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.

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