Sunday, September 25, 2011

A sustainable and just civilization is built on principle

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

Indeed, to be complete human beings, we must exercise our moral sense. This means, primarily, that we respect the golden rule. A sincere and thorough commitment to basic moral principles, including the golden rule, implies a strong commitment to human rights, including property rights, public and private.

When the people at large are recognized as the rightful owners of the air and water and other natural resources (meaning that the people have a collective right to use these resources and to stop others from messing them up), we will require that industries pay a fee when they pollute air and water or when they take and degrade natural resource wealth in pursuit of profit. Fee proceeds should go to all people, as compensation for damage done or value taken. The fees charged for using that which belongs to everybody could increase when demands on natural resources exceed what most people would say is acceptable. (We could use random surveys to learn what the average opinion of the people is regarding appropriate limits for various kinds of environmental impacts.) A system of fees would cause industries that use natural resources to try to decrease their demand for them, thus bringing actual impacts on the Earth into line with what the people want. A policy based on moral principle that recognizes public property rights is also highly consistent with basic democratic principles.

An advantage of a system that requires industries to pay a fee or rent to the people for using resources that belong to all of us is that, simply by adjusting the fee, we can give capital markets, investors, and business planners the information and incentives they need to most efficiently produce the reality that the people consent to in terms of acceptable environmental impacts. Industries will try to avoid causing adverse impacts on the environment, in an effort to reduce costs and increase profits. This will help to ensure that we will have the kind of world that we want to live in. When natural resource values are reflected in prices, our economy will respond in the most efficient way possible to the urgent need for significant reductions in humans' environmental impacts.

The key to a sustainable and just civilization is to follow moral principle in all action, with particular attention being paid to actions that exert and amplify power or influence over distance. (When the effects of our actions are limited in scale and extent, we can often rely on normal interpersonal communication to alert us when we do wrong.) When we participate in the modern economy by spending money, we can influence people at a great distance. But with environmental impacts reflected in prices, we will be less likely to give incentive to others to do the wrong thing.

The golden rule implies libertarian principles and green political policies. 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, limits to government power are to the public realm, with private action being privately regulated.

We can apply the principles of agriculture, economics, politic and, indeed, all of the various fields of knowledge to produce an impressive civilization. But real success over the long term requires sustainability. Real success requires an end to environmental degradation and grinding poverty. Real success requires a consistent and thorough application of moral principle.


A longer version of this article:
A sustainable and just civilization requires that we exercise our moral sense.

Quantum mechanics of gaia brain theory

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Systemic flaws are not reported

What the news media are not telling us: There is a defect in our economic system that threatens the stability and sustainability of civilization.

If we start from basic democratic principles, we can recognize a right of the people to define limits to pollution and limits on the overall rates of taking of the various kinds of natural resources. From this, we can see that citizens are stakeholders whose preferences must be taken into account when industries decide how much of this or that pollutant to release or resource to take. If our commitments to democratic principles and the stakeholder role of citizens are to be respected, then the collective decisions of industry about how much to impact the environment cannot be allowed to exceed what most people would identify as acceptable limits.

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 prices do not tell us the truth. 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, they choose to buy 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. 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. This is potentially a very serious risk, because the preservation of institutions requires that the people have confidence in those institutions.

Hidden costs equate to a lack of transparency. This defect is a lack of transparency. The distorted (dishonest) price structure is giving us bad information (false information about costs) and we are cut off from the consequences of our choices.

This defect in our economic system 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, by depleting resources that they might rely on and polluting air and water that they will need. They cannot speak up in protest. Should we? Where are the reporters and commentators who will report on and speak out against a defect in our economic system that gives us incentive to do the wrong thing?

If we believe that industries should feel some financial penalty when they take or degrade natural wealth, so that prices will reflect these otherwise hidden costs, we could charge a fee or require the purchase of a permit when adverse impacts are imposed on society and the environment. If we believe that natural resource wealth is owned by all people 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) universal across the human population. When natural resource wealth is shared equally, disparity of wealth becomes a much smaller problem.

It is immoral to acquiesce in a system that gives people incentive to do the wrong thing. It is immoral, also, 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 concept in reality. If more efficient management and fair accounting of natural resource wealth (necessary as a foundation of a sustainable civilization) would bring an end to extreme poverty, it would seem to be something worth talking about. It is particularly important that journalists speak up when they recognize systemic flaws and see solutions presented.

