Capitalism as Sustainability 2

 

Here, I continue to make my case for the superiority of capitalism over socialism, in the realm of the environment and beyond…

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Suppose one farmer Wilson digs and then dams a tiny brook on his property to create a pond. Some decry his environmental insensitivity – he’s sinned against Gaia and will create an environmental cataclysm in his little watershed. But Mr. Wilson doesn’t think so; he sees possibility.

20 years down the road the results are complex. There are native minnows who’d always swam up to the spring sources to procreate who have diminished now in his brook. The stream downstream from the pond is warmer and this has caused a shift in species composition. Silt is more prevalent and the insect community has suffered. Also, there aren’t as many owls around because a couple of old hollow trees were felled to make room for the pond. Poisonous water moccasin snakes have proliferated along the edges of the pond too, endangering children.

But at the same time, a reservoir was created which provided more constant water for a variety of trees, reeds and shrubs along the bank. Farmer Wilson’s ranch has historically provided no suitable habitat for migratory ducks, for snapping turtles or still-water fishes. Now these thrive. Amphibians were never prolific for lack of breeding habitat or over-wintering habitat. Now numbers and diversity are up, thanks to this year-round reservoir. Sandhill cranes stop by for a quick snack during the fall migration, thankful for this new puddle.

 

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And here’s something further to consider about Wilson’s pond: The land on which our putative farmer made his modification was not pristine land which was just marred for the first time. If his land is as most U.S. land, it’s been cut, tilled planted, maybe neglected for a while and timbered again recently. As farmer Wilson broke ground, there was no virgin field or water to desecrate.

When we make changes, the environmental repercussions will always be complex – more complex than we can know. Who do we trust to know it all? Are the strictures of government well-suited to regulation of an organic and infinitely interconnected world?

This was perhaps the type of situation foreseen by the founding fathers of our nation – situations in which a million individual citizens are better left to make the decisions for their own properties. Ecologically illiterate though they may have been, they understood both that there’s no end to the pretext created for takeover by wise governors and also that people tend to care for what they own. After all, what’s the alternative to allocation of resources by capitalism? It’s the allocation of resources by the fiat of tyrants and their “expert” boards of directors. And hasn’t such distributive power always been attractive to those who want to rule the rest of us?

 

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Today’s environmental mainstream would have us defer to their expertise in the realm of biological sciences, accepting their often proscriptive solutions. But this is a big realm encompassing the land under our feet, the air we breathe and water we drink. Should we cede control of all of this to government experts, accepting an environmental socialism that would supersede our free marketplace?

There are many potential lines of reasoning here but among the more persuasive should be a comparison of present environmental quality between free and socialistic nations. And though I lack the space here to do justice to all of earth’s 190 or so sovereign nations, I can offer some generalizations.

The United States is green and growing greener, in contradiction to almost all of the environmental propaganda produced by our schools and media. We have whole states that are almost completely forested (Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia). Many populations of many wild creatures approach or even surpass their densities at the time of colonization. As with the earlier example, some natives have fallen off, species composition has changed and some native species have flourished. We don’t typically burn wood to heat our homes (thanks to petroleum) and so interstitial forests exist throughout our cities and suburbs. Our major rivers are all cleaner than they were 50 years ago. We’re rich and entrepreneurial and hence, export environmental solutions to the whole planet.

 

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Contrast this with the urbanization and waste and energy problems of Europe. Compare to the lack of wildlife and diversity in the former Soviet Union. Compare to the legendary environmental failures of China. Look at the loss of old-growth forest in much of South America. Look at the environmental calamities brought on by the over-population and economic stagnation of places like India and Bangladesh, nations that long for the benefits of capitalism but also love bureaucracy.

Many are quick to say that the U.S. is simply fortunate – blessed with ample natural resources and hence, wealth. But this is a canard. We’ve had ample time to use up everything and render ourselves a fat, western Bangladesh. Obviously, this hasn’t happened – we’re greener than we used to be. And this is because we believe in freedom, the protection of property, rule of law and, prominently, in capitalism. It’s not an accident – it’s about principles. In countries lacking these deep-seated beliefs, people grind along in poverty, hoping to slip under the watchful eye of administrators, to buy them off or to one day be granted some special favor and while so doing, they scrape the earth of every last ounce of potential, feeding their families with every last organic scrap. If nothing else, the people living “close to the earth” in third world nations produce far more children than westerners and if overpopulation is the root of environmental degradation, one might expect that poor nations would be recognized as destroyers of the biosphere.

An array of factors would truly need to be considered to fairly weigh each of these comparisons but the fact remains that all of the countries listed above are more socialistic than America. Government in each of these nations has more power to manipulate markets and the environment for the good of the people. And yet the environment of the U.S. flourishes while theirs deteriorates. Still, the U.S. is encouraged to learn from the examples of these enlightened nations, as though there is virtue in poverty. Is this science, economics or pseudo-religion?

 

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Capitalism is denounced because it is not kind or charitable. Fair enough. Capitalism does not offer compensation for people’s needs – it offers payment for effort, strategy, patience and intelligence. None of these are fairly distributed among humans – why would we expect wealth to be evenly distributed? Capitalism offers limitless potential to achieve to the achievers – an inherently fair though necessarily uneven distribution. Charity has a place as well but that place is in the hearts of individuals. Coerced contributions are not charity and, in fact, tend to erode the capacity for true charity. Institutionalizing charity only allows dependence to become a lifestyle.

Capitalism is inherent in man’s nature – an unleashing of his imagination and energy. Capitalism is how we are rewarded for choosing good things: for diligence, hard work, creativity and for creating value for others. Capitalism has created the diverse and dynamic economy that is the true safeguard of the little guy – we should have learned long ago not to trust any politician to fill this role.  Capitalism is efficient at determining prices and allocating resources. It entails a world beyond our control; we only choose how to respond to its vicissitudes.

Sustainability can not be taken to mean preservation without change.  A belief in centrally-directed sustainability also entails a belief that planners know how the world will change: how people will change, how the environment will change, how technology will change and how all the economies of the world will change, decades in advance. Barring this, we have to accept that the planners will constantly adjust the plans we are conscripted into, much like the former Soviet Union or present day China which is fine, so long as it’s fine to live without freedom. But freedom is the foundation of successful economies and nations in this world – they’re sustainable. When economies fail or fall under the cloud of socialism, people will be impoverished and the environment will soon be raped for simple subsistence.

How much better to live in a freer and greener world? Capitalism is sustainability.

 

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