February 22nd, 2012 § § permalink
(Originally posted on Triplepundit on February 17, 2012)
The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, interest rates are high, stifling investment in new businesses.
What are the alternatives to our dysfunctional economic system?
Is it possible to identify new economic and social models that can act as rallying points for concrete social and political change?
People, rightly so, are scared of utopian visions of heaven on Earth. So let’s put utopianism aside.
No promises here of a communist or capitalist paradise.
Just some concrete thoughts on what people, good people who seek good change, can think about in creating effective strategies of progress.
My favorite model is based on the phrase coined by the Nobel-prize winning economist Amartya Sen: development as freedom.
For Sen, development is not just the reduction of poverty — it is the affirmative expansion of freedom.
Not simply political freedoms (which are important), but also social freedoms that bring about freedom from want or physical suffering.
As Sen puts it, development means “removing poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or overactivity of repressive states.”
I like the concept of development as freedom for several reasons:
- Development as freedom mirrors human rights law, specifically the two major human rights treaties enacted after World War II. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects rights like freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to a fair trial. Meanwhile, a sibling treaty, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), requires countries to ensure their citizens can make a “decent living” (article 7) and have access to health care and education. Development as freedom asks people to respect both sets of rights. Freedom of speech means little if a person does not have the education to speak her mind; freedom to live without undue government interference means little if a person cannot stay healthy.
- Development as freedom is adaptable. In these times of growing ecological stress, development as freedom means reducing carbon impacts and creating sustainable economic systems that can last more than just a few generations.
- Development as freedom provides dignity to ancient cultures that today grapple with endemic poverty. The world will lose something if civilizations like India and China, thousands of years old, throw away the bulk of their collected social and cultural knowledge in order to carbon copy the development paths of the United States and Europe.
- Development as freedom means there is work to do even in so-called rich countries. The consumer society in the United States has brought many luxuries, but it has destroyed communities, wrecked the environment, and isolated and atomized people to a degree never before seen in history. Development as freedom offers a way to look beyond physical luxury to those human needs that remain impoverished even in the midst of monetary wealth. No person lives on bread alone.
September 16th, 2011 § § permalink
(This post was originally published on TriplePundit.com on September 12, 2011)
Law has the power to promote common values that help change societies for the better. At the international level, treaties are the legal mechanism by which a shared vision is enacted by and between different countries.
It is tempting to cynically dismiss international agreements, but they can be surprisingly effective. Treaties like the United Nations Charter, the International Bill of Rights, the Convention Against Torture and even the Kyoto Protocol are all documents that shaped the current international order.
As global population tips towards seven billion people and with growing concern over access to clean water, energy resources and the effects of climate change, the moment is increasingly ripe for sustainability to become an issue of international importance. A binding “Sustainability Treaty” could help distill a shared set of values that advocates all over the world could use to frame conversations related to sustainability.
Here are some issues that a Sustainability Treaty could tackle:
Resource preservation and trade: International trade is already globally managed through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organization (in addition to regional trade blocks like the European Union and NAFTA). A Sustainability Treaty can take these trade agreements to the next level by mandating cooperation related to the use and trade of necessary resources likely to cause conflict in the coming century. Concerns about peak water and peak oil are better addressed through trade agreements that incentivize water- or oil-rich countries to trade these goods at reasonable prices in exchange for (say) favorable trading conditions for other goods, direct investment, or technology transfers.
Sustainable development: It’s wrongheaded for Americans to see rising BRIC nations only as competitors or threats to the current global order — on the contrary, the spread of affluence and basic necessities to places like India and China creates an unprecedented opportunity for mutual growth and technological advancement. A Sustainability Treaty can change the conversation about sustainability by correctly pushing for needed economic and technological reforms that will lay the foundation for the affluence of the 21st century. For example, countries could agree to global gas mileage standards on new cars, joint development on new forms of energy technologies or re-thinking agricultural production.
Pollution and waste: The 1987 Montreal Protocol has been hailed as an example of international cooperation related to human-caused ecological problems (specifically the depletion of the ozone layer). A Sustainability Treaty can build on that success by tackling problems associated with other sources of toxic pollution and waste, particularly plastics and e-waste. More ambitiously, a Sustainability Treaty could even address the issue of nuclear waste and put together a comprehensive framework for a nuclear clean-up and even phase-out of outdated and waste-producing nuclear technology.
Climate change: The Kyoto Protocol was the international community’s first effort to tackle climate change, and while it placed climate issues on the radar of governments and international organizations, as a practical matter carbon emissions continue to rise. Perhaps the flaw in current climate strategy is tackling the issue alone when in reality climate change is tied to a larger conversation about the creation of sustainable civilizations. Hold-outs to Kyoto (specifically the United States) might find it more politically feasible to talk about climate change within the context of trade or development opportunities as well.
What are some other issues that might be addressed in a Sustainability Treaty?
September 12th, 2011 § § permalink
(This post was originally published on TriplePundit.com on September 7, 2011).
In the US we’re still more than a year away from the next federal election, but campaign news is already making headlines. It’s worth asking: what are some things a Sustainable Party might advocate?
Here are a few ideas:
Sustainable health. The conversation about nation-wide health care is an excellent start, but people need to ask fundamental questions about what it means to be healthy. Scientists and doctors already know that (1) nutritious foods, (2) a robust social network, (3) daily exercise and (4) rest and holiday are the best ways to manage stress and stay healthy. Yet current health care models focus on emergency and end-of-life care, when care is at its most expensive and least likely to qualitatively improve life over the long term.
A Sustainable Party should fight for a health care system that maximizes preventive and sustainable health. Things such as (1) a better food supply, (2) better advocacy and support for the mentally ill, (3) more opportunities to be outdoors and exercise, and (4) more time off from work would dramatically increase quality of life and reduce disease, all while saving costs.
Sustainable infrastructure. The economies of the future will not be coal or oil-based. Carbon emission models are simply too scary — and oil production too vulnerable — to suggest otherwise. Other countries are already way on top of this: Germany, for example, plans on being 50 percent reliant on wind, solar and hydroelectric power (and totally nuclear free) in just eleven short years.
A Sustainable Party should advocate for the immediate transition to sustainable energy sources in 10 to 20 years — not only as a way of creating desperately needed new jobs and technologies, but also as a way of staving off the worst effects of climate change. There is just no excuse for the US to sit around and let other countries develop the sustainable energy sources of the future.
Sustainable development. The growth model of the last 100 years — leave home at 18, find a spouse, buy a new home, rinse and repeat — has isolated and damaged families, communities, and individuals. A Sustainable Party should push for policies that encourage people to stay in one place and create thriving social ecosystems.
The options here are truly limitless. Governments can offer tax credits to encourage people to stay at the same address, grants to entrepreneurs who create local jobs, and direct investment in community centers and parks. And why not experiment with new forms of zoning so that people can live, eat and work in the same place, or with other people?
Sustainable labor. People fought and died for the eight-hour work day, laws against child labor and a weekend away from the office. At a time of unprecedented material abundance, the economy is nonetheless regressing to an era where labor rules were nonexistent or simply ignored.
A Sustainable Party needs to fight for an economy that promotes a lifestyle where people don’t have to kill themselves to enjoy a basic standard of living. I know too many well-educated twenty and thirty year olds who are stuck behind a desk for 10 hours a day (at least!). Society should reward people by giving them time-off to enjoy friends and family — or just to take a break.
What do you think? What should a Sustainable Party advocate?