New Worldwatch report calls for commitment to environmental sustainability in forming American economic policy

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute.

Entire sets of assumptions, beliefs, and practices will need to be overturned if the United States is to build a sustainable economy in the decades ahead, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute, Creating Sustainable Prosperity in the United States: The Need for Innovation and Leadership. The report assesses the country’s environmental record and calls for a broad range of policy innovations in the areas of renewable and non-renewable resource use, waste and pollution, and population growth that would help boost the sustainability of the U.S. economy while maintaining people’s overall well-being and quality of life.

The report notes that the country has a long tradition of environmental leadership, dating back to President Theodore Roosevelt, who established the U.S. National Park Service in 1916. During the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. became a world leader in environmental policy, establishing a series of progressive laws and institutions, including the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Yet U.S. leaders have lagged behind many other countries, including in Europe and Asia, in developing a more sustainable economic processes and energy infrastructure, according to the report. Although the technological and policy tools needed to create sustainable economic activity have advanced rapidly around the world, U.S. output continues to be bolstered by unsustainable practices such as closed loop recycling (recycling waste from one product to make another), heavy dependence on fossil fuels, disregard for renewable resources, and resource use that is strongly connected to economic growth.

“The United States once set the world standard in confronting its environmental problems—protecting wild lands, establishing an environmental protection agency, and acting assertively to limit pollution of all types,” noted Robert Engelman, Executive Director of Worldwatch. “Americans benefited economically and in many other ways from these efforts. Yet today the country’s government plays no role in global efforts to create sustainable societies. We need a powerful citizens’ movement to help policymakers see that any efforts to make the United States enduringly prosperous are doomed to fail so long as we forget that we are living on a finite planet and cannot change the laws of physics and biology to suit our ambitions.”

The report outlines a series of cogent and practicable policy measures that can be instituted today to put the United States on a more sustainable path. These include shifting from an income tax to a progressive consumption tax, creating more standard eco-labeling for products, encouraging more producer “take-back” opportunities, and promoting a more feasible renewable energy market. A deceleration of population growth will also make the creation of a sustainable economy far easier, the report notes.

Rising awareness of the environmental challenges facing our planet, as well as the focus on finding ways to bolster the American economy, presents policy makers with the opportunity to make important and far-reaching decisions. The question is whether the United States builds sustainable prosperity through prudent choices now, or declines into sustained impoverishment because it failed to steward its assets when it had the choice.

What do you think is the most important step governments can take to support sustainable economies?

Gary Gardner is a Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute. Jenna Banning is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project of the Worldwatch Institute.

For the press release on the report, visit Worldwatch Institute's Press Room.

For more on the importance of developing a green economy, see “Officials cite sustainable agriculture as key to UN Green Economy Initiative,” “Worldwatch report focuses on China’s green future”  and “Rio+20: Creating Green Economies to Eradicate Poverty.”

New Worldwatch report calls for commitment to environmental sustainability in forming American economic policy

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute.

Entire sets of assumptions, beliefs, and practices will need to be overturned if the United States is to build a sustainable economy in the decades ahead, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute, Creating Sustainable Prosperity in the United States: The Need for Innovation and Leadership. The report assesses the country’s environmental record and calls for a broad range of policy innovations in the areas of renewable and non-renewable resource use, waste and pollution, and population growth that would help boost the sustainability of the U.S. economy while maintaining people’s overall well-being and quality of life.

The report notes that the country has a long tradition of environmental leadership, dating back to President Theodore Roosevelt, who established the U.S. National Park Service in 1916. During the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. became a world leader in environmental policy, establishing a series of progressive laws and institutions, including the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Yet U.S. leaders have lagged behind many other countries, including in Europe and Asia, in developing a more sustainable economic processes and energy infrastructure, according to the report. Although the technological and policy tools needed to create sustainable economic activity have advanced rapidly around the world, U.S. output continues to be bolstered by unsustainable practices such as closed loop recycling (recycling waste from one product to make another), heavy dependence on fossil fuels, disregard for renewable resources, and resource use that is strongly connected to economic growth.