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

Perhaps a reporter or editor somewhere can explain why this analysis is flawed; or start reporting on natural resource wealth accounting.



Open Letter to Secretary of State Clinton

Natural Law Requires Respect of Public Property Rights, Too

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Golden Rule and Public Property Rights... There's a connection

Equal sharing of natural wealth promotes justice and sustainability.

Natural phenomena emerge in the cosmos according to natural law. Moral precepts can be seen as natural laws of social interaction, while the emergence of civilization can be seen as a particular kind of natural phenomenon. But civilization in its current form is plagued by widespread extreme poverty and our society is threatening to produce a planetary ecological disaster. We are challenged by circumstances to create a sustainable and more just civilization. This will require a fuller respect of basic moral principles.

Civilizations thrive then collapse because they grow beyond what the natural environment can sustain. Economies boom then bust because they grow beyond what their resource bases can support. These sometimes wild swings may appear to be cyclical variations, but they actually reflect chaotic instabilities. The arc of civilization, the boom and bust of the business 'cycle' and the formation and collapse of real estate and financial bubbles are all the same phenomenon seen at different time scales and different magnitudes, and with different enabling factors becoming scarce at the point of collapse. A closer adherence to basic moral principles would mean a dampening of these gyrations. Respect of moral precepts would keep natural variations within limits that would ensure that they would not pose an existential threat to the integrity of the system.

If we recognize a basic human right to define overall limits to environmental impacts, then, as citizens of a democratic society, we must acknowledge a corresponding responsibility to create a government that brings about the limits in reality that the average opinion of the people says are most appropriate. But our governmental institutions are not functioning in a way that ensures that actual impacts are within limits acceptable to most people. So we must change our institutions. We must change the way that we participate in the political process.

Increasing social instabilities and dwindling resources present us with a great challenge. A change in our thinking about property rights could offer a solution. Since the advent of civilization, we have developed the concept of private property rights. Now, if we look closely at our fundamental rights and moral duty in relation to the natural environment and our social environment, we can see the concept of public property rights emerging. This concept is rooted in our innate sense that we have a right to use air and water and other natural resources. With public property rights respected, natural opportunities (natural wealth) will be shared equally. This concept of property rights implies that we also have a collective duty to define limits regarding the extent to which human beings will degrade, deplete and destroy these shared resources. A public-property-rights paradigm will emerge when we bring our actions in the political and economic realms more into alignment with basic moral principles. When we collectively resolve to only vote for lawmakers who support policies that will result in effective limits to adverse environmental impacts (limits consistent with the will of the people at large), then we will begin to carry out the duties that correspond to our public property claims. When we demand that economic externalities be accounted for and that fee proceeds related to that accounting be shared equally, we will begin to enjoy the benefits related to our shared claim to a right to enjoy the benefits of natural wealth.

As a kind of natural law, basic human rights must be respected. Society cannot hold together over the long term when basic rights are chronically and systematically neglected. When we carry out our collective duty to use our systems of governance and the political process to define effective limits to humans' environmental impacts, then our basic right to define these limits will be respected in practice.

We need to start accounting for economic externalities. Externalities are those side-effects of economic activity that are not reflected on the financial balance sheet of profit and loss, income and expense. Sometimes there are spillover effects produced by economic actors that actually benefit a community, but more often, externalities consist of negative side-effects of industrial and commercial activity. Externalities (also called 'market failure') can be seen as a way that producers (and consumers) foist environmental impact and depletion costs onto society and the larger community of life.

Pollution is a classic example of a negative externality. Resource degradation from excessive use or extraction of resources is another. Since these costs to society and to all life on Earth are not reflected in prices or in the cost of doing business, producers do not take into proper account the true costs of their actions. Corporations will pollute the air and water more and use up resources faster when the costs of doing so are hidden or partially hidden. In pursuit of higher profits, economic actors put effort into reducing costs that they can see on the balance sheet. When costs to society are not shown on profit-and-loss statements, businesses act as if those costs do not exist. Almost since we started carrying things (or since animals much like us started carrying things), we have traded based on what we could see as the costs and benefits of a transaction. But the effect of externalities is to prevent us from seeing clearly.

