Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Is civilization a success or a failure, or is it too soon to tell?

As long as there is grinding poverty on the same planet that supports extravagant luxury and opulence, we cannot say we have a just society. As long as we are consuming natural resources at profligate, unsustainable rates, civilization will be subject to collapse. If we have a large fraction of human beings living in dire poverty and natural resources are being depleted at truly astounding rates—in short, if our civilization is unjust and unsustainable—we cannot call it a success.

When we study history, we can see that civilizations thrive and collapse. But there has never been a collapse of a global civilization. Whether there will be such a collapse will depend on what we do. A key question will be whether we respect our basic moral principles and remember the golden rule when voting. Since we have no authority as individuals to initiate use of force against peaceful people, then we have no authority to delegate that power to government or to give political power (our vote) to politicians, to lawmakers, who would use government as an instrument of force or violence against a peaceful person. There should be no first-use of force by government; no regulation of private behavior by government. When we recognize this limit on our freedom of action in the voting booth and exercise appropriate self-restraint in our voting choices, we will free up attention and resources of government to address the more urgent problems of the day.

Can we create a world where the people could express their opinion about what are the most appropriate rates of use and taking of natural resources (publicly-owned resources)? Can we design our public policy such that the people's expressed preferences are taken into account in a way that makes a real difference, so that only the environmental impacts that most people say are appropriate and acceptable would be manifest in reality? We would base our collective opinion on what citizens see in their environment and what they learn from other citizens like themselves (or from citizens somewhat like themselves, but with different experiences, education and character types).

A democratic political system that respects public property rights would provide mechanisms whereby information (opinions) from citizens about acceptable levels of pollution, rates of taking or depletion of resources, extent of paving or monoculture, etc., could be conveyed to the people and (or including) corporate entities who actually produce these kinds of effects. And the citizens—each person (each natural person)—ought to receive a monetary payment equal to their share of the value of natural resource wealth taken by corporate interests for the purpose of economic gain.

In an economic system, information is carried and value is represented by money. If the signal that the people want to send to industry is that they value clean air and water so much that they feel it is necessary for industries to try harder to avoid fouling the air and water, then the most efficient and fair way of communicating this information would be to charge a fee on those actions that are causing the harm that the people want to limit. A free market auction of a limited number of natural resource user-permits would cause those resources that the people wish to conserve to cost more. If the number of permits issued reflects what most people feel is an acceptable level of environmental impact, then the price of natural resources would come to match what society collectively decides they must cost to cause industry to put the necessary amount of effort into conservation and pollution prevention.

When a random survey shows that a particular kind of environmental impact is neither excessive nor is it too severely limited— when most people say the particular kind of environmental impact is about right (whether it be the extent of paving, intensity of light pollution, rate of emission of carbon dioxide, methane or other chemical, for example)—then we will know that the appropriate amount of effort is being put into controlling that kind of impact. We will know that the fee is set at the right amount.

Within a public property rights paradigm, expressions of opinion by the people about what are the most appropriate limits on human transformation of the Earth would directly affect the actions that humans perform that impact the Earth and that affect the human community. Similarly, signals from neurons in biological brains affect the state or behavior of other neurons, and they affect conditions in the larger organism. A system of fees on those activities that the people feel are harmful or should be limited (or sale of a limited number of permits) would function as an autonomic nervous system for Earth by helping to maintain a healthy ecological balance.

When we define appropriate limits to government power by ending the practice of using government to regulate private behavior, we bring our society more into accord with our basic moral principles. When we free up attention and resources of government that have, up to this point, been devoted to regulating private behavior, those resources and that mental effort can be directed toward the task of regulating effectively those things that people do that adversely impact the natural and social environments.

Moral principles require that we respect privacy. Moral principles require that we respect public property rights and share natural wealth equitably. Moral principles and human rights (including property rights) are a kind of natural law. If we respect basic laws of nature (moral principles are natural law that governs social interaction) we can produce a sustainable and just civilization.

Natural law requires equal ownership of natural resources

Human society as neural network

1 comment:

Tom Byers said...

I don't think collapse is likely but the horror of another dark age is reason enough to make preparations. We ought to have plans to preserve knowledge in Perenno facilities.