Monthly Archives: January 2000

Ecological Sustainability: Some Elements of Longer Term System Change (with Thad Williamson and Alex Campbell)

ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY–

SOME ELEMENTS OF LONGER TERM SYSTEM CHANGE(1)

 

by

 

Gar Alperovitz, Thad Williamson, and Alex Campbell(2)

 

How might we begin to develop an overview of political-economic structures which could in principle form an ecologically sustainable system? And if we were able to do this, how might we begin to develop a coherent path which could get us from here to there? This dual problem, of course, is at the heart of a vast literature on ecological matters–and, too, of a great deal of political and citizen activity. Direct analyses of the underlying structural features of political- economic systems, and the impact of these features on a society’s ecological practices, however, are still relatively rare–even though the need for a thorough re-thinking of the building blocks of a truly sustainable society has never been more urgent.(3) A start, we believe, can be made by recognizing, first, that these questions are inherently “system” questions (not simply policy and political questions), and, second, that they take us well beyond some of the structural and dynamic principles associated with both capitalism and classical socialism.

Confronting the System Problem

There is a growing consensus that to avoid compromising the needs of future generations, any political-economic system must significantly reduce ecological stress, repair past environmental damage, and generate sufficient political and policy momentum so that net environmental deterioration can be halted.(4) Although precise definitions vary, many now recognize that “sustainability” requires both an institutional structure and a culture with the capacity to achieve these bottom-line results in an ongoing fashion.(5)

It has also become increasingly obvious that neither of the two major “systems” of the twentieth century–capitalism and socialism–are organized in a manner compatible with achieving these goals. This is not to say that modest and occasionally substantial goals cannot be achieved within the existing structures. But if the larger judgment is correct, then the conventional debate will obviously need to push much deeper to confront the underlying design characteristics of these and other systems to see if any are–or might be–sustainable.

Socialism

Throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the push for cheap energy and maximum industrial production–together with a wanton disregard for public health–created vast ecological wastelands in which dirty air, polluted water, and heavy toxic emissions despoiled ecosystems and threatened human life. In 1988 (just before the collapse of the system) air pollution in more than a hundred cities in the former Soviet Union was more than over ten times higher than legal standards. Sixty-five percent of Poland’s river water was deemed too polluted even for industrial use, and large segments of the Polish population were not served by any waste treatment facilities.(6) Energy efficiency in each of the former socialist countries of Europe lagged 50 percent behind even modest U.S. levels. Much energy was produced by filth-generating brown coal plants, many without any pollution controls whatsoever. At the end of the 1980s it was estimated that one out of every seventeen deaths in Hungary was due to air pollution. “Wherever you point your finger on the map,” observed one Russian scientist shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, “there is another horrible place.”(7)

In Asia, eight Chinese cities are among the ten with the worst air pollution in the world according to World Health Organization studies. Acid rain, the result of sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide pollution, affects nearly one-third of the Chinese land area. Severe water quality problems face the majority of the population; perhaps 700 million Chinese drink water contaminated with animal and human waste. While most industrial wastewater receives some treatment, only 65.3 percent of the industrial wastewater released in 1998 met standards set by the government. China also faces severe soil erosion, solid waste, and desertifaction problems.(8)

Behind such statistics–many more could be cited–are domineering, growth-at-all-costs centralized government bureaucracies, and an ideology which suggested that nature could and should be bent to human will whatever the consequences. The governing authorities of the socialist states lacked the will– and probably the capacity–to hold economic operations accountable to true social costs; and local communities had no means of contesting the anti-ecological values of central power. As ecological economist Ken Townsend has observed, “rationality” converted forests of rich diversity into monocrop fields and attempted to reverse the flow of entire river systems.(9)

The difficulties of the Soviet Union and China, of course, also derive from development problems common throughout the world, and, too, the consequences of militarized economies. However, the results can also be traced to certain basic properties or design features of the state socialist system.(10) For instance, the Soviet Union, with its emphasis on expansion of productive capacity and its need for centralized coordination among different activities, placed great pressure on managers of state-run enterprises and other state agencies to meet output goals as an overriding priority. Enterprises and agencies were often compelled to cut ecological corners. Moreover, when ecological damage took place, there were few countervailing mechanisms to challenge abuses. Real world socialist systems have typically concentrated the political power of the state while simultaneously weakening and suppressing civil society.(11)

Capitalism

We have little difficulty recognizing large order, underlying structural characteristics when we look “outward” toward another system. But what of our own system? Are the environmental problems of capitalism also inherently structural and systemic? Is the trend toward environmental degradation and the continuing escalation of resource consumption a minor side effect of the system? Or is it a necessary result of the system’s inherent design?

The trends are not encouraging to those who would prefer to avoid facing the implications of these questions. Considernatural resource consumption. The World Resources Institute has recently noted that major capitalist industrial economies consume between 45 and 85 metric tons of material per person each year. For example:

…fabricating the automobiles and other metal-intensive products for which Japan is well known requires mining and processing a yearly per capita equivalent of about 14 metric tons of ore and minerals. Growing the food required to feed a single U.S. resident causes about 15 metric tons of soil erosion annually. In Germany, producing the energy used in a year requires removing and replacing more than 29 metric tons of coal overburden for each German citizen, quite apart from the fuel itself or the pollution caused by its combustion. (12)

In 1995 the United States consumed nearly 9 times as much commercial energy as India; per capita emissions of carbon dioxide, a principal greenhouse gas, are over 20 times those of India.(13) The U.S. consumes 333 kilograms of paper per person per year, compared to approximately 15 kilograms per year in the developing world.(14) Deforestation world wide has left only one-fifth of the planet’s original forests intact.(15) (Americans also consume a highly disproportionate quantity of the world’s meat: 118 kilograms per year per person, in 1996, compared to just 24 kilograms per year in the developing world.(16)) Alan Durning reports that between 1940 and 1976 alone Americans used up as large a share of the earth’s mineral resources as did everyone in history previously.(17)

The trends are no more comforting when one looks at pollution. U.S. yearly production of synthetic organic chemicals grew one-thousand fold–from 150 million kilograms to over 150 billion kilograms–between 1935 and 1995. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences demonstrate that we lack sufficient information for even a “partial health assessment” of 95 percent of the chemicals that have already been released into the air, water and soil. A thousand or more new chemical substances are put on the market each year, many of which are likely to be harmful, even in small quantities, by themselves or in combination with other substances. But the U.S. conducts only 500 product tests per year–not enough to test the constant stream of new chemicals, let alone make a dent in the backlog of untested chemicals. Literally millions of tests would be required to assess the potential health risks of these chemicals in combination.(18)

Confronted with such data illustrating the ecological consequences of our current development path, a common response of many environmentalists has been to emphasize the “greed” of corporate and other economic actors in generating such problems. It is important, however, to recognize that growth in capitalist systems is not motivated simply by hunger for profit but by fear that derives from the central logic and dynamics of the capitalist system: Companies for the most part must cut costs if they are to withstand competition. They must externalize: If a company willingly spends money on a pollution reduction problem and then must raise its prices to cover the cost, it risks finding its market share reduced or destroyed by a less conscientious rival firm.

Communities often face similar pressures in deciding, say, between continued logging of declining forests or loss of jobs. We see cities and states commonly prostrating themselves in order to attract corporate investment–because the consequences of not doing so are so severe: high unemployment, tax losses, continued social breakdown, and, of course, negative political outcomes for incumbent government officials. For communities as for capitalist firms the built-in system logic is obvious: very often it is simply a matter of “grow or die.”

The same propositions unfortunately commonly hold for many individuals as well. Consider the life cycle of a typical middle-class American: one goes to college in order to get ahead and thereby incurs debt; paying off the debt requires accumulating as much money as possible; then it’s time for a family, children, and if you’re lucky, a mortgage–more responsibilities, and more pressure to accumulate as much as possible–now; parents come to realize that if they don’t live in the right neighborhood, their child’s education will suffer, and they had better start saving for college; by the time that’s over the question “Who will take care of me?” in old age or sickness becomes central.

For the vast majority of Americans whatever security one achieves is fragile at best. At any time–and this is now as true for white-collar managers as for blue-collar workers–one might be laid off as a result of a downturn in the economy, a corporate buyout, a new technology, or even simply a change in the exchange rate. In his recent book Illusions of Prosperity Joel Blau underscores the perverse nature of the current situation: despite low unemployment, the massive pressures of the economy (layoffs, downsizing, corporate buyouts, low-wage jobs, etc.) result in intense feelings of insecurity:

Although many employees continue to have what are nominally permanent jobs, contract work has become the metaphor, if not the fact, for much of the labor market. Whether they sign up for a couple of weeks or a couple of years, more and more Americans know that their work at any particular job is time-limited, and their future probably includes a period of unemployment. Employees have always looked for jobs; employers have always done the hiring. Now, however, it is different. Search, hire, and fire; search, hire, and fire: not since the Great Depression has the constant churning of the U.S. labor market engendered such intense feelings of economic insecurity.(19)

In such situations the only way to obtain any real security is to avoid falling–and indeed, to keep climbing. In the absence of job or income security, it is alwayswise to strive for “more”–more income, more power and prestige at work, and commonly, more hours–now, since tomorrow may well bring “less.”

In addition, status differences based on income and consumption–which are endemic to the system–exacerbate the drive to consume.(20) In a society of massive inequalities and growing insecurity, and in which the media make very visible the lifestyles of the affluent (both through advertising and the content of programming), it is hardly surprising that there is general adulation of the rich and the secure in the system, or that the capacity to consume so often becomes a measure of self-esteem and status.

These pressures toward increased consumption by individuals and families are also tailored, of course, to supporting continued growth and expansion in the economy as a whole. As the billions of dollars spent each year on advertising so clearly suggest, firms have an obvious interest in creating “needs” and shaping consumers’ tastes and interests to sell their products. Indeed, capitalism can continue to expand within advanced economies only by continually generating new needs. At the same time capitalist development undercuts individual economic security and increases inequality it also undermines the basis of community integration and support as a matter of course: companies come and go, jobs appear and disappear. Often as not the social fabric is allowed to unravel, the local culture disintegrates, the community fragments, and young people leave. There is little “community” left to nurture a less materialist orientation; individuals must face the powerful influences of our corporate-driven media largely alone.