We know that natural resources are valuable—even indispensable—to industry and to society at large. Yet we allow industries to take and degrade natural wealth without any expectation that they will pay compensation for the damage done or value taken. A fee charged against those who take or degrade natural resource wealth is a tool that society can use to influence industrial and economic sectors, to ensure that sufficient effort is put into resource conservation and sustainable business practices. This fee mechanism can replace other, less efficient means of managing natural resources. A fee would reflect the environmental costs of human activity on the financial bottom line. Costs now hidden would become apparent. Fee proceeds should be shared equally to all the world's people.

Charging fees on the taking or degradation of natural resources could moderate particular kinds of human economic activity, with the aim of keeping overall impacts within limits that most people find acceptable. This could ensure that the basic human right to collectively decide such limits (a mere theoretical construct) is respected in practice and manifest in reality. The hope and expectation is that people would in fact choose to keep overall impacts within limits that the larger environment can sustain. Eternal vigilance by citizens will be required to ensure that a human population that has the ability to exceed what the Earth can sustain in reality does not go beyond those limits. It might be easy to persuade people that stricter limits on environmental impacts are preferable when it is understood that stricter limits will mean higher payments to the people by those who produce the adverse impacts. Higher fees charged to industries that pollute or deplete natural resources in pursuit of profit means higher payments to the people in the form of a natural wealth dividend. There is a happy coincidence of interests: What is good for the individual is also good for the community. Similarly, profit-seeking corporations will do things to save money and increase profit that will also benefit society and the larger environment.

Proceeds from environmental impact fees would be a monetary representation of the value of natural resource wealth. Equal sharing of these proceeds would buffer the downward slide of a shrinking economy, since the entire human population would continue to receive a modest income from shared natural resource wealth, independent of income from work, investments or family inheritance. A floor on the loss of human confidence that causes or contributes to business contractions would be created. Spending in support of basic needs would continue. Money will continue to flow to the most vital sectors of the economy. The part of the economy devoted to meeting basic needs would then be insulated from the worst vicissitudes of the business 'cycle'. With human-caused stresses on ecosystems and demands on natural resources kept sufficiently low through a fee mechanism, and with swings in the economic climate moderated, civilization becomes a more sustainable and more stable phenomenon.

The short answer for how to change institutions toward a public property rights paradigm of sustainability and moral responsibility would be to start voting green AND libertarian (or left-libertarian). A marriage of these threads from our political tradition would combine a good sense of the practical challenges and responsibilities of government (what government must do) with a principled understanding of the proper limits to government power (what government must refrain from doing). And the other short answer for how to make this change happen is to let people know it is possible. Let people (including candidates for public office) know that you want it to happen.

Government power has limits to its authority, as does individual power and autonomy. Political activities (such as voting) must be moral undertakings to have good results. If we understand that governments get their just powers from the consent of the governed, then any moral foundation for governmental powers requires that we only delegate powers to government that we legitimately have as individuals. If we do not have authority to initiate the use of force or coercion against a peaceful person, then we cannot delegate this power to governments. We cannot legitimately use government to regulate others’ private actions. We cannot legitimately vote for politicians who would do so, either. Principled limits to governmental power and authority must be respected.

It is quite fitting that we should stop trying to regulate private behaviors as a matter of principle. Such a change may be absolutely necessary from a practical standpoint, too. Perhaps only by freeing-up the attention and resources now devoted to fighting drug wars and other wars can we have sufficient attention and resources available to meet the great challenges facing the entire human community.

The new economy will make material consumption cost more on the financial bottom line. This will reflect more honestly the fact that 'materialism' costs much in terms of natural resources used. This new economy will spread material wealth more evenly across the human population, while improving the fluidity of the job market. (People will be more free to leave oppressive or disagreeable employment situations when their work income is not their sole source of income.) The new economy will limit pollution levels and rates of taking of natural resources so that they are within limits that most people agree are acceptable. We will have a more true democracy.

This change makes the chaotic thriving and collapse of civilizations (the large-scale version of the boom and bust of the business ‘cycle‘) into a less wildly-gyrating phenomenon: Still on the edge of chaos, perhaps (as are all living systems), but potentially a sustainable phenomenon.


Minimum Wage vs. Minimum Income

Biological Model for Politics and Economics

Monday, April 25, 2011

Natural Law Requires Respect of PUBLIC Property Rights, too.

Human beings have a collective moral right to assert public property claims. We have a collective moral duty to do so, too. Public property rights are human rights. Human rights are an example of natural law. As a kind of natural law, human rights (including property rights) must be respected.

