Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Biodiversity as a Public Good

Decisions regarding the extent to which humans shall disturb the larger community of life need to be collective decisions.

A basic principle of property rights requires that those who degrade the value of property must compensate the owner(s) for the damage done or value lost. If we believe that we all own the air and water in common, then it makes sense that we should require industries that cause pollution to pay a fee to the people at large, because their actions degrade the quality of the air and water that belongs to all of us. We should respect public property rights, too.

Destruction of meadows and forests for conversion to monoculture farmland adversely impacts environmental quality. We might choose to attach a fee on monoculture, as a counterweight to the economic incentives from food markets (and now biofuels markets) that encourage destruction of biodiversity. The most appropriate fee would be a fee that is just high enough to ensure that destruction of wildlife habitat and loss of biodiversity are not carried to an extent that most people would say is excessive. Putting a limit on destruction of biodiversity and loss of wildlife habitat would mean a more democratic society, if most citizens would like to see such limits established.

Furthermore, if a large fraction of people polled in a random survey said that monoculture dedicated to production of sugar cane or tobacco or opium included these adverse environmental impacts and that such monoculture supported excessive consumption of sugar or cigarettes or heroin, to the detriment of the human community at large, we might attach a higher fee to monoculture dedicated to growing these crops. We could thereby manage the overall prevalance in society of sugar, tobacco, heroin (and other potentially harmful substances) without the need to take a war-like or militaristic stance or police action against individual citizens who choose to use such substances within their private spaces. We could require that the buying and selling of such products be kept every bit as private as the use of them. No public spaces--no places open to the public--need have such markets operating, if the people at large choose to adopt such a standard.

In our not-so-distant evolutionary past, certain foods were quite rare, but necessary and highly beneficial to those who could find them. Our taste buds (our physiology) and our psychology are adapted to ensure that we are highly motivated to seek out these previously scarce, high-energy foods. But since the development of agriculture and modern economic systems, scarcity of these high-energy, high-value foods is no longer a reality, while our physiological and psychological appetites for them remain strong.

A fee system could ensure that the mix of foods produced by our agricultural system more closely matches what most nutritionists and most people would agree is a more healthful balance. With a different political and economic paradigm, we could see improvements in personal health, with improved ecological health, too.

Fees attached to the cultivation of plants that most members of society feel ought to be grown only in limited amounts would make the products derived from these plants more expensive than what they would be in the absence of any controls. But the extra profits associated with those higher prices would go to all the world's people as part of a natural wealth stipend. This method of control would not feed black market profiteering or corruption of law enforcement and other public officials, as current methods of control often do.

The threat of legal sanctions against people who use controlled substances in private spaces, including the threat of lengthy (and costly) prison sentences, would be removed. This would tend to make it easier for people with substance abuse problems to seek help when they recognize that they do in fact have a problem.

A fee system can be applied generally as an efficient and fair way to control pollution, to manage rates of taking of natural resources, and (through equal sharing of fee proceeds to all) to end abject poverty in the world. An equal, modest payment to all people would mean that workers would have more flexibility in choosing their place of employment. The prospect of being unemployed would no longer bring the threat of becoming destitute that it does within the current system, where natural wealth is not shared equally.

With a modest income going to all people based on shared natural wealth, the economy would not require injection of additional money into circulation that is often advocated during periods of economic contraction. Monetary stimulus (printing more money) is corrosive to the stability of economic systems generally because it fuels inflation and often stimulates production beyond what is sustainable and what is needed by the human economy and society. The ultimate limits to human economic activity are the physical limits that are imposed by the nature of the world we live in. If we exceed limits of what is sustainable for an extended period of time, civilization will collapse. Stimulating the economy by inflating the money supply means that the overall size of the economy grows, and our demands on natural resources increase, taking us closer to these physical limits (or farther beyond them, as the case may be). Conversely, fees assessed on those actions that make us approach or exceed those natural limits (actions that tend to use up resources and foreclose opportunities) can reduce the prevalence and moderate the intensity of potentially harmful human activities. Fees can prevent excessive growth of economic activity to the point that it becomes detrimental to the larger community of life, detrimental to climate stability, harmful to future generations, etc. Fees can dampen the upswing and excesses of an over-heating economy, while equal sharing of fee proceeds can ensure that recessions do not become so deep that they threaten the viability of the system. With confidence bolstered by their natural wealth stipend, all people will continue to spend in support of their basic needs.

This proposal assumes that the decision of how we ought to balance the amount of the Earth's surface dedicated to monoculture and paving on the one hand versus forests and meadows on the other hand belongs to all of us. It implies that ownership of the decision about how we ought to balance overall production levels of various kinds of food belongs to all of us. The responsibility for deciding such questions does not rest solely with the minority who are land-owners. A public property rights paradigm will embody within the structure of our political and economic systems the awareness that bio-diversity is more valuable than bio-mass.

Biological Model for Politics and Economics

Natural law requires respect of PUBLIC property rights, too