Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Minimum Wage vs. Minimum Income

Equal ownership of natural resource wealth promotes social justice and sustainability.

Minimum wage laws would seem to help those who have jobs at or near the defined minimum level. And they help those who make and sell machinery that replaces low-skilled workers. Minimum wage laws would seem to hurt those who might earn below the legally-defined limit but who have not yet developed skills or experience sufficient to command a higher wage. Minimum wage laws harm everyone if the rising cost of labor causes employers to choose production methods that lead to more pollution or faster depletion of resources than what a more labor-intensive method would cause.

We cannot create wealth by legislation, but we can alleviate poverty by ending the current practice of allowing theft of natural resources from the people. We all own the air and water--that is, we all have an equal right to use the air and water, and to say what the limits on pollution levels should be. (Some peple may recognize this basic right as a function of natural law, while others may see our right to breathe air and drink water as flowing from God's grace, but these different views may not be mutually exclusive.) We also have an equal right to access the shared mineral wealth of Earth, and a right to share in deciding overall limits to levels of pollution and to the rates of taking of resources.

We could attach fees to the taking of resources and the release of pollution, both as a way to measure the value of natural resources and services (owned by the people and used by industry in pursuit of profit), and as a way to discourage unwanted and potentially harmful environmental impacts. We could set the fees at the levels that would result in only the amount of pollution and rate of resource extraction that the people deem permissible. (Industries would not be able to afford to pollute so much as the cost of doing so increased.) The fee proceeds could and should be shared among all people equally, because these proceeds would in fact be a monetary representation of the value of resources owned by all. Public policy would assure not a minimum wage, but a minimum income.

If we look beyond questions of air and water quality and minerals management, we can see that this method of charging a fee or rent for causing adverse environmental impacts could be applied to the management of other commons resources. The number and diversity of fish in the sea is decreasing. We could attach a fee to the taking of those species that are threatened with depletion. We could attach VERY HIGH fees to the taking or killing of any member of a species that we do not want anyone to take, so that no one will see that activity as profitable.

Biodiversity is being lost at an astounding rate. Considering the current rates of desertification and loss of topsoil, the pace of forest destruction, the speed of encroachment on and paving of wilderness areas, the increasing threats to coral reefs, and our ongoing assault on climate stability, one might wonder whether we really care what kind of world we will leave for our children. If we were to decide that protecting biodiversity and promoting ecosystem health is a worthy public policy goal, we could charge a fee for any land use that disturbs or decreases biodiversity, from monoculture to asphalt, with the fee greater for those activities that produce more harmful impacts on the Earth and that are more disruptive of wildlife habitat.

With all people voting (through random-sample surveys, to be conducted by any interested person or group) on whether the amount of paving, rates of taking of resources, levels of pollution, etc., are acceptable or should change, we would have a system where we could all share in sculpting the overall human impact on Earth. We would shape the world to match what we want it to be. Our economy would function in a way that would bring about a balance between supply of and demand for produced goods and services, AND it would achieve an appropriate balance, as defined by the people, between our duty to preserve environmental quality and promote ecosystem health on the one hand, and the convenience and necessity of availing ourselves of natural resource wealth in pursuit of human goals on the other hand.

The amount of money collected through fees on the putting of pollution and the taking and degrading of resources would be quite large. We may not be able to afford such a system while also keeping the current system of taxes on income and sales. We may want to eliminate those taxes, or substantially reduce them. (Some sales tax might be appropriate, to cover the cost of policing the marketplace.) We could fund community services from our 'accounting for externalities' fees. The monies collected could be shared among all people equally. We could each spend an agreed-upon fraction (perhaps half) on community needs (e.g.: libraries, schools, public health, police and fire protection, etc.) and spend the remainder on our own personal needs. We would all share in creating the kind of environment that we would choose. We would share, in a more direct and obvious way, decisions about what our community priorities should be. And no one would live in abject poverty.

This paradigm sees the role of government as an arbiter between the individual and community. It recognizes no authority of government to initiate the use of force against citizens. Only those actions, by individuals or corporate entities, that adversely affect others would come within the purview of government. In fact, government, per se, would not exist as we know it. The decisions of government would be decentralized, dispersed among the people. This 'public realm only' focus for government action is an important point because such profound change cannot occur except through the active support of the people. Many people subscribe to the libertarian view that the government ought not initiate the use of force against citizens. Libertarians will appreciate this paradigm if they are persuaded that it appropriately draws the line between regulated or restricted actions (those that affect others or the community) on the one hand, and actions which are the free choice of individuals (private behavior) on the other hand.

Some people believe that the prevalence of outdoor advertising signs and billboards is too high to allow for an aesthetically pleasing visual landscape. Is the prevalence of outdoor lighting so high that our ability to see the stars has become too severely diminished? We may want to adopt a few "lights out" nights, to remind ourselves that there are stars out there. If enough people share these views, then this vision will be borne out in reality.

Perhaps someday the people will hold the power to decide these kinds of questions. This power will be vested in the people if we, the people, care to shape our society toward these ends.

Equal Sharing of Natural Resources Promotes Justice and Sustainability.

More security for the least secure means more security for all:
- A Capitalism-Communism Synthesis

More security for the least secure means more security for all - Shorter, older version

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Quality concept !! Thank you for your insite -G GREGG