Public property rights include the collective right of the people to share in the benefits of commons resources. Public property rights include a collective right to decide overall limits to humans' impact on the environment. This right implies a corresponding collective moral duty to create systems of governance that assure that natural wealth is shared equitably and that limit pollution and rates of taking of natural resources so that actual impacts are consistent with the will of the people at large. No society can hold together in the long run in the absence of a respect for basic rights. Economic justice, the stability of our society and the future health of the planet all depend on us recognizing these rights and carrying out these responsibilities.

Natural phenomena emerge in the cosmos according to natural law. Moral precepts can be seen as natural laws of social interaction, while the emergence of civilization can be seen as a particular kind of natural phenomenon. But civilization as we've made it thus far exhibits some serious flaws related to our near-total neglect of a basic moral precept. There is near-universal agreement that human beings have a collective right to define limits to pollution and limits on the rate of taking of natural resources, yet we have thus far failed to carry out our collective duty to establish those limits in reality-- limits that are in accord with the average opinion of the people. Neglect of this principle impairs economic justice and it impedes efforts to build a sustainable society. We have a civilization that is plagued by widespread extreme poverty and we are threatening to produce a planetary ecological disaster. We are challenged by circumstances to create a sustainable and more just civilization. This requires a fuller respect of basic moral principles.

Civilizations thrive then collapse because they grow beyond what the natural environment can sustain. Economies boom then bust because they grow beyond what their resource bases can support. The arc of civilization and the boom and bust of the business 'cycle' are the same phenomenon seen at different scales. These sometimes wild swings may appear to be cyclical variations, but they actually reflect chaotic instabilities. A closer adherence to basic principles would mean a dampening of these gyrations to the point that they would no longer be an existential threat to the system.

A policy of charging fees when industries take or degrade natural resources could be used to moderate human economic activity, with the aim of keeping overall environmental impacts within limits that most people find acceptable. (We might assume that people will identify as acceptable that which they believe is sustainable--a society that is democratic regarding limits to environmental impacts is more likely to be sustainable.) We could use a system of random surveys to discern whether more people want to be more strict in our limits on pollution levels and on the rates of taking of resources, or more want to be more lenient, or whether there is a balance between the number of people in one camp vs. the other. A fee is a lever or mechanism that society could use for applying incentives to influence the behavior of those who use natural resources. Fees for particular kinds of environmental impacts would rise or fall, as need be, when actual conditions do not match what most people want to see. Fees would be held steady when reality matches what the largest number of people say is the best balance between the alternative positions of freedom vs. constraint.

Defining appropriate limits to humans' environmental impacts is a primary function of government in an advanced industrial society. The system described here would ensure that the basic human right to collectively decide such limits would be respected in practice. The hope and expectation is that people will choose to keep overall impacts within limits that the larger environment can sustain. To borrow from Andrew Jackson: eternal vigilance is the price citizens must pay to ensure that a human population that has the ability to go beyond what the Earth can support in fact does not go beyond those limits. Vigilance of citizens (or at least a proclivity to want more strict controls) could be encouraged by the very nature of the control system. When natural wealth is shared equally, the inclination of citizens will likely be to support strong (sustainable) limits on environmental impacts. A vote for stricter controls on impacts would translate to higher payments to the people if fee proceeds are distributed in the form of a natural wealth stipend. The interests of individual citizens, then, comes to coincide with the interests of the larger community of life and of future generations of humans. This relationship between individual and community mirrors the relationship between the cell and larger organism.

The sum of all proceeds from environmental impact fees would be a monetary representation of the value that natural resources contribute to the economy and to human society. Citizens would have a natural interest in voting for less environmental impact (higher fees) because that would mean a larger payment in the form of a natural wealth stipend. Sharing of fee proceeds is a way for society to equitably share (this monetary representation of) natural wealth. Equal sharing of these proceeds would buffer the downward slide of a shrinking economy, since the entire human population would continue to receive a modest income from shared natural resource wealth, independent of income from work, investments or family inheritance. A 'floor' on the loss of human confidence that causes or contributes to business contractions would be created. Spending in support of basic human needs would continue. Resources would continue to flow to the sectors of the economy that provide essential goods and services. With a modest income assured, people would continue to spend in ways that would support these most vital sectors. The parts of the economy devoted to meeting basic needs would be insulated from the worst vicissitudes of the business 'cycle'. Swings in the economic climate would be moderated. With demands on renewable biological resources (e. g., forests and fish stocks) kept sufficiently low and with mineral resource availability extended farther into the future through a fee mechanism, civilization becomes a more sustainable phenomenon. With extreme poverty ended and disparity of wealth reduced through equal sharing of fee proceeds, society rests on a stronger foundation of justice, which would further contribute to social stability.

