Conference on Sustainable Development

Free Markets = Sustainable Development

Without capitalism, true sustainability is impossible.

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“The current global development model is unsustainable.” That is the conclusion of the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, appointed earlier this year by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to outline the economic and social changes needed to achieve global sustainability. The Panel urged the world leaders who will gather in Rio de Janeiro next week for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development to embrace “a new approach to the political economy of sustainable development.” 

The Panel’s report, Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing [PDF], specifically cited the definition of sustainable development devised in Our Common Future, another U.N. report from an expert panel of headed by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harland Brundtland issued in 1987. “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” declared the Brundtland report.

It turns out that the only form of society that has so far met this criterion is democratic free-market capitalism. How can that be? Let’s take a look at the two terms, sustainable and development. With regard to most of human history there has been precious little in the way of “development.” The vast majority of people lived and died in humanity’s natural state of disease-ridden abject poverty and pervasive ignorance. Economic historian Angus Maddison calculated that per capita Western European incomes in 1 A.D. averaged $600 and rose by 1500 to $800 reaching $1,200 by 1820. In China average per capita income was $450 in 1 A.D. rising by 1500 to $600 and reaching $700 by 1820. And the rise was anything but steady, e.g., income in Western Europe fell from the early Roman Empire average to $425 by 1000 A.D.

And what about the other term, sustainable? Again, looking across history and the globe, we know for a fact that there have been, until now, no sustainable societies. All of the earlier civilizations in both the Old and New Worlds collapsed at various times, e.g., Babylonia, Rome, the Umayyad Caliphate, Harrapan, Gupta, Tang, Mayan, Olmec, Anasazi, Moche, just to mention a few. Of course, collapse in this context doesn’t mean that everybody died, but that their ways of life radically shifted and often much of the population migrated to other regions. In other words, history provides us with no models of sustainable development other than democratic capitalism.

Every one of these earlier ultimately unsustainable societies were what economics Nobelist Douglass North and his colleagues call “natural states” in Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History. Natural states are basically organized as hierarchical patron-client networks in which small militarily potent elites extract resources from a subject population. The basic deal is a Hobbesian contract in which elites promise their subjects an end to the “war of all against all” in exchange for wealth and power. 

Natural states operate by limiting access to valuable resources, e.g., by creating and sharing the rewards of monopolies. One fundamental downside to this form of social organization is that innovation, both social and technological, is stifled because it threatens the monopolies through which elite patrons extract wealth. While natural states do succeed in dramatically reducing interpersonal violence, they have one appalling consequence as Maddison’s data show: persistently low average incomes. Again, as history teaches, civilizations organized as natural states are not sustainable in the long run.

Lots of thinkers have pondered what causes the collapse of civilizations, i.e., why they are unsustainable over the long run. Let’s take a brief look at three recent theories of unsustainability: climate change, complexity, and self-organized criticality cascades. In January 26, 2001, issue of Science, Yale University Anthropologist Harvey Weiss and University of Massachusetts Geoscientist Raymond Bradley asked, “What Drives Societal Collapse?” They concluded, “Many lines of evidence now point to climate forcing as the primary agent in repeated social collapse.” Basically they argue that abrupt and long-lasting droughts caused the downfalls of civilizations in both the Old and New Worlds.

Utah State University anthropologist Joseph Tainter, author of the 1988 classic, The Collapse of Complex Societies, asserts that societies fall apart when their problem solving institutions fail. Tainter argues, [PDF] “Confronted with problems, we often respond by developing more complex technologies, establishing new institutions, adding more specialists or bureaucratic levels to an institution, increasing organization or regulation, or gathering and processing more information.” 

Tainter maintains that this strategy of building complex institutions ultimately fails as the result of diminishing marginal returns to the social investment in them. Collapse occurs when accumulating unaddressed problems overwhelm a society. Interestingly, Tainter notes, “In a hierarchical institution, the flow of information from the bottom to the top is frequently inaccurate and ineffective.”

In a 2002 article, “Why Do Societies Collapse?,” published in the Journal of Theoretical Politics, independent political scientist Gregory Brunk argues that societies are self-organizing critical systems. The usual example of self-organizing criticality is a sand pile in which grains of sand are constantly being added. Many land and simply find a place in the pile; some grains land and cause small local avalanches that soon come to rest; and eventually a grain lands that causes a huge avalanche that changes the shape of the whole pile. In a 2009 article, “Society as a Self-Organized Critical System,” in Cybernetics and Human Knowing, researchers Thomas Kron and Thomas Grund suggest the example of the start of World War I as a social avalanche. In that case, an unlikely series of events involving a lost driver gave Serbian nationalist assassin Gavrilo Princip the opportunity to kill Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie. And as the phrase goes, the rest was history.

Brunk suggests the main mechanism by which societies reach a critical point where collapses are realized was outlined by economist Mancur Olson in his 1982 book, The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities. Olson argued that over time interest group politics produces over-bureaucratization, essentially recreating the patron-client networks characteristic of natural states.

These three theories of societal collapse can complement one another. Long duration intense local droughts would no doubt constitute a problem that complex hierarchical institutions would have difficulty solving, thus producing a criticality cascade that results in social collapse. It’s important to stress that all of the social collapses cited by these authors occurred with natural states, that is, societies organized as patron-client networks. In fact, the more recent social collapses, e.g., the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, the Congo, Somalia, and Libya, all also occurred in residual natural states that had persisted into the modern era.

The plain fact is that development (rising incomes, health, and education) occurred only after what North and his colleagues identify as a new form of social organization, open access orders, arose during the past two centuries. Open access orders are basically societies organized as democratic free-market capitalism, and are characterized by the rule of law, the proliferation of private economic, social, religious, and political institutions, and civilian control of the military. In all of history, the only kind of development has been capitalist development, along with parasitical versions of development that some remaining natural states can attain for a while by imitating aspects of open access orders. By 2008, average per capita income in Western Europe was $22,200 and in China $6,800. 

Is free-market development sustainable? After all, it’s only been around for 200 years. Obviously, most of the folks gathering next week at the U.N. conference in Rio don’t think so. Last September a U.N.-sponsored activist conference issued a declaration, Sustainable Societies, Responsive Citizens, that urged the replacement of “the current economic model, which promotes unsustainable consumption and production patterns, facilitates a grossly inequitable trading system, fails to eradicate poverty, assists in the exploitation of natural resources to the verge of extinction and total depletion, and has induced multiple crises on Earth” with “sustainable economies in the community, local, national, regional and international spheres.”

Perhaps free-market capitalism will prove itself unsustainable in the long run. But I don’t think so. Brunk suggests that humans don’t just take complexity cascades (avalanches) lying down; they attempt to foresee and dampen them. “From this perspective, the fundamental reason that civilization has advanced is because societies have become more adept in addressing the problems caused by complexity cascades" [emphasis in original], claims Brunk. The chief way in which modern societies have “become more adept in addressing the problems caused by complexity cascades” is free markets. Free markets are the most robust mechanism ever devised by humanity for delivering rapid feedback on how decisions turn out. Profits and losses discipline people to learn quickly from and fix their mistakes. Consequently, markets are superb at using trial-and-error to find solutions to problems.

What about the Brundtland report criterion? As I have argued elsewhere, "There is only one proven way to improve the lot of hundreds of millions of poor people, and that is democratic capitalism. It is in rich democratic capitalist countries that the air and water are becoming cleaner, forests are expanding, food is abundant, education is universal, and women's rights respected. Whatever slows down economic growth also slows down environmental improvement." By vastly increasing knowledge and pursuing technological progress, past generations met their needs and vastly increased the ability of our generation to meet our needs. We should do no less for future generations.

Top-down bureaucratization of the sort favored by the delegates who will be meeting in Rio moves societies back in the direction of natural states in which monopolies are secured and run by elites. Innovation would thus stall and the ability of people and societies to adapt rapidly to changing conditions, economic and ecological, via free markets and democratic politics, would falter. “Ironically, instead of eliminating all complexity cascades, what the increasing bureaucratization of mature societies may do is increase the impact of the really big cascades when they overwhelm a society's barricades,” argues Brunk. That’s entirely correct.

What well-meaning activists and U.N. bureaucrats are trying to do is centrally plan the world’s ecology. History suggests that that would work out about as well for humanity and the natural world as centrally-planned economies did. 

Note: I will be reporting from the U.N. conference and the People's Summit in Rio all next week. 

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. Oh, we COULD become “sustainable”, but it would require global iron-fist communism plus about a 90 reduction in population.

