Saturday, December 22, 2012

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. This is true whether we are talking about a tower of blocks, a work of art or a civilization. Our civilization will be stronger and more resilient when most people believe that we are all better off when we seek to improve our society and the health of the ecosystem that sustains it. Ideally, each of us should appreciate and fully identify in the development of a promising and beneficent global civilization. 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 would say is acceptable.

A society that recognizes the people as rightful owners of the Earth's natural resources will not tolerate inequitable exploitation of this shared legacy. An owner of natural resources is one who has a right to use these resource, a right to share in the enjoyment of natural opportunities. So not just humans. An owner has a right to stop others from messing up the resource, and a right to receive compensation when damage is done or value taken. (Human beings are a life-form unique on the planet; unique in our ability to devastate ecosystems that sustain other lifeforms. Any sense within us that we have a right to use what we find in the environment and to enjoy the benefits of clean air and water, we must acknowledge a similar sense in our fellow inhabitants. If other lifeforms also have a right to share in the benefits of natural wealth, we need to limit how much we actually disturb the ecosystems that sustain them. We could do this when we recognize those rights and resolve to limit our disturbances only to levels that (most people agree) are respectful of the rights of our fellow Earthlings and are therefore also respectful of our conscience.

If fees are charged to those who use or mess up wealth of the commons (natural resources), the proceeds should go to the people. 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, as reflected by random polls. (We can know that a poll is reliable and that it can serve as the basis of public policy if anyone is able to take a second poll and thereby verify the first one. Solid and reliable documentation of methodology could compliment (or substitute for) repeating a poll for verification purposes.)

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 civilization that is sustainable or much more likely to be so. We will have a more just society.

Systemic flaws are not reported


Anonymous said...

Hey john, we met around this time last year at a catholic workers house, and you gave me a couple of your articles to read. I found this article in particular very interesting, and I completely agree with you and feel like your proposed plan could work very well in the capitalist economy we live in. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

Anonymous said...

Respect existence or expect resistence..

John Champagne said...

I get that as a general principle, but how does it relate to this post?