Taxing The Bads

Taxation is an interesting facet of our society. Economists view taxes as a disincentive in a free market, and rightly so. Taxes increase the price of a product or service, making it less desirable. Yet, when you think about what we tax in this country, it’s mostly things we desire more of – income, profits, sales, et cetera. This odd behavior should be questioned, even more so today when every budget (state, city, federal) seems to be facing seriously tenuous times.

I took the train down to Oregon this last weekend to see my sister graduate from college. While there I stayed with Rob Dietz, Executive Director of CASSE and a good friend of mine. He handed me a very modest looking magazine called Sockeye. I am sure I will be drawing material from this one issue for some time (check it out, amazing articles). For now I want to talk about tax shifting, as mentioned in the article by Alan Durning and Amy Chan, “Making Prices Tell The Truth: Shifting Taxes from Bads to Goods.” (pdf)

The Imbalance of the Free Market

Taxes have the power of acting as a means of balancing what are called “market inefficiencies,” things in the free market system that generate negative externalities. These are unwanted side effects that are not taken into account in a product, service or activity. A great example of this is any fossil fuel, let’s take Coal for instance.

Let’s imagine a coal power plant starts leeching mercury into a watershed and a city water planet down river takes it in (coal accounts for most of the mercury in our waterways). The coal power plant is not paying to filter this mercury out, nor is it paying for all the damage that could occur from the toxin leeching into the ecosystems. Because the producer does not pay for the negative externalities it is left out of the decision to pursue coal power.

If these externalities were eliminated by charging or compensating for them, then they could be factored into the decision making process. This is especially important as all too often these become costs placed upon the society instead of the producer (e.g. the city water plant in the above example has to filter out the mercury from its water source). If these prices were added into coal’s price they would eventually make coal production to costly to be worthwhile.

One of the best ways to internalize these negatives into our free market is to increase their expense with taxes to help offset costs like oil spill clean ups, health care or water treatment.

Continue reading “Taxing The Bads”

Ethical Banking Systems

Banks should protect our money, not fleece us for their profit

Our money is loaned into existence and then must be paid back, plus interest. This interest can only come by earning (taking) money from other loans in the system, thereby installing inherit competition and scarcity in our society. Could you imagine a society in which we didn’t have to compete for a scarce amount of funds? How could this alter our communities or the way we treat each other?

An ethical banking system is one that upholds the value of the people who use it. Instead of a institution that values only profit, an ethical bank would value the people that support it. This really shouldn’t be too crazy of an idea, but our banks today do everything in their power to leverage greater profits. The recent economic crash being a prime example. We should support and create banks that support our societal and economic well being, not their CEO bonus checks.

The Reason We Need It

It seems like second nature to me that systems we create as a society should function with the ethics we value, but there is obvious room for improvement. When a lot of our organizations and industries started the room for growth seemed limitless, so it was much easier to gain advantage in the market and grow without sacrificing ethics. Like many things in this era, we’ve run out of that room and the only way to make a higher market share this year and next year is to start finding ethically gray (or black areas) for expansion (e.g. derivatives).

Paper exchanging for paper is now 20 times greater than exchanges of paper for real commodities. This distortion of value from real wealth to phantom wealth encourages a financially dependent system, driving up debt and down real value. Eventually those claims on wealth will be exchanged for actual wealth – even if there are no longer enough. An ethical banking system supports a more realistic approach to real wealth and the money that represents it – as well as environmental concerns with investment and social justice.

An Ethical Banking System is one that encourages stable and equal amounts of material wealth. If you haven’t clued into it yet, our current banking organizations do not function in an ethical way. Our banking system encourages debt, competition, scarcity, and unequal distributions of wealth. What if we created a bank in line with our values? One that supported the people, community, and real wealth?

Continue reading “Ethical Banking Systems”

The Earth Bleeds Out

If only the words “back from whence ye came” could really have magical powers and plug the mortal wound we have inflicted upon the Gulf of Mexico (and soon her bigger cousin, the Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Coastline). Whilst our human brains convince us over and over again that we are above nature, can outsmart her, or take over her services, she shows us again and again the error in our ways. From Katrina, to Taiwan, to Haiti and many more, Mother Nature is an unrelenting and all-powerful presence in our lives. This shouldn’t be seen as an unwelcomed presence – far too often we seem to run away from nature, when we are, in fact, of nature and in nature.