    1. Sustainability doesn’t require communism or a reduction in population, no matter what the Neo-Malthusians say.

      1. Malthusians have always been wrong.

        1. That doesn’t mean they will always be wrong

          1. It’s not until a millisecond before the wave of plasma from the exploding sun engulfs our planet that we can definitively prove them totally wrong.

            They’ve been wrong about every previous prediction. Every single one. Remember the resource price bet? It wasn’t a mixed bag. Every single one of the commodities the doomonger picked to skyrocket in price dropped. Every. Single. One.

            That’s good enough for me.

            1. The thing is, if you the resource bet was a bit longer, then Elrich actually would have won. Elrich was right, his time frame was just too short.

              If you’re actually interested there is a really great article over at GMO on this topic by Jeremy Gratham IMO one of the best writers I’ve read.

              Called
              Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and
              Falling Prices Are Over Forever

              published 4/25/11

              https://www.gmo.com/America

              1. Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and
                Falling Prices Are Over Forever

                Shut up, Godesky.

              2. The thing is, if you the resource bet was a bit longer, then Elrich actually would have won. Elrich was right, his time frame was just too short.

                Fucking fool. The price of those commodities adjusted for inflation is even lower today than it was in 1990. Ehrlich loses his stupid bet even today.

                1. Would rather be wrong then follow the link to evidence.

                  Good job in keeping your head in the sand.

          2. Yes, but that’s the way the smart money would bet.

      2. The kind of “sustainability” modern greenfucks want, Ken, is pretty much what I described above.

        1. The kind of “sustainability” modern greenfucks want, Ken, is pretty much what I described above.

          It’s easy to “sustain” what we have. They just don’t want any fucking prosperity.

        2. There’s a phenomenon where people argue against their opponents for so long, they start to believe their opponent’s basic assumptions, sometimes, even when they shouldn’t.

          It’s like people who think Wall Street regulation was justified becasue TARP was necessary. What if TARP wasn’t necessary? Why have so many people come to assume that TARP was anything other than optional?

          Obama has said, and the media repeated, so many times, that there wasn’t any other choice on TARP, that most people, including Obama’s opponents, have actually come to believe it. Despite all the evidence!

          I think sustainability it like that, too. People have heard that real environmental sustainability is impossible without managed economies and managed population control so long, that they’ve come to believe that’s true…

          Even though the opposite is true. They key to sustainability isn’t government management of population control or the economy; it’s economic growth.

          …and I’m talking about the same kind of sustainability the greens are. The kind of sustainability the greens want will only come by way of innovation, prosperity, free enterprise and economic growth…

          The idea that sustainability requires socialism and government managed population control is NOT a good reason knock the greens idea of sustainability. Don’t believe the hype!

          The greens are wrong about what it requires to achieve their sustainability. Why do so many people assume they’re right?

          1. I see the same sort of reaction to global warming.

            People don’t like the greens’ solutions to global warming, so, instead of offering capitalist solutions, they simply assume that global warming isn’t really a problem.

            I’m not saying there aren’t any good reasons to be skeptical of global warming, but I am saying that even if global warming really is a problem as bad as the alarmists say, that doesn’t mean their government managed, socialist solutions would be effective.

            The socialist solutions the greens are offering on global warming are not good reasons to disbelieve in global warming. That would be like not believing in cancer because you don’t believe in new age, alternative medicine. Cancer exists regardless of whether alternative medicine is effective!

            The solution to cancer isn’t new age alternative medicine, and the solution to global warming isn’t socialism. Argue about whether the patient really has cancer global warming all you want, but the solution to global warming is not a command economy or government mandated population control.

            And yet so many of the greens’ opponents seem to have assumed it is–just because the greens keep saying it is? If so, that’s sad, and we need to start challenging them on it.

  2. Note: I will be reporting from the U.N. conference and the People’s Summit in Rio all next week.

    Wear your hip waders!

  3. No enterprise is sustainable if it consumes more than it produces.

    In other words, if its not profitable, its not sustainable.

    1. if its not profitable, its not sustainable.

      You really can’t put it more succinctly that that.

      The greens and progressives will then bring up externalities and hidden/transferred costs. At which point you remind them that value is subjective and only accurately determined by a free market operating under a strict rule of law that is focused on protecting property rights.

  4. But the “current global development model” isn’t free market capitalism and it never has been!

  5. It’s fascinating how the only path to sustainability involves doing things that leftists have been wanting to do since long before environmentalism was invented.

    1. Dammit Hazel you cracked the code! Lefty Truth squads will be visiting you shortly to arrange for your re-education.

    2. The stated goals shift from year to year, but the unstated goals and the methods used to attain them haven’t changed a whit in over a century.

    3. ATAAACKWATCH!

  6. “It is in rich democratic capitalist countries that the air and water are becoming cleaner, forests are expanding, food is abundant, education is universal, and women’s rights respected. Whatever slows down economic growth also slows down environmental improvement.”

    This gets it exactly right.

    It isn’t the poor who are shelling out extra for hybrid cars because they care about the environment. Poor people use what little they have to purchase whatever they need at the lowest price possible–whether it hurts the environment or not. The richer people get, the more they care about the environment.

    Even within our own country, it isn’t the poor who are willingly paying a premium at places like Whole Foods to buy produce that is less harmful to the environment. And the richer people get, the more they willingly sacrifice for the environment.

    Sounds to me like economic development is part of the solution to our environmental problems. I guarantee you that the poverty stricken people of India are a lot less concerned about the environment than they are about getting food on the table for themselves and their children, and if we want to change that, then economic development isn’t the problem. It’s the solution.

    How could anything but economic development be the solution to problems like the wide scale use of charcoal for cooking fuel in the developing world–and all the problems associated with that?

    http://d-lab.mit.edu/sites/def…..oal_BG.pdf

    1. It isn’t the poor who are shelling out extra for hybrid cars because they care about the environment. Poor people use what little they have to purchase whatever they need at the lowest price possible–whether it hurts the environment or not. The richer people get, the more they care about the environment.

      Even within our own country, it isn’t the poor who are willingly paying a premium at places like Whole Foods to buy produce that is less harmful to the environment. And the richer people get, the more they willingly sacrifice for the environment.

      Which is where we get to how overpopulation is the problem and a real environmentalist would be against social welfare programs since they prevent the natural checks on population growth from occuring.

      1. I don’t believe overpopulation is a problem–at least, it’s not a problem associated with economic development.

        In fact, economic development is the solution to overpopulation, too.

        As women are given more economic opportunities outside the home, they choose to have fewer children. …and that’s a cross cultural fact. More economic opportunities means fewer children.

        Moreover, when infant mortality rates drop, people choose to have fewer children, too. And infant mortality rates drop dramatically in developing countries as their economies grow.

        Again, economic growth isn’t the problem. It’s the solution to all of that.

        1. I’m not generally disagreeing with you. I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy of the leftist position on this issue. If you really believe that economic development leads to overpopulation, then you ought to oppose the welfare state, along with any other redistributionist economic policies whose goal is to keep as many poor people alive as possible.

          Somehow in the logic of the green-left alliance, we’re supposed to feed the world AND stop overpopulation.

  7. There has been quite a lot of parasitism in capitalism as well. Capitalism has taken quite a bit of stolen land, labor, and natural resources. For instance, a sudden outburst of democracy in oil exporters would cause the price of oil to rocket northward, and turn the Depression into outright collapse. Not surprisingly, the US has been very keen to keep friendly totalitarian governments going: the House of Saud, the Kuwaiti royals, the Shah, etc. Bust a few heads? No worries, just keep that oil flowing. Ditto for a labor movement in China.

    It’s not just oil, of course. The US built its capital base on agricultural exports grown on stolen land with stolen labor. No slavery means no development of the lowland South or Caribbean, which means a huge loss of American capital.

    Given that capitalism has relied and continues to rely on so much stealing, it’s fair to say it isn’t sustainable, by your logic.

    1. When I’m talking about capitalism, I’m not talking about robbing and stealing and coddling dictators. I don’t think that’s what anyone’s talking about when they’re talking about economic development being a big part of the solution to our environmental problems.

      I think you’re attributing some things to capitalism that aren’t necessary to capitalism, in other words. Respect of other people’s property rights is certainly consistent with capitalism.

      Refusing to coddle dictators in North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere would be consistent with capitalism, too. Actually, I think Bailey was arguing specifically that democracy and capitalism go hand in hand in terms of providing the kind of sustainability he’s talking about.

      Dictatorships don’t tend to be very sustainable over time.

