Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Systemic flaws not reported

What do we need to know that our newspapers and universities are not telling us? (Update of this letter)

To the Editor,

There is a defect in our economic system.

We have an economy that hides resource depletion costs and other environmental costs from consumers. There is no general fee or tax assessed in proportion to adverse impacts caused or natural resources taken by producers, so these costs are not reflected in prices.

Because costs are hidden, there is a distortion that leads all cost- benefit analyses to skew toward more environmentally harmful acts. Consumers do things that tend to pollute air and water more than they would do if the cost of the degraded environmental quality were factored into the prices of the things they buy. This harms the interests of other lifeforms on earth, and it will harm the interests of future lifeforms, including our own descendants.

"Economic externalities", (hidden costs), cause us to do the wrong thing. Where are the reporters and commentators who will report on and speak out against an economic system that gives us incentive to do the wrong thing? This defect in our economy disrespects the interests of other inhabitants of this world, and of future generations of humans, by depleting resources that they might rely on and polluting air and water that they need. They cannot speak up in protest. Should we?

If we determine that natural resource wealth is owned by all equally, then any money paid by users of natural resources would go to all the people; to each an equal amount. A proper accounting for this wealth would end abject poverty in the world.

It is immoral--particularly so for journalists--to acquiesce in a system that gives people incentive to do the wrong thing. It is immoral, too, to acquiesce in a system that gives, at most, mere lip service to respect for public property rights, while making no effort to manifest that idea in reality. If a more efficient and fair accounting of natural resource wealth would spell an end to abject poverty, it seems to me something worth talking about.

There is deafening silence in discussion of and reporting on systemic flaws--in economic and political realms.

I hope a reporter or editor can explain why my analysis is flawed; or start reporting on natural resource wealth accounting.

Monday, July 11, 2005

When we commit to moral principle in politics and economics, we will create a sustainable and just civilization

We will learn to make a civilization that will last. Or we will apply ever more varied and intensive means of extracting resources, and once again over-exploit our resource base and grow our population beyond what is sustainable--to the point of catastrophic collapse.

The defects that have caused civilizations to collapse in the past are still with us today. When civilizations collapsed in the past, there was always an elsewhere that the people could flee to when things started to fall apart. And there were other civilizations in other places. We no longer have an elsewhere to go to. And our economies are more thoroughly connected to one-another. When the system breaks, it will be a global failure.

We need to make our civilization a sustainable phenomenon, to avoid disaster.

We need to limit the taking and degradation of natural resource wealth so that our environmental impacts will be sustainable long-term.

If we continue to uglify and despoil the planet, and if we continue to allow abject poverty to exist, some people may perpetrate violent and destructive acts in hopes of eliminating what they see as an evil, oppressive and hopeless system. In the distant past, these destructive impulses felt by some members of unhealthy societies were part of a natural phenomenon wherein dysfunctional societies disintegrate and more healthy societies take their place.

Destructive impulses of disaffected youth may have served a purpose when societies were small-scale phenomena and neighboring tribes offered examples of better ways for how to live on the Earth. These impulses never brought the risk of global collapse when the tools at hand were all powered by human muscles. Now, the destructive power that one person or a small group can wield is enormous. Now, all the neighboring societies are part of one intertwined global system. No healthy nearby society is going to come to supplant this dysfunctional one when it falls. The neighboring societies suffer the same ills that we see closer to home.

An impulse to destruction may not have been such a bad thing in the distant past, when there were neighboring societies that could move into the landscape occupied by the society in decline. In that context, acts of destruction could serve to hasten the transition from an unsustainable, dysfunctional society to a sustainable one. But within the current context of a global civilization, catastrophic collapse would mean widespread famine and an ecological disaster. For the sake of our offspring and the larger community of life, we must correct our system's defects without allowing complete collapse of our institutions and descent into chaos.

Extremists can and will exploit discontent to further their agenda. We can best enhance our security not so much through combating and apprehending people who would do harm but rather by making a healthy, sustainable and more just society that the vast majority of people will want to be a part of and that very few will want to subvert.

If we bring a respect of basic principles regarding political rights and property rights to our participation in political and economic systems, we will NOT allow levels of pollution to exceed what most people agree are acceptable. We will NOT allow rates of taking of limited natural resources to exceed what most people say is appropriate.

Natural resource wealth can be thought of as belonging to all. Natural resource wealth is the Commons. It should be recognized as belonging to all, to the extent that it can be said to belong to anyone. If we were to truly respect property rights, polluting industries would be paying us money when they put their unwanted materials into our air and water. The most efficient and fair way to manage the use or degradation of natural wealth, to keep within sustainable limits, is to charge a fee in proportion to value taken or damage done. Respecting public as well as private property rights means that industries pay the people when they take or degrade that which belongs to all.

We could end abject poverty AND reduce the harmful effects of our economic system (and achieve a truly democratic society) by recognizing the people at large as the owners of Earth's natural resource wealth and as the ultimate authority in defining limits to environmental impacts.

Attaching fees to actions that foul the Earth, deplete limited resources or push ecosystems out of balance would produce something akin to a sensory or autonomic nervous system for Earth. Injury or harm to ecosystems would be reduced. Ecological balance could be maintained. We would transform ourselves from cancer cell to brain cell of Earth--if we bring our economics and politics into accord with our basic principles.

This proposal is consistent with a marriage of libertarian and green political philosophies. It is a synthesis of capitalist and communist economic paradigms.

Is there any other path to a secure and sustainable society? Where are the proposals for how to make sustainable business models the normal pursuit of industry, and how to end poverty throughout the world?

I say, let's get on with it.

Biological Model for Politics and Economics