Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Biological Model for Politics and Economics

Human Society as Neural Network

A truly democratic political system would offer ways for citizens to share their opinions (information) about what they feel are acceptable levels of pollution, rates of taking or depletion of resources, extent of paving or monoculture, etc. As members of a society, we have a collective duty to share in deciding limits to certain kinds of human impacts on the Earth. In a truly democratic society, opinions (information) about what limits are acceptable would be conveyed to the economic actors (e.g.: corporations) that produce these various kinds of impacts on the Earth. This information would be conveyed in a way so as to affect the behavior of these actors. If most of the people polled in a random survey express the opinion that there is too much pollution or too rapid extraction of limited resources of particular kinds, industries would change the amount of pollution they produce or the rate at which they take those resources. The expressed will of the people would be borne out in reality.

In an economic system, information is conveyed and value is represented by money. If the signal that the people want to send to industry is that we value clean air and water so much that we feel it is necessary for industries to try harder to avoid fouling the air and water, then the most efficient and fair way to communicate this information effectively (so it has an effect) is to attach a fee to those actions that are causing the detrimental impact. If most people responding to a survey feel that a particular pollutant should be more strictly limited, then imposing a fee or raising the fee would give a signal to industry to try harder to reduce that kind of environmental impact. On the other hand, if a random survey revealed that most people feel that a particular kind of emission is not a problem and that it would be OK to allow more of it, then the associated fee could be reduced. Reducing or removing the fee would send a signal to industry that they need not try so hard to reduce that form of environmental impact. When pollution or resource depletion or noise or other potentially adverse impact is not a problem, then a lower fee or no fee makes sense. Attention and resources can then be turned toward more pressing concerns.

A fee is a straightforward way for society to manage pollution and the taking of limited natural resources. Alternately, free market auctions of a limited number of natural resource user-permits could be used to make industries pay a price when they cause adverse impacts on the environment. The auction price of environmental impact permits, or the appropriate fees, would make environmental impacts cost what society collectively decides they must cost in order to induce industry to put the necessary amount of effort into conservation and pollution prevention. 'Necessary effort' is the amount of effort required to bring overall impacts to levels that most people find acceptable. And in a society that respects public property rights, the people would receive a monetary payment equal to their share of the value of natural resources taken by corporate interests in pursuit of economic gain. Fee proceeds would go to all people, to each an equal amount.

Biomass is increasingly being used as fuel. Fuel prices will increase in the coming years, as fossil fuels become more scarce and as governments enact policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. There will be more pressure to convert meadows and forests (what is left of them) into cropland to produce biomass fuel. Also, some farmers who now grow food will switch from food crops to fuel crops. These changes will push food prices higher.

Higher prices for food and new markets for biofuels will mean more incentive for farmers to destroy wildlife habitat to grow more food and fuel. But a public property rights paradigm (a respect for public and private property rights) could mean less incentive for farmers to destroy meadows and forests. If we were to decide as a society (if most people polled in a random survey were to say) that monoculture cropland adversely impacts ecological health because it involves the destruction of diverse ecosystems and wildlife habitat, then we could decide through a random survey what limit on the overall extent of monoculture is most appropriate. In a democratic society, we can identify the 'most appropriate limit' as that which reflects the will of the largest number of people. We could charge a fee to landowners who convert diverse communities of life to monoculture cropland (or who maintain monoculture on landscape that otherwise could support a diverse ecosystem). We could charge such a fee, and we should charge such a fee, if most people felt that such disruption and destruction of wildlife habitat had become excessive and should be curtailed. When we have fees in place according to what land-use types people perceive as problematic and what limits to those activities are deemed appropriate, then on questions specifically related to those impacts, we could say we live in a democracy.

A public property rights paradigm would tend to decrease the social instability that comes with poverty and wealth disparity. Equal sharing of environmental impact fee proceeds (equal sharing of the value to the economy of natural resource wealth) offers a simple, direct way to reduce the hardship caused by rising food prices. Increasing cost of food hurts the poor and dispossessed the most, of course. But an equal payment to all people in the form of a natural wealth stipend helps the poor more than it helps the wealthy. By expanding our respect of property rights to include public property rights, we make a more equitable society. A sharing of natural wealth promotes economic stability because a natural wealth stipend will assure every citizen that, even when they loose their job due to economic slowdown, they will maintain some economic clout. Within this alternative paradigm, a complete loss of confidence and a precipitous drop in spending by individuals simply will not occur under any circumstance. Sharing natural wealth makes a more just and stable economy.

This paradigm that has natural resource wealth being owned equally by all promotes justice by eliminating extreme poverty and reducing disparity of wealth. It also embodies within the economic structure the awareness that biodiversity is more valuable than biomass.

Within this paradigm, expressions of opinion by the people about what are the most appropriate limits on human transformation of the Earth would directly influence the things people do that affect the human community and that impact the larger environment. Similarly, signals from neurons in biological brains affect the behavior of other neurons, and they affect conditions in the larger organism. A system of fees on those human activities that people feel are harmful or should be limited would function as an autonomic nervous system for Earth by helping to maintain a healthy ecological balance. The fees could also be seen as a sensory nervous system for the planet, reducing and preventing injury to or disruption of ecosystems. We become not a cancer on the Earth, fouling and depleting resources beyond what is sustainable for ourselves and for the larger community of life. Instead, we become more like brain cells for a healthy planet, with an economy that functions within limits that the larger ecological system can support.

Neurons, as members of a community, help themselves by helping their neighbors

Natural law requires respect of PUBLIC property rights along with PRIVATE property rights


Anonymous said...

Good reflection John.

It seems like our current capatalist system is the main driver of our nation's actions. Perhaps it will take an extention or alteration of that system to help right some of the mistakes inherent in the system. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

And it also depends on how well informed the public is on issues. Unfortunately most people get their information through the media prism, and is therfore biased. I have no idea how one gets over this problem. And even when people have taken the time to educate themselves (and very few do) they often pick up on memes and slogans which distort the argument rather badly.