an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.
relating to the natural world and the impact of human activity on its condition.
I am an environmentalist. I am also a capitalist—one who believes in the rightness of a free market economy. The two are not mutually exclusive.
In direct opposition to others who claim to be supporters of libertarian market ideals, I will state without reservation that human activity is absolutely responsible for a warming planet, and that our economic activities have drastic impacts on the wider environment. We reside in the Anthropocene Epoch—a period of future history defined as any other geological epic would be, only one marked indiscreetly by the negative external effects of our consumptions, wastes, destructions. This kind of environmental degradation is not inherent, however, to the system; not inherent to capitalist or free market activities. Indeed, the imbalance, the problems we see today stemming from our massive, global economy arise because free markets do not, really, exist at all.
Communism doesn’t work. Neither does socialism, which merely restrains and represses every activity, be it governmental or business. Talk to anyone who’s recently tried to operate a small business in Sweden or Norway, and you’ll understand. Any kind of centralized control does not work because they are inefficient, slow, and most notably subject to corruption. Free markets, with their ability to respond immediately to changing societal conditions, with their inherent freedoms—freedom of action, of choice, diversity, of ownership and individual control—just simply work. China and India are ascending as a result of the liberalization of their economies (economists use the term “liberal” to refer to economies free, typically, of interference or central control). The 20th Century was the United States’, because of its economic strength, its (at the time) most liberal economy. Free market systems are inherently natural in that they are autonomous, and mimic, in many respects, the actions of ecologies perpetually seeking balance.
But admittedly, things are not balanced. The problem is that our current economic regimes have been unable to incorporate the true costs of our activities into the prices of those activities—the prices of the things we make, or eat, or build, or drive, or do. When a gallon of gasoline is burned to transport a single person 30 miles (or just 10 as the case may be), there are certain negative results—the release of carbon or other pollutants in the atmosphere (which result, ultimately, in expensive propositions such as Manhattan being swamped by rising oceans due to global warming), the social cost of the perpetuation of certain autocratic regimes of oil-producing countries, etc. These costs are not incorporated into the cost of that gallon of fuel. If they were, the gas-station billboard would read, perhaps, “$10.25” instead of the current “$1.48” in my neck of the woods. This situation would obviously result in change. Suddenly that Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, or Tesla Model S would be seem vastly more appealing than the Ford F150 or Cadillac Escalade. Apply this same concept on a larger scale to everything we bought and sold, and the world would be a different place. The green option, the “eco-friendly” option would then cease to be the more expensive choice in every case, chosen by consumers every time, and the world would progress and develop into something perhaps only dreamt of by the authors of science fiction, or by people who live in buses in the deserts of California.
So why isn’t the case yet today? First, because of artificial market forces such as government subsidies which falsely lower the price of things that come with a whole lot of negative results—oil and gasoline being the most obvious example. The government could solve this disparity by first nixing all artificial subsidies immediately, and then perhaps by swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction, by adding taxes to such obviously dirty things as oil, to help it “pay” for its own inherent dirtiness. This is the idea behind such things as EPA fines and “pollution taxes.” To me, however, these are minimal half-measures born of that same ultimately fallible, corruptible centralized control that failed the countries who chose this (over capitalism) in the century before our own. No, the answer lies in using the autonomy of markets to adjust, balance, and regulate themselves. Incorporate the true costs of things into their prices, and climate change would be managed, the energy economy would be a renewable one, and that plastic bag at the grocery store that is free today would suddenly cost $3.50 and simply wouldn’t be used anymore. How do we do this perfectly, or even well? I don’t know. Yet. But I do know that demonizing the system that has brought us this far and seeking, if in only small ways, to revert to regimes of centralized control (already proven inept) is absolutely wrong, and will only discourage that one gifted man or woman, perhaps born of the next generation, who might one day figure it out.
Will Burcher is a former police officer and current author of “The GAIAD,” a story of ancient secrets not quite forgotten and the positive power of global perspective. He lives and works in Colorado, USA.
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