(People Concerned about the Environment)
© 1998-99 Philip Hyde, Timesizing.com, POB 117, Harvard Sq, Cambridge, Mass.02238, USA
Congratulations. You have sensed that all our morals, values, pricing,... will eventually be coming from our understanding of ecology (and more or less imperfectly, always have). Karl Marx said that real history was economic history. Bucky Fuller said that real history was technological history. Phil Hyde says that real history is linguistic history, particularly our language about our natural environment.
We need to integrate ecological principles and language into our economic design process (assuming we have an economic design process in the first place). Principles like -
(A) homeostasis - self-regulation, self-balancing, equilibrium
(A) gives rise to (B) - minimum necessary departure from status quo (status quo being equilibrium)
(B) gives rise to (C) - gradualism. Keynes' teacher, Alfred Marshall, was obsessive about this. "Natura non facit saltum," quoth he - "Nature doesn't make leaps." We now describe the way evolution works as "punctuated equilibrium." What we really mean is sporadically accelerated gradual change or incrementalism. It's the job of government not to trigger the sporadic accelerations (that happens from outside pressures like war) but to amplify them if necessary for constituent survival. Normally government officials should be able to watch over merely gradual change or incrementalism and cushion their constituents from sporadic accelerations.
But while ecologists and ecological economists have sensed the right span of time we need to be dealing with these days (geological timespans) and the right level of inclusiveness (comprehensive human+nature), their current thinking is strangely beside the point when it comes to strategic real-world progress. They are exclusively focused on pollution and depletion, on the trees of the environmental woods and not the woods themselves, the glaringly central types of pollution and depletion which are
(1) pollution of dependent or non-self-supporting voters
(2) depletion of high-paying full-time jobs (officially 40-hr/wk jobs but increasingly longer as costs of hiring rise relative to costs of overtime, especially considering benefits, especially in the context of salaried employees (i.e., "exempt from overtime" or management-identified - rhetorically at least)
The result of these two central kinds of pollution and depletion is fear of job loss, which poses the greatest single obstacle to ecological initiatives around the world.
The most advanced thinking in ecological economics is that of Herman Daly, with a little help on population control from Kenneth Boulding and on economic scoring from John Cobb.
Daly sketched out designs for three ecologically required social institutions - incentive distribution, human pollution (birth) control, and materials pollution and depletion control. The most crucial is the distribution institution. Generally, however, Daly
More specifically, Daly never realizes
- puts three different-level different-priority design projects on the same level and never gets down to integrating the three institutions with one another or his economic scoring system with any of the three
- Daly and Cobb get too detailed, arbitary, complicated and potentially oppressive about defining quality. Witness their elaborate definition of a new GDP (economic scoreboard) in terms of the complicated ISEW (Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare) instead of simply a comprehensive unemployment (i.e., dependency) rate.
- that, more basically, constant high-volume reinvestment can and should pre-empt the whole concept of redistribution because it's a lot easier to incentivate
- that reinvestment must sustainably happen in a certain natural sequence; that is, in the employment (and skills) dimension before any of the money dimensions (income, payments, wealth, debt, and beyond). The implication here is that Daly's scoring system is a luxury at our current primitive level of understanding and government on this matter - it is too complicated and largely irrelevant to our current crying needs (e.g., for good jobs). All we need initially is a much better employment scoring index - for example, a more comprehensive unemployment rate. (At least Daly gets beyond the naive assumption that the only kind of equalization is equalizing on a point. He actually suggests the alternative in the course of other arguments - equalizing on a range by defining a maximum and a minimum. See his books Steady-State Economics, 1977 and For the Common Good, 1989.)
- that the biggest single obstacle to environmental sensitivity and protection - fear of job loss. In other words, that materials pollution and depletion are greatly facilitated by solving pollution and depletion in the human employment area, i.e., the area of human working hours and skills. Consequently, Daly never designs a comprehensive solution to this biggest single obstacle to environmental sensitivity and protection. (At least he realizes that materials - and human? - depletion is largely solved by solving materials - and human? - pollution - and vice versa?).
- that there is a sequence of types of "human pollution" that includes two (i.e., imports and immigrants) that strategically precede births. Births is the last and toughest to tackle. In later books, Daly progressively softens his language about his birth control institution and finally drops it altogether.
[The history rant has been snipped and swept away for inclusion in this year's volume, Vol. II, of our Millennium Orienteering Trilogy, which started with Vol. I, Timesizing, Not Downsizing, last year.]
For more details, see our social software manual Timesizing, Not Downsizing, which is available online from *Amazon.com and at bookstores in Harvard and Porter Squares, Cambridge, Mass.
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