (Who determines the fees?, How will this money be used?, Etc.) and attempts in the limited space available to address them. Although, as proposed, this suggestion seems to be thoroughly unrealistic, there could be merits to its basic idea. Something like a "resource fee" might be worth considering as environmental policies are discussed.

The significant "leftist" tendencies of the paper weaken it. The author continues to have hopes in a world (non-) government, a radical transformation of society, a radical and universal democracy, and an elimination or significant reduction of alienation. His solutions to the problems inherent in his proposal seem weak. It is not clear to me that all people (including children -- p.7, ln.20) can ever be in a position to assess the conflicting "findings" of the "experts" of interested parties as to the true environmental impact of every product and service of every activity of every person and company of the whole world. And, without governments, how will the money be spent? Will every person on the planet have a say? How could that occur?

Recommendation:  If a clear and interesting voice from those who continue to propose radical transformations of society and of human nature is needed, this paper could find a place in the proceedings. If the volume needs to be limited to realistic proposals, it does not belong.

-- End of this anonymous critique --

Author's response:

The idea of a pollution fee or fee on use of natural resource, the commons, is not new with me. I learned about it in a college text during a course on political economy, in a book called, 'The Economics of Social Issues'. What is new, to my knowledge, is the connection drawn between this method of management of resources and the feedback mechanisms that operate in biological organisms, such as sensory nervous systems. Also new is the (proposed) practical realization of the idea that all people share in the ownership and management of the air and water, the commons, the natural resources, by receiving the proceeds of the user-fees, and by deciding what absolute limits will be placed on the use of the resources.

I do not propose that a fee be assessed on 'every product or service', but on those human actions which adversely impact the environment. If I am a reading tutor and I ask a student to read to me and I give little hints when needed, I am providing a service, but I am not adversely impacting the Commons, and would not expect to have to pay the people to compensate them for degrading a public resource. If I drive 50 miles to get to the school, I expect to pay a fee to compensate the people for degrading their resource, the air, but payment of this fee would not be a separate act. The fee would be incorporated in the price of fuel by the fact that extracting petroleum for use as fuel would have the appropriate fee attached. If I take some kind of waste products and recycle them into new product, I would not expect to have to pay a fee. " ... [C]harge them for the damage they are indirectly doing to the environment", sounds like we would examine each life, each person and make an assessment, a judgement of their impact on the earth by recording their purchases or examining their habits. That does sound totally unrealistic. But that is not what I propose. I would rather charge the corporations that damage the earth or cause environmental impacts. If individuals damage environmental health in ways that are not already accounted for in prices through this fee mechanism, then charge individuals for the damage they do directly.

As a practical matter, if a material is produced and marketed for a particular application, such as petroleum for fuel, then the producer ought to be assessed at the point of production as if delivery to market was equivalent to actual use. This way, the market will reflect in price the (perceived) ecologic impact of use. I would judge, for example, the 'damage to the earth' as the act of taking oil out of the ground, where it can be easily measured, rather than have gasoline delivered to the market prior to the assessment of any impact fees, and assessing the fees on the end-user. Making the necessary measurements as close to the point of production as possible will reduce the potential for subversion through black market trading.

It would be easier for me to accept 'unrealistic ... radical transformation' as valid and true argument against this paradigm if not for the fact that this plan could help to alleviate or eliminate some of our society's seemingly most intractable problems. This possibility of multiple benefits through the realization of this new paradigm could overcome the resistance to change that usually makes radical change such an unrealistic possibility. If not now for radical transformation, when? We have just invented a whole new media: Interactive hypermedia; the internet. Perhaps soon, this new form of human communication will be as extensive as the telephone network, which also continues to expand. We are in the midst of a long period of accelerating change. It is in times of invention of new tools that we see the greatest social, political and economic changes, because they so affect the ways that human beings interact with one another.

The basic idea here, or basic ideas are that we all own the air and water and natural resources, and to the extent that any person or corporate entity appropriates any of these resources for their own use, that entity ought to compensate the owners of the resource, the people at large. The monies paid in exchange for the use of resources should be controlled by the people, who may use these funds for whatever purpose they choose, but perhaps with a portion dedicated to community projects that enjoy the support of a large majority of citizens, and the remaining portion available for individual needs and wants. The people also should control the level of the fee, or the overall rate of resource use: The people are owners and managers of the commons.

"Something like a resource fee..." What does this mean? What thing like a resource fee might we consider? How would this something be like a resource fee and how would it be different? (Who would decide on the fee amount? How would the proceeds be spent?) 

What is meant by 'leftist' tendencies, and why is it in quotes? (I did not use the term in the paper.) Perhaps 'leftist' refers to the idea that all the people own and would help manage the commons, and would receive the proceeds of the fees charged against their use. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this idea is readily understood and accepted by members of the public who have been apprised of it. Many people feel that, yes, this is a good idea, but 'they', the established interests, will never go for it. To the extent that politicians, captains of industry and citizens successfully turn the purposes of government and corporate institutions toward these ends, they can help restore a sense of integrity and efficacy to our public institutions. This idea, put in practice, would reverse the trend toward greater disparity of wealth, while preserving, even improving, free market rewards of individual effort and initiative. It would help to promote a sense among the populace that we all share a power and responsibility to be good stewards of the earth. For these reasons, 'leftist' tendencies seems to be not a weakness, but a strength.

I did not intend to suggest that children would be responsible for making decisions regarding resource use. I do suggest though, that children, students, might be involved in the process of gathering information about the opinions of the adults in their neighborhood. But the reviewer's statement brings to mind the idea that some communities might choose to celebrate exceptional, exemplary schools that cast their own mock votes about what environmental impacts ought to be allowed with such careful consideration and clear explication of the why behind their votes that they stand as a model to others of how this responsibility for stewardship of the commons might be carried out. The community might want the school's mock votes published so that they can be copied by others, in effect letting the adults delegate their vote to those outstanding students.

