Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
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Public Trust


Mason Gaffney: Eighteen Fallacies


Mason Gaffney: Megabucks for Negabucks: Solving the Water Crisis

It’s not just water per se, but also the lands under what were originally shallow waters. Most coastal cities have increased their areas greatly by filling in shallow waters. The surface of San Francisco Bay is about half of what it was before filling began. Boston has doubled its area by filling. Just who owns the original seabed is a complex legal tangle, but in many areas the public has basic ownership rights for which it usually fails to claim market rents. The “Public Trust Doctrine” applies to some shallow waters. In 1983 the California Supreme Court resurrected it from the dead letter office (Mono Lake Case), and many cities, with a little positive thinking, could enhance their shriveled revenues greatly by moving aggressively on these rents.

Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 3: The Limits of Government (pages 33-48)

America’s Two Experiments

The notion that government should protect the commons goes back a long way. Sometimes this duty is considered so basic it’s taken for granted. At other times, it’s given a name: the public trust. Several states actually put this duty in writing. Pennsylvania’s constitution, for example, declares: “Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.” Note that in this constitutional dictum, serving as trustee of natural resources isn’t an option for the state, it’s an affirmative duty.

Yet here as elsewhere, rhetoric and reality differ. Political institutions don’t function in a vacuum; they function in a world in which power is linked to property. This was true when fifty-five white male property owners wrote our Constitution, and it’s no less true today.

America has been engaged in two experiments simultaneously: one is called democracy, the other, capitalism. It would be nice if these experiments ran separately, but they don’t. They go on in the same bottle, and each affects the other. After two hundred years, we can draw some conclusions about how they interact. One is that capitalism distorts democracy more than the other way around.

The reason capitalism distorts democracy is simple. Democracy is an open system, and economic power can easily infect it. By contrast, capitalism is a gated system; its bastions aren’t easily accessed by the masses. Capital’s primacy thus isn’t an accident, nor the fault of George W. Bush. It’s what happens when capitalism inhabits democracy.

This isn’t to say the United States government can’t, at times, restrain corporations. It has a number of tools at its disposal, and has used them in the past with some success. But the measures it can take are woefully inadequate to the task of safeguarding the planet for our children. Let’s see why. ... read the whole chapter




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