Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Open Letter to our Secretary of State

Dear Secretary Clinton,

Disparity of wealth and abject poverty in the world today fuel anger and desperation in the dispossessed, and in those who identify with them. This anger and desperation can be exploited by those with an extremist agenda who would use violence to further their aims. To allow grinding poverty to persist, then, threatens our safety. We could change our political and economic systems, to reduce disparity, and to ensure that those on the low end of the income distribution spectrum are assured a significant minimum. By promoting the material security of those who are least secure, we would be promoting the security of all.

We need not violate any of our principles to bring about this change. Indeed, we need only live by our principles more faithfully. Almost everyone believes that the air and water and other natural resources belong to all of us. We could require that a fee be paid by corporations that take or degrade the quality of natural resources. The proceeds of the pollution fees and natural resource user-fees would constitute a monetary representation of the value of Earth's natural resources (including air and water) and could rightly be shared among all people equally. The value of these resources has been estimated at $33 trillion per year.

We should pay more attention to how natural resource wealth is managed and apportioned. We allow those in pursuit of profit to take or degrade natural wealth, but we do not require any compensation be paid to the owners of the resources, the people at large. If we address this inconsistency in our own behavior in relation to our principles, we will solve many social and environmental ills.

Equal sharing of the wealth of the commons would mean about $20 per day for every person on the planet--perhaps enough to make everyone feel that they have a stake in the system and should work to build and improve it, rather than destroy it. (Even those who would not do evil may sit by quietly when they know another is bent on destruction, if they feel that the current system is unjust and unsustainable, and they see no prospect for meaningful change.) We must win the hearts and minds of the world's people if we want them to help build and defend a sustainable civilization, a free and democratic global society.

We must empower the dispossessed. Would they choose a world that impoverishes them? Within a free and democratic society, what kind of world would they make? What kind of world would we make? Each and every one of us should have opportunities to express our opinion in meaningful ways (in ways that make a difference) regarding how much pollution, paving, noise, monoculture, or extraction of limited resources is just too much. Agreement (or lack of agreement) between people's expressed will on these questions on the one hand and the actual conditions in the world on the other could serve as an objective measure of democracy.

This change would bring our society more into accord with our own principles regarding commons property ownership; and with principles regarding responsibility for compensating owners when damage is done or value taken. Human rights (including public and private property rights) are based on moral principle. Moral principles are natural laws that govern social interaction. So a public property rights paradigm can be seen as a major step toward respect of fundamental natural laws.

Economic power based on a shared ownership of natural resource wealth belongs to all of us. Our political and economic systems should reflect this fact.

John Champagne

This letter was posted as a comment in response to a news report at npr.org

Read more of my comments at npr.org

Equal sharing of natural wealth promotes justice and sustainability

More security for the least secure means more security for all

Monday, February 01, 2010

What do we need to know that news media and universities are not telling us?

There is a systemic flaw in our civilization that threatens its stability..

Self-interest dictates that we look for the low price. Enlightened self-interest suggests that prices should tell us the truth about real costs so that we can make well-informed decisions. But 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 impact 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 and buying decisions to skew toward more environmentally harmful acts. Consumers do things that tend to deplete resources and pollute air and water more than what they would do if the cost of the degraded environmental quality were factored into the prices of the things they buy.

"Economic externalities" (hidden costs) cause us to do the wrong thing. This distortion harms the interests of all of Earth's inhabitants. It causes long-term damage that will harm the interests of future inhabitants, including our own descendants. When markets function with a lack of regard for environmental impacts and quality of life (because natural resource user-fees and pollution fees are not part of the economic calculus), citizens may loose interest in maintaining free markets as an efficient and fair way to allocate resources. 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 or will need. They cannot speak up in protest. Should we?

We should charge fees to those who degrade environmental quality or take natural wealth in pursuit of profit, and if we believe that natural resource wealth is owned by all equally, then any money paid by users of these resources should go to all the people; to each an equal amount. A proper accounting for this wealth would end abject poverty in the world. We would not only improve the efficiency of markets and of our whole economic system in terms of natural resources used, we would also improve the fairness of markets by making access to them (in the form of economic power) more universal across the human population. When natural resource wealth is shared equally, disparity of wealth becomes a much smaller problem.

It is immoral--particularly so for journalists--to acquiesce in a system that gives people incentive to do the wrong thing. It is immoral 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 more efficient management and more fair accounting of natural resource wealth (which is necessary as a foundation of a sustainable civilization) would bring 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 somewhere can explain why this analysis is flawed; or start accounting for natural resource wealth in their reporting.


Minimum Wage versus Minimum Income

Gaia Brain paradigm: Integration of Human Society and the Biosphere