Wealth and Want
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Mason Gaffney:  Full Employment, Growth And Progress On A Small Planet: Relieving Poverty While Healing The Earth

Energy-wasting biases. Identifying and eliminating tax biases to both extracting and consuming energy, and other primary products. Whether on balance these biases raise or lower prices to consumers is not known, but neither is it relevant here: the point is that the combination raises the total volume of extracting the primary products, and of course of consequent combustion and pollution.

The writer has identified many of these biases elsewhere (Gaffney, 1978). Suffice it here to observe the following. It is not just that a commodity like gasoline is subsidized; it is worse than that. Within the stream of production, subsidies go to those activities involved in extraction, while taxes fall on activities downstream that conserve and economize on the primary product (Gaffney, 1982). Read the whole article


Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics

If land and land rent are the strongest determinants to Georgists, energy is its closest counterpart to ecological economists. Just as land rent can be measured fully in terms the relative surplus it produces in any given socio-economic context, energy can be traced and calculated in calories, BTU’s or joules. Land rent is completely a human product — there is no rent where there are no people, as land has no market value. On the other hand, energy exists regardless whether people are present or not, as it is a component of nature itself. But not all energy is now recognized as relevant in economics; only that energy which is employed in the human economy, and we assume that the human economy is necessarily bounded. Wind, sunlight and lightening are as yet unpriced and are peripheral today even in ecological economics. Attention is given more to those natural resources potentially procurable or otherwise relevant to human dependency, and energy certainly is primary. So rather than regard energy as a free good and largely outside the economy as neoclassical economics assumes, energy will likely continue to be central — even the driving force — in ecological economics.

Indeed just about all other factors of production are essentially convertible from energy. Besides that used in households, industry, and transportation sectors, agriculture — at least linked to developed economies — is essentially energy driven. As Martinez-Alier has shown,86 modern agriculture is essentially unfeasible without reliance upon applied energy forms, and the diets of modern societies are heavily reliant upon energy in the forms of intensive fertilizer use, intensive application of machinery, and animal protein-fed farmers. By way of contrast, in pre-modern agricultural societies one could argue that human and animal energy account for all the foodstuffs produced, and were used in turn to assure the continuance of the agricultural cycle. Unlike modern societies they are in energy equilibrium. Hall87 argues that energy is the determining factor in the development success of all economies, posing momentous challenges for the future as projected shortages of fossil fuel sources loom on the horizon.

The regard for steady-state socio-economic dependence upon the natural environment raises profound questions about the extent to which human activity is possible without continuing depletion of the earth’s energy resources, mainly fossil fuels. On the one hand are those that believe that contemporary society’s reliance upon intensive energy has become so embedded that continued sustainable life is impossible. Among these are noted ecologist writers such as Paul and Ann Ehrlich who envision the continued boom and ultimate collapse of all civilized nations. The other view includes the majority of ecological economists who hold out hope that it might be possible to shift in time to renewable energy sources before damage to the ecosystem is irreversible. This view is exemplified by those who could be called the “steady-staters,” and who believe that there is still time to bring economic practices into an equilibrium state and avoid the doomsday scenario. Among the latter are Herman Daly, one of whose books is entitled Steady State Economics. An interesting discourse is unfolding among this community, perhaps as reflective of personal temperament as much as it is due to research interest and disciplinary background. At the moment it is a focus of intensive and increasing research and interest. ... read the whole article

Jeff Smith: Share Rent, Transform Society

In the past, land owners owed services to king, but in this age of equality then we owe our neighbors. We have an equal right to the earth.

The community creates rent. Land value rises when infrastructure goes on land. Technology progresses when the community becomes more tranquil and density goes up. Density is a really good measure of land value. No one owner by himself is responsible for density. Rent from land value is justified because all should share in the rent.
If the community collected the rent, it would motivate owners not to speculate in anticipation of a higher future return. There would be a tendency to infill in the city and make cities more efficient. It would make mass transit more efficient. We could collect some rent in a greater amount as ecological security deposits for gas stations with gas pump brownfields. We could actually put a surcharge on gasoline and put the playing field back to level between cars and other transportation. If we collected ground rent around transit stops and dedicated that income stream to the transit system, we could run a free system. When built, BART (Bay Area CA Rapid Transit) did a study and found it could run BART free. If we had free mass transit, people would choose to ride instead of drive. It becomes more efficient and more people use, increasing the mobility of citizens in the region. If we get people out of cars, that reduces air pollution, noises, run off, and use of resources. ... read the whole article


Jeff Smith: Sharing Natural Rents to Sustain Human Society

Energy - Fossil Fuels vs. Renewables

  • Rent. By taxing, rather than living off Rent, governments can afford to lose land to a dam or its value to a nuclear power plant. Clean energy, on the other hand, would tred lightly on land values, the proper source of public funds.
  • Taxes. The tax on property makes improvements to buildings more expensive year after year. Some states do exempt certain ap-tech improvements, which amounts to a few dollars, but they also grant tax-free bonds to utilities, which adds up to millions of dollars. States make up its exemptions by raising tax rates. An ecologizer may pay no greater property tax for solar panels, but like everyone else will pay more to higher taxes on sales and income.
  • License. The price of AC electricity does not include all the costs from inundated valleys, nuclear radiation, acid rain, etc., disadvantaging safe power producers.
  • Subsidy. The federal government pays a billion dollars a year to oil companies to pump oil back into the ground as a "strategic reserve" rather than just leave it under Louisiana and Texas. Cost-plus contracts benefit power utilities, not independent solar converters. Rents, tax breaks, license, and subsidies total trillions each year in the US. Destructive subsidies total $1.5 trillion each year worldwide (The Natural Wealth of Nations: Harnessing the Market for the Environment, 1998, by David Roodman in The Worldwatch Environmental Alert Series; he also suggests capturing the windfall rent-jumps in settled areas.) Thus virgin extraction, sprawl, mechani-chemical agri-business, gasoline car manufacture, and fossil fuels look like bargains, making recycling, eco-homes, organic gardening, mass transit, and solar power look expensive. Low prices win over customers who string along investors. As long as the economy is rigged against the eco-system, guess which one is going to continue to go downhill?

Henry David Thoreau said the best thing government can do for business is get out of it. Nevertheless, some hope to shift subsidies from grey bads to green goods. Yet the state need not subsidize at all. It's dauntingly difficult to know whom to fund; a solar steam generator may be the most promising idea one day while photovoltaics are the next. Efficient alternatives don't need largesse but fairness. A handout shields new industry from the forces that compel efficient growth. The best thing government can do for the environment is exit environmental enterprise. ... read the whole article



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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper