October 8, 2021
By Richard E. Garner, Jr.
Blowing and flapping in the wind, attached to a pole set up in the yard of one of my across-the-street neighbors, the flag of the United States, Old Glory, drew my attention as I stood at a bus stop, waiting for a bus. As I looked at it, my mind wandered, and I found myself counting the red and white bars. There was so much flapping of the flag back and forth in the wind that that proved to be more difficult than I expected. At first it did not seem as if there could really be thirteen, as I knew there had to be. However, after a few minutes I succeeded and counted all thirteen bars. The bus came and I went on my way.
The thirteen red and white bars, as we know, represent the original thirteen states at the time of the adoption of our Constitution and the formation of the Union. And the stars represent the fifty states that are now part of the Union.
The United States is a very different kind of country than it was at the time of the American Revolution and the writing and adoption of our Constitution. At the time of the founding of the United States, we had a population of about 3 ½ million people. We now have a population of more than 332 million people, and we are still growing despite the recent slowdown in the rate of natural increase.
Although the United States is a different kind of country, and we have a lot more people, and there has been a tremendous expansion of knowledge, including especially scientific knowledge of the universe, in many important ways our country is still the same country that had its beginnings in the American Revolution and the adoption of our Constitution written at the convention in Philadelphia in May of 1787.
We have had several different reform eras, and our economy and technology have been developed to a point of great complexity. And the world has changed profoundly. However, we are still the intellectual, cultural and political inheritors of the most successful democratic revolution ever. And that fact, the fact that at one and the same time, our country is a very different kind of country than what the founders created and still very much the same, holds out great peril and great promise for our future.
As I have tried to describe in previous blog posts, our two major political parties have been completely oblivious of the problems of human population growth and economic growth, and our minor parties have either given these problems inadequate attention or no attention also. However, if enough citizens who see these problems and how fundamental they are can get into effective communication with each other, and act together, we can have reasonable hope of starting a new political party very much like the one I am going to try to describe in time to make a difference. I am not suggesting that such a party should be based solely upon my thoughts. I am hoping that I will get the non-hostile, supportive responses of many people, sharing their thoughts, and that together, somehow, we will be able to move forward into the unknown. With courage and open-mindedness and humility, but nevertheless with belief in ourselves and in our own ability to apprehend reality however imperfect it may be, we can help to secure the future of humanity and most of the rest of life on Earth.
I am going to try to describe some general types of policy proposals that the new political party should be committed to promoting. However, the new party will be about more than just a set of policy proposals. In broad terms its purpose will be to promote a different vision of the nature of the relationship between humanity and the rest of the biosphere and what that relationship has to be like if humanity and the biosphere as a whole are to not just survive but flourish, and where humanity will be able to advance to a more secure prospect for the future.
One of the most important policy proposals of the new political party should be for a national population policy. This policy should be completely noncoercive about the personal reproductive choices of Americans. However, it also should be clear, firm, and unequivocal in what it says. Its essential feature should be a statement to the effect that it is the policy of the government of the United States that population growth of citizens and legal permanent residents should come to a complete end at the earliest possible time, and that a transition should be approached to a slowly declining population.
It will be part of the policy to explain that it exists not just for the sake of the short term and long term economic and social benefits of citizens, but most importantly for the sake of the protection and preservation of the remaining biodiversity and the survival and well-being of the non-human part of the biosphere that exists within the borders of the United States.
For the national population policy to be effective, there will need to be supplemental policies that will engage the emotionally super-charged issues of immigration and women’s right to reproductive choice, including the right to have an abortion.
The approach of all factions of both major political parties and all the minor parties as well to the issue of immigration is tragically flawed. Our country’s discussion and debate about immigration and what our immigration policies should be needs to be firmly placed within the context of the problems of population growth and economic growth and their inevitable impacts on the non-human part of the biosphere that exists within the borders of the United States. In addition, there is the indirect but very real impact of population growth in the United States from a large volume of immigration on the biosphere of the entire Earth. Our American way of life is one of the most energy and resource intensive in the world. And politically and economically our country is the most important in the world. What happens to us will inevitably affect almost all of humanity and much of the rest of life on Earth.
I am fully aware that the problem of racism in the United States is pervasive and quite real. I would also agree that racism and racist thinking have had a tragic influence on the making of immigration policy in the United States throughout our history. However, we need to make some critically important logical distinctions. It is entirely possible for some Americans to have racist opinions about immigrants and at the very same time they may have legitimate concerns about the impact of a large volume of immigration on their lives.
The various economic studies claiming to show that immigration has no significant negative impact on employment in the United States are not reliable. Our discussion of immigration takes place in the context of a society where economic growth and population growth are almost universally assumed to be good things. In this context, it is easy for economic growth to thoroughly muddy up the picture of what is really happening.
The new political party should promote a national population policy that takes full account of both natural increase and immigration, both legal and undocumented, as components of our population growth.
To that end, the national population policy should promote environmental education about the effects of population growth and population size on the environment. And it should educate Americans about the benefits of small family size. And it should hold up choosing not to have children at all as a patriotic and responsible life choice.
In regard to immigration, the new political party should promote restrictions on the total volume of immigration, both legal and undocumented, rather than any further increases in legal immigration. It should seek significant reductions in legal immigration, starting with economic immigration, including the H-1B program. There should also be reductions in family migration.
There should be a tightening up of regulation of undocumented immigration. As much as possible this should be based on shifting the burden of enforcement of our laws against undocumented immigration from the person seeking to immigrate to the employer. There should be electronic verification of eligibility for all employment in the United States, making sure that only citizens and legally admitted residents are able to obtain it. There should also be a stiffening of sanctions for employers of undocumented workers.
I fully realize that many people think that the making of immigration policy should revolve solely around the personal stories of the immigrants. They may think that the apparent or real desperation of those seeking to immigrate makes a claim on us that we are required to answer in the affirmative. There is no conceivable way that we Americans or our government can attempt to solve the problems of all the desperate people in the world by allowing them to come here and live.
We have almost eight billion people in the world. A significant percentage of them are extremely desperate. Allowing even a small fraction of them to come here to live could destroy our ability to maintain a viable, organized society.
Not only do we have the right to restrict immigration into the United States. we have the profound responsibility to all Americans, to all of humanity and to most of life on Earth to do so.
In addition to the restrictions on legal and undocumented immigration suggested above, the new political party I am describing would accept a certain amount of immigration of political refugees or asylum seekers above the level of zero net immigration for a limited but not indefinite time.
We should keep in mind that we cannot accept an unlimited amount of immigration of refugees or asylum seekers any more than we can any other category of immigration.
The new political party will accept democratic compromises on changes in immigration policy in the short term to intermediate term future.
In addition, the new political party will not be indifferent to the fate of people around the world who do not feel safe or feel powerless to bring about beneficial change in their own country. As much as it is in our power to do so, we will try to find ways to help them other than allowing them to come here to live.
The new political party will promote an awareness of the need to get to zero net immigration into the United States just as soon as it becomes possible to do so.
The new political party will also have to develop measures to bring economic growth to an end.
Developing and promoting policies to bring economic growth to a complete end may be even more difficult than bringing population growth to an end. The push for economic growth is deeply rooted in our most important institutions and in our sense of ourselves as a people. It is rooted in our historical experience as a people expanding across the physical frontier of a continent. It is also rooted in the operations of a market society, any market society where the so called “free” market is the central organizing principle of the society.
The basic principle of a society organized primarily around the marketplace where thousands of individual firms compete against each other, seeking to make a profit as large as possible on the sale of goods and services has within it the logical structure that inevitably leads to the push for economic growth. Whether the money supply is relatively static or whether it is expanding relatively quickly, at the end of a given unit of time, some people will have done much better than others in the marketplace. They will have accumulated much more wealth than they had at the beginning through the sale of goods and services, or they will have earned much more. Others will have got by with only slightly more or slightly less than they had at the beginning, although they may have lived comfortably and were able to meet their needs. Others will not have done very well at all.
In the first place, before we can have any hope of bringing economic growth to an end, without causing complete chaos in a way that absolutely will not work, we need to bring population growth, including population growth from immigration to an end. Or we need to have implemented policy changes and legislation that we can be confident will bring population growth to an end and help bring about a transition to a slowly declining population, or negative population growth.
Returning to our consideration of what happens to different groups of people in a so-called free market economy, when we are ready to start making the transition to a society where there is no economic growth, we need to consider what will happen when we adopt various policies to bring it to an end.
As I said earlier, in a free market economy, different groups of people have dramatically different degrees of success. Without a large role for government in intervening in the marketplace, such an economy will tend towards collapse. Without population growth, and steady increases in the inputs of matter and energy into the economic process, and a steady expansion of the money supply, and of the demand for goods and services, including a greater variety of types of goods and services, including through technological innovation, this will be especially true.
In one of his books Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications, Herman E. Daly suggests that ending fractional reserve banking would help restrict economic growth and bring it to an end. Fractional reserve banking is the system we have now where private banks and other financial institutions are allowed to keep the money that they have on deposit as only a very small fraction of the total amount of money that they have out on loan, for which they charge interest. In this way, when the banks loan money, they are participating in the expansion of the money supply, and this helps to create the expansion of the economy, or i.e., economic growth.
I agree that ending fractional reserve banking would help to end economic growth. However, I have concerns about it. For one thing, Daly is not clear about what would replace the role of the banks or what else would change in the economy at the same time. If Daly means that the government should take on the exclusive role of creating money, I am concerned that trying to promote such a dramatic policy shift will make the initial tasks of the new political party even more difficult than it is already going to be. Perhaps, at a certain point down the road, we could take gradual steps away from fractional reserve banking. Perhaps we could gradually increase the size or fraction that the deposits or the reserves are as a percentage of the loans that the bank has made.
Also, I want the different kind of society where the economy is not growing, or even gradually shrinking in the material and energy inputs that it draws from nature, to still be a free society.
There are other policy ideas that some ecological economists have suggested as ways to help end economic growth. One of them is the idea of local currencies, where people turn to the economy in the local area for more of their economic needs.
I would agree that shortening supply lines, or the distances that are involved in the provision of our goods and services would help lighten the load of human activities on the biosphere.
However, I am very skeptical of the idea that the population here in the United States would be able to engage in extensive reliance on the economy in our local areas anytime in the foreseeable future. In our complex world with our complex technology, our American population depends on goods and services and natural resources from hundreds and thousands of miles away.
These two suggestions reveal something about ecological economics and the new kind of society that we need the new political party to help create. We don’t just need a different kind of economy. We need to change the political and economic structure of society.
Ecological economics, like other schools of economics, is an axiomatic system. It is based more on empiricism, learning from experience, than any other school of economics that I know. Ecological economics correctly recognizes, unlike all other schools of economics, that any economy is contained within the ecosystems of the Earth. However, it is still an axiomatic system where ecological economists reason from assumptions about reality in a very abstract, highly generalized way.
In order to have a chance for some initial successes, the new political party should start with the United States as it is now. And the advocates for it should ask how we address the structure of political and economic power so that we can prepare the ground for a different kind of society.
A couple of the ideas suggested by Senator Elizabeth Warren, a wealth tax, and a corporate accountability act, might provide the basis, at least in part, for a beginning.
These ideas as I am going to describe them and the context in which I am going to put them have not been endorsed by Senator Warren. One of them goes back at least to the time of the founding of the United States when it was suggested by James Madison at the convention in Philadelphia in 1787 when our constitution was drafted. (This was the idea of federal charters for corporations according to Marshall B. Clinard in Corporate Corruption: The Abuse of Power published by Praeger, 1990. The idea didn’t make it into the Constitution.)