“The United States once set the world standard in confronting its environmental problems—protecting wild lands, establishing an environmental protection agency, and acting assertively to limit pollution of all types,” noted Robert Engelman, Executive Director of Worldwatch. “Americans benefited economically and in many other ways from these efforts. Yet today the country’s government plays no role in global efforts to create sustainable societies. We need a powerful citizens’ movement to help policymakers see that any efforts to make the United States enduringly prosperous are doomed to fail so long as we forget that we are living on a finite planet and cannot change the laws of physics and biology to suit our ambitions.”

The report outlines a series of cogent and practicable policy measures that can be instituted today to put the United States on a more sustainable path. These include shifting from an income tax to a progressive consumption tax, creating more standard eco-labeling for products, encouraging more producer “take-back” opportunities, and promoting a more feasible renewable energy market. A deceleration of population growth will also make the creation of a sustainable economy far easier, the report notes.

Rising awareness of the environmental challenges facing our planet, as well as the focus on finding ways to bolster the American economy, presents policy makers with the opportunity to make important and far-reaching decisions. The question is whether the United States builds sustainable prosperity through prudent choices now, or declines into sustained impoverishment because it failed to steward its assets when it had the choice.

What do you think is the most important step governments can take to support sustainable economies?

Gary Gardner is a Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute. Jenna Banning is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project of the Worldwatch Institute.

For the press release on the report, visit Worldwatch Institute's Press Room.

For more on the importance of developing a green economy, see “Officials cite sustainable agriculture as key to UN Green Economy Initiative,” “Worldwatch report focuses on China’s green future”  and “Rio+20: Creating Green Economies to Eradicate Poverty.”

Small Business: Are Some Too Small to Survive?

It doesn’t matter if you’re obscenely wealthy, living under a bridge, own a Mom and Pop business, or are the most mega of mega multinationals, you want a tax break. Regardless of how much your lobbyists can con out of legislators or how much the country can afford to give, everyone promises to rush right out and stimulate the heck out of the economy, thereby single-handedly putting everyone back to work.

Of course, if this were possible we’d have avoided the financial collapse and licked unemployment before the first CEO could skim his bonus off the top. Truth is, if someone’s paid 2 bucks a year in taxes, they’d complain it wasn’t a buck.

Such is life in a capitalist society.

One of the most repeated mantras in the political/economic wilderness is that small businesses create jobs like an alchemist creates gold from base metal. I suspect that’s true because Big Corporations are a lot better at creating jobs in Bangalore than Bangor and it’s not like they have sterling track records to contradict that. But, if Big Businesses aren’t “too big to fail”, aren’t some small businesses “too small to survive”?

Small Biz Owners Have Bigger Balls Than Me
I have a lot of respect for anyone willing to work themselves silly trying to make a living out of the ether. They have bigger balls than me. But if the sole criteria for success was hard work, coal miners and garbage picker uppers would get the gazillion dollar bonuses.

Likewise, if the only criteria was the ability to take huge risks, corporateers would still come out in the lead, notwithstanding they took the risks with someone else’s money, doing something an imbecile should know better than to do, and tripling their compensation for failing to do what they set out to do. The only difference is the size of the risk that caused the business’s implosion.

Many, many more small business fail than survive. There are a variety of reasons. Some people never thought running a business was so tough. All they wanted was to escape some domineering middle manager of a boss. Others got loans no sane bank should’ve given them. Still others lacked a flair for the creatively entrepreneurial, somehow thinking the world needed one more pizza place or boutique shop selling dried flowers and “crafts” they wouldn’t keep in their own homes.

On a cost/benefit ratio, small business is a dicey way to create jobs. Most of owners end up on the unemployment rolls alongside anyone unlucky enough to work for them, while simultaneously stiffing creditors and their poorly paid serfs because they couldn’t pay the bills. That’s at least 4 jobs lost right there. One step forward, for steps back.

And, the jobs small business does create aren’t usually the skilled machinist, shipbuilder, electronics technician kind. Most are pizza delivery guys and high school kids twisting dried flowers into malodorous bunches for minimum wage – no vacation, no sick time, no retirement, no health coverage, and in some cases, not enough to buy the pizzas they deliver. The economy can’t aford to create many more jobs like that, regardless of who creates them.

