Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sustainability - Different Definitions for Different Groups it about budgetary responsibility, responsibility for the Earth's fragile ecosystems, or something else altogether? Sustainability concepts can be difficult to discuss without moral overtones, because people feel strongly about them - albeit in different ways. For this blogger, sustainability matters most in terms of the economic systems that populations rely on. How can individuals be expected to care for their environments, if sustainability does not take humanity into consideration?

Some on the right mostly think of sustainability as a balanced budget. In the present - unfortunately - both Democrats and Republicans associate sustainability with limits to growth, which in turn affects monetary policy. The Republican stance for limited government can come across as hard limits on services formation, whereas some on the left think in terms of limits to "crass" materialism. Both perspectives can be harmful, for more recent arrivals to the marketplace who could use a bit more of both. The "limits to growth" mindset is also a burden for all who seek economic access, because choices are now too limited, in what has become a "full equilibrium".

While some progressives view sustainability in terms of local economic potential, the "we'll grow or make our own" mindset tends to be a reaction against the benefits of international trade - even though tradable goods are not the problem. Tradable goods have provided immense benefit for the poor, even as the non tradable sectors have become problematic for all concerned. Granted, more production needs to take place in the U.S. But organizational capacity needs to be strengthened in the non tradable sectors of knowledge use and building options, where people of multiple income levels still have insufficient economic footing.

Both sides of the debate have missed the fallout from reduced labor force participation. This plays havoc with markets to a greater degree than is presently acknowledged. Only consider the effect of lower labor force participation on fossil fuels use in the U.S., which means further layoffs in states which only recently had been leading the way for economic growth. If the right can be faulted for ignoring the vital role of services in the economy, the left can be faulted for paying little attention to the fact fossil fuels use is already in decline, in spite of the fact that no infrastructure adaptation has taken place.

Another example of confusion regarding monetary sustainability is Steve Keen, an economist at Kingston University in London. For understandable reasons, his "quantitative easing for the people" has gained a wide audience. However, there are central flaws in the debt jubilee and basic income concepts, and their presumed capacity for solving the problems of economic access. A basic income would seriously distort the maintenance of any economic equilibrium, because it leaves no room for economic mobility or one's capacity to contribute to economic outcomes. Even if it were possible to create a basic income, this structure would not hold up well over time, because of the generational problems associated with those who lack economic access for the full duration of their lives.

One of the most important aspects of sustainability, involves the further proactive evolution of services structures which originated in the 20th century. Whereas the political left expects governments to continue funding services as they presently exist, others on the right remain unconvinced that services are an important part of the marketplace. This lack of foresight regarding services, helps to explain why both governments and economies falter when austerity appears as though necessary, and no one has a plan in place to ensure that services are not lost.

The fact that so many citizens in the U.S. still yearn for the broad manufacturing base which once existed, is a good indicator that much work needs to be done, regarding economic sustainability. However, the primary efforts need to take place at local levels, in the non tradable sectors of the economy. There are ways to rethink organizational capacity, so that the advantages of corporate structure need not be limited to prosperous regions, and I will touch on this in the next post.

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