As suggested by Senator Warren, the wealth tax would have been a tax of 2 or 3% on the personal wealth of the richest Americans. These would have been the richest of the rich, those with the largest amounts of wealth at the very top of our society.
The purpose of the wealth tax as suggested by Senator Warren seems to have been to reduce economic inequality and provide funding for needed government programs such as a debt free college education.
I am suggesting something quite different, although I would agree that many of the uses for the funds raised by the wealth tax which Senator Warren suggested in her campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President would have been very worthy. Many articles appeared in the news after Senator Warren had made her suggestion of a wealth tax saying there’s a better way to make the rich pay. No, there isn’t. And simply making them pay isn’t the point. We need to end the destructive power of the superrich over American democracy and the destiny of humanity and most of the rest of life on Earth. At this point life on Earth is being destroyed by our American way of life and the way of life of the developed world which has now been spread around the world by the globalized economy. The American system works too well. It is very productive and very destructive at one and the same time. We need something very different. No ifs, no ands, and no buts.
A wealth tax could be one of many tools for fundamentally changing the nature of American society and government for the better. For that to be possible, we would need to go quite a bit further than what Senator Warren suggested. We need to put the wealth tax in the context of the American system. We need to put an end to the idea that any American has a right to the unlimited accumulation of wealth.
We need to look at the statistics on how much wealth a very small minority of Americans have in relation to the total economy and relative to everyone else and decide what kind of role a wealth tax could play in helping our government place limits on this accumulation of wealth. Rather than a mere 2 or 3%, at some levels the wealth tax might need to be more than 50%, or even more than 90%.
I am quite aware how aghast a great many Americans might be in response to ideas such as this. Confiscation, they might very well say! No, not confiscation. The end of planetary destruction. The end of our relentless march towards the doom of a world.
I understand quite well that we may need a constitutional amendment for a wealth tax to be possible. So be it. This is still another reason why we cannot rely on the existing two major parties to get the job done.
We also need to apply the idea of a wealth tax to businesses as well as to individuals.
Just as we did with the idea of a wealth tax on individuals, we need to expand the idea of a wealth tax on businesses to the idea of limits on how much wealth, income or property any business entity, whether it is a corporation or not, is allowed to accumulate and control. We need to look at the statistics on the largest businesses and corporations and decide what the appropriate limits would be. We also need to look at what functions they serve in the context of society.
Again, we might need a constitutional amendment to make this possible.
With her idea of a corporate accountability act, Senator Warren suggested that the largest corporations should be federally chartered. And she suggested that the boards of directors should be required to have a certain percentage of their members represent the employees of the corporation rather than the shareholders. I would suggest that we need to go further and have a certain percentage of the board of directors represent the public and be legally required to monitor and help regulate how the business of the corporation impacts the biosphere, both its human and non-human parts.
In fact, we need to completely rethink what we allow the business corporation to be and to do.
In order to successfully reform what we allow the business corporation to be and to do, as part of a larger effort to bring economic growth to an end we need to keep some things in mind.
First, we need to take a close look at the economic, social, cultural and political situation in the United States and in the world as it exists now and at the role that business corporations play within it. We cannot simply get rid of the corporations, at least not in the short-term to intermediate term future. We will need them for a while at least. However, we can fundamentally change them in the interest of preserving life on Earth and improving the functioning of American democracy and making America a truly free, just and good society.
To do this, we need to take a step back, and look at one of the underlying assumptions of the founding fathers. They assumed that the individual would seek the implementation of their natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness within the marketplace, with a minimum of government interference.
We need to improve on this. The natural rights of the individual can only be effectively pursued in a secure manner in the context of a polity with a government that is fundamentally committed to the preservation and protection of the entire part of the biosphere that exists within the borders of the nation-state, in this case the United States, and to preservation of the biosphere of life on Earth as a whole.
Given this modified assumption, we can proceed to consider how to reform the corporation and bring economic growth to an end.
We need to review past efforts to reform corporations. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries laws were passed by Congress giving the federal government the ability to break up what were known as trusts, or business corporations with monopoly power over certain industries into smaller units.
The enforcement of our anti-trust laws has waxed and waned over the course of the last century depending on how different Presidential administrations thought about it.
Existing anti-trust law seems to be based primarily upon the idea that monopolies or oligopolies are bad if they interfere with or suppress the ability of companies in particular industries to compete in providing goods and services to the consumer at the lowest possible price. We need to expand on this and develop a concept of political anti-trust.
We need to recognize that business corporations do many bad things besides just monopolize the provision of particular goods and services, or particular categories of goods and services. Businesses and corporations small, medium, large and very large have polluted different parts of our environment. They have polluted our water. They have polluted our air. They have put toxic chemicals into different types of ecosystems. One of the worst things that business corporations have done is lead our American society in a process of consuming large parts of the biosphere within the United States and around the world. Forests have been cut down for farmland. And farmland has been covered over with housing and commercial buildings. So much has been covered over with roads, highways and commercial buildings. And occasionally government buildings. Or mines or drilling equipment.
And now we have people saying that we will fight climate change by building dense in urban environments so that people will not have to do so much driving that puts carbon dioxide into the air. Building dense or building up rather than over the land is not going to adequately protect the biosphere from human activities.
For every high-rise condominium or apartment complex, we should think of the invisible lines from the apartments or condominiums on the upper floors that could be traced to the many parts of the environment that will be torn up or polluted or simply used to provide for their perceived needs and wants in an energy-intensive, resource-intensive civilization.
These are some of the things we should think of when we decide how the federal government, or the government at any level should go about chartering or regulating business corporations.
At the federal level, for chartering or re-chartering there should be no assumption that there is an automatic right for a group of businesspeople to obtain a charter, or what may be a re-chartering at the federal level just so a small minority of people can get rich. That is conducting the government according to the old assumption. We need a government guided by the new assumption, that the ability of every citizen to enjoy these natural rights depends on the existence of, and on their ability to participate in, a government that is committed to the preservation and protection of that part of the biosphere within the borders of the nation-state and across the globe.
In the regulation and chartering of the largest corporations at the federal level, we need to challenge the unexamined assumption that business corporations have the right to be immortal, or last indefinitely and continue to grow.
Chartering and rechartering should be for limited time periods, and there should be no-assumption of an indefinite right to be rechartered.
As an example, we might allow an initial charter to last for twenty years and then only one re-chartering for twenty years.
The business corporations, especially the largest ones, have such a negative impact on the biosphere here in the United States, and in the world and such a negative impact on our democracy that they might almost be considered as a political empire themselves rivaling the nation-states in power.
In order to contain this empire of business corporations back within the boundaries of the state, we need reforms in the areas of corporate size, developing a theory of political anti-trust, corporate personhood, vertical and horizontal integration, and limited liability.
Much has been made already of the evils flowing from corporate personhood. I support the idea of ending corporate personhood. However, I think we need much more than a constitutional amendment focusing solely on this aspect of the modern corporation. We need a drastic cutback in the allowed scope of horizontal integration, or the acquisition by one very large company of another almost as big company. Many times, the almost as big company being acquired is in the same industry. Often, they are not. We should prohibit the acquisition by one company of others in unrelated industries. Mergers of companies in related industries should be allowed, if at all, only in very special circumstances, if the resulting company will fall within limits placed on corporate size, and if the merger is truly in the interest not just of the consumer, but the citizen. Mergers of unrelated companies in different industries mostly should just not be allowed at all.
We need to place restrictions on limited liability also. Eventually we may have to end it.