I have been avoiding writing about the Gulf Disaster because it seems pretty well covered: it’s everywhere, whether you read it, watch it, or listen to it. However, I couldn’t resist promoting this incredibly moving image tool: Ifitwasmyhome.com. What would the oil disaster look like if it was centered over your home? Check it out for me here in Seattle: (Thanks to nef’s Triple Crunch Blog for first showing me this site)

Gush Forth! Oh, Mighty Earth!

Imagine this were true: the largest populated area in the Pacific Northwest would be almost entirely covered in oil, even up over the Canadian border. They’re our allies, but I can’t imagine they’d be happy with that type of sharing. All of the Olympic Rainforest and National Park would be dripping wet with crude. Lake Chelan would be filled with black gold. As far south as Centralia and stretching over the many islands of the Puget Sound – all wiped out by BP’s greed for a fossil fuel. Good-bye Orcas! good-bye Salmon! Audios watersheds, fisheries, and my beautiful hometown.

They seem completely incapable of stopping the leak (some wonder if they won’t be able to do it or it might wait until Christmas). Personally, I think it is motivation to sell your car, ride your bike, and vote for a constitutional amendment outlawing corporate personhood (had this occurred prior to 1886, the government could have liquidated BP’s assets to cover everything and thrown everyone involved in jail).

All of this is the direct result of our lust for oil. We are destroying the largest fishery in the US (something like 70% of our shellfish and 30% of all our seafood comes from the Gulf), destroying priceless natural capital. For what? BP’s giant profits. This won’t finish them unless we take them to court, and even that is doubtful to have a large, positive result within a decade. At least the local economy will get a bump in GDP while everyone rushes down there to clean it up, right?

What do you think of the developments down there?

Points of Progress

This semi-regular report includes things happening in our world, policies, articles and practices in-line with the steady state economy or transitioning to it, that are worth some time to read about –  the good news, the promising results. They are all exciting things happening I just don’t have time to post about each in-depth.

Here are some cool things happening in the world:

Plenitude: The Economics of True Wealth

Juliet Schor is a co-founder of the Center for a New American Dream and a well-resumed author. She has partnered in the past with the likes of Tim Jackson and Bill McKibben on various tasks. A personable, well-spoken women from Boston College, Juliet has a new vision for the economy: plenitude. Her new book, Plenitude: The Economics of True Wealth, attempts to answer an important question: How do we create a society that provides prosperity to us all without relying on continued economic expansion?

Plenitude offers not only a great argument against economic growth as we’ve known it, but a vision for a rethinking productivity and innovation for our future. It is uses an integrated approach to set out a vision to work on all these fronts to see a new way of living that is low-footprint and puts people back to work that creates new forms of wealth and well-being. Read my article on Post Growth and check out the video of her recent talk at Town Hall Seattle on Vimeo here.

The Gulf Oil Spill

As odd as it sounds, I think the gigantic BP oil spill in the gulf is acting as a wake up call to many: this is the future of fossil fuels. It’s only going to get harder and more dangerous. Meanwhile, the largest fishery in the US is being destroyed in the pursuit of a unsustainable fuel source. Hopefully this will open our eyes to the fact that BP really doesn’t have our interests in mind, only its profits. That is what corporations do: go for profits, not for people.

Read Scott’s recent article about this on Post Growth.

The Great Tax Parachute

Its hard for me to keep up with all the amazing things coming out of the new economics foundation (nef). This report was released late last month after lots of news that the UK government (as well as others during this time of economic hardship) announced cuts in programs and government employment will be necessary. However, as nef outlines, there are many progressive taxes we can introduce that can balance the budget and keep those programs.

This proposal is in-line with one of the coming shifts: the great tax shift (working on a post about this, actually). In order to create a sustainable society we must stop subsidizing fossil fuels and intensive, destructive farming but instead tax resource extraction and pollution and institute new subsidies on renewable energy.