Finally, and not least, there is the political power and political culture which accompanies advanced capitalist economies–and the impact both have on ecological policy-making (and, indeed, democratic practice in general). Countless studies–and common observation–indicate that corporate institutions have the capacity and interest to wield disproportionate political influence, to manipulate regulatory agencies, thwart citizen action groups, and impact both electoral politics and legislation.(21) A recent study found that several polluting industries out-contribute all environmental PACs by an order of magnitude–and also spend $1 billion a year on corporate advertising and “greenwashing.”(22) Largely in response to corporate pressures the U.S. government has regularly intervened in the economy to promote ecologically inefficient and destructive practices. Two examples among a multitude serve to illustrate: While allocating a pittance to the development of solar and wind power, the Federal government sank $100 billion into nuclear power between 1950 and 1990, and it continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry with billions of dollars each year.(23) Similarly, in what amounts to an indirect subsidy for private automakers, the government has lavished billions on the Highway Trust Fund and created the interstate highway system, while allowing public transit of most types to decay.

Distinguishing Outcome Realities

We have been dwelling on such widely recognized and self-evident features of our own system for a reason. We all know very well that our system is characterized by such institutional, structural, and power “design features.” That they are “system properties” is obvious. The problem is that we rarely call a spade a spade. Most important, the implications are seldom incorporated into analyses of the challenge of long-term sustainability.

Part of our difficulty in confronting the systemic nature of the problem is that we often have trouble distinguishing between reforms which help ameliorate the worst aspects of environmental degradation and changes that actually result in altering trends. At the most general level, it is obvious that positive movement which diminishes harmful impacts on the environment regularly occurs within capitalist systems: Legislation is passed which helps control pollution; “progress” is made in eliminating lead and chlorofluorocarbons; there are improvements in the reduction of sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, and particulates. It is absolutely essential, however, to discriminate much more clearly among the following three categories of change: type “A,” reforms and gains which mitigate but do not end specific ecological problems; type “B,” which include occasional breakthroughs on a particular issue or substance (such as the complete removal of lead from gasoline); and type “C”–significant, comprehensive long-term trend reversals in an entire category of ecological concern (such as a much hoped-for but little accomplished reversal in the generation of greenhouse gases in order to minimize the risk–or at this stage, in all likelihood, mitigate the consequences–of global climate change).

Although most of our environmental debate is focused on fostering occasional breakthroughs, token reforms, and “gains,” the fact is a great deal of evidence points to the conclusion that the A- and B- type improvements do not lead to reversals of the basic outcome trendsthat matter most in terms of sustainability. We have noted some of themost obvious consumption/resource indicators which clearly show continued negative trends above. Defenders of the U.S. regulatory system often point to successes in two areas in particular: air and water pollution. Even here, however, the evidence suggests that despite some major achievements, especially as regards a few particularly hazardous pollutants and some high-profile successes like the recovery of Lake Erie, real problems remain in both areas.(24)

Even more disturbing: a 1995 study of long trends in twenty-one environmental factorscompiled by the National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives confirmed (with limited exceptions) a general worsening of various ecological outcomes in each of nine industrialized countries surveyed over the past twenty-five years. This despite the fact that the quarter century began with the first Earth Day and extended through a flurry of legislation, reform, green planning, the establishment of environmental ministries, and growing ecological consciousness and grassroots activism. Had economic growth been anywhere near the levels that business and government leaders hoped for, the general trend toward environmental degradation would have been substantially worse.(25) And, of course, since the heyday of environmentalism, a conservative anti-environmental political backlash has occurred in many countries.(26)

John Dryzek has pointed out that even our environmental “solutions” often tend to shift pollution across space or time, but do not actually eliminate many problems. For instance, smokestack scrubbers can remove pollutants from air emissions, but leave us with toxic sludge as a new threat.(27) Similarly, in our search for cheap or non-air polluting power, we have often created new problems: nuclear waste in the case of nuclear power, and vast habitat destruction in the case of hydro-electric dams.

Dynamic characteristics of the system give a particular edge to the problem: First, there is often a time delay in connection with remedial actions due to the complexity of the natural systems involved (consider global warming). Second, technological innovation is constantly creating potential new difficulties–and only after they are discovered does the tortuous process of building the political will to force a response begin. The United Nations Environmental Programme’s recently released Global Environmental Outlook 2000 lists the following “emerging” environmental problems (among others):

  • nitrogen’s harmful impact on ecosystems
  • increased severity of natural disasters
  • species invasion as a result of globalization
  • increased environmental pressures caused by urbanization
  • the impact of refugees on the natural environment.(28)

Will the next generation of environmental problems emerge from biotechnology, cold fusion developments, nanotechnology, space junk, attempts at desalinification, or another area of technological advance?(29) “Normal accident” theory suggests that the various elements of complex processes are likely to interact with each other–and with the very safety systems with which we attempt to protect ourselves–in highly unpredictable ways.(30) (For instance, the Chernobyl melt-down was caused by a safety test of the backup power sources.”(31))

The implications are not pleasant to consider. Whatever one thinks of the regulatory system’s ability to handle ecological issues, a further question remains: Does the political-economic system generate new problems at a faster rate than it generates the capacity to solve them?(32)

Elements of an Alternative

Many have long been aware, at least in a “background” sense, of the ways in which not only state socialism but also our own system work against achieving ecological sustainability. More novel is the suggestion that the best response to this situation is not simply to continue to “muddle through” and hope for the best. We believe that it is not only essential but possible to begin to sketch at least some of the properties of a system which might reduce the underlying pressures which generate the negative outcomes.

If unsustainable growth patterns are encouraged by the reality of widespread economic insecurity, it follows that a first principle of an ecologically sustainable society is that it must provide economic security for individuals and communities. So long as most citizens are only a few paychecks away from insolvency, and so long as they worry that their income may be taken away, economic expansion and job creation will be a higher political priority than environmental protection for large numbers of people. At the community level, so long as localities remain dependent on uncertain investment decisions for their economic health, protection of the environment will take a back seat.

A second principle is reducing the dominance of consumerism. This in turn requires reducing the pressures of inequality-driven status envy, on the one hand–and, on the other, building up sources of social and community support for individuals which begin to offer satisfactions from interactions with people rather than from consumption of goods. A long term alternative path would also include a reduction in work time, a concomitant reduction in consumption, and an expansion of free time (or a shift to more intrinsically rewarding–though possibly less technologically advanced–work(33)). This is also clearly inextricably linked to the first principle (economic security): people are unlikely to seek any reduction in work time as long as they face insecurity.

A third requirement of an ecologically sustainable society is that producers who damage the environment should bear the costs of their damage. Since the true costs of production are not reflected in the prices of goods on the market, firms benefit by externalizing costs such as pollution cleanup (or lack thereof) to the public.(34)

Finally, and perhaps obviously, a fourth requirement of an ecologically sustainable economy is simply that growth no longer be a top priority. Economic growth per se need not be eliminated entirely: One way to reduce resource use and pollution is to cut production and shrink the economy; another is to make productive systems more efficient.(35) If the nation decided to hire more elementary school teachers–and at the same time to buy fewer sports utility vehicles–ecological damage would decline even as the size of the economy stayed roughly the same.(36)

Towards a Systemic Response

These–and other(37)–requirements of an ecologically sustainable society might be easy to deal with if we imagined an all-powerful state which enforced strict ecological standards on both individuals and businesses. Not only is such a vision unattractive on its own terms, it probably would provide only a temporary solution to the ecological problem: permanence is not a characteristic of authoritarian regimes (of any stripe), and we would expect widespread resistance to top-down environmental measures implemented without the support of public opinion.(38)

Our strategy for a first stage response proceeds on several levels: We begin by emphasizing the fundamental need to rebuild–and add to–the basis of enforceable ecological norms “from the bottom up.” This in turn involves four issues: achieving greater local economic stability; nurturing local civic environmental culture; building new forms of embedded and democratized capital; and altering the larger structures of inequality and time availability (which in turn forces the analysis upwards towards larger institutional issues). A fifth issue–to which we turn subsequently–involves the matter of scale.

First things first: norms are ultimately the driving force behind policy. Survey research reveals major shifts in public attitudes over the past twenty-five years. For instance, the number of Americans who judged that we should “sacrifice economic growth in order to preserve and protect the environment” grew from 38 percent in 1976 to 64 percent in 1990. (39) A particularly revealing illustration is offered by Gregg Easterbrook: President Clinton, he notes, was more responsive to environmentalists than labor unions in negotiating side-agreements to NAFTA: “This is a shift of the first magnitude. Had you told a political scientist 20 years ago that by the 1990s environmentalists would be taken more seriously in a Democratic White House than the AFL-CIO, you would have been advised to seek professional care.”(40) In 1996 pollsters Alan Quinlan and Stanley Greenberg found that the “expectation of a clean environment has evolved into a virtual norm–a near universal belief in the country that this is the right way to organize society.”(41) Modern improvements in acceptable air and water standards–and many other recent achievements– are inconceivable without the change in norms that preceded them.

The work of political scientist Ronald Inglehart and others suggests the trend of growing environmental concern will continue.Most significant among Inglehart’s findings is evidence that ongoing long trends in overall economic abundance tend to increase the relative prevalence of “postmaterial” values, i.e., growing concern with democracy, the environment, and quality of life. His research also suggests inter-generational shifts in values toward increasing postmaterialism in younger age cohorts–together with shifts in the predicted direction in nearly every one of 44 countries examined.(42)

For the various reasons previously reviewed, we believe it unlikely that the past and ongoing process of norm evolution is–or can be–sufficiently powerful on its own to achieve significant ecological trend alteration (as opposed to type “A” and type “B” changes). Hence, a strategic requirement over the long haul may be defined as adding to, enhancing, supplementing, and ultimately transforming the already building developmental line of norm evolution. If this can be done, the basis of civic and political culture–the ultimate precondition of lasting policy and structural change–may perhaps be fueled steadily and expansively.(43)

Stability

What can be done, concretely, to facilitate the further evolution of strong ecological norms, starting at the local level? A first step is to increase individual and community economic stability.(44) One set of strategies involves traditional local, state, and national tax, loan, regulatory, procurement, and other efforts to keep jobs in communities and to reduce the pressure of globalization and destabilizing trade. Other policies to encourage stability include economically targeted investment by pension funds, trade adjustment assistance, worker training, Community Development Block Grants, and Empowerment Communities/Enterprise Zones, rural community assistance, and brownfield redevelopment. Related to this is the need to manage trade in a manner that does not undermine communities. Various strategies have been suggested by such experts as Jeff Faux and Dani Rodrik. Others have been proposed by a number of coalitions.(45) The bottom line: stabilizing communities is more important than abstract theories of neo-classical trade management.(46)

A second line of defense involves the development of “anchored” community industries which inherently increase stability. These include community-owned firms, small businesses, employee-owned companies, community development corporations, non-profits in business, etc.(47) The key characteristic of such firms is that they are owned by local people and are much less likely to “get up and go.” Traditional policies can also be used to support such inherently community-friendly institutions. Local and state governments are also experimenting with specific technical assistance programs for anchored firms. The Northeast Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC), for instance, conducts feasibility studies for potential worker buyouts. Since its founding in 1987 the OEOC has coached numerous firms in employee ownership strategies (since 1988 it has done this work under contract with the state).(48)

A third strategy is to attempt to enhance local “multipliers,” i.e., the number of times a dollar recirculates within a particular local economy. “Buy local” strategies and enhanced local supplier networks also tend to increase local stability. Another approach is based on new forms of local currency, such as “Ithaca Hours” in Ithaca, New York–i.e., “money” which can only be spent at local businesses.

Still another strategy entails the strategic placement of public facilities–including universities, hospitals, and government agencies. Many struggling localities dream of landing a major public asset or facility as a development anchor: hundreds have bid on the siting of new federal facilities and even new prison construction. With government economic activity approaching 40 percent of GDP, opportunities for careful targeting of such activity to enhance local community stability abound.(49)

Possibilities for rooting and stabilizing economic activity in local communities may be increased by a trend which has traditionally (and quite rightly) been viewed as debilitating to community–the decline of manufacturing in the United States. The manufacturing sector today employs less than 14 percent of the workforce and is projected to shrink to approximately 9 percent by the middle of next century.(50) The economy of the future will be dominated by the service sector, a sector that is much more locally-oriented, enjoys fewer economies of scale, and has far less need to agglomerate around central locations (such as ports or rail connectors) than the manufacturing sector. The trend offers new opportuntities for strategies aimed at local stability. Indeed, a recent study by Wim Wiewel and Joseph Persky already reveals “not a decrease but an accelerating increase” in the “percentage of economic activity . . . [that] serves local markets” between 1979 and 1989.(51)Economist Thomas Michael Power has also documented a “growing localness”:

About 60 percent of U.S. economic activity is local and provides residents with the goods and services that make their lives comfortable. This includes retail activities; personal, repair, medical, education, and professional services; construction; public utilities; local transportation; financial institutions; real estate; and government services. Thus almost all local economies are dominated by residents taking in each other’s wash. . . . This figure represents an increase from 52 percent over the last two decades, an increase that has occurred largely because the aggregates of retail and wholesale sales, services, financial and real estate, and state and local government are making up a larger and larger percentage of total earnings. In 1940, locally oriented production represented just 42 percent of total earnings.(52)

Given these and other trends it is no longer unreasonable, even in narrow economic efficiency terms, to speak of rooting economic activity in particular places as an achievable goal in the new century. Taken together, the various strategies offer the possibility of a slow but steady enhancement of local economic stability–the precondition of many other changes at the level of the community.

“Embedding”

Stability is a necessary but clearly not sufficient condition of further development. A second is the systematic embedding of economic activities in local communities so that they can be shaped by democratic accountability in general and ecological concerns in particular–both in order to deal with problems locally and to help nurture a longer term norm structure which can constrain larger regional and national activities.

A slow build up at the local level of a variety of embedding mechanisms requires rooting capital in communities so that there is a community of responsibility for the consequences of economic activity–and wherever possible also some form of local democratized ownership. As we have noted in connection with community stability “anchoring,” there are many possibilities along these lines: non-profits in business, municipal enterprises, worker-owned firms, locally-owned corporations, etc. In addition, new legal structures can enforce a return to the original concept of the corporate charter–i.e., that incorporation is a privilege to be reserved for entities that meet public needs.(53)

One of the most important developments occurring just below the surface of public awareness is the growth of new economic institutions which democratize capital in some way, and which are potentially more capable of being embedded and made accountable to community ecological concerns. The growth of such institutions is well known among specialists. However, those not familiar with this field are often surprised at its range and extent. For instance, currently functioning in the U.S. alone there are:

  • Some 3,500 to 4,000 Community Development Corporations.(54)
  • More than 48,000 cooperatives generating over $120 billion in annual economic activity. (The National Cooperative Bank estimates that one-third of all Americans, roughly 100 million, are directly served by at least one type of cooperative.)(55)
  • More than 15,000 significanlty worker-owned firms whose employees own 9 percent of corporate equity in the U.S.(56)

The remaining three categories are less well developed and less well known. There are:

  • Some 120 community land trusts in 32 states and the District of Columbia–the vast majority of which have gotten off the ground in the past 15 years.(57)
  • A wide range of municipally-owned enterprises–from the 2,000 municipally-owned utilities to municipal-owned recreational facilities and transportation systems to such less traditional ventures as cable television, Internet provision, retail stores, hotels, and baseball teams. Indeed, local governments typically use municipal enterprises to bring in nearly half of their total self-generated revenue.(58)
  • More than 350 community development finance institutions (including community development banks, community development loan funds, and community development credit unions).(59)

Another emerging model for local-level governance and “embeddedness” of economic activity–“civic environmentalism”–offers additional possibilities for future development. The traditional regulatory state approach has been applied to only a limited set of environmental problems –mainly those which are most amenable to monitoring compliance. A typical example: the Clean Water Act has done a reasonable job of limiting concentrated dumping–but little formal regulation has been applied to the more difficult problem of “non-point source” pollution, i.e., releases from widely-dispersed locations, such as farms.

Locally negotiated, flexible approaches have been adopted in numerous areas as alternatives to traditional “command and control” regulation–in, for instance, habitat preservation, forestry, toxic release control, green space preservation, land trusts, etc. Some authors see the trend as a vital way forward in dealing with some of the most deeply intractable environmental problems.(60) From the perspective of political-economic design, the most interesting “Civic Environmental” experiments are those which provide for sustained citizen input into local corporate decision-making.

Barbara Scott Murdock and Ken Sexton of the Center for Environment and Health Policy at the University of Minnesota report one particularly interesting example: In Manchester, Texas, a Rhone Poulenc chemical plant, a local environmental group, and representatives of the community met in the wake of a serious chemical release in 1991. The company felt pressure to negotiate because it needed its permit to incinerate hazardous wastes renewed. The plant signed a binding agreement to allow a health and safety audit by an expert to be chosen by the community; to open company documents; to sponsor a study of health effects of the plant; and to improve the emergency notification system. Ultimately, Murdock and Sexton argue, “where community members hold veto power, voting power, or the ability to block a permit, they can have substantial power to affect a company’s environmental decisions,” regardless of which particular form they use to negotiate with the company.(61)

Some experimentation with civic environmentalism undoubtedly consists of public relations measures undertaken by companies in order to gain credibility by involving local activists–without allowing them any real authority or traction on the problems they seek to address.(62) Nevertheless, in combination with other capital embedding strategies, such experiments and innovations may also offer promise for the long haul.(63)

Income, Wealth and Capital

Community economic stability and embedding economic activity in a local culture of ecological sustainability are two major thrusts in the direction of enhancing the basis of long term norm evolution at the community level. The problems of individual economic security, inequality and free-time force us to reconsider the way larger economic activity is owned and controlled.

It is now a commonplace that wealth and income inequality has increased dramatically over the past quarter century. Since 1973 the top 5 percent of families has seen its share of national income increase by more than a third (from 15.5 percent to 20.7 percent); the top fifth has seen its share increase by 15 percent (from 41.1 percent to 50.4 percent). Meanwhile, the share of every other income group has fallen: the rise in the top share has come at the expense of all households in the “bottom” 80 percent.(64)

Disparities in wealth are much greater and have grown much more dramatically. Professor Ed Wolff of New York University has shown that the top one-percent’s share of household wealth has more than doubled since the mid 1970s: from 19.9 percent in 1976 to 40 percent in 1997.(65) The top one percent now owns more than the entire bottom 95 percent of Americans combined. Bill Gates alone owns more than the bottom 45 percent combined (more than 120 million people).(66) If one removes equity in owner-occupied housing from the picture and looks simply at financial wealth (which includes all forms of business ownership, bonds, real estate, etc.), the richest 0.5 percent of households alone possess 42 percent.(67)

Even more challenging: these relative comparisons ignore the much larger absolute income and wealth gap, which is growing annually (even at times when relative inequality stays the same). Thus, if we make $10,000 and you make $500,000 one year and we make $20,000 and you make $1 million the next, relative inequality has stayed the same (a ratio of 1 to 50)–but the real-world, absolute gap between us has increased from $490,000 to $980,000! The absolute inflation-adjusted gap between the average family in the top 5 percent and the average family in the bottom 20 percent grew from $137,365 in 1979 to $233,994 in 1998 (all in 1998 dollars).

Current trends of income and wealth distribution have produced what may be described as a “perpetual envy machine.” As Juliet Schor observes:

….As a result of their increased income, the rich and super-rich began a bout of conspicuous luxury consumption, beginning in the early 1980s. Members of the upper middle class followed suit with their own imitative luxury spending. (Thus began the so-called decade of greed.) The 80 percent below, while gaining some ground in absolute terms, lost relatively to those above them. Not surprisingly, they emanated dissatisfaction and pessimism and engaged in a round of compensatory keeping-up consumption.

…As members of the bottom 80 percent of the population have fallen behind relatively, they have become more inclined to imitate those in the top income group. The difference between what they aspire to and the income they have available to spend–what I call the ‘aspirational gap’–has increased enormously ….(68)

Not only does growing inequality drive status-insecurity, it encourages consumption by creating new needs. Robert Frank has noted that the “arms race” among car buyers is not simply a matter of taste or status-indication: to the extent drivers of small, relatively fuel-efficient cars face the possibility of collision with a 7,500 lb. Ford Expedition, they are very much encouraged to buy a larger car for the sake of safety alone.(69) In addition, inequality helps generate urban decay–which in turn has played an important role in driving suburbanization and its concomitant auto-centered (and expensive suburban) economy as residents move to escape urban woes and to place their children in better schools.(70)

Traditional tax-and-spend policies aimed at reducing inequality not only are in trouble in the current period, but except in extremely unusual moments they have never achieved sustained improvement in either relative or absolute inequality. At best, traditional approaches have on the whole served to slow down a deep-seated century-long trend towards ever greater inequality. As MIT economist Lester Thurow has noted, only “great social shocks such as wars and economic depression” have actually been able to (temporarily) halt or reverse the trend. However, as Thurow writes, “no one knows how to engineer such changes in less extreme situations.”(71)

Recent studies illuminate in statistical detail how obstacles to income redistribution follow in most OECD countries directly from the simple fact that the relatively affluent have–as a function of their affluence–disproportionate political power to block redistributive measures.(72) As a consequence, a growing number of analysts at various points on the political spectrum are coming to accept that tax-and-transfer measures are simply not likely ever to succeed in stemming the inequality tide. Robert Reich explains: “Trying to redistribute income from those relatively rich to those relatively poor through specific federal programs . . . has become next to impossible, as evidenced by the difficulties of funding everything from Head Start to housing subsidies.”(73)

The difficulties facing tax-and-transfer policies have forced a steady stream of authors to propose new remedies–especially those that are asset- or wealth- based rather than income-based. The underlying idea is that allocating capital may ultimately be more politically feasible and more efficient than trying to compensate for inequality through redistribution. As Harvard economist Richard Freeman observes, “Equality of income obtained in the first instance via greater equality of assets, rather than as an after-the-fact . . . state redistribution of income from rich to poor, would enable us to better square the circle of market efficiency and egalitarian aspiration.”(74)

Many writers here and abroad have also begun to explore models of larger-scale economic activity which move beyond the corporation as we commonly know it. For instance, the late Louis Kelso; Cambridge University Nobel Laureate, the late James Meade; and the radical American economist John Roemer have all put forward carefully worked out proposals for quasi-public corporate structures which pass profits on to citizens as a matter of right. Other scholars are revisiting the very early vision of the Tennessee Valley Authority–a regional public enterprise structured along grass-roots participatory principles. In another area entirely, many have noted that approaches to Social Security reform which include stock market investment point ultimately towards some form of public management or oversight on behalf (minimally) of unsophisticated poor and low income Americans–and this in turn (as conservatives fear) is likely to lead to greater public control of capital investment.

An intriguing and potentially suggestive approach is that of the Alaska Permanent Fund. The state fund manages an income flow derived ultimately from oil exploitation so as to provide each individual citizen a dividend (well over $1,000 in recent years).(75) (Alaska’s general revenues are also provided in large part by earnings from mineral rights.) Of course, from an ecological perspective this example is deeply flawed because it depends so heavily on the exploitation of oil, which involves environmental degradation of many kinds. However, the institutional mechanism for providing at least some additional support to individuals suggests practical possibilities that might one day be developed in other areas.(76)

We believe an answer to increasing inequality will ultimately require some form of democratization of capital at the national level which builds on such ideas–and perhaps on other examples (from municipally-owned firms to public land ownership). Interesting precedents also include state and local government investments in local firms through venture capital funds. (A 1996 survey found that more than a third of responding city governments had used venture capital invesestment strategies and 52 percent had engaged in some form of equity participation.(77)) State governments are also involved–more than 20 regularly participate as venture capitalists in start-up companies.(78) The Federal government, of course, owns one-third of the nation’s land.

A new institution to democratize wealth would likely allocate income flows to individuals, building on the precedent of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Alaska Permanent Fund. It would derive its funds directly from earnings rather than taxation. In addition to direct support for individuals, funds could also be used to support public functions such as local education, public universities, health care, and environmental protection.(79)

Getting a handle on growing inequality and even beginning to reduce the vast disparities will probably also ultimately require an income and wealth cap (or very high taxation) of some form for the very rich–either through traditional taxes on income and wealth or through much more stringent taxation of large sums of inherited wealth.(80)

Technology, Productivity and Time

Clearly what Kelso once called a “second income” which flowed through to individuals could not only help reduce inequality and achieve greater personal economic security; it would also feed back into local community stability strategies. Again, a second line of income could open up the possibility of greater free time–and of increasing satisfactions other than those provided by consumerism.(81) The most interesting options, however, involve trading money for time–and translating the trajectory of productivity increases over the coming century into a reduced work week.

A small number of privileged Americans now have sufficient wherewithal, financial and psychological, to personally attempt to live lives of “voluntary simplicity.” However, as Jerome Segal has argued, a key requirement of any serious approach to reducing the work week for the vast majority is the provision of a stream of income unrelated to work. This could be done either via an approach like the Alaska strategy of direct income payments or a modification of the current Earned Income Credit, or alternatively through indirect subsidies similar to those currently used in France.(82)

Significant opportunities for change in this area are likely to emerge as the economy changes. The basic fact is that the productive potential of the U.S. economy is already massive: If the output of the American economy–today–were to be divided equally among all families (or groups) of four, each would receive over $125,000. Even Social Security Administration projections, based on very conservative assumptions, suggest the economy will produce $308,000 per family of four by the end of the next century. The slightly more optimistic assumptions used by the Council for Economic Advisors generate an estimate of $538,000 per family of four by the year 2100. (All figures in current dollars.) The economy of the 21st century is likely to be so productive that instead of taking future gains in the form of more “goods,” it would be rational to reduce time worked.(83) Indeed, the work week might well be trimmed to half the current norm (Segal proposes 25 hours) or less–even as families enjoy the same or greater economic abundance as today.(84)

There is a reciprocal relationship between the structural arrangements inherent in any large national institution which can alter the ownership and control of capital so as to permit greater redistribution of time and income–and the impact of that time and income on such institutions: New norm patterns are necessary to control the ecological thrust of any large scale economic entity and make it accountable to the public. But the development of these norms in turn requires that citizens have the time and income to participate in democratic oversight–time and income which only such larger institutions can provide. If the “virtuous cycle” inherent in the relationships here described can be achieved–and bolstered community-by-community through “bottom-up” norm evolution–the larger system structures can potentially be organized in a systematically sustainable manner.

Scale

This preliminary set of proposals has so far proceeded at two levels–the local and the national. However, ultimately, we believe a different level of scale is important to consider. Americans have mainly failed to directly confront the gigantism of the continental scale of the United States. Many discussions of social and political theory related to sustainability, and many proposals for change, utilize comparative European models: the Scandinavian countries did this, the Germans did that, the Dutch did this. However, these European countries are of a geographic scale so vastly different from our own as to make most comparisons questionable. For instance, Germany could be tucked into the states of Washington and Oregon. France could fit inside Texas. The Netherlands is minuscule.

The United States is so large today that it is extremely difficult to generate a social consensus in favor of expanded ecological protection. If we agree that the size of a polity has implications for consensus building,(85) then we ultimately need to look to entities that are smaller than the continental national government: states or groupings of states within a region, for example. Smaller-scale and semi-autonomous regional polities with increased powers and responsibilities vis-a-vis the national government are ultimately likely to be another important element in a reconstructed ecologically sustainable system.

At the very least, a reconstructed system would need mechanisms at the state or regional level to ensure that one community does not pollute another. There would also inevitably need to be a planning mechanism to help allocate sufficient capital to each community to guarantee local-level economic stability and to help communities adjust when some industries decline due to market shifts.

*

The general line of potential development we have suggested in this paper involves the slow reconstruction of local economic and social patterns–together with slow changes in institutions of capital ownership at all levels. It is possible, of course, that no significant changes may ever occur–even over very long stretches of time. On the other hand, it is not inevitable that all positive change will be slow. An illustration of how ongoing activity may erupt into new power is the new–and largely unpredicted–explosion of efforts to limit sprawl in many urban areas: For decades wasteful land use, transportation and other destructive and unplanned urban development went largely unchecked in many parts of the nation. Suddenly, however, a movement of surprising strength emerged during only a very few years: In the fall of 1998 alone over 70 percent of 240 state and local ballot measures were approved at the state and local level for “capital investments in green [anti-sprawl] infrastructure.”(86) The powerful new citizen activities to limit growth are a phenomenon of importance in their own right. They also suggest that long term norm, institutional, and system change may possibly be more open in the future than many now think.(87)

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. A slightly revised version of this article is published in Nature, Production, Power: Towards an Ecological Political Economy, ed. Fred P. Gale and R. Michael M’Gonigle (Aldershot, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 2000).

2. Gar Alperovitz is Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, College Park. Thad Williamson is a Graduate Student in the Department of Government at Harvard University. Alex Campbell is Special Assistant in the University of Maryland’s Civil Society/Community-Building Initiative.

3. . For an annotated listing of some attempts, see Thad Williamson, What Comes Next? Proposals for a Different Society (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives, 1998).

4. . Sustainability as a central concern can be traced to the Club of Rome report: Donella Meadows, et al., The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind (Universe Books: New York, 1974). Usage of the term has become so widespread, in fact, that some question its usefulness, see for e.g., Sharachchandra M. Lele, “Sustainable Development: A Critical Review,” World Development 19, No. 6 (1991): 607-621.

5. . Lester W. Milbrath, “Becoming Sustainable: Changing the Way We Think,” in Building Sustainable Societies, Dennis Pirages, ed. (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1996), 275-298.

6. 4. USSR State Committee for the Protection of Nature, Report on the State of the Environment (Moscow, 1989), cited in Hilary French, Green Revolutions: Environmental Reconstruction in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Worldwatch Paper 99 (Washington DC: Worldwatch Institute, 1990), 5, 11; see also Larry Tye, “Poland is Left Choking On Its Wastes,” Boston Globe, 18 December 1989, cited in French, Green Revolutions.

7. 5. Facts on Eastern Europe from French, Green Revolutions, 11, 12, 23; quote from Margaret Shapiro, “Capitalism Compounds Moscow’s Ecological Mess,” Washington Post, May 21, 1993.

8. 6. Chenggang Wang, “China’s environment in the balance,” The World & I 14, No. 10 (Oct 1999), [On-line] Available from PROQUEST; Robert F. Ash and Richard Louis Edmonds, “China’s Land Resources, Environment and Agricultural Production,” The China Quarterly 156 (December 1998): 836-879; Changhua Wu, “The Price of Growth,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 55, No. 5 (September/Octobert 1999), 58-66.

9. 7. Kenneth N. Townsend, “Steady-State Economies and the Command Economy” in Valuing the Earth: Economics, Ecology, Ethics, Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend, ed. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), 27-96.

10. . One study found greater environmental degradation in command economies than market economies, even at similar levels of GNP, see T. Zylicz, “Environmental Policies for Former Centrally Planned Economies: A Polish Perspective,” Mimeo (Poland: Warsaw University, 1990), cited in L. Kenneth Hubbell and Thomas M. Selden, “Central planning, internal security, and the environment,” Public Finance Quarterly 22, No. 3 (July 1994): 291-310.

11. 9. For a comprehensive overview of environmental failures in the Soviet Union, see Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, Jr., Ecocide in the USSR (New York: Basic Books, 1992). For discussion of the priority given to industrial goals, see Barbara Jancar, Environmental Management in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1987). For a theoretical model which suggests self-interested central planners are likely to over-produce consumer goods (versus environmental goods) and seek to minimize public awareness of environmental problems, see L. Kenneth Hubbell and Thomas M. Selden, “Central planning, internal security, and the environment,” Public Finance Quarterly 22, No. 3 (July 1994): 291-310. For accounts that emphasize the lack of oppositional political culture, see D.J. Peterson, Troubled Lands: The Legacy of Soviet Environmental Destruction (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1993) and Vladimir Sobell, “The Systemic Roots of the East European Ecological Crisis,” Environmental Policy Review 1 (1990): 1-10. For a discussion of the problems of effectively regulating economic activity in a socialist economy, see Leonore Shever Taga, “Externalities in a Command Society,” in Environmental Misuse in the Soviet Union, Fred Singleton, ed. (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1976), 75-100. For a discussion of the dangers of combining centralized state power, ideology, and a weakened civil society, see James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State (Yale University Press, 1998), 88-89. For a discussion of these issues in relation to China, see Eduard B. Vermeer, “Industrial Pollution in China and Remedial Policies,” The China Quarterly 156 (December 1998): 952-985.