We could ask someone from a trusted accounting firm (or someone who knows more about accounting principles than I) how we might make scalable structures, accounts of each person's preferences, then each community's preferences, etc. that could be surveyed at any level, just as search engines survey large amounts of data through a network. The example of the school above may offer a clue to how this might be done. If teachers and students made it their business to ask community members what their opinions are about conditions in the community, they could post the results of their surveys on the internet for all to see. To the extent that the expressed wishes of the people conflict with actual conditions, we would expect resource user-fees to rise or fall as appropriate, until the disparity is resolved.

What better time to consider and make radical transformations than now? These are times of rapid, accelerating change, when the situation is dynamic and plastic, when we can make a great difference for the future depending on what decisions we take today, what we do today. A radical transformation, in the right direction, could be a very helpful and timely change.

But what change in human nature does the reviewer believe is required by this proposal? If anything, this paradigm is more respectful, more accepting of human nature as it is. The current system has a problem with externalities, which put every economic actor in the uncomfortable position of having to sacrifice community interest for self-interest, or (perhaps less frequently) vice-versa. We all are driven by a mix of desires: to promote the community interest, and our own individual interest. This proposed system of incorporating external costs into the price of economic goods allows us to quickly and efficiently find a balance between self-interest and community interest, simply by seeking the lowest price for the things we buy, which we are naturally inclined to do already.

Is it plausible to think that we do not need radical transformation of society? Is it realistic to think that if we could just teach a few more people to stop dumping motor oil in the back alley, get the miles per gallon numbers up a bit more, get some more people to separate out their paper and glass and other recycleables, take their shopping bag with them for re-use, and such things, then we will have met the environmental challenges that confront us and achieved a sustainable society? I wonder what alternative proposals the reviewer would suggest that might have the potential for resolving the 'tragedy of the commons'. Or would he/she take issue with the suggestion that this proposal does that, or that the tragedy of the commons is an issue of concern?

This paradigm, by the way, does not only address environmental problems-- although ideas about how we might better address the problem of pollution did provide the germ that it grew from. This proposal also addresses problems of poverty and wealth disparity. It is hard to over-estimate, I think, the combined effect of both a completely free labor market, which gives everyone the greatest incentive to increase their knowledge, skills and abilities, and a guaranteed income, which protects all from abject poverty, which currently debilitates a large portion of humanity.

John Champagne

Systemic flaws are not reported

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Natural Law remedy for systemic flaw: Civilization can be made sustainable and equitable

An unsustainable civilization is a consequence of a systemic flaw -- Natural law points to a solution.

If we look at basic human rights as reflecting underlying laws of social interaction, we might notice some important facts about these basic rights that could aid us in solving some very difficult problems.

Human rights are a kind of natural law. We can recognize basic claims that citizens might make, such as a claim to a right to be left alone in private space to do as one pleases, a claim to a right to move about freely in the public space, a claim to a right to share in deciding limits to pollution and limits to rates of taking of natural resources by industries in pursuit of profit... We can understand these claims and rights as natural phenomena or natural law. We might recognize that, for the healthy functioning of society, citizens must assert these claims to natural rights and must act so as to create systems of governance that assure these rights are respected in practice. Presently, our systems of government do not function in a way that manifests respect for these rights in reality. Our society does not reflect an equal sharing of natural wealth, which can be understood as commons or public property (wealth that is created through processes independent of human effort; wealth that we all can assert a moral claim to).

This systemic flaw allows harm to be done to the environment without some direct and proportional economic cost being incurred. This means that prices of things do not reflect environmental impacts such as pollution, resource depletion and habitat destruction. With prices skewed toward a direction that obscures environmental costs, consumers don't fully register these costs when they weigh the pros and cons of this or that purchase of a product or service. These hidden costs mean that our economy does more harm to the environment than what would be the case if environmental impacts were reflected in prices.

The idea that natural wealth ought to be shared equally is reflected in the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Stewart Mill, Thomas Paine, Adam Smith and others.

Natural science and direct experience tell us that living systems, including human society, are delicate, intricate phenomena. The fact that it is always easier to tear down and destroy than it is to build and create reflects the nature of the enabling conditions that underlie any intricate phenomenon, which require order, structure and process rather than chaos or randomness. This is true whether we are talking about creating a tower of blocks or a work of art, raising a child or building a civilization. So, a civilization is stronger and more resilient when most everyone believes that we will all be better off by working to improve on what we have made. We cannot have many people wanting to destroy this nascent global civilization to see what else might take its place. For the benefit of all, there must be very few of us who believe that the world we have created is ugly, unjust, hurtful or evil. We need a society that all can believe in and feel glad to be a part of. Among other things, this means that we must have a system that recognizes the people as the rightful owners of natural resource wealth, so that the world we create together will not be a world that has more paving or pollution or noise or extraction of limited resources than what most people would say is acceptable. We need a political system that matches reality to what people want in terms of appropriate limits on environmental impacts. Then we would have a true democracy.

If we limit or discourage excessive taking of resources or putting of pollution by charging a fee to polluting industries, then the fee proceeds (a monetary representation of that which we all own in common) could be shared equally among all the world's people. By increasing the economic security of all people, we ensure that poverty and disparity issues are no longer an existential threat to the system. We will have a more stable and equitable society. No one would live in abject poverty.


Equal sharing of natural wealth cures the defect that we see in the thriving and collapse of civilization. It also makes the boom and bust business 'cycle' into a less wildly gyrating phenomenon.

Biological Model for Politics and Economics: Human Society as Neural Network