Points of Progress

This semi-regular report includes things happening in our world, policies, articles and practices in-line with the steady state economy or transitioning to it, that are worth some time to read about –  the good news, the promising results. They are all exciting things happening I just don’t have time to post about each in-depth.

Here are some cool things happening in the world:

The 3/50 Project: Uniting Small Business With Local Citizen Action

In an effort to support local businesses and local economies and new campaign called the 3/50 Project asks you to pick your 3 favorite local businesses and donate $50 a month to each. From there website, “If have the employed population spent $50 in a locally owned business, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue…. For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community.”

Even though the site’s founder is likely a growth-support, the concept is in-line with steady state economics: local economy is the core. If you want a more secure, just economy, starting local is the only way to go. Your money speaks louder than your words nowadays, so spend it wisely. It is simple campaigns like this one that inspire me to be hopeful, as the simple ones are usually more successful.

UK Post Bank Campaign

The campaign for a “post bank” in the UK isn’t exactly breaking news, but the progress and concept are noteworthy nonetheless. Just recently Ed Miliband, the British energy and climate secretary, put his support behind the post bank as well. To quote Miliband in the article, “It speaks to people’s sense of community – and frankly, banks have let down low-income consumers, and others as well. It is part of a new deal for the low paid around the banking industry.” (He isn’t the first to bank this idea, see here)

A post bank would be a public-owned bank run through the post office. It would be an readily available, community bank – allowing the people access to bank accounts without dealing with the fat-cat, big banks that dominate the landscape today. This institution would help small businesses, people of low incomes, and could restore public faith in the banking system (as well as create a banking system deserving of that trust).

Co-op profits surge as customers desert UK’s bigger banks

Right in line with the last bit, here is some news that points towards a more promising future: co-ops over big banks. Co-op groups reported a 38 percent increase in new accounts. Credit unions and co-ops internalize a lot of their risk, tend to lend more responsibly, and keep their profits in the community. In case you weren’t reading the above parts about how important the local economy and community really are, read my posts on the subject (“The New Economy Starts Here” & “Local Currency & Bartering“)

So, news that the co-ops are seeing a profit serge as UK citizens leave the bigger banks is a good trend for two reasons: (1) hopefully this is a sign we have learned not to trust in the big, greed banks that caused our most recent “Great Recession,” and (2) we’re pushing towards a steady state economy with action – which speaks louder than, well, words.

Obama Announces Degrowth, Wins Republican Support

President Obama Speaks On Health Care In Portland, Maine
"We Must Forge A Sustainable Nation For All"

In a surprising turn of events, President Barack Obama announced in a press conference today that economic growth could no longer continue as we know it. As a prominent New York magazine quoted, “the press room went silent and after a tension-filled moment, erupted in applause!”

As numerous environmental groups, ecological economists, and people with common sense have been trying for decades to gain political ground on the issue, a left-field bipartisan bill was drafted late last night and rushed through both the House and Senate. News of the conflict between growing the economy and maintaining an environment that can sustain human life was a shock to many in congress. However, conscience and prudence won the day, prompting late-night legislative sessions.

Tomorrow President Obama will sign into law the American Development and Reorientation Act, a comprehensive bill that will overhaul the financial sector, incorporate well-being into national accounts, end fossil fuel subsidies, tax pollution, cap greenhouse gas emissions, remove rights of person-hood from corporations, and provide minimum incomes and cap gaps in wealth – all to provide a more stable and just economic system that focuses on developing our society instead of expanding the size of our economy.

As the President said during the conference,

“By recommitting ourselves to the founding ideals of this great nation, focusing on our possibilities and liberating ourselves from failed ideas and institutions, together we can create a stronger, better nation that secures a fulfilling life for every person and honors the premise of the Declaration of Independence that every individual is endowed with an unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

This amazing turn-about in public policy not only represents the needs of the America people, but ensures a long, prosperous future for our society on this planet. This will go down in history as the first major (gigantic) step towards a sustainable world for all! Well done, Mr President!