12. 10. A. Adriaanse, et al., “Resource Flows: The Material Basis of Industrial Economies,” a joint publication of the World Resources Institute (WRI); the Wuppertal Institute; the Netherlands Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning, and the Environment; and the National Institute for Environmental Studies (Washington, D.C.: WRI, 1997), p. iv, cited in WRI, World Resources 1998-1999 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), [On-line] “Wasting the Material World: The Impact of Industrial Economies,” Available at: http://www.wri.org/trends/wasting.html [November 10, 1999].

13. 11. WRI, World Resources 1998-1999, 333, 345, [On-line] “Energy and Materials” and “Atmosphere and Climate,” Available at: http://www.wri.org/facts/data-tables.html [November 10,1999].

14. 12. WRI, World Resources 1998-1999, [On-line] “No End to Paperwork,” Available at: http://www.wri.org/trends/paperwk.html [November 10,1999].

15. 13. WRI, World Resources 1998-1999, [On-line] “Fragmenting Forests: The Loss of Large Frontier Forests,” Available at: http://www.wri.org/trends/fragment.html [November 10,1999].

16. 14. WRI, World Resources 1998-1999, 333, 345, [On-line] “Food and Agriculture,” Available at: http://www.wri.org/facts/data-tables.html [November 10,1999].

17. 15. Alan Durning, How Much is Enough (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 38, citing Ralph C. Kirby and Andrew S. Prokoprovitsh, “Technological Insurance Against Shortages in Minerals and Metals,” Science, February 20, 1976.

18. 16. Jennifer Mitchell, “Nowhere to Hide: The Global Spread of High-Risk Synthetic Chemicals,” World Watch 10, No. 2 (March/April, 1997), 32-33.

19. . Joel Blau, Illusions of Prosperity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 43.

20. . See Juliet B. Schor, The Overworked American (New York: Basic Books, 1991), The Overspent American (New York: Basic Books, 1998), and “What’s Wrong with Consumer Society? Competitive Spending and the ‘New Consumerism'”, in Consuming Desires, Roger Rosenblatt, ed. (Washington, D.C.:Island Press, 1999), 37-50; Fred Hirsch, Social Limits to Growth (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976); James S. Duesenberry, Income, Saving and the Theory of Consumer Behavior (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949); Judith Lichtenberg, “Consuming Because Others Consume,” Report from the Institute for Philosophy & Public Policy 15, No.4 (Special Issue, Fall 1995): 23-28; and Robert H. Frank, Luxury Fever: Why Money Fails to Satisfy in an Era of Excess (New York: Free Press, 1999).

21. . Mancur Olson’s observations on the incentive structure of interest group politics suggest that this will be an on-going and unresolvable problem, see The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965). On the ability of corporations to minimize the enforcement of environmental laws, see Robert Worth, “Asleep on the Beat,” The Washington Monthly 31, No. 1 (November 1999): 36-41.

22. 20. Mark Dowie, “Greens Outgunned,” Earth Island Journal 10, no. 2 (Spring 1995), [On-line] Available from Lexis/Nexis. John Stauber and Shelton Rampton, Toxic Sludge is Good For You!, (Monroe, Me.: Common Courage Press, 1995), 128.

23. . “Green Scissors ’99,” (Washington, D.C.: Friends of the Earth, 1999), [On-line] Available at: http://www.foe.org/eco/scissors99.html [October 29, 1999]. Shifting the “path” of technological innovation, of course, can have a very significant impact on long-term environmental outcomes: see Eban Goodstein, “The Economic Roots of Environmental Decline: Property Rights or Path Dependence?” Journal of Economic Issues 29, No. 4 (December 1995): 1029-1043.

24. In regard to air pollution, dramatic reductions in lead emissions have been made and U.S. emissions of volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide are all down approximately a third since 1970. This, to be sure, is a reversal of trend: emissions are no longer increasing. However, they continue at high levels. Other emissions, particularly those contributing to ground-level ozone, remain at levels that threaten human health in numerous cities. Additionally, little progress has been made in regards to nitrogen oxide emissionsa primary contributor to acid rain–and hundreds of other air pollutants are entirely uncontrolled [United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), GEO 2000 (London: Earthscan, 1999)

[On-line] “North America–Atmosphere,” Available at: http://www.unep.org/geo2000/english/0101.htm, [November 4, 1999]; Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Quality: Along the American River, 26th Annual Report (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998), 282]. As regards water quality, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that a far larger percentage of rivers and estuaries now support “designated uses” (fishing or swimming) than in the early 1970s–between 55 percent and two-thirds currently as opposed to about 25 percent twenty-five years ago. Bodies of water such as Lake Erie are no longer “dead” [Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, Betrayal of Science and Reason (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1996), 51-53; Gregg Easterbrook, A Moment on Earth (New York: Viking, 1995), 628-29; Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Quality, 25th Anniversary Report (Washington, D.C.:U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997), 225-231]. Beyond such successes, however, a recent report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has questioned the validity of the data upon which EPA bases its claim that overall water quality is significantly improved [PEER, “Murky Waters: Official Water Quality Reports Are All Wet,An Inside Look at EPA’s Implementation of the Clean Water Act” (Washington, D.C.: PEER, May 1999)]. On the negative side of the ledger, water pollution from agricultural run-off is clearly worsening [UNEP, GEO 2000, [On-line] “North America-Freshwater,” Available at: http://www.unep.org/geo2000/english/0099.htm [November 4, 1999]; J. Clarence Davies and Jan Mazurek, Regulating Pollution: Does the System Work? (Washington, DC: Resources For the Future, 1997), 19]. Similarly, while there is legislation on the books intended to protect wetlands, net loss of wetlands persists in the United States, and not even the most optimistic environmental activists imagines that wetlands acreage can be restored to, say, the 1970 level. While the rate of loss of wetlands has been cut significantly, net losses continue at over 100,000 acres per year [Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Quality: Along the American River, 304, 306].

25. 22. Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, Adria Scharf, and Thad Williamson, Index of Environmental Trends (Washington, DC: National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives, 1995).

26. . See Brian Tokar, Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash (Boston: South End Press, 1997); Andrew Rowell, Green Backlash : Global Subversion of the Environmental Movement (London: Routledge, 1996); and Jacqueline Vaughn Switzer, Green Backlash : The History and Politics of Environmental Opposition in the U.S. (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997).

27. . John S. Dryzek, Rational Ecology (New York, Basil Blackwell, 1987).

28. . United Nations Environment Programme, “Press Release …” for the GEO-2000 report, September 15, 1999, [On-line] Available at: http//www.unep.org/geo2000/pressrel/inde.htm [November 2, 1999].

29. . See Carol Kaesuk Yoon, “Few Federal Checks Exist on the Growing of Crops Whose Genes Are Altered,” The New York Times, November 3, 1999.

30. . Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies (New York: Basic Books, 1984).

31. . Scott D. Sagan, The Limits of Safety (Princeton University Press, 1993), 39.

32. . On this point, see also Hilary French, Partnership for the Planet: An Environmental Agenda for the United Nations (Worldwatch Institute, 1995).

33. . On the importance of work for human satisfaction, see Robert Lane, “Does Money Buy Happiness?” The Public Interest 113 (Fall 1993): 56-65.

34. . Daniel A. Underwood, “The Institutional Origins of Crisis for Economy and Ecology,” Journal of Economic Issues 32, No. 2 (June 1998): 513-522.

35. . This issue is also related to revising the measurement of the Gross National Product. Only a measure that takes into account a significant portion of pollution and resource use costs can effectively assess whether the growth taking place is real–and/or environmentally benign. See Richard W. England and Jonathan M. Harris, “Alternatives to Gross National Product: A Critical Survey,” G-DAE Discussion Paper #5 (Medford, Mass.: Global Development And Environment Institute, 1997).

36. 33. Barry Commoner, for one, has argued that the technology of production is the single most important factor in total pollution produced, “Population, Development, and The Environment: Trends and Key Issues in the Developed Countries,” International Journal of Health Services 23, No. 3 (1993): 519-539.

37. . For a representative listing, see Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989).

38. One can also question the likelihood of success of such an approach, given the severity of information problems in authoritarian government structures. See John S. Dryzek, “Complexity and Rationality in Public Life,” Political Studies 35 (1987): 424-442.

39. 35. Cambridge Reports, polls cited in Willet Kempton, et al., Environmental Values in American Culture (MIT Press: Cambridge, Mass., 1995), p. 4.

40. . Easterbrook, A Moment on the Earth, 446.

41. . Alan J. Quinlan and Stanley B. Greenberg, “RE: The National Environmental Impact in 1996,” A report to the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club (January 30, 1997).

42. . Ronald Inglehart, Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in 43 Societies (Princeton University Press: Princeton, N.J., 1997). For a review of literature on postmaterialism, see Jan Van Deth and Elinor Scarborough, The Impact of Values (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

43. . For discussion of the importance of building alternative norm systems at the local level, see Marie D. Hoff, Sustainable Community Development: Studies in Economic, Environmental, and Cultural Revitalization (Boca Raton: Lewis Publishers, 1998); Thomas Prugh, Robert Costanza, and Herman Daly, The Local Politics of Global Sustainability (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, forthcoming); and David W. Orr, “The Ecology of Giving and Consuming,” in Consuming Desires, 137-154.

44. . In addition to providing a basis for norm development, local economic stability is important for the development of locality-specific knowledge–see James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State, particularly his concept of metis–and for providing a shared identity as a basis for successful negotiation, see Carmen Sirianni and Lewis Friedland, “Civic innovation & American democracy” Change (Jan/Feb 1997) 29, 1: 14-23; and DeWitt John and Marian Mlay, “Community-Based Environmental Protection: Encouraging Civic Environmentalism,” in Better Environmental Decisions, ed. Ken Sexton, Alfred A. Marcus, K. William Easter, and Timothy D. Burkhardt (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1999). A negative corollary, pointed to by Juliet Schor in The Overspent American, is that a loss of community stability has increased the “aspirational gap”: Americans are becoming more likely to compare their levels of getting and consuming to public figures or media images rather than the more achievable levels of their neighbors.