We can imagine an equal payment to all people that would protect every person against extreme material deprivation: A natural resource wealth stipend. It would be drawn from the proceeds of fees charged to those who take or degrade natural resource wealth in pursuit of profit. Those who are at the greatest disadvantage under the present system will be better off with such a policy. Respect for public property rights would significantly improve the material condition of those who are least well off economically. We will no longer have large regions of the world populated by mostly dispossessed people.

Everyone benefits when the economy adapts to the pricing of natural resource wealth. This adaptation is implicit in the transition away from an economy that allows economic externalities to go uncompensated. Externalities are the hidden costs (or benefits) of economic activity. For example, the cost of pollution (born by the human community and the larger community of life) is hidden from investors, corporations and consumers when producers do not pay a fee in proportion to the amount of pollution that they cause. If there is no monetary payment made when pollution is created, then the harm to the environment is not reflected on the financial balance sheet. Economic actors are unable to see costs that are off the balance sheet and therefore hidden from view. They cannot properly take account of these costs. Because environmental impact costs are hidden, all choices about what manufacturing process to adopt, what products to buy, what mode of transport to use, what to eat, etc., are skewed toward more pollution and depletion of resources and away from sustainability.

Putting a price on natural resource wealth moves us toward an economy that embodies the concept of public property rights in its structure and accounting. Industrial processes and business models will be redesigned to improve resource efficiency. Individuals will change habits toward more sustainable practices. People will choose more environmentally-friendly lifestyles--even if they are not trying to do so because they are inclined to be concerned about environmental issues. This means improved conditions for everyone: More ecological health and more personal health. (Environmental impact pricing would favor whole foods, locally-produced foods and plant-based diets.) A sustainable society built on a broader moral foundation is good for all.

Taking ownership of our environment is even good for us in ways that may not be immediately obvious. For example, if we were to decide that advertising billboards are an adverse environmental impact due to their contribution to unwanted visual blight, then fees could be charged to those who post such ads, to assure that the prevalence of billboards on the landscape is kept within acceptable limits. Maybe signage in earth tones would be considered less offensive. (What would a random survey reveal?) There could be a graduated fee structure.

Now imagine that every kind of television or radio broadcast is a sort of billboard in the public space (the public airwaves). If we want to manage the use of the airwaves in a way that is consistent with the will of the people, we may decide to charge a fee for certain uses of the broadcast spectrum that promote private or commercial interests rather than the public interest. With the proceeds of this fee, we could pay a stipend to broadcasters and/or producers who offer programming that a random survey indicates would make a valuable contribution to the public interest or public good, in the view of most people. This bending or shaping of our use of the broadcast spectrum toward the public interest might change the character of broadcast television and radio in profound ways. We could glimpse how these changes would affect our culture if we start asking the questions. Given a multitude of choices for how to use the broadcast spectrum, how might we best promote the public interest? Make spectrum space available for programs according to what random surveys indicate would promote the public interest. This would almost certainly produce a mix of programs that would serve the public good more effectively than what we have today.

We can make the world more what we want it to be. By changing our relationship with our political and economic systems--by changing the way we participate in them--toward a fuller respect of basic principles, we transform our society and ourselves. With a change in the rules toward greater respect of basic moral principles, we build a global civilization that is both sustainable and more just.


A Biological Model for Politics and Economics

Biodiversity as a public good

Sunday, April 10, 2011

More security for the least secure means more security for all

It is easier to tear down and destroy than it is to build and create, whether we are talking about a tower of blocks, a work of art or a civilization. A civilization is stronger and more resilient when its citizens believe that it is to the benefit of all to participate in seeking improvements to this human society and the ecosystem that sustains it. Ideally, each of us should appreciate and fully identify in the development of a promising and beneficent global society. We should strive to make a world that recognizes the people as the rightful owners of natural resource wealth, so that the world we create together will not be a world that has more paving or pollution or noise or extraction of limited resources than what most people say is acceptable.