We may need to prohibit the holding company, or a company which is designed and created solely to own other companies.
I realize that the defenders of the political and economic status quo may say that the changes I am suggesting will eliminate the possibility of needed technological innovation. However, I believe that these changes could be brought about in such a way that they wouldn’t prevent truly needed innovation that was consistent with our overall goal of bringing population growth to an end, and gradual economic degrowth. Much, if not most of the innovation of the last couple of centuries has had unintended and profoundly harmful consequences, in large part because of the false belief that technology will always solve the problems of growth, especially population growth.
There is no conceivable technological innovation that is going to save us from the consequences of continuing population growth and economic growth.
Responsibility for implementing some of the most important of these various changes to how our federal government approaches regulating business corporations and other large businesses might be brought under a new cabinet department of Economic Transformation and Ecological Preservation. The legal authority, however, would originate in legislation passed by the Congress and signed by the President and if necessary, constitutional amendments.
The cabinet department would not have a monopoly on the responsibility. Ultimate responsibility for reaching the goals sought by creating the department, bringing economic growth in the United States to an end, and transforming US economic society in a way consistent with that, would remain with the people, and with US society and our government. If the department failed to achieve the goals it was set up to pursue, or make significant progress towards them, it woold be up to the people to look for appropriate remedies.
The new political party will also need to pay attention to how our government and the largest businesses and corporations control our structures and institutions of mass communication. This includes but is not limited to the businesses and corporations making use of the electromagnetic spectrum. The uses of the electromagnetic spectrum for mass communication includes radio, broadcast and cable television, personal computers, cell phones and smartphones. The institutions of mass communication also include traditional print-based media such as newspapers, general interest magazines and special interest periodicals that now almost all have a presence on the internet.
Throughout our country’s history, our news media have mostly supported our established political and economic order. By this I mean that these media have provided a platform almost exclusively for Americans who have supported the ideas that continuing population growth and economic growth were good things. Or it did not occur to them to question these underlying assumptions. Almost all our literature, our culture and our democratic discourse has taken place in ways that implicitly made these assumptions as part of the intellectual background of concern and interest.
With the rise of the internet, and the changes to our country’s approach to global trade introduced by the Clinton administration, this is even more true today than it used to be.
The rise of television about seventy years ago severely weakened US daily metropolitan newspapers and set them on a downward path. The rise of the internet and US participation in the global economy after the pattern established by the policies of Bill Clinton and subsequent Presidents weakened them still more. They are now struggling for survival. General interest magazines and special interest magazines have suffered a similar fate.
It is in this atmosphere that the new political party or the advocates for such will have to find a path forward into an unknown future.
In the immediate future, one thing the new political party can do is rally the scientists, scholars, activists and citizens who do see these fundamental problems clearly to advocate for open and adequate attention to these problems by our news media and by our government. And this should be done in such a way that these failures of our news media are pointed out as political failures, as failures of the American system. This effort to rally environmental opinion among scientists and citizens will not succeed if it proceeds on the basis that this is a rational society and all we need to do is get our descriptions of the problems and what we need to do out there and society will somehow be magically transformed. It will not. We must seek specific political goals and fundamental changes to our institutions of government if we really want American society to be changed for the better and most of life on Earth to be saved.
The kinds of changes I have already described in how our government regulates the largest business corporations and the control of wealth could be very helpful in how we approach getting our telecommunications companies and our news media to engage with these fundamental environmental problems, population growth and economic growth.
Perhaps in the near future we could have an environmental news network that would include broadcast television that would not neglect the problems of population growth and economic growth and would report on them on a daily, even hourly basis, and would be publicly financed.
In the meantime, until we can achieve something like this the new political party or the advocates for such will have to rely on their ability to make creative uses of existing media to promote an understanding of these problems and the need for major political changes, including the need for a new political party.
The new political party should also have a local presence wherever possible where people can meet to discuss these fundamental problems, population growth and economic growth, and how a new political party can approach the task of bringing them to an end and transforming American society.
