Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Capitalism cannot assign value to that which cannot be owned

This is a tragedy of the commons, one that capitalism fails to address. While capitalism has done a fine job of assigning value to things that can be called "property", it has utterly failed to address that which cannot be owned. It's easy to assign value to a hammer, a radio, or a car. But when it comes to the environment, capitalism shies away from any notion of value. If we can't own it, capitalism is silent.

So while we have the best technology here in the United States, the *only* reason we have anything resembling a clean environment is due to government regulation. Coal ash spills, oil spills and nuclear reactor failures are just the tip of the iceberg - if there are any left. Every time we see such an accident, we see that capitalism is incapable of regulating itself outside of making a profit. Worse, capitalism is incapable of recognizing a common good.

So while capitalism can place a value on a 5 bedroom home in Beverly Hills, it cannot place a value on the destruction done to the environment to get the money needed to buy that house. Capitalism isn't designed to recognize the commons. It is designed to privatize the commons. From culture to government policy, capitalism seeks to privatize the profits while socializing the costs.

It has been said that capitalism is the most efficient system for allocating scarce resources. This may well be true, but when it comes to that which is common to all, the air, the water and the land, capitalism is silent unless it can appropriate the environment for a profit.

In my previous article, I talked about how we need to start with how energy is produced. We still need to start there when it comes to where we live and keeping it clean. How we create energy has done the most damage to our environment. It has altered the atmosphere in such a way that it is hard to see how the environment will recover with us. If we can learn to let go of our conventional ways, allow someone new to set the stage for the evolution of our species, we can start with energy production. Thorium, the artificial leaf, and eventually, nuclear fusion, can lead the way.

I honestly don't know what the answer is, but capitalism has surely failed to protect the environment. Unless we become willing to recognize the value of all that is common to us, the air, the water and the land, and learn to respect it, the environment will find a way to live without us.
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