      1. Libertarians believe in the Non-Aggression principle and Private Property rights.

        All you had to say was that. 🙂

      2. I think you’re attributing some things to capitalism that aren’t necessary to capitalism, in other words.

        It may not be necessary to capitalism, but it was and is there in massive amounts.

        Actually, I think Bailey was arguing specifically that democracy and capitalism go hand in hand in terms of providing the kind of sustainability he’s talking about.

        That’s his argument, but since capitalist development has been built on a giant pile of theft, I wonder how sustainable and scalable it actually is.

        (Do not confuse capitalism and free markets, as Bailey has done.)

        1. but since capitalist development has been built on a giant pile of theft, I wonder how sustainable and scalable it actually is.

          If free markets required continual thefts for the growth seen in societies societies that adopt them to a greater extent, then you might have a point.

          Every system is based on theft, because you go back into prehistory, that was the primary mode of property transfer. Free markets are the only system that is not based on continual thefts.

          1. True, but when have we ever seen those free markets? Bailey is talking about actual history, not political philosophy. And Actually Existing Capitalism is a giant pile of theft. You can’t say “Adopt our free market capitalism to prosper!” when capitalism isn’t free markets and we haven’t adopted them.

            1. Oh baloney!

              The closer an economic system approximates free market capitalism, the more prosperous the society it serves is. Period.

              The closer an economic system approximates free market capitalism, the more just it is. Period.

              The closer an economic system approximates free market capitalism, the more stable the society it serves is. Period.

              The closer an economic system approximates free market capitalism, the more stable the society it serves is. Period.

              The closer an economic system approximates free market capitalism, the more capable of surviving natural disasters the society it serves is. Period.

              1. So, where are these societies? Again, we’re talking about Actually Existing Capitalism, which was built on stealing and continues to steal liberally. Is propping up the House of Saud to keep cheap oil flowing part of a “free market” in oil? Yet it’s the lifeblood of capitalist prosperity.

                1. East Germany and West Germany. Which one more closely approximated a free market society?

                  North Korea vs South Korea. Which one more closely approximates a free market society?

                  England compared to the United States, which one more closely approximates a free market society?

                  Cuba vs Costa Rica, which more closely approximates a free market society?

                  Pre Thatcher England vs Thatcherite England, which one more closely approximates a free market society?

                  Is propping up the House of Saud to keep cheap oil flowing part of a “free market” in oil? Yet it’s the lifeblood of capitalist prosperity

                  Actually, the propping up of the House of Saud has more to do with preserving U.S government hegemony by creating a pseudo petroleum standard to prop up the value of US dollar.

                  If the Saudi monarchy were to collapse tomorrow, someone somewhere would be selling that oil.

                  More importantly, if the oil all disappeared tomorrow, the societies that adapted most quickly to using alternate forms of energy would be the freer ones.

                  I’m puzzled as to what point you think you are making.

                  1. Actually, the propping up of the House of Saud has more to do with preserving U.S government hegemony by creating a pseudo petroleum standard to prop up the value of US dollar.

                    Yep, it’s key to the US financial empire, which lets us impose a de facto inflation tax on the rest of the world.

                2. I think there might be some really harsh transition costs associated with not having all that oil on the market.

                  Having said that, there are a few additional detail to consider.

                  For one thing, protecting the flow of Saudi oil isn’t cheap. We may experience a cheaper price at the pump than we would have otherwise for protecting them, but we end up paying a lot more in terms of interest rates and taxes to keep the Saudis healthy, too.

                  Debate the blood for oil hook in Iraq all you want, but there’s little doubt in my mind but that Gulf War I was about protecting the Kuwaitis (and the Saudis) from Saddam Hussein’s wrath. So there’s a lot of expense associated with protecting the flow of oil out of Saudi and elsewhere, and if we stopped coddling them, we might pay more at the pump–but we would save money elsewhere.

                  Incidentally, Osama bin Laden’s wrath wasn’t entirely unrelated to our coddling of the Saudi dictatorship either. We chop some slice of whatever costs were associated with Afghanistan off the transition costs away from Saudi Oil if we stopped coddling them, too.

                3. Is propping up the House of Saud to keep cheap oil flowing part of a “free market” in oil?

                  Who “props up” the House of Saud?
                  Where’s the cheap oil?
                  Is Saudi oil sold below market price to the US?
                  If so, why is Canada the largest oil source for the US?

                4. Second, the Saudis need to bring their oil to market. They need that cash so bad! The sensitivity of every president’s opinion polls to the price of gasoline makes them more sensitive to temporary shocks than our economy probably is over the long term. The fact is, the Saudis couldn’t withhold oil from the world market for long. They need that cash really, really bad. And not having enough cash to spread around puts the House of Saud in danger of losing much more than our presidents lose in an election.

                  Suffice it to say, the transition costs away from Saudi oil being readily available on the market might be high, but there would be a lessening of other costs, too.

                  I’m not convinced that if we stopped coddling the Saudis tomorrow that it would necessarily be a bad thing for our economy over the long term.

                  I think it would definitely be a bad thing for whomever was in the White House at the time while that transition was happening, but that’s hardly a flaw of free market capitalism. That’s a flaw of government interference in the economy by way of the president.

        2. You should also try to think about whether there’s a viable alternative.

          If sustainable economic growth really is the solution to so much of our environmental problems, and capitalism is the system that delivers on that, if we just threw capitalism away because of the historical problems you’re talking about, then how would we achieve the same solutions to our environmental problems that capitalism offers?

          How are you going to get a billion or more poor people (just between China and India) to willingly adopt environmentally friendly behavior–when they’re mired in poverty because you’ve abandoned capitalism?

          Sounds to me like working to make sure the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated is more pragmatic than whatever solution to our environmental problems you’re proposing that doesn’t involve capitalism.

        3. There is murder in democratic societies. Therefore if we get rid of democratic societies we get rid of murder. Yeah, that doesn’t sound right. Why do people think when you replace murder with fraud and democratic with capitalist, it suddenly makes logical sense?

    2. If the price of oil goes the quantity supplied will go down.

      And things only cost as much as people are willing to pay for it.

      And there’s no such thing as a recovery when the government is merely deferring our economic insolvency.

      1. *price of oil goes up

    3. For instance, a sudden outburst of democracy in oil exporters would cause the price of oil to rocket northward, and turn the Depression into outright collapse.

      Bullshit.

      No, worse, amazingly ignorant.

      How would an outbreak of democracy (whatever the fuck that means) cause the price of oil to rocket northward?

      If anything, demands to share the oil wealth would lead to more production and lower overall prices.

      Markets – how do dey wurk?

    4. It’s not just oil, of course. The US built its capital base on agricultural exports grown on stolen land with stolen labor. No slavery means no development of the lowland South or Caribbean, which means a huge loss of American capital.

      Dude, you’re a moron.

      1: Your “Stolen” land was mostly bought. There were a few native american tribes that sold us land then refused to give it to us, hence the name “Indian Giver.”

      2: The slaves we imported were bought. They were slaves before they were purchased; they would have been slaves no matter what. Southerners didn’t actually go to Africa and capture natives for use as slaves, dumb fuck.

      The US is probably the -least- violently obtained country that exists today.

      1. This is actually not true, the only reason they were taken as slaves in Africa is because there was a market for them, with no market the various African tribes would not have had the incentive to go around enslaving each other to be sold for Rum.

        Similarly while it is true that there were Indian tribes who refused to honor agreements made with the government over where white settlers could live, more often than not those agreements were broken for what appeared to be quite legitimate reasons by the Indians.

    5. For instance, a sudden outburst of democracy in oil exporters would cause the price of oil to rocket northward, and turn the Depression into outright collapse.

      Says who?
      I see no reason why democracy in the middle east would suddenly cause them to stop exporting oil. We’ve been dealing with the Saudis because we’ve had a policy of favoring *stability*. It’s not a policy of favoring dictators, it’s just about avoiding wars (except when they are ours, of course) and maintaining the status quo, whatever that is.

      The US built its capital base on agricultural exports grown on stolen land with stolen labor. No slavery means no development of the lowland South or Caribbean, which means a huge loss of American capital.

      Actually the south was the less developed region. The north won because it had the industrial base which did not rely on slave labor. Plus the south was pretty much destroyed after the civil war. So it’s hard to say that any of America’s wealth is based on slavery. It’s largely a consequence of the industrial revolution in the North and the post-wwII industrial boom, also mostly not in the south. The south had been an economically depressed region until the last 20-30 years or so.

  8. “…independent political scientist Gregory Brunk…”

    Aren’t all scientists supposed to be independent?
    (Well, maybe not Christian Scientists.)

  9. Good points about capitalism driving prosperity, although this ignores some of the real real resource related challenges that the free market can’t solve without some type of intervention.

    For example, I believe there was just an article on Reason extolling the virtues of assigning fish catch shares to help manage fisheries and bring them back from extinction. This is not really possible and certainly not enforceable without government and a bit of top down control.

    Note, I’m not saying that government is the answer to all our sustainability challenges, however there are some of them that government is uniquely suited to answer. Especially those that are related to externalities, or commons issues.

    1. I believe there was just an article on Reason extolling the virtues of assigning fish catch shares to help manage fisheries and bring them back from extinction. This is not really possible and certainly not enforceable without government and a bit of top down control.

      I’ll concede we might want the government(s) to protect our property and enforce contracts.

      But that’s kinda the nuts and bolts of capitalism, right? Capitalism without protection for property rights or any way to enforce contracts wouldn’t be much of an engine for growth.

      1. But in the case of fisheries, government is having to step in and create those rights, and manage the allotments. Moreover, what about fishing in international waters etc.

        The same types of problems occur with international pollution.

        1. You could auction off grid squares of the sea. Any fish caught in a grid square would belong to the owner. Privately owned boats could patrol. That’s very simple indeed.

          1. Who’s going to auction it? Someone has to have the authority to take control of it, and the power to keep others out. That’s government.

            If private people just all got together, they wouldn’t have the power to keep others out, because they wouldn’t own it unless some government system was set in place.

            1. If private people just all got together, they wouldn’t have the power to keep others out,

              Really? You believe that?

          2. Still does not solve the tragedy of the commons problem.

            I make money off of all of the fish I catch but I can only catch them in my grid square. So if a fish is on my grid square and I don’t catch it I lose money. Therefore all of my incentive is to catch every fish that ever swims through my grid square regardless of what impact that has on fishing stocks. Of course all of the other fishermen have the exact same goal meaning no one is limiting their catch to ensure future generations of healthy fish.

            1. So what you’re saying is that a community of fishermen doesn’t have the ability for long-term planning or thinking about the future of their industry without the benevolent hand of government guiding them? Mrs. Ostrom might have disagreed.

              Not sure this would fall under a tragedy of the commons model anyway as the fishermen have a vested interest in keeping the fisheries healthy. A true tragedy of the commons happens when people have no investment (either economically, temporally or personally) in the commons.

              1. The fisherman have HAD an interest in keeping fisheries healthy, but in most cases it wasn’t till the government stepped in and instituted limits that the fisheries started to recover. Moreover, most fisherman fought these efforts to institure these limits.

  10. For about 20 years the UN data have been showing how all populations around the world have been showing signs of leveling off or crashing. It seems that development does reduce the desire for having lots of children.

  11. Agree with this article, capitalism not only is the way for sustainable development its also how it these green crusaders came about.

    When you have wealth you have the luxury of spending your time and money on all sorts of pet causes. When you have no wealth you don’t give a damn, the average person in Chad does not worry about CO2 levels or animal extinctions, likewise formally wealthy Greeks or Spaniards probably have put these causes low on their priority list right now.

  12. Kroneborge|6.12.12 @ 6:28PM|#
    “But in the case of fisheries, government is having to step in and create those rights, and manage the allotments. Moreover, what about fishing in international waters etc.”

    If you grant a commons, don’t be surprised if you get a tragedy.

    1. If you grant a commons, don’t be surprised if you get a tragedy.

      Nice!

    2. The problem is how do you prevent it in this case. Right now it is being done by government regulation, something which is pretty much the antithesis of a free market. What is the free market mechanism by which Fishery stocks can be maintained?

      The normal answer is private ownership but how does one grant ownwership to a piece of water, especially when the resource you want to manage is free to swim across boundries?

      1. Out west they use fences to prevent free movement of resources across boundaries.

  13. RB, instead of reporting FROM that conference, shouldn’t you be presenting your point of view TO conference attendees? What you wrote in this article seems like the makings of an excellent speech to me, and it is clear that “sustainability” proponents should hear it.

  14. BTW, alt text missing.
    There’s got to be a good one there; let’s hear it from the word-smiths.
    Best I can do is ‘wrong directions’.