The new political party should also take a different approach to the globalized US and world economy. Let’s look first at what this means. The production, marketing and distribution of almost everything that is bought and sold in the marketplace now stretches around the planet. Commodities that are torn from the Earth, mined or otherwise extracted, or grown for food, and the products that are made from them, travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to where they are sold. The one thing that seems to matter the most in this overall process is whether or not the provision of these products and services is cost effective at the lowest possible price. And whether or not it produces the maximum possible amount of economic growth. The impact on the labor market, on the lives of workers and on democracy is almost completely ignored. And the impact on the biosphere and the future of humanity is virtually completely ignored.
The new political party should promote an at least partial disengagement of the United States and American companies and citizens from participation in the global economy at it now exists. This doesn’t mean and end to US participation in global trade.
It will mean many things. There should be a complete analysis of how our United States government might restructure its regulation of how US businesses and citizens participate in global trade in such a way that it supports the basic goals of the new political party, to end population growth and economic growth and preserve the biosphere within our borders and across the face of the planet.
There should be an end to US participation in a system of global trade that is allowed to take place according to the principles of alleged, so-called free trade and comparative advantage. The system of free trade as it functions now doesn’t really allow for true freedom at all. It’s really a new system of tyranny.
There should be an end to a system of exploitation of the people of the economically less developed countries to produce manufactured goods so American companies do not have to pay unionized American workers decent wages and so they can escape more rigorous regulation of the environmental consequences of the production of these manufactured goods.
We cannot bring back or undo the past. However, step by step, we can change things in the direction of an economy and a society and a polity where the biosphere will be protected from unnecessarily harmful consequences of human activities, and where our democracy will not be steadily undermined by our participation in global trade.
Some manufacturing can be brought home. And we need to systematically analyze the grounding in objective reality of the material and energy inputs of every aspect of our lives, not just from fossil fuels, and not just from eating meat.
Tariffs may have their place, especially linked to well thought out industrial policies, or policies that would aid certain industries that would be sustainable and protect the environment, if they are not guided by a goal of endless growth. But we should not exclusively rely on them. We need a different kind of society, guided by different principles.
In what I said above about a wealth tax on superrich individuals and large businesses, or a corporate accountability system to help end economic growth, I have not said much about how ordinary citizens might be asked to restrain their consumption in order to bring that about.
American life is so economically unequal that it can truly be said that at least the bottom half of the population in terms of income doesn’t really engage in a whole lot of over-consumption. Most of the activities that they engage in may have more of an impact on nature than we would prefer. But they make choices within a framework that they did not create and that is almost literally forced down their throats.
One of the things that we might do with the proceeds from the imposition of a wealth tax on superrich individuals or large businesses would be to provide a truly free college education through the full undergraduate level at public colleges and universities throughout the country. And perhaps we should make this funding available to students seeking a college education at private universities as well.
Providing debt free college education to all citizens would be a way to help American society turn away from the pursuit of endless growth in the consumption of material things to the pursuit of intangible things including knowledge of life and the universe and understanding of oneself and other people.
To ask how individual consumption should be restrained to bring an end to economic growth, we need to take a good look at the American upper middle class and some of the comfortable myths they seem to have swallowed whole. One of the myths that many Americans seem to believe is that technology will save us. Let’s consider the electric car. At least in theory an electric powered automobile represents an improvement over one powered by an internal combustion engine. If you think that the entire meaning of the world environmental crisis revolves around climate change caused by using fossil fuels it might seem like an improvement. However, this overlooks many things. To make an electric car, many things have to be done that have a significant impact on the environment. And to provide the electricity that keeps an electric car running, many things also have to be done that also have a significant impact on the environment.