A society that recognizes the people as the rightful owners of the Earth's natural resources will not tolerate inequitable exploitation of this shared legacy. A guaranteed minimum income for everyone on Earth could result from the collection of fees for use of natural resources in agriculture, industry and commerce. A minimum income would decrease the problems associated with disparity of wealth and would end abject poverty, while the universal nature of such a payment would ensure that no one would forgo productive work for fear of loosing their public property dividend. As our economy becomes more fair and transparent, more people will come to feel an ownership in the system. They will be more likely to want to protect and improve rather than destroy. By making the least secure among us more secure, we will make everyone more secure.

Attaching fees to the use of natural resources would create a mechanism whereby citizens could exert their will on the larger economic system, to define appropriate limits to potentially harmful human activities. What levels of pollution and what rates of extraction of resources are acceptable? We could all share in deciding limits to human activities insofar as those activities impinge on the commons. If most people polled in a random survey say that they want stricter limits on monoculture or paving or a particular kind of pollution, for example, then the associated fee would increase, causing industries to try harder to reduce the offending activity. And the inverse is also true: Any activity that had been discouraged more strongly than the people now deemed necessary would have its associated fees reduced. The actual conditions on the Earth that result from the sum of all human activities would come to reflect the expressed will of the people.

In such a democratic society, we would not allow loss of biodiversity, pollution of our streams and rivers, high rates of mineral depletion, (including fossil fuels), loss of our starscape every night of the year to light pollution--at least, we would not allow these things beyond what is acceptable to the people. Given a voice in the management of natural resource wealth (which owners should have) we likely would not consent to the conditions in the world as we've made it thus far. When we fully apply our principles of ownership and fair compensation to questions of natural resource wealth management--when we recognize commons or public property rights in our accounting--much will change. We will have a synthesis of capitalism and communism in a truly democratic society. We will have a more sustainable and just civilization.

Equal sharing of natural wealth promotes justice and sustainabliity

Monday, March 07, 2011

Minimum Wage vs. Minimum Income

Equal ownership of natural resource wealth promotes social justice and sustainability.

Minimum wage laws would seem to help those who have jobs at or near the defined minimum level. And they help those who make and sell machinery that replaces low-skilled workers. Minimum wage laws would seem to hurt those who might earn below the legally-defined limit but who have not yet developed skills or experience sufficient to command a higher wage. Minimum wage laws harm everyone if the rising cost of labor causes employers to choose production methods that lead to more pollution or depletion of resources or destruction of wildlife habitat than what a more labor-intensive method would cause.

We cannot create wealth by legislation, but we can alleviate poverty by ending the current practice of allowing theft of natural resources from the people. We all own the air and water--that is, we all have an equal right to use the air and water, and to say what the limits on pollution levels should be. (Some may recognize this basic right as a function of natural law, while others may see our right to breathe air and drink water as flowing from God's grace, but these different views are not mutually exclusive.) We also have an equal right to access the shared mineral wealth of Earth, and a right to share in deciding overall limits to levels of pollution and to the rates of taking of resources.

We could attach fees to the taking of resources and the release of pollution, both as a way to measure the value of natural resources and services (owned by the people and used by industry in pursuit of profit), and as a way to discourage unwanted and potentially harmful environmental impacts. We could set the fees at the levels that would result in only the amount of pollution and rate of resource extraction that the people deem permissible. (Industries would not be able to afford to pollute so much, as the cost of doing so increased.) The fee proceeds could and should be shared among all people equally, because these proceeds would in fact be a monetary representation of the value of resources owned by all. Public policy would assure not a minimum wage, but a minimum income.

If we look beyond questions of air and water quality and minerals management, we can see that this method of charging a fee or rent for causing adverse environmental impacts could be applied to the management of other commons resources. The number and diversity of fish in the sea is decreasing. We could attach a fee to the taking of those species that are threatened with depletion. We could attach VERY HIGH fees to the taking or killing of any member of a species that we do not want anyone to take, so that no one will see that activity as profitable.

Biodiversity is being lost at an astounding rate. Considering the current rates of desertification and loss of topsoil, the pace of forest destruction, the speed of encroachment on and paving of wilderness areas, the increasing threats to coral reefs, and our ongoing assault on climate stability, one might wonder whether we really care what kind of world we will leave for our children. If we were to decide that protecting biodiversity and promoting ecosystem health is a worthy public policy goal, we could charge a fee for any land use that disturbs or decreases biodiversity, from monoculture to asphalt, with the fee greater for those activities that produce more harmful impacts on the Earth and that are more disruptive of wildlife habitat.

