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ramblings on sustainability and globalization - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2003-08-14 16:30
ramblings on sustainability and globalization
Public
activism, politics, sustainability
I'm listening to newscasters blather about a huge power outage across the east caused by overloads of the system, and while they fuss over the effects on hospitals and airports and subways, my first reaction is to shrug and turn it off. Let New England get a taste of the rolling blackouts California has been experiencing for years; let them learn the lesson of conservation the hard way. This is my response to many of these catastrophes or impending disaster due to overuse of gas, or water, or electricity ... ideally we could reduce our demands before these problems happen, but I'm not holding my breath. And though I turn off lights and try to conserve water and all, I'm part of the problem, just by living in this country, by living in the developed world.

I had a conversation with David earlier today about globalization, and why a laissez-faire economy doesn't work. It's all just amateurish opinions, of course, since neither of us know much about economics, but it's still interesting to discuss. My argument is that because their bottom line is solely economic, companies will tend towards collusion and exploitation to undercut competition and establish a monopoly.

We also discussed other aspects of bottom-line economics, such as overseas exploitation to reduce prices and environmental degradation. In our (surely simplistic) view, companies move manufacturing overseas because even though shipping costs are higher, manufacturing costs are SO much lower because of pittance wages and lack of taxation, so it's overall cheaper to produce overseas. If there was a global minimum wage - say, $4 a day, double the global poverty level - then perhaps shipping costs would push expenses over what they would be locally. Perhaps production would move closer to consumption - more sustainable because of the lack of environmentally-harmful shipping and the increase in accountability. And even if production didn't move, at least workers worldwide would have a higher standard of living, even if it was at the expense of our overly-high standard.

Suppose, for a moment, that there was a reliable quantification of environmental and community damage - never mind the impossibility of such a feat. If companies were taxed or fined for this damage and the money was put back into the harmed community, would this provide incentive to be more environmentally and socially responsible? If companies just payed the fines, would the money really help offset damage in any way?

David and I also talked a bit about cities and suburban sprawl. In my annual reading of the last year's National Geographics here in Michigan, I even found an article on this, discussing mixed-use and compact communities and "new urbanism" and other strategies we discussed in my sustainable cities class. It's nice to see all this explained to a wide audience, if an affluent one. I wonder if these ideas really are becoming mainstream, or if it's just select urban planners a few weirdos like me that espouse them. The feeling I have about anti-war ads, anti-SUV commercials, and the like is that while many react violently and unthinkingly to them, at least it's known that there is a movement, and the movement has the power to be heard. But ... how valuable is awareness, anyway?
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Paul, Evil Administrator
eviladmin
2003-08-27 01:23 (UTC)
(no subject)
Yes! if we could "reliable quantification of environmental and community damage back into the harmed community, would this provide incentive to be more environmentally and socially responsible? If companies just payed the fines, would the money really help offset damage in any way?" The damage would be minimized, damage occurs because there are no enforcable property rights to clean air, water, etc. If they existed, pollution and damage would move to a much lower equilibirum level.

A global minimum wage would probably have the outcome of increasing income inequality in the developing world, many fewer people would be employed, but at a higher wage. Very low wage jobs would go away. It would be a good deal for low skilled labour in developed and semi-developed countries, as they would have less competition.
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