**Happy April 1st everyone!**

Capitalism, Socialism and Communism

Okay, I am tired of these terms being used improperly. The last two are thrown around by politicos like they’re handing out free candy. Usually socialism is used by someone (we all know who) to label something they want to attack without using an actual argument or facts to support their opinion (also called bullshit).

Let’s quickly review the actual definitions of these three types of systems:

Capitalism: An economic system that allows private ownership of production. That’s it, that’s all capitalism actually entails – not low taxes, or private health care, or small government. Capitalism is simply a system that does not have government control of production (the government doesn’t own the factories, the companies – well, outside of car companies now – or the processes to produce products. Period). Capitalism refers to a type of economy, not a necessarily a type of government (“Social democracies” in Europe are still capitalistic countries, as the government does not control production).

Socialism: An economic system that advocates either public or direct worker ownership and administration of production and allocation of resources. Socialism removes production and wage labor as commodities, maximizing the “use value” instead of the “exchange value” – that is to say, real wealth versus phantom wealth. In a socialist economy the worker owns the production means and rights to resources.

Communism: An economic and social structure that advocates complete public ownership of production and allocation of resources. Communism is by far the most intertwined with political control of classes, wages, and policies to eliminate poverty or wealth gaps. Communism is considered more of a political expansion of the economic system of socialism and has been in the past portrayed as an attempt to create a Marxism utopia through government (ironic, as true Marxism would have no government).

Each of these systems has political ramifications in any society that institutes it. However, capitalism and socialism in-and-of themselves are economic systems. More importantly, none of these systems require economic growth. You can easily have privately owned production (flourishing production) without a continual expansion of the entire economy. Each of them are human creations. Economic growth is a human creation!

Any human system will be flawed, but hopefully we learn from our mistakes and get closer and closer to perfecting it. Perhaps this is humanity’s own Zeno paradox. While communism doesn’t work for us and socialism has its flaws, why should we assume that rampant capitalism is the answer? We should question the flaws in our system and work to correct them. A non-growth economy can be communist, socialist, capitalist, or anything else we want it to be – the economy is our creation.

Points of Progress

I’m going to start a new serious in this blog, “Points Of Progress,” a once-monthly report of things happening in our world, policies, articles, and practices in-line with the steady state economy, that are worth some time to read about –  the good news, the promising results. This stems from the many articles I have been scoping through on google reader (a great RSS feed tool, for those of you interested in getting updates via rss).

Through the 50-100 posts I receive daily, I manage to pick out a handful of good ones and post on twitter (follow me), but some of these deserve some recognition on this blog. This monthly report is for the exciting things happening I just don’t have time to post about in-depth. Here are some cool things happening in the world:

Maryland’s New Alternative Metric: The GPI

Herman Daly‘s home state has just instituted their version of the Genuine Progress Indicator. This alternative to the grossly inadequate GDP takes into account 26 factors, from incorporating the costs of crime to the costs of ozone depletion. The state is using the GPI as a tool to education the public and policymakers on the balance between costs and benefits of decisions regarding resource use.

As Governor O’Malley said, “The GPI will help us ensure that our economic growth will not come at the cost of our natural resources, and that they both support our progress toward a sustainable future and a better qualify of life for all Maryland families.”

21 Hours: Work Less, Live More

Part of the many policies of a steady state economy, adjusting the work hours for increases in efficiency is a policy that could revolutionize our society. Not only does this policy fight unemployment head-on by making more work available, it frees up time in our weeks to do something really important – live.

The new economics foundation’s new report, 21 Hours: Why a shorter working week can help us all to flourish in the 21st century outlines how the average time worked in Britian, 21 hours, should  be the new standard. As nef explains, “A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: The average overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”

The IMF Rethinks Macroeconomics

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has not only recently acknowledged that macroeconomic policy may have “exacerbated the recent financial crisis,” but also has begun to rethink those policies.

Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s chief economist, published a paper, “Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy” (pdf), stating that better economic policies might include increased government involvement, higher inflation, and help for the poor. The IMF’s typical policy of telling governments that less intervention and low inflation were powerless to prevent the “Great Recession.” Great news for those of us hoping for changes in the IMF and World Bank.