Saturday, January 30, 2010

NPR: No discussion of public property rights here

I posted a comment in three segments, with the intent of relating the concept of public property rights to the problem of obesity, in response to a story about Michelle Obama's effort to combat childhood obesity.

One of the segments of my comment was deleted for violating the Discussion Rules, (which include "we have the right... to ... delete... any content"). This would not be so disturbing were it possible to find some discussion of the concept of public property rights somewhere on the public airwaves or on A respect of public property rights, (equal ownership of natural resource wealth and effective accounting for economic externalities), would mean an end to extreme poverty in the world AND an efficient and fair way to limit our environmental impacts, (including greenhouse gas emissions). Why no discussion of public property rights on NPR?

If we start to respect public property rights, then all the world's people will own the decision about how much of the earth's surface ought to be devoted to the support of diverse ecosystems, as opposed to that devoted to other uses, such as monoculture or paving, (assuming that biodiversity is recognized by most people as a value worth preserving).

We will respect public property rights if we are truly committed to basic moral principles. Moral principles are the basis of our concepts of human rights, including private property rights. Public property rights refers to the idea that we all own the air and water and other natural resources. We have a right to use them and to stop others from messing them up. If meadows and forests are of value to human beings and the larger community of life on earth, then destruction of these diverse ecosystems should be limited by rational public policy.

One way to limit the extent of paving or of other human impacts that adversely affect environmental quality would be to charge a fee to those who cause the adverse impact. We could use a random-sample survey as a basic instrument to discern what is the average opinion on questions regarding appropriate limits to various kinds of environmental impacts. If most people felt that monoculture and other more severe impacts ought to be limited to, say, 14 percent of the Earth's surface, then permits to cause such impacts could be offered in a free market auction. (In reality, some people will hold the view that 15 percent is an appropriate limit, while others may say 12 percent is permissible. There will be a number that reflects the mean or average opinion. If we are committed to democratic principles, we will strive to create a public policy that brings about a reality that matches what the largest number of people say is the best balance of possible uses of the earth's surface. (I am using the word 'uses' in a broad sense here. Leaving some portion of the landscape undisturbed by humans for the benefit of other inhabitants of the planet could be a normal consequence of the political process within a public property rights paradigm.))

If the opinion of the people is that limiting monoculture and promoting a healthy ecosystem serves the public interest, and if we determine to create public policy to reflect this belief, we might also decide that monoculture devoted to production of sugar cane or corn syrup or tobacco includes these environmental impacts AND that such land use involves other adverse impacts on society.

We could attach a HIGHER fee to monoculture that supports production of things that most people feel are harming the human community, so that the overall abundance of these problematic commodities does not exceed what most people feel is acceptable. The mix of foods in the marketplace could come to match what most nutritionists and most people agree is a healthy balance.

BTW, a pollution fee would mean that walking and bicycling would become more attractive choices for getting around our cities and neighborhoods. A pollution fee is also the most efficient and fair way to limit greenhouse gases. A pollution fee is the obvious policy of choice within a public property rights paradigm.

The proceeds of all fees collected as compensation for natural resources taken or environmental degradation caused should be shared equally among all the worlds people. This would mean an end to grinding poverty across the globe.