Small Business Says It Can’t Pay
Small business and their lobbies routinely complain they can’t afford the minimum wages already set. They say they have to reinstitute a de facto indentured servitude system to make ends meet and what they say is true. In Big Biz, they call this under-capitalization.

But then, McDonalds and Pizza Hut claim the same thing because burger prices will have to move from Dollar Menus to Two Dollar Menus and that’ll cost the shareholders 2 cents per share. Neither would pay any more than absolutely necessary because every dollar going to employees is a dollar not shown on a profit sheet. They aren’t, as they often remind people, charities.

I believe in small business. They are an important part of the economy and shouldn’t be trivialized. They can create good, quality jobs and improve the economy. However, we can’t afford to incentivize the weak any more than we can afford to foot the bill for all the oil BP can spill or all the slave-labor jeans Levi’s can make in Bangladesh.

Like it or not, everyone – Big Business, small business, low-middle-and upper income taxpayers – have to give something up. What everyone really wants is a no-pain fix and that ain’t gonna happen.

So let’s be honest about the ability for any single segment of the economy to fix this problem. Small business is not the only option. If they can’t raise the capital to compete, they are too small to survive. If daft bankers make bad investments, they aren’t “too big to fail”.

Big corporations and their larger stockholders have to stop living like warlords in Afghanistan and not expect a return on investment is a God-given right. And the rest of us probably won’t miss a $100 a year tax break anyway. If we can’t, it’s cheaper for those who can to help those who can’t, regardless if you think it’s unfair, or socialism, for free marketism at its finest.

Just as not all jobs are equal, not all businesses, or taxpayers are either.

It’s a fact, get over it.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Weekly Audit: Fighting Economic Inequality in Haiti and at Home

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

Rampant poverty can’t be written off as the result of historical accident or a worker’s incompetence. It is actively cultivated by bad public policies that direct economic resources into the hands of a wealthy few. The resulting inequality creates unnecessary suffering all over the world, from the humanitarian crisis in Haiti to the alarmingly high poverty rate in the United States.

Systemic poverty in Haiti

The tragedy in Haiti is not only the result of a massive earthquake. As Richard Kim explains for The Nation, Haiti has long been one of the world’s poorest nations, and that poverty has prevented the country from protecting itself against natural disasters. As Kim explains:

Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters, its food shortages, poverty, deforestation and lack of infrastructure, are not accidental. To say that it is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere is to miss the point; Haiti was made poor—by France, the United States, Great Britain, other Western powers and by the IMF and the World Bank.

Kim details Haiti’s struggles under the weight of colonialist debt that dates back to 1804, the year it won its independence from France. Soon after the revolution, the U.S. and France threatened a trade embargo against Haiti unless the nation of former slaves agreed to pay reparations to its former slave-masters in France. Haiti paid off this extortion with loans from U.S. and European banks. The country was still paying those loans back in the 1940s.

In 2003, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded that France repay Haiti $21 billion of these unjust payments. He was ousted by a military coup for his efforts. Even today, the emergency IMF loans that are ostensibly helping Haiti cope with the disaster are crippled by insane stipulations, such as raising electricity prices for Haiti’s poorest citizens.

One-eighth of U.S. population receiving food stamps

The U.S. has been waging a quiet war against its own poor for decades as well. In a blog for Working In These Times, Akito Yoshikane highlights today’s record level of poverty: One in four U.S. children are living on food stamps, while one-eighth of the entire nation is receiving them. That’s over 38 million people, or more than four times the population of New York City. A poverty epidemic on this scale is a total affront to any concept of economic justice, liberal or conservative.

MLK and economic justice

Just economic policy was a critical concern for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But today’s 13.2% U.S. poverty rate is actually higher than when King spoke out against it in 1968, as Rich Benjamin notes for AlterNet. The economic oppression of minorities continues to this day. While the overall U.S. unemployment rate is 10%, among black workers, the rate is an astonishing 16.2%, while Latino and Latina workers face 12.9% unemployment.

10% unemployment vs. multi-million dollar bonuses

It’s impossible to tolerate 10% unemployment in any economy. But those high rates are especially cruel considering the multi-million-dollar bonuses being paid to bankers who were bailed out with U.S. citizens’ tax dollars. Nomi Prins‘ fantastic interactive chart at Mother Jones reveals both the obscene executive pay levels and staggering federal bailouts that banks subsequently used to boost profits and banker pay.