With all people voting (through random-sample surveys, which could be conducted by any interested person) on whether the amount of paving, rates of taking of resources, levels of pollution, etc., are acceptable or should change, we would have a system where we could all share in sculpting the overall human impact on Earth. We would shape the world to match what we want it to be. Our economy would function in a way that would bring about a balance between supply of and demand for produced goods and services, AND it would achieve an appropriate balance, as defined by the people, between preserving environmental quality and promoting ecosystem health on the one hand, and the convenience of availing ourselves of natural resource wealth in pursuit of human goals on the other hand.

The amount of money collected through fees on the putting of pollution and the taking and degrading of resources would be substantial. We may not be able to afford such a system and the current system of taxes on income and sales. We may want to eliminate those taxes, or reduce them to negligible levels. (Some sales tax might be appropriate, to cover the cost of policing the marketplace.) We could fund community services from our 'accounting for externalities' fees. The monies collected could be shared among all people equally. We could each spend an agreed-upon fraction (perhaps half) on community needs (e.g.: libraries, schools, public health, police and fire protection, etc.) and spend the remainder on our own personal needs. We would all share in creating the kind of environment that we would choose. We would share, in a more direct and obvious way, decisions about what our community priorities should be. And no one would live in abject poverty.

This paradigm sees the role of government as an arbiter between the individual and community. It recognizes no authority of government to initiate the use of force against citizens. Only those actions, by individuals or corporate entities, that adversely affect others would come within the purview of government. In fact, government, per se, would not exist as we know it. The decisions of government would become dispersed, decentralized to all the people. This 'public realm only' focus for government action is an important point because such profound change cannot occur except through the active support of the people. Many people subscribe to the libertarian view that the government ought not initiate the use of force against citizens. Libertarians will appreciate this paradigm if they are persuaded that it appropriately draws the line between regulated or restricted actions (those that affect others or the community) on the one hand, and actions which are the free choice of individuals (private behavior) on the other hand.

Some people believe that the prevalence of outdoor advertising signs and billboards is too high to allow for an aesthetically pleasing visual landscape. Is the prevalence of outdoor lighting so high that our ability to see the stars has become too severely diminished? We may want to adopt a few "lights out" nights, to remind ourselves that there are stars out there. If enough people share these views, then this vision will be borne out in reality. Perhaps someday the power to decide these kinds of questions will be vested in the people. It will be if we, the people, care enough to take that power into our hands.

Equal Sharing of Natural Resources Promotes Justice and Sustainability.

More security for the least secure means more security for all

Friday, February 04, 2011

Governments that initiate force or coercion violate moral principle

We violate the Golden Rule when we vote for politicians and give our allegiance to governments that attempt to regulate private behavior.

Is it possible to create a sustainable and just civilization where neglect of basic philosophical principles is commonplace? The most fundamental moral principle, the Golden Rule, familiar to all religious traditions--and embraced by skeptics, atheists and agnostics as well--requires that we limit our actions so that we do not produce effects on others that we would not want for ourselves. Yet this is the error we commit when we support politicians, policies and governments that meddle in the private lives of peaceful citizens. Using government as a kind of tool, we are doing to others exactly what we would not want done to ourselves.

Attempts to regulate private behavior not only infringe on basic civil and human rights, they also inevitably draw resources and attention away from the legitimate functions of government. We are less able to effectively and appropriately regulate public behavior that actually causes harm when we are distracted in this way. The proper function of government is to regulate public behavior. Any action that is private, that is not open to public view and that does not impose effects on any individual against their will is not a legitimate target for control by government.

Let us consider the Golden Rule when we cast our ballot and when we communicate our interests and concerns to our elected representatives. A political path that respects this most fundamental moral principle might seek a marriage of libertarian and green political traditions. Not "Republican or Democrat", but "Libertarian AND Green", if we wish to embody this philosophical principle in our political life. Guided by the first principle of libertarian politics, we would refrain from giving any support to any policy or politician that would initiate force or coercion against any peaceful person. With a green political agenda, we would ensure that the overall level of pollution and the rates of taking of natural resources would be kept within limits acceptable to the largest number of people—and within limits respectful of the interests of other inhabitants of the planet.

With a libertarian perspective that respects public and private property rights, and with a green social conscience, we would expect and require that polluters and others who degrade natural resource wealth will pay a fee, money to the people, as compensation for the damage done or value taken. Such a public property rights paradigm could serve as a foundation for a society that is both more sustainable and more just.


Systemic flaws are not reported

Who should decide how to spend public funds?