How Much Is Left?

How Long Will The Bounty Last?

I’m taking the week off to head out of town with the family. I’ve got some drafts in the works, but it won’t be until I get back before I finish them. Expect some posts next week sometime. Until then, enjoy this great interactive inforgraphic…

I’ve been discussing limits in the last few posts. Here is a great interactive infographic put together by Scientific America that shows the limits of what our planet can provide. If we keep growing our economy, producing (mostly) useless junk and waste, how long can we expect to keep it up?

It reminds me of peak oil. Of all the wasteful things we use oil for (fuel is the biggest one – so many other things we are capable of using as fuel and energy that are renewable and sustainable), we are running out of oil incredibly quickly. But there are much more important things that we use from oil, like plastics and rubber for medical supplies, for instance. we would be able to keep these more important (and less destructive) uses of oil longer if we gave up the heavily destructive and wasteful uses like fuel. It’s all about sustainable scale and efficient allocation. We’ve got to make the non-renewable resources last and focus on transitioning to using only renewable resources within their ecological limits.

Have a good week, I’ll be back…

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.

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Federal Reserve Transparency

The Fed is the Problem
The Fed is the Problem

The U.S. Federal Reserve is our nation’s bank, created at the beginning of the last century (big thanks to President Wilson) to centralize our banking system and stabilize our currency. It is quasi-public, having both private corporations and public agencies with controlling interest.

“The Fed,” as they call it on the street, controls our money, interest rates, “supervises” banking institutions, and has other means to inflict chaos into our economy. Despite being a blend of private and public the Fed keeps its business behind locked doors. It is hard for a government by the people, for the people to have a functioning banking system if they have no control or oversight of it. We should do something about it!

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Return to Community Through Local Food

Spring Blooms At UW
Spring Blooms At UW

Spring is in the air! For us Seattleites, spring is not exactly like the season seen in movies or television. Spring in Seattle is like a bipolar transition between seasons: Mother Nature changes her mind frequently and without warning until May or June when the weather finally evens out to the best-kept Seattle secret: 3 to 4 months of glorious sun-filled summer days.

Spring brings with it new growth, beautiful blooms, and the chance to connect with the outdoors again. As all the hermits and season-affective-disorder sufferers creep out of their caves, from the winter rises a chance to renew the bond with community.

A great source of connection in communities is through food. It is over meals that deals are made, laughs are had, and romances flourish. So much of our lives are involved with food, yet it is something many fail to think too much about. We can create and nourish relationships with our planet and our community through food: growing it, buying it and eating it

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Quaker says “Go Humans Go”?

Quaker Billboard
Quaker Billboard

I can’t help but think that it is an oddly ironic slogan to appear in an economic crisis. Is the Quaker Oatmeal guy trying to give us some socioeconomic encouragement? Is he trying to tell us to “get back into the game” and buy/consume more?

We all could use a cheerleader from time to time, right? When times get tough it’s nice to have someone on our side to rally us  “into the game.” As time gets tough economically, who better than the Quaker Oatmeal guy, right?

Continue reading “Quaker says “Go Humans Go”?”

Steady State Economy: An Overview

The Steady State Economy requires a shift in our focus as a culture, but what policies are actually developed and what are the fundamentals of this new paradigm? There are three main parts to a steady state economy: sustainable scale, fair distribution, and efficient allocation. The following are the definitions given by the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE):

Sustainable Scale

“The most important characteristic of a steady state economy, sustainable scale is achieved when the economy fits within the capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems.  Economic activity degrades ecosystems, interfering with natural processes that are critical to various life support services.  The unprecedented growth of economic activity has significantly shifted the balance with potentially disastrous consequences.  This is why getting the scale of the economy right (technically the point at which the marginal costs of growth equal the marginal benefits) is the highest priority for a steady state economy.”

Fair Distribution

“Since continuous growth and sustainable scale are incompatible, growth cannot be relied upon to alleviate poverty, as has been done (ineffectively) in the past.  If the pie isn’t getting any bigger, we need to cut and distribute the pieces in a fair way.  In addition, poor people who have trouble meeting basic needs tend not to care about sustainability, and excessively rich people tend to consume unsustainable quantities of resources.  Fair distribution of wealth, therefore, is a critical part of sustainability and the steady state economy.” (sometimes referred to as “Just Distribution”)

Efficient Allocation

“The conventional neoclassical school of economic thought focuses almost exclusively on efficient allocation of scarce resources.  The dominant thinking is that free and competitive markets, along with prices driven by supply and demand, result in efficient allocation of goods and services (in the absence of pesky, omnipresent externalities).  Efficient allocation is also important in a steady state economy – ecological economists support many market strategies to accomplish efficient allocation of resources – but only after achieving sustainable scale and fair distribution.  Efficient allocation, although a valid criterion for managing and using resources, means very little in an unsustainable or unjust economic system. ”

Steady State Economy Discussion

I will be going into more detail about the basics of the steady state economy as well as discussing the many other aspects of a steady state (i.e. what does this mean to our monetary system? how do we move from a growth economy to a steady state economy? what policies must we institute to provide a sustainable economy to our children?).

Please feel free to interject with opinions, ideas, and feedback as we take a look into the details of steady state economy!