  15. Kroneborge|6.12.12 @ 6:03PM|#
    “That doesn’t mean they will always be wrong.”

    Maybe not, but everyone of them to date makes the mistake of presuming that humans aren’t adaptable; that they don’t respond to changing conditions with innovation. In short, they think that humanity acts like the rats in Ehrlich’s lab maze.
    Until just one of them even attempts to take humanity’s abilities into account, it’s a 100% FAIL.

    1. Humans are not only sources of waste and consumption. They are sources of creation and production. The greenies completely ignore this other side of the coin. More importantly, they ignore that, like the imbalance between matter and antimatter, humanity’s creative, productive side has always been able to more than make up for its wasteful, destructive side. In short: we invariably create and produce more than we waste or consume.

      Humans are ALSO part of nature! If we change the world through our actions, we follow from a long line of creatures who did likewise. Several hundred million years ago, I’ll bet the then-current balance of nature was thoroughly upset — and a lot of anaerobic bacteria were inconvenienced — by the advent of plant life and all the oxygen they spewed. Billions of earthworms are right now munching away, transforming earth’s surface crust into topsoil as I write this. The presence, interaction between, and activities of various species on this planet have changed it, and have helped lead to creation of new species and extinction of old ones. The only thing that makes what humans to “right” or “wrong” is the set of values behind the eyes that judge. How odd that some of us fallible humans assert the infallibility to judge the rest of us, and even the right to do so that is “inherent” in their self-loathing view of humans as parasitic infestation. Why listen to people like that at all?

  16. I’m for sustainable government!

    1. Ours is already past the point of morbidly obese.

  17. Watermelons in Rio. I suggest ignoring the green commies and enjoying Rio. The best way to sustain the planet and the human race is for these Agenda 21 luddites to go extinct asap. No one will miss them except for ManBearPig and a few other scammers, cronies, and kooks.

  18. Sustainability is only achievable by satisfying each and every whim of the Environmentalists, because Sustainability is a buzzword the meaning of which they change at their convenience. Rather like Alternative Energy, which dispassionate observation of the last several decades would lead one to conclude meant “any source of energy that is in no real danger of proving practical in the real world”.

    The Greens are not interested in anything that actually works. They are about evenly divided between those who want to tell people what to do and make it stick, and those who simply want to forever take positions that make them morally superior to the Great Unwashed. Nothing useful can be accomplished with regards to protecting the environment without dealing with their strident opposition.

    A pox on the whole bleeding bunch.

  19. “The Greens are not interested in anything that actually works. They are about evenly divided between those who want to tell people what to do and make it stick, and those who simply want to forever take positions that make them morally superior to the Great Unwashed.”

    Most in my experience are biased strongly toward ordering people to do what they want, regardless of the results.

  20. U.N. report from an expert panel of headed by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harland Brundtland issued in 1987. “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of http://www.zonnebrilinnl.com/z…..c-3_4.html future generations to meet their own needs,” declared the Brundtland report.

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  22. The Greens are not interested in anything that actually works. They are about evenly divided between those who want to tell people what to do and make it stick, and those who simply want to forever take positions that make them morally superior to the Great Unwashed.”

    Most in my experience are biased strongly toward ordering people to do what they want, regardless of the results.

  23. The Greens are not interested in anything that actually works. They are about evenly divided between those who want to tell people what to do and make it stick, and those who simply want to forever take positions that make them morally superior to the Great Unwashed.” http://www.ceinturesfr.com/cei…..-c-30.html

    Most in my experience are biased strongly toward ordering people to do what they want, regardless of the results.

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  26. “Natural states are basically organized as hierarchical patron-client networks in which small militarily potent elites extract resources from a subject population. The basic deal is a Hobbesian contract in which elites promise their subjects an end to the “war of all against all” in exchange for wealth and power.
    Natural states operate by limiting access to valuable resources, e.g., by creating and sharing the rewards of monopolies.”

    Precisely what the sustainable development crowd is trying to create. That free market capitalism creates prosperity which in turn produces a better environment and lower population growth is on full display for all to see. That massive top-down, centralized control creates poverty, which produces environmental disaster and explosive population growth is on full display for all to see.

    I am too lazy to look into it now, but I am betting these Top Men such as Ban Ki Moonbat, Gro Harland Brundtland, etc. have little experience interacting in ‘the environment’ and know virtually nothing about it beyond what they have been told in a classroom, greenie book, or a committee meeting at the UN. They really dont give a rat’s ass about ‘sustainability’ or ‘development’ except to get an iron grasp on the control of it.

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