Thursday, December 18, 2008

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

Indeed, to be complete human beings, we must exercise our moral sense. Primarily, this means that we must respect the golden rule. In our political life, we have thus far failed to abide by this fundamental moral obligation. This failure produces serious flaws in our systems of government and economics. Social instability and injustice follow from this failure.

A sincere and thorough commitment to the golden rule implies a strong respect for human rights, which can be understood (and which are understood by many) to include rights to property. But we are neglecting some basic questions that should emerge from a strong respect for property rights. We are neglecting questions that could help us manage, in a sustainable and fair way, the natural resource wealth of the planet. We are not addressing questions related to public property rights.

When the people are recognized as the rightful owners of the air and water and other natural resources, we will have the industries that pollute the air and water and take natural resource wealth in pursuit of profit paying a fee to the people at large, as compensation for damage done or value taken. The fee charged for using that which belongs to everyone could (and by rights should) increase when demands on natural resources exceed what most people polled in a random survey say is acceptable. Fee proceeds would constitute a monetary representation of the value of commons resources. Sharing of this wealth among the entire human population would mean an end to abject poverty throughout the world.

Does reality match what the people believe is most desirable, in terms of our use of the resources that we all own in common? In terms of the extent of paving or intensity of light pollution? Are the rates of taking of natural resources and rates of putting of pollution into the air and water acceptable, or are current limits too strict, or too lenient? These are questions that a democratic society asks its citizens, when public property rights are respected.

When industries are made to pay an appropriate fee or rent to the people for using resources that belong to all of us, then capital markets, investors and business planners will have the information and incentives that they need to produce the reality that the people consent to in terms of acceptable environmental impacts. With the right fees, industries will put the right amount of effort into preventing adverse impacts on the environment. The fee is an instrument, a kind of lever, that the people can use to ensure that we will have the kind of world that we want to live in.

When prices reflect the value of natural resources used in production, our economy will respond in the most efficient way possible to the urgent need for significant reductions in humans' environmental impacts, including reductions in carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide and methane emissions are but two examples of the kinds of environmental impacts that are fraught with contentious rancor between competing political factions that should be decided in accord with the will of the people at large.

We inherit our shared legacy of natural resource wealth as a birthright. Our charge is to manage this inheritance wisely and bequeath to future generations, and to share equitably for the benefit of our fellow inhabitants of the planet. A strong respect for public property rights would mean that we would each receive part of our income from earnings from work and / or investments, and part of our income from our shared legacy of natural wealth. No one would ever loose all income because they lack gainful employment.

(A random survey of citizens could reveal at what age a person should begin to receive their natural wealth stipend. We could decide to put the money that is the fair share of the youngest members of society toward support of public programs and services, such as education, libraries, parks, museums, public health, etc., where there is broad agreement that those programs will promote the health, stability or vitality of civilization in years to come. Random surveys could even be used to decide generally what proportion of public spending should go to which programs and services. Those programs that enjoy the support of the people will receive funding. Those programs for which public confidence is lacking will see their funding dry up.)

The key to a sustainable and just civilization is to follow moral principle in all action. We need to pay special attention to actions that exert and amplify power or influence over distance. For human beings, normal inter-personal communication includes myriad non-verbal cues that we use automatically and subconsciously to let one another know when a standard of acceptable behavior has been violated. When we participate in the modern economy by spending money, we influence people at a great distance, but without the benefit of the rich communications channels that include our tone and body language. But when environmental impacts are reflected in prices, our natural tendency to avoid higher prices will help to ensure that we will not give incentive to do the wrong thing as we take part in the economic system.

The golden rule implies libertarian principles and green policy choices. We could say this alternative paradigm follows a 'left-libertarian' path. A thorough commitment to the golden rule would mean no use of government to initiate force or violence against a peaceful person, In the political sphere, government power needs to be limited to the public realm, with private action being privately regulated.

We have applied the principles of agriculture, economics, politics and, indeed, all of the various fields of knowledge, to produce an impressive civilization. But real success over the long term requires sustainability. Long-term success requires an end to environmental degradation and grinding poverty. Real success requires that we pay attention to moral principle.


A Capitalism-Communism Synthesis

Minimum Wage vs. Minimum Income

3 comments:

AuldLochinvar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Champagne said...

You have made no attempt that I can see to relate your comment to the content of this blog post. If you cannot do that, then what you put looks like spam. It will be deleted as such.

AuldLochinvar said...

I agree most heartily with the basic principle of this article, but the assertion about the limits of elected governments leaves out an important fact.
Deep science done by proprietary corporations is very inefficient.
To retain commercial advantage, it is necessary to be secret, especially about the ways that didn't work. So corporate energy science, and corporate medical science, are more expensive than they should be.
That's why France's national electricity from nuclear was a threat to the profits of EU energy companies, and why Canadians pay less for health services than the USA.
If we wish to minimize our impact upon the natural resources that should indeed be shared fairly by all actual persons, then a strong case can be made for publicly owned health and energy services.