The denser we build our cities the less likely that solar panels mounted on rooftops will be enough to meet our needs. We will need even more electricity from centralized collection sources of solar and wind energy. The more energy we need from these sources the longer the transmission lines will have to be. And the longer the transmission lines are, the more energy will be lost on its way to the point of end use, and the more areas that will have to be covered by large arrays of solar panels or wind plants.
One of the other myths that many people believe is that a conversion to veganism will help to solve the problem of climate change. It is true that methane from cattle passing gas is a significant percentage of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. However, pushing a widespread conversion to veganism is not the way to solve this problem. Let’s be sure that we understand what it is first. Veganism means not eating any meat or consuming any animal products for food at all.
One of the problems with this is that not everybody can do it. There are many people who have medical problems that make it a necessity to consume meat and/or other animal products in order to live. I happen to be one of them. And for another thing, food preferences are very deep seated. They are not likely to be changed in enough of a widespread way in time to make a difference as far as climate change is concerned.
Even if we could all become vegans overnight, as long as population growth and economic growth continue, we will still be in trouble. If you are concerned about methane or other greenhouse gases coming from animal husbandry, one of the other things you should be concerned about is the large volume of immigration into the United States. The majority of immigrants are vey likely to become much more frequent meat eaters than they would have been if they had continued to live in their home countries.
An integrated approach, that combined partial solutions in many different areas might have a better chance of working. If we educate as many people as possible about the advantages of eating less meat, in particular less beef, and at the same time restrict and reduce legal and undocumented immigration into the United States, that could help lay the foundations for the dramatic shift away from fossil fuels and the other political changes that we need.
I have also not had much to say about how I think the new political party should approach the problem of climate change, at least not in this particular blog post. The new political party that I would like to see formed and hope to be a part of will treat the problem of climate change just as seriously as the most ardent advocates for action to slow it down and prevent it. In fact, we will treat it more seriously than either of the two existing major parties. We simply maintain that a completely carbon free economy cannot be successfully sought or reached while remaining indifferent to the problems of population and economic growth. These two later problems are not overshadowed in urgency by climate change. They are completely interwoven with it.
Solutions to the problem of climate change can also not be sought while ignoring the structure of political and economic power. We can see this by looking at the current paralysis of our government in taking even the most minimal action to address climate change, and what they do agree to is almost certain to be inadequate.
I have also not explicitly mentioned or used the term “Sixth Mass Extinction” which refers to the greatly increased rate of extinctions of other species of life because of human activities including population growth. This greatly increased rate of extinction has been going on throughout the preceding century into these opening decades of our own. All of my blog posts have been implicitly referring to this problem and the other major environmental problems including climate change. (See https://www.pnas.org/content/117/24/13596.) The explicit purpose of my blog and my suggestion that we need a new political are meant to address exactly this most important dimension of the world environmental crisis as well as the need of all Americans for a new type of society, one that will actually have a chance of lasting and truly securing the human future.
Much of what I have suggested here as possible goals for the new political party, including the idea of a wealth tax, might be seen as left-wing or liberal or even socialist. If you support the idea of an end to population growth and economic growth in the United States, but not some of my other suggestions, like a wealth tax, please let me know, and I will try to respond. I believe that laissez-faire economics is not a truly conservative philosophy anymore than indifference to the numbers involved in a large volume of immigration into the United States is a truly progressive or liberal one. I believe that the meaning of words is relative to specific intellectual and historical contexts and grounding in objective reality. I am speaking here primarily of words having to do with political ideology.
I believe that the ability of humans to realize or approximate any set of political ideals in any philosophy depends on open-mindedness and the free interchange of ideas and discussions among people with different points of view who treat each other with mutual respect.
These are some of the ideas and policies that I would like to see a new political party promote and fight for.
I hope that you have found something of value in what I have said here. Please comment and tell me what you think, and if you have any questions, I will try to answer them. And please, if you do comment, please do so without attacking me or anyone else in a personal way. Please focus on the substance and the facts of any particular issue.
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Copyright 2021 by Richard E. Garner, Jr