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?