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Mason Gaffney: Red-Light Taxes and Green-Light Taxes
II. What is waste, and what should we do about it?
We are all against wasting resources: wonderful - but what is waste? In answering, I will deal with two cognate questions.
A. What is waste?
The question has been faced before. Gifford Pinchot was a leader with a magic name in the U.S.A. during the early conservation era. He answered well for his times and, I submit, for ours too.
"... natural resources must be developed and preserved for the benefit of the many and not merely for the profit of a few. ... the people shall get their fair share of the benefit which comes from the development of the country which belongs to us all."
He did not say just "preserved;" he said "developed and preserved." Today I suspect he would say "REdevelop," to get away from the negative baggage carried by "develop;" I certainly will.
Pinchot went on:
"The first principle of conservation is development, the use of the natural resources now existing ... for the benefit of the people who live here now. There may be just as much waste in neglecting the development and use of certain natural resources as there is in their destruction by waste. ... Conservation, then, stands emphatically for the use of substitutes (he mentions water for power and transportation) for all the exhaustible natural resources, ... The development of our natural resources and the fullest use of them for the present generation is the first duty of this generation. ...
So Pinchot was against waste, like everyone, but he gives it a new turn (or, rather, an old turn that many have forgotten). To him, WASTE MEANS FAILING TO USE RENEWABLE RESOURCES. Urban land makes a good example. Urban land, economically speaking, is a lot like falling water, strange as it seems. Economists (who are not all bad) classify urban land as a "flow resource." They liken it to flowing water because its services perish with time, whether used or not - and we are trapped in the one-way flow of time. It is an even better example of a "flow resource" than water itself, because unused water may have other uses downstream. Even in wasting out through California's Golden Gate, fresh water repels salinity. The unreaped harvests of idle land, however, flow down the river and out the Golden Gate of time like lost loves, and magic moments that passed us by. The waste of NOT using flow resources is just as real as the waste of misusing exhaustible resources. Indeed, when we tote up the transportation costs of disintegrated urban settlement patterns, it is clear that failure to use good urban land is a major cause of wasting energy. ... read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: Economics in Support of Environmentalism
Gifford Pinchot's Winning Formula
A. Defining "Conservation"
Gifford Pinchot was a great leader of the Conservation Movement. He defined his central term, conservation, as "The greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time." Caviling theorists sometimes pick at that famous phrase, since you cannot maximize three things at the same time, but that is unfair, since he was not being technical. He was making a speech, and obviously what he meant was that those three elements should all be considered, and none was to be slighted.
Notice especially the middle clause, for the greatest number. Conservation was not just for landowners, or any other elite. Conservation was part of the Progressive Movement, which had sprung from the Populist Movement. Social equity was at its core. Here is some more of Pinchot's speech (to the 1st National Conservation Congress, 1909):
... the third principle of conservation. It is this: the natural resources must be developed and preserved for the benefit of the many and not merely for the profit of a few. ... public action for public benefit has ... a much larger part to play than was the case ... before certain constitutional arrangements ... had given so tremendously strong a position to vested rights and property in general. ... by reason of the 14th Amendment to The Constitution, property rights in the U.S. occupy a stronger position than in any other country in the civilized world. ... it becomes then a matter of multiplied importance, ... when property rights once granted are so strongly entrenched, that they shall be granted only under such conditions as that the people shall get their fair share of the benefit which comes from the development of the country which belongs to us all. The time to do that is now.
You modern habitat-savers, your foes score points against you by calling you "elitists." Sure enough, you do appear a bit above, and therefore outside the mainstream, especially when you talk down to people from the eminence of "Science." Pinchot saw that brick coming and dodged it before it was even thrown. He teamed up with the populists; he spoke as a man for the people, even if not quite of them. Can you say the same? Is there a place in your plans, and your hearts, for Joe Sixpack?
Here is a list that the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has published from its recent public opinion survey of public issues. Preserving habitat and endangered species are not even among the top 17 priorities listed by citizens. Neither are private property rights. Their top three concerns are crime, education, and jobs. Politicians have preempted the crime issue, but no one is doing a thing this year for education and jobs. Take a leaf from the successful Gifford Pinchot: team up with some populists. Move into the vacuum left behind the gale of anti-crime oratory. No one is serving the constituency for education and jobs.
Other populist issues high on the SCAG list are homelessness, affordable housing, job training, and child care.
B. Finding common ground
On what basis shall habitat-savers identify with median Americans? We share a problem: we are all victims of private property rights carried to extremes. Abraham Lincoln, the original Radical Republican, once spoke to the effect that whenever landless people cannot find work and shelter, then the rights of private property have been carried too far and must be curbed. We have seen what Gifford Pinchot said.
"... natural resources must be developed and preserved for the benefit of the many and not merely for the profit of a few. ... the people shall get their fair share of the benefit which comes from the development of the country WHICH BELONGS TO US ALL."
Belongs to us all? Was Pinchot a Communist? Not likely: he was a Republican, an active political one, twice Governor of Pennsylvania.
We have too little time together to develop that fully, but here are some ideas. First, environmentalists might rethink what we mean by "open space." To Pinchot, "open" meant the space had public access. Today it often means the reverse: golf courses, duck clubs, sacred Indian lands, private beaches, cemeteries, farmlands, vacant speculative holdings, unpoliced parks taken over by gangs, protected and posted habitat, water from which swimmers are excluded for power boats, rights-of-way closed to hikers, University experimental plots, and so on. In this sense, there is more open land in downtown Manhattan than in many of our rural and sylvan areas. Many a water reservoir is open to beavers, ducks and geese, who routinely powder their noses there, but not to humans who seldom do, and can be trained not to.
To get more support for habitat, find ways to open it to people, putting more funds and effort into behavioral controls if necessary. In Pinchot's day, people spoke unblushingly of "character training," and practiced it. Pinchot himself said, "the training of our people in citizenship is as germane to it (conservation) as the productiveness of the earth." Wilderness clubs preached and taught responsible behavior in the wilds. The Boy Scouts taught it, churches taught it, schools taught it, forest rangers taught it, camp counselors taught it, community leaders taught it: you heard it all around, and it did help shape your character. It was a great community effort, enlisting broad support and conviction. Then, in that less mobile, less commercialized, more communitarian age, social control over public behavior came naturally. We came to take it for granted, until it silently slipped away. Today it may take more conscious effort, but it was done then, it can be done now.
Second, go with the flow for economy in government. For most of our lives now, we have looked to big government to resolve disputes by buying out both parties. We would have government pay top dollar for land, if needed, and then hire scientists to manage it for habitat. Thus, both sides dream of cutting into line at the government trough: but the trough is empty, and the taxpaying public is in a foul mood. Rather, let's look for ways to cut spending by curbing subsidies to urban sprawl. I shall return with particulars.
IV. Pinchot on "Development"
Gifford Pinchot, the father of Conservation, was not against developing land. In his own words:
"The first principle of conservation is development, the use of the natural resources now existing ... for the benefit of the people who live here now. There may be just as much waste in neglecting the development and use of certain natural resources as there is in their destruction by waste. ... Conservation, then, stands emphatically for the use of substitutes for all the exhaustible natural resources, ... (water power and water transportation are his examples). ... The development of our natural resources and the fullest use of them for the present generation is the first duty of this generation. ...
So Pinchot was against waste, so what? Who isn't? This could be just a banality, but he gives it a new turn. To him, waste means failing to use renewable resources. His example was hydropower, which he would substitute for coal and oil. That is not such a good example today, when we cherish our few remaining wild rivers, but today urban land makes an even better example.
"Urban land?", you may ask. "What has urban land in common with falling water?" Economists (who are not all bad) classify urban land as a "flow resource." They liken it to flowing water because its services perish with time, whether used or not, and we are trapped in the one-way flow of time. Likewise, urban land is not depleted by use. It is an even better example of a "flow resource" than flowing water itself, because, as we are so conscious today, "unharnessed" flowing water may have other downstream uses. Even in wasting out through the Golden Gate, it may repel salinity. The unreaped harvests of idle land, however, flow down the river and out the gates of time like lost loves dimming, and golden moments we let slip away beyond recall.
What is this "service" of urban land, that we should be mindful of it?
from A History of Pennsylvania, by Phillip S. Klein and Ari Hoogenboom, p. 441
Jeff Smith: How Sharing Earth Brought Peace
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper