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An Economy of Dignity

Mother Earth is our ultimate source of all that is light and love. She is final record of our past and, from her, we derive the totality of our values and our virtues as humans. Through generations, she has both encapsulated and passed on a sense of dignity towards ourselves and all others in our communities.

WHY DIGNITY?

Up front, you should know: I am a proud capitalist—because it works (for the last three and a half centuries at least).  In my mind, the model at its best includes caring for Mother Earth’s resources, harvesting them responsibly and, finally, selling those resources (and the resulting creations) to make a living and enrich our communities, families and world.

Only in roughly the last 40 years has this circular system been bumped from its state of steady equilibrium. Suddenly, in a very short period of time, the structure has become unsustainable. And what has been our response to this un-sustainability? Unfortunately, in large part, to ignore the problem. Now, we’re constantly told that we must choose between economic prosperity and environmental protection.

Here’s the good news: This is a false dilemma—a straw man. In 2020, in every circumstance we examine, good environmental policy is good economic policy. It’s true of every aspect of the economy. The breakdown happens when it comes to defining the measure of a “good economy.” As a true capitalist, I see two main barometers:

  1. Does the economy produce jobs and maintain the dignity of that employment for its community over generations?
  2. Does it preserve the value of our assets and access to those assets for its community over the generations?

I think of this notion of intergenerational consideration as “the economics of dignity.” And it requires a free market (yes, capitalism again!) to operate.  That’s why economics and good environmental policy are inexorably linked.

Why? Well, if we don’t factor dignity—of people and our planet—into equation, then we’re basically treating Mother Earth like a business in liquidation.  Prioritizing speed, we would convert all our natural resources into cash as quickly as possible, essentially selling the silverware to pay for our groceries, leaving us with a few years at best of pollution-based prosperity.

Initially, this lack of dignity will most certainly generate cashflow and the illusion of a prosperous economy, but, ultimately, our children pay for our joyride with polluted landscapes, poor health and huge clean-up costs that will amplify impossibly over time.

Environmental injury is deficit spending, loading the cost of our generation’s prosperity onto the backs of our children. Sure, we can do this and create a few billionaires—at the cost of impoverishing the rest of the American people and our planet, which means robbing our own lives of true richness. It would mean the loss of our natural world and all the wonderful creatures that make it so diverse and textured.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Well, for the last 40 years, our leaders have coerced us into choosing the economy in this false dilemma at the detriment of our natural resources.  The leaders, remember, are just a select few individuals, people who are clearly waging a war between the livelihood of our communities and large corporations who want to privatize the commons and exploit our air, water and land for profits. 

The oil industry and coal industry, in the form of corporations, are waging a kind of civil war, ruthlessly ignoring the economics of dignity. They’re not considering the future; rather, what they need today, right now, to make a profit.

In 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund, we give $5.2 trillion globally (in the USA $6.69 billion) in cash subsidies to the oil and coal industry in order to help them survive in today’s market—more than we pay to the entire US military. That is literally the only way they still can still function. Last year, 63% of new energy generation on Mother Earth was renewable. That’s not because the government ordered it; it’s because the market dictated it. Apparently, renewable energy is the best solution from a capitalist perspective.

WHAT NOW?

Last month, India canceled 14 gigawatts of proposed (already contracted) new coal-burning power plants. To give a sense, that is bigger than the entire U.K., the country that invented coal power. The government canceled those plans because the cost of solar is now 1/5th the cost coal; it’s now 1/10th the cost of nuclear. Why not use the most efficient and cheapest form of energy out there?

It is time to make those oil and coal companies internalize those environmental costs that they are now externalizing, so we can have a truly efficient and rationalized capitalist marketplace and help consumers make sound choices. Free market capitalism is the most powerful economic engine ever devised, but it has to be harnessed to a social purpose. If not, it will continue to drag us inexorably down a path of oligarchy and apocalypse. 

So, what we need to do is allow a market to do what a market is supposed to do: reward good behavior (efficiency) and punish bad behavior (waste). Instead, what we have today is a market that is governed by rules written by the carbon incumbents to reward the filthiest, most poisonous and warmongering fuels rather than the cheap, clean, green, wholesome and patriotic fuels.

OUR ONE PLANET

If Mother Earth is the ultimate source and provider for humans, why not treat her with respect and draw from her that which she can give cheaply and easily? Why not be patriotic, let free market capitalism do what it was intended to do and naturally channel all our resources into wholesome energy, creating millions of jobs in the process? It’s time for us to take a look at ourselves and ask why we would approach our own future with guilt, rebellion and shame rather than love, compassion and ease?

This is a big problem and a solution requires us to work together. But, as with all challenges, we must start somewhere. In the end, this is a conscious discussion to be had at each family dinner table and each community gathering about how to treat ourselves and each other with dignity, so resources still exist to pass down through generations. 

OUR CURRENT STATE

This is a moment of great global reflection. The current health crisis has forced us back into our homes—our own personal communities. There, we have to restart discussions of dignity, reminding ourselves of these important environmental truths:

  1. We are all equal, regardless of our culture, religion, occupation, financial situation or notoriety. This disease treats us all equally; perhaps we should too. 
  2. We are all connected. Something that affects one person has an effect on another. The false borders that we have put up have little value as the virus does not need a passport, and neither does our environmental problem.
  3. Our health is precious and we must stop neglecting it by eating nutrient-poor processed food. If we don’t look after our health, we will, of course, get sick. Looking after the dignity of our environment will immediate help solve these health problems.
  4. Family and home life are incredibly important, as are our personal connections. This disease is aggressively forcing us back into our houses, so we can hopefully rebuild what we’ve neglected and, ideally, strengthen our family units and the environment alike.

Of course, considering the terrible loss of life, in many ways the corona/COVID-19 virus is a great disaster. Seen in its best light, perhaps we can also see it as a great corrector—a painful wakeup call, that comes with a small dose of hope, reminding us that Mother Earth is sick and that our true work is to look after each other, to protect each other and to be of benefit to one another in our small and large communities. It is a reminder of the important lessons of the economics of dignity that have gotten lost in the shuffle. It is up to us whether we will learn them or not. Showing dignity to Mother Earth in order to show true dignity to ourselves.

—Jared Vere, Live The Process co-founder

Cover image via Alexis Christodoulou 


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