Top bank executives scored regal paydays for nearly destroying the economy, and some of them even helped pervert the government into an enabler of banking excess. Need an example? Prins highlights Robert Rubin, who pushed through a host of radical deregulatory laws as Treasury Secretary in the 1990s, then left to take a job at Citigroup, where he reaped over $120 million before his company needed a massive bailout. There’s no reason for policymakers to accept a 13.2% poverty rate while subsidizing paychecks for wealthy bankers.

What can be done?

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a panel convened to uncover the causes of the financial crisis, could play a key role in overturning the injustices embedded within the U.S. financial system. As Ruth Coniff notes for The Progressive, it’s not simply that the bailouts saved the banks. It’s that the banks are piggybacking on taxpayer-granted perks to score record profits.

Economic arguments are routinely deployed to excuse outrageous social injustices—the most common argument for the U.S. bank bailout claims that things would have been much worse for everyone if we hadn’t thrown billions at the banks. There are grains of truth in the argument. If all of the banks had actually failed, the result would have been economic mayhem. But that bailout money should have come with major strings attached. There is no reason why bank CEOs, rather than taxpayers, should be reaping the rewards from profits that taxpayer funds generated.

In both global and domestic politics, severe inequality is often accepted as an economic fact, not a problem that must be solved. But the moral outrage prompted by the disaster in Haiti and the U.S. financial bailout is both real and justified. If we want to live in a just society, we cannot continue to subsidize the rich by exploiting the poor.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

No joke: Time names Fed Chairman "Person of the Year"

Bleeding Heartland user American007 noted not long ago that Time Magazine often gives its "Person of the Year" award to people attempting to deal with a weak economy. So it was this year, when Time's editors laughably chose Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke:

The story of the year was a weak economy that could have been much, much weaker. Thank the man who runs the Federal Reserve, our mild-mannered economic overlord

I wish I were joking, but here's more from Time:

The overriding story of 2009 was the economy -- the lousiness of it, and the fact that it wasn't far lousier. It was a year of escalating layoffs, bankruptcies and foreclosures, the "new frugality" and the "new normal." It was also a year of green shoots, a rebounding Dow and a fragile sense that the worst is over. Even the big political stories of 2009 -- the struggles of the Democrats; the tea-party takeover of the Republicans; the stimulus; the deficit; GM and Chrysler; the backlash over bailouts and bonuses; the furious debates over health care, energy and financial regulation; the constant drumbeat of jobs, jobs, jobs -- were, at heart, stories about the economy. And it's Bernanke's economy.

In 2009, Bernanke hurled unprecedented amounts of money into the banking system in unprecedented ways, while starting to lay the groundwork for the Fed's eventual return to normality. He helped oversee the financial stress tests that finally calmed the markets, while launching a groundbreaking public relations campaign to demystify the Fed. Now that Obama has decided to keep him in his job, he has become a lightning rod in an intense national debate over the Fed as it approaches its second century.

But the main reason Ben Shalom Bernanke is TIME's Person of the Year for 2009 is that he is the most important player guiding the world's most important economy. His creative leadership helped ensure that 2009 was a period of weak recovery rather than catastrophic depression, and he still wields unrivaled power over our money, our jobs, our savings and our national future. The decisions he has made, and those he has yet to make, will shape the path of our prosperity, the direction of our politics and our relationship to the world.

Reality check: Bernanke has no plan to deal with unemployment, even though the "Federal Reserve Act dictates that one of the founding directives of the Federal Reserve is to 'promote effectively the goals of maximum employment.'"

But Bernanke is wild about cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Hooray for our "mild-mannered economic overlord"!

The Senate Banking Committee votes on Bernanke's renomination tomorrow, and he is expected to pass. However, three senators have said they will put a hold on his renomination when it reaches the floor.

I agree that the current recession could have deepened without the federal stimulus bill, especially if we had imposed the federal spending freeze Republicans wanted. But the stimulus should have been larger and better targeted toward job creation. Bernanke doesn't favor any additional federal stimulus to create jobs. He shouldn't even get another term at the Fed, let alone "Person of the Year."

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