45. While specific proposals vary, a number of environmental writers and activist organizations now advocate measures to assure that–minimally–American environmental regulations are not sidestepped or overturned either by permitting goods made in environmentally harmful circumstances to enter the U.S. market duty-free or by making American laws (especially at the state and local level) subject to challenge by other nations under free trade agreements or multilateral agreements on investment rules. The most far-reaching proposals aim at a systematic, upward harmonization of baseline environmental laws and practices among trading partners (such as the United States and Mexico) over time. For a comprehensive treatment of trade issues by a leading ecological economist, see Herman E. Daly and John Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good; for critical discussions pertaining to globalization in general by an academic economist, see Dani Rodrik, Has Globalization Gone Too Far? (Washington: Institute for International Economics, 1998) and The New Global Economy and Developing Countries: Making Openness Work (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999); and for a representative proposal from activist groups, see the Alliance for Responsible Trade, “Alternatives for the Americas,” 1997, available from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

46. For a comprehensive listing of policies and their potential, see Gar Alperovitz, David Imbroscio, and Thad Williamson, Democracy, Community, and Economic Viability in the Global Era (forthcoming).

47. See below, pp. 21-22.

48. 42. John Louge, “Rustbelt Buyouts: Why Ohio Leads in Worker Ownership,” Dollars & Sense (September/October 1998): 34-35.

49. The usual figure (30-33 percent) does not include such government activities as utilities, universities, and other direct facilities, see U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1998, 118th ed. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998), pp. 307, 451.

50. . Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Regional Projections to 2045: Volume 1, States,” July 1995 [On-line] Available at: http://www.beadata.bea.doc.gov:80/bea/ar/rprj2045.htm [June 1998]. Even much of traditional manufacturing is shifting towards a service-manufacturing hybrid, which can also allow for more localized economic activity. See Patricia Panchak, “The Future Manufacturing” (Interview with Peter Drucker), Industry Week 247, No. 17 (Sep 21, 1998): 96-105.

51. 44. Wim Wiewel and Joseph Persky, “The Growing Localness of the Global City,” Economic Geography 70, No. 2 (April 1994): 129.

52. 45. Thomas Michael Power, Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1996), 37, 49.

53. . Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, “Petitioning to Revoke the Charter of Unocal,” Liberal Opinion Weekly, September 28, 1998; Peter Behr, “Maryland’s Hostile-Takeover Defense,” The Washington Post, February 25, 1999, p. E1.

54. . National Congress for Community Economic Development (NCCED), “1998 Census of CDCs,” [On-line] Available at: http://www.ncced.org/ [October 15, 1999]; NCCED, “Tying it all Together: The Comprehensive Achievements of Community-based Development Organizations” (Washington, D.C.: NCCED, 1995).

55. . National Cooperative Bank, “A Day in the Life of Cooperative America,” (Washington, D.C.: National Cooperative Bank, October 1998), 9.

56. .The National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO), “A Brief Introduction to Employee Ownership” (Oakland, Calif.: NCEO, 1997), [On-line] Available at: http://www.nceo.org/library/eo_basics.html [November 11, 1999]; Corey Rosen, “An Overview of ESOPs, Stock Options, and Employee Ownership,” (Oakland, Calif.: NCEO, 1998), [On-line] Available at: http://www.nceo.org/library/overview.html [November 11, 1999]. “Worker-owned firm” here means companies that distribute ownership broadly to all or most employees. The criteria is notthat employees necessarily have majority ownership.

57. . Interview by National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives (NCESA) staff with Julie Orvis of the Institute for Community Economics (ICE), June 1998.

58. . Theodore J. Stumm, “Revenue Generation and Expenditure Implications of Municipal Non-utility Enterprises,” Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting and Financial Management 8, No. 4 (Winter 1997): 498-515.

59. . For more information on such innovations, see Ted Howard, “Ownership Matters,” YES! A Journal of Positive Futures 9 (Spring 1999): 24-27; and “Innovations in Ownership” (Washington, D.C.: NCESA, forthcoming).

60. . See, for e.g., Charles Sabel, Archon Fung, and Bradley Karkkainen, “Beyond Backyard Environmentalism,” Boston Review 24:5 (October/November 1999): 4-11; and Troy D. Abel, “Devolution Revolutions: Civic Environmentalism and Local Policy Effort,” Paper delivered at the 1999 Annual Meting of the American Political Science Association, Atlanta, Ga., September 2-5, 1999.

61. . Barbara Scott Murdock and Ken Sexton, “Community-Based Environmental Partnerships,” in Better Environmental Decisions, 377-400.

62. . See the responses to Charles Sabel, Archon Fung, and Bradley Karkkainen, “Beyond Backyard Environmentalism,” by Theodore Lowi, Cass Sunstein, Jacqueline Savitz, and Matt Wilson and Eric Weltman, in Boston Review 24:5 (October/November 1999).

63. . Robert Frank suggests another reason that community stability is vital for reducing the drive to consume: Material consumption as a means of indicating status is particularly important among strangers. See Robert H. Frank, Choosing the Right Pond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985). Therefore, greater instability in personal relations may increase the importance of status-oriented consumption.

64. . U.S. Census Bureau,”Historical Income Tables – Families. Table F-2. Share of Aggregate Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent of Families (All Races): 1947 to 1998,” [On-line] Available at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/histinc/f02.html [November 11, 1999].

65. . Ed Wolff’s preliminary data for 1997 cited in Chuck Collins, Betsy Leonard-Wright, and Holly Sklar, Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing American Wealth Gap, with Forewords by Juliet Schor and Lester Thurow, (Boston: United for a Fair Economy, 1999), 10.

66. . Shifting Fortunes, 5, 18; “A Scholar Who Concentrates . . . on Concentrations of Wealth,” Too Much, Winter 1999, 8.

67. .”A Scholar Who Concentrates . . . on Concentrations of Wealth,” Too Much, 8.

68. 61. Juliet B. Schor, “What’s Wrong with Consumer Society? Competitive Spending and the ‘New Consumerism’,” Consuming Desires, 37-50.

69. . Robert H. Frank, “The Victimless Income Gap?” The New York Times, April 12, 1999 [On-line] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/yr/mo/day/oped/12fran.html [April 12, 1999].

70. 63. Jerome M. Segal, “Rising Consumption, Unchanging Needs,” Report from the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy 15, No. 4 (Fall 1995): 27.

71. For a rigorous and systematic new analysis of this problem, see Francisco Rodriguez, “Essays on Redistribution, Development, and the State,” Ph.D. Dissertation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1998). See also John E. Roemer, “Why the Poor Do Not Expropriate the Rich: An Old Argument in New Garb,” Journal of Public Economics 70 (1998): 399-424; and Mancur Olson, What We Lose When the Rich Go on the Dole: Tax Deductible Llamas Hurt the Economy More than Welfare Cadillacs,” The Washington Monthly (January 1984). Lester C. Thurow, The Zero-Sum Society : Distribution and the Possibilities for Economic Change (New York: Basic Books, 1980). For a history of inequality in the U.S. see Jeffrey G. Williamson and Peter H. Lindert, American Inequality: A Macroeconomic History (New York: Academic Press, 1980).

72. . Francisco Rodriguez, “Inequality, Redistribution and Rent-Seeking,” Mimeo (College Park, Md.: University of Maryland, Department of Economics).

73. . Robert Reich, “Forward,” in Richard Freeman, The New Inequality: Creating Solutions for Poor America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), viii-ix.

74. . Freeman, “Solving the New Inequality,” in The New Inequality, 14. See also Samuel Bowles, “Globalization and Redistribution: Feasible Egalitarianism in a Competitive World,” Paper for presentation at the World Congress of the International Economic Association in Buenos Aires, August 23-28, 1999.

75. 68. Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, “An Alaskan’s Guide to the Permanent Fund,” 4th ed. (Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, 1991). See also monthly and annual reports of the Alaska Permanent Fund, (Juneau, AK), available at: http://www.apfc.org/.

76. A related approach is the recent proposal of Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alcott to grant every American an $80,000 “stake,” to be paid in four annual increments starting at age 21 to all high school graduates. (The money could also be accessed at age 18 to help pay for college.) Ackerman and Alcott frame their proposal, which would be funded by a 2 percent national wealth tax, as a way to ensure that every young American has the means to make substantive choices about their future. In the long term, they also believe that the “stakeholder” proposal would generate more attachment of Americans to the community at large as each person growing up realizes they have a concrete stake in the society [Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott, The Stakeholder Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999)]. Others have presented similar schemes: Robert Kuttner has proposed that new-born babies be given capital ($5,000 to each infant, plus $1,000 a year, so as to produce a stake of $50,000 by age 18–more if held longer) [Robert Kuttner, “Rampant Bull: Social Security and the Market,” The American Prospect 39 (July-August 1998): 30-36]. Michael Sherraden has proposed 90 percent matching allocations of capital assets for poor people who save. These Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) are currently being experimented with by many state governments and some NGOs using foundation funding. Legislation has been proposed in the U.S. Congress to spend $100 million funding IDAs. [Dana Canedy, “Down Payments on a Dream,” Ford Foundation Report 29, No. 1 (Winter 1998): 4-7.]

77. . Susan E. Clarke and Gary L. Gaile, The Work of Cities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 84.

78. . National Association of State Development Agencies, Directory of Incentives for Business Investment and Development in the United States: A State by State Guide, 5th edition (Washington, D.C.: National Association of State Development Agencies, 1998) [CD ROM].

79. . For a discussion of different mechanisms to make this efficient, see Louis Putterman, John E. Roemer, and Joaquim Silvestre, “Does Egalitarianism Have a Future?” Journal of Economic Literature 36, No. 2 (June 1998): 861-902.

80. See Gar Alperovitz, “Distributing Our Technological Inheritance,” Technology Review 97, No. 7 (October 1994): 31-36.

81. . See Alain Lipietz, Green Hopes: The Future of Political Ecology, trans. Malcolm Slater (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1995).

82. . Jerome M. Segal, Graceful Simplicity (Henry Holt and Company: New York, 1999), 92.

83. France is already moving towards completion in the year 2000 of agovernment-mandatedshift to the 35-hour week, see “Focus: Reducing Work Week in France: A Preliminary Assessment,” Societe Generale France: Monthly Economic Report, June 10, 1999, [On-line] Available from: Lexis-Nexis. Many German workers are already working 35 hours or less through voluntary agreements, see Alain Lipietz, Green Hopes: The Future of Political Ecology, trans. Malcolm Slater (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1995), 50. Workers in Norway work only 1,400 hours a year, or the equivalent of forty 35-hour weeks, suggesting significant room for improvement given even current technology, see “Work, Work and More Work,” The New York Times, September 11, 1999, p. A15. A 32 hour week has recently been proposed in Canada, see John Willis, “The 32-Hour Cure,” Alternatives Journal24, No. 2 (Spring 1998): 4.

ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY–

 

SOME ELEMENTS OF LONGER TERM SYSTEM CHANGE(1)

 

 

 

by

 

 

 

Gar Alperovitz, Thad Williamson, and Alex Campbell(2)

 

 

 

How might we begin to develop an overview of political-economic structures which could in principle form an ecologically sustainable system? And if we were able to do this, how might we begin to develop a coherent path which could get us from here to there? This dual problem, of course, is at the heart of a vast literature on ecological matters–and, too, of a great deal of political and citizen activity. Direct analyses of the underlying structural features of political- economic systems, and the impact of these features on a society’s ecological practices, however, are still relatively rare–even though the need for a thorough re-thinking of the building blocks of a truly sustainable society has never been more urgent.(3) A start, we believe, can be made by recognizing, first, that these questions are inherently “system” questions (not simply policy and political questions), and, second, that they take us well beyond some of the structural and dynamic principles associated with both capitalism and classical socialism.

 

Confronting the System Problem

 

There is a growing consensus that to avoid compromising the needs of future generations, any political-economic system must significantly reduce ecological stress, repair past environmental damage, and generate sufficient political and policy momentum so that net environmental deterioration can be halted.(4) Although precise definitions vary, many now recognize that “sustainability” requires both an institutional structure and a culture with the capacity to achieve these bottom-line results in an ongoing fashion.(5)

 

It has also become increasingly obvious that neither of the two major “systems” of the twentieth century–capitalism and socialism–are organized in a manner compatible with achieving these goals. This is not to say that modest and occasionally substantial goals cannot be achieved within the existing structures. But if the larger judgment is correct, then the conventional debate will obviously need to push much deeper to confront the underlying design characteristics of these and other systems to see if any are–or might be–sustainable.

 

Socialism

 

Throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the push for cheap energy and maximum industrial production–together with a wanton disregard for public health–created vast ecological wastelands in which dirty air, polluted water, and heavy toxic emissions despoiled ecosystems and threatened human life. In 1988 (just before the collapse of the system) air pollution in more than a hundred cities in the former Soviet Union was more than over ten times higher than legal standards. Sixty-five percent of Poland’s river water was deemed too polluted even for industrial use, and large segments of the Polish population were not served by any waste treatment facilities.(6) Energy efficiency in each of the former socialist countries of Europe lagged 50 percent behind even modest U.S. levels. Much energy was produced by filth-generating brown coal plants, many without any pollution controls whatsoever. At the end of the 1980s it was estimated that one out of every seventeen deaths in Hungary was due to air pollution. “Wherever you point your finger on the map,” observed one Russian scientist shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, “there is another horrible place.”(7)

 

In Asia, eight Chinese cities are among the ten with the worst air pollution in the world according to World Health Organization studies. Acid rain, the result of sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide pollution, affects nearly one-third of the Chinese land area. Severe water quality problems face the majority of the population; perhaps 700 million Chinese drink water contaminated with animal and human waste. While most industrial wastewater receives some treatment, only 65.3 percent of the industrial wastewater released in 1998 met standards set by the government. China also faces severe soil erosion, solid waste, and desertifaction problems.(8)

 

Behind such statistics–many more could be cited–are domineering, growth-at-all-costs centralized government bureaucracies, and an ideology which suggested that nature could and should be bent to human will whatever the consequences. The governing authorities of the socialist states lacked the will– and probably the capacity–to hold economic operations accountable to true social costs; and local communities had no means of contesting the anti-ecological values of central power. As ecological economist Ken Townsend has observed, “rationality” converted forests of rich diversity into monocrop fields and attempted to reverse the flow of entire river systems.(9)

 

The difficulties of the Soviet Union and China, of course, also derive from development problems common throughout the world, and, too, the consequences of militarized economies. However, the results can also be traced to certain basic properties or design features of the state socialist system.(10) For instance, the Soviet Union, with its emphasis on expansion of productive capacity and its need for centralized coordination among different activities, placed great pressure on managers of state-run enterprises and other state agencies to meet output goals as an overriding priority. Enterprises and agencies were often compelled to cut ecological corners. Moreover, when ecological damage took place, there were few countervailing mechanisms to challenge abuses. Real world socialist systems have typically concentrated the political power of the state while simultaneously weakening and suppressing civil society.(11)

 

Capitalism

 

We have little difficulty recognizing large order, underlying structural characteristics when we look “outward” toward another system. But what of our own system? Are the environmental problems of capitalism also inherently structural and systemic? Is the trend toward environmental degradation and the continuing escalation of resource consumption a minor side effect of the system? Or is it a necessary result of the system’s inherent design?

 

The trends are not encouraging to those who would prefer to avoid facing the implications of these questions. Considernatural resource consumption. The World Resources Institute has recently noted that major capitalist industrial economies consume between 45 and 85 metric tons of material per person each year. For example:

 

…fabricating the automobiles and other metal-intensive products for which Japan is well known requires mining and processing a yearly per capita equivalent of about 14 metric tons of ore and minerals. Growing the food required to feed a single U.S. resident causes about 15 metric tons of soil erosion annually. In Germany, producing the energy used in a year requires removing and replacing more than 29 metric tons of coal overburden for each German citizen, quite apart from the fuel itself or the pollution caused by its combustion. (12)

 

In 1995 the United States consumed nearly 9 times as much commercial energy as India; per capita emissions of carbon dioxide, a principal greenhouse gas, are over 20 times those of India.(13) The U.S. consumes 333 kilograms of paper per person per year, compared to approximately 15 kilograms per year in the developing world.(14) Deforestation world wide has left only one-fifth of the planet’s original forests intact.(15) (Americans also consume a highly disproportionate quantity of the world’s meat: 118 kilograms per year per person, in 1996, compared to just 24 kilograms per year in the developing world.(16)) Alan Durning reports that between 1940 and 1976 alone Americans used up as large a share of the earth’s mineral resources as did everyone in history previously.(17)

 

The trends are no more comforting when one looks at pollution. U.S. yearly production of synthetic organic chemicals grew one-thousand fold–from 150 million kilograms to over 150 billion kilograms–between 1935 and 1995. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences demonstrate that we lack sufficient information for even a “partial health assessment” of 95 percent of the chemicals that have already been released into the air, water and soil. A thousand or more new chemical substances are put on the market each year, many of which are likely to be harmful, even in small quantities, by themselves or in combination with other substances. But the U.S. conducts only 500 product tests per year–not enough to test the constant stream of new chemicals, let alone make a dent in the backlog of untested chemicals. Literally millions of tests would be required to assess the potential health risks of these chemicals in combination.(18)

 

Confronted with such data illustrating the ecological consequences of our current development path, a common response of many environmentalists has been to emphasize the “greed” of corporate and other economic actors in generating such problems. It is important, however, to recognize that growth in capitalist systems is not motivated simply by hunger for profit but by fear that derives from the central logic and dynamics of the capitalist system: Companies for the most part must cut costs if they are to withstand competition. They must externalize: If a company willingly spends money on a pollution reduction problem and then must raise its prices to cover the cost, it risks finding its market share reduced or destroyed by a less conscientious rival firm.

 

Communities often face similar pressures in deciding, say, between continued logging of declining forests or loss of jobs. We see cities and states commonly prostrating themselves in order to attract corporate investment–because the consequences of not doing so are so severe: high unemployment, tax losses, continued social breakdown, and, of course, negative political outcomes for incumbent government officials. For communities as for capitalist firms the built-in system logic is obvious: very often it is simply a matter of “grow or die.”

 

The same propositions unfortunately commonly hold for many individuals as well. Consider the life cycle of a typical middle-class American: one goes to college in order to get ahead and thereby incurs debt; paying off the debt requires accumulating as much money as possible; then it’s time for a family, children, and if you’re lucky, a mortgage–more responsibilities, and more pressure to accumulate as much as possible–now; parents come to realize that if they don’t live in the right neighborhood, their child’s education will suffer, and they had better start saving for college; by the time that’s over the question “Who will take care of me?” in old age or sickness becomes central.

 

For the vast majority of Americans whatever security one achieves is fragile at best. At any time–and this is now as true for white-collar managers as for blue-collar workers–one might be laid off as a result of a downturn in the economy, a corporate buyout, a new technology, or even simply a change in the exchange rate. In his recent book Illusions of Prosperity Joel Blau underscores the perverse nature of the current situation: despite low unemployment, the massive pressures of the economy (layoffs, downsizing, corporate buyouts, low-wage jobs, etc.) result in intense feelings of insecurity:

 

Although many employees continue to have what are nominally permanent jobs, contract work has become the metaphor, if not the fact, for much of the labor market. Whether they sign up for a couple of weeks or a couple of years, more and more Americans know that their work at any particular job is time-limited, and their future probably includes a period of unemployment. Employees have always looked for jobs; employers have always done the hiring. Now, however, it is different. Search, hire, and fire; search, hire, and fire: not since the Great Depression has the constant churning of the U.S. labor market engendered such intense feelings of economic insecurity.(19)

 

In such situations the only way to obtain any real security is to avoid falling–and indeed, to keep climbing. In the absence of job or income security, it is alwayswise to strive for “more”–more income, more power and prestige at work, and commonly, more hours–now, since tomorrow may well bring “less.”

 

In addition, status differences based on income and consumption–which are endemic to the system–exacerbate the drive to consume.(20) In a society of massive inequalities and growing insecurity, and in which the media make very visible the lifestyles of the affluent (both through advertising and the content of programming), it is hardly surprising that there is general adulation of the rich and the secure in the system, or that the capacity to consume so often becomes a measure of self-esteem and status.

 

These pressures toward increased consumption by individuals and families are also tailored, of course, to supporting continued growth and expansion in the economy as a whole. As the billions of dollars spent each year on advertising so clearly suggest, firms have an obvious interest in creating “needs” and shaping consumers’ tastes and interests to sell their products. Indeed, capitalism can continue to expand within advanced economies only by continually generating new needs. At the same time capitalist development undercuts individual economic security and increases inequality it also undermines the basis of community integration and support as a matter of course: companies come and go, jobs appear and disappear. Often as not the social fabric is allowed to unravel, the local culture disintegrates, the community fragments, and young people leave. There is little “community” left to nurture a less materialist orientation; individuals must face the powerful influences of our corporate-driven media largely alone.

 

Finally, and not least, there is the political power and political culture which accompanies advanced capitalist economies–and the impact both have on ecological policy-making (and, indeed, democratic practice in general). Countless studies–and common observation–indicate that corporate institutions have the capacity and interest to wield disproportionate political influence, to manipulate regulatory agencies, thwart citizen action groups, and impact both electoral politics and legislation.(21) A recent study found that several polluting industries out-contribute all environmental PACs by an order of magnitude–and also spend $1 billion a year on corporate advertising and “greenwashing.”(22) Largely in response to corporate pressures the U.S. government has regularly intervened in the economy to promote ecologically inefficient and destructive practices. Two examples among a multitude serve to illustrate: While allocating a pittance to the development of solar and wind power, the Federal government sank $100 billion into nuclear power between 1950 and 1990, and it continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry with billions of dollars each year.(23) Similarly, in what amounts to an indirect subsidy for private automakers, the government has lavished billions on the Highway Trust Fund and created the interstate highway system, while allowing public transit of most types to decay.

 

Distinguishing Outcome Realities

 

We have been dwelling on such widely recognized and self-evident features of our own system for a reason. We all know very well that our system is characterized by such institutional, structural, and power “design features.” That they are “system properties” is obvious. The problem is that we rarely call a spade a spade. Most important, the implications are seldom incorporated into analyses of the challenge of long-term sustainability.

 

Part of our difficulty in confronting the systemic nature of the problem is that we often have trouble distinguishing between reforms which help ameliorate the worst aspects of environmental degradation and changes that actually result in altering trends. At the most general level, it is obvious that positive movement which diminishes harmful impacts on the environment regularly occurs within capitalist systems: Legislation is passed which helps control pollution; “progress” is made in eliminating lead and chlorofluorocarbons; there are improvements in the reduction of sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, and particulates. It is absolutely essential, however, to discriminate much more clearly among the following three categories of change: type “A,” reforms and gains which mitigate but do not end specific ecological problems; type “B,” which include occasional breakthroughs on a particular issue or substance (such as the complete removal of lead from gasoline); and type “C”–significant, comprehensive long-term trend reversals in an entire category of ecological concern (such as a much hoped-for but little accomplished reversal in the generation of greenhouse gases in order to minimize the risk–or at this stage, in all likelihood, mitigate the consequences–of global climate change).

 

Although most of our environmental debate is focused on fostering occasional breakthroughs, token reforms, and “gains,” the fact is a great deal of evidence points to the conclusion that the A- and B- type improvements do not lead to reversals of the basic outcome trendsthat matter most in terms of sustainability. We have noted some of themost obvious consumption/resource indicators which clearly show continued negative trends above. Defenders of the U.S. regulatory system often point to successes in two areas in particular: air and water pollution. Even here, however, the evidence suggests that despite some major achievements, especially as regards a few particularly hazardous pollutants and some high-profile successes like the recovery of Lake Erie, real problems remain in both areas.(24)

 

Even more disturbing: a 1995 study of long trends in twenty-one environmental factorscompiled by the National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives confirmed (with limited exceptions) a general worsening of various ecological outcomes in each of nine industrialized countries surveyed over the past twenty-five years. This despite the fact that the quarter century began with the first Earth Day and extended through a flurry of legislation, reform, green planning, the establishment of environmental ministries, and growing ecological consciousness and grassroots activism. Had economic growth been anywhere near the levels that business and government leaders hoped for, the general trend toward environmental degradation would have been substantially worse.(25) And, of course, since the heyday of environmentalism, a conservative anti-environmental political backlash has occurred in many countries.(26)

 

John Dryzek has pointed out that even our environmental “solutions” often tend to shift pollution across space or time, but do not actually eliminate many problems. For instance, smokestack scrubbers can remove pollutants from air emissions, but leave us with toxic sludge as a new threat.(27) Similarly, in our search for cheap or non-air polluting power, we have often created new problems: nuclear waste in the case of nuclear power, and vast habitat destruction in the case of hydro-electric dams.

 

Dynamic characteristics of the system give a particular edge to the problem: First, there is often a time delay in connection with remedial actions due to the complexity of the natural systems involved (consider global warming). Second, technological innovation is constantly creating potential new difficulties–and only after they are discovered does the tortuous process of building the political will to force a response begin. The United Nations Environmental Programme’s recently released Global Environmental Outlook 2000 lists the following “emerging” environmental problems (among others):

 

  • nitrogen’s harmful impact on ecosystems
  • increased severity of natural disasters
  • species invasion as a result of globalization
  • increased environmental pressures caused by urbanization
  • the impact of refugees on the natural environment.(28)

 

Will the next generation of environmental problems emerge from biotechnology, cold fusion developments, nanotechnology, space junk, attempts at desalinification, or another area of technological advance?(29) “Normal accident” theory suggests that the various elements of complex processes are likely to interact with each other–and with the very safety systems with which we attempt to protect ourselves–in highly unpredictable ways.(30) (For instance, the Chernobyl melt-down was caused by a safety test of the backup power sources.”(31))

 

The implications are not pleasant to consider. Whatever one thinks of the regulatory system’s ability to handle ecological issues, a further question remains: Does the political-economic system generate new problems at a faster rate than it generates the capacity to solve them?(32)

 

Elements of an Alternative

 

Many have long been aware, at least in a “background” sense, of the ways in which not only state socialism but also our own system work against achieving ecological sustainability. More novel is the suggestion that the best response to this situation is not simply to continue to “muddle through” and hope for the best. We believe that it is not only essential but possible to begin to sketch at least some of the properties of a system which might reduce the underlying pressures which generate the negative outcomes.

 

If unsustainable growth patterns are encouraged by the reality of widespread economic insecurity, it follows that a first principle of an ecologically sustainable society is that it must provide economic security for individuals and communities. So long as most citizens are only a few paychecks away from insolvency, and so long as they worry that their income may be taken away, economic expansion and job creation will be a higher political priority than environmental protection for large numbers of people. At the community level, so long as localities remain dependent on uncertain investment decisions for their economic health, protection of the environment will take a back seat.

 

A second principle is reducing the dominance of consumerism. This in turn requires reducing the pressures of inequality-driven status envy, on the one hand–and, on the other, building up sources of social and community support for individuals which begin to offer satisfactions from interactions with people rather than from consumption of goods. A long term alternative path would also include a reduction in work time, a concomitant reduction in consumption, and an expansion of free time (or a shift to more intrinsically rewarding–though possibly less technologically advanced–work(33)). This is also clearly inextricably linked to the first principle (economic security): people are unlikely to seek any reduction in work time as long as they face insecurity.

 

A third requirement of an ecologically sustainable society is that producers who damage the environment should bear the costs of their damage. Since the true costs of production are not reflected in the prices of goods on the market, firms benefit by externalizing costs such as pollution cleanup (or lack thereof) to the public.(34)

 

Finally, and perhaps obviously, a fourth requirement of an ecologically sustainable economy is simply that growth no longer be a top priority. Economic growth per se need not be eliminated entirely: One way to reduce resource use and pollution is to cut production and shrink the economy; another is to make productive systems more efficient.(35) If the nation decided to hire more elementary school teachers–and at the same time to buy fewer sports utility vehicles–ecological damage would decline even as the size of the economy stayed roughly the same.(36)

 

Towards a Systemic Response

 

These–and other(37)–requirements of an ecologically sustainable society might be easy to deal with if we imagined an all-powerful state which enforced strict ecological standards on both individuals and businesses. Not only is such a vision unattractive on its own terms, it probably would provide only a temporary solution to the ecological problem: permanence is not a characteristic of authoritarian regimes (of any stripe), and we would expect widespread resistance to top-down environmental measures implemented without the support of public opinion.(38)

 

Our strategy for a first stage response proceeds on several levels: We begin by emphasizing the fundamental need to rebuild–and add to–the basis of enforceable ecological norms “from the bottom up.” This in turn involves four issues: achieving greater local economic stability; nurturing local civic environmental culture; building new forms of embedded and democratized capital; and altering the larger structures of inequality and time availability (which in turn forces the analysis upwards towards larger institutional issues). A fifth issue–to which we turn subsequently–involves the matter of scale.

 

First things first: norms are ultimately the driving force behind policy. Survey research reveals major shifts in public attitudes over the past twenty-five years. For instance, the number of Americans who judged that we should “sacrifice economic growth in order to preserve and protect the environment” grew from 38 percent in 1976 to 64 percent in 1990. (39) A particularly revealing illustration is offered by Gregg Easterbrook: President Clinton, he notes, was more responsive to environmentalists than labor unions in negotiating side-agreements to NAFTA: “This is a shift of the first magnitude. Had you told a political scientist 20 years ago that by the 1990s environmentalists would be taken more seriously in a Democratic White House than the AFL-CIO, you would have been advised to seek professional care.”(40) In 1996 pollsters Alan Quinlan and Stanley Greenberg found that the “expectation of a clean environment has evolved into a virtual norm–a near universal belief in the country that this is the right way to organize society.”(41) Modern improvements in acceptable air and water standards–and many other recent achievements– are inconceivable without the change in norms that preceded them.

 

The work of political scientist Ronald Inglehart and others suggests the trend of growing environmental concern will continue.Most significant among Inglehart’s findings is evidence that ongoing long trends in overall economic abundance tend to increase the relative prevalence of “postmaterial” values, i.e., growing concern with democracy, the environment, and quality of life. His research also suggests inter-generational shifts in values toward increasing postmaterialism in younger age cohorts–together with shifts in the predicted direction in nearly every one of 44 countries examined.(42)

 

For the various reasons previously reviewed, we believe it unlikely that the past and ongoing process of norm evolution is–or can be–sufficiently powerful on its own to achieve significant ecological trend alteration (as opposed to type “A” and type “B” changes). Hence, a strategic requirement over the long haul may be defined as adding to, enhancing, supplementing, and ultimately transforming the already building developmental line of norm evolution. If this can be done, the basis of civic and political culture–the ultimate precondition of lasting policy and structural change–may perhaps be fueled steadily and expansively.(43)

 

Stability

 

What can be done, concretely, to facilitate the further evolution of strong ecological norms, starting at the local level? A first step is to increase individual and community economic stability.(44) One set of strategies involves traditional local, state, and national tax, loan, regulatory, procurement, and other efforts to keep jobs in communities and to reduce the pressure of globalization and destabilizing trade. Other policies to encourage stability include economically targeted investment by pension funds, trade adjustment assistance, worker training, Community Development Block Grants, and Empowerment Communities/Enterprise Zones, rural community assistance, and brownfield redevelopment. Related to this is the need to manage trade in a manner that does not undermine communities. Various strategies have been suggested by such experts as Jeff Faux and Dani Rodrik. Others have been proposed by a number of coalitions.(45) The bottom line: stabilizing communities is more important than abstract theories of neo-classical trade management.(46)

 

A second line of defense involves the development of “anchored” community industries which inherently increase stability. These include community-owned firms, small businesses, employee-owned companies, community development corporations, non-profits in business, etc.(47) The key characteristic of such firms is that they are owned by local people and are much less likely to “get up and go.” Traditional policies can also be used to support such inherently community-friendly institutions. Local and state governments are also experimenting with specific technical assistance programs for anchored firms. The Northeast Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC), for instance, conducts feasibility studies for potential worker buyouts. Since its founding in 1987 the OEOC has coached numerous firms in employee ownership strategies (since 1988 it has done this work under contract with the state).(48)

 

A third strategy is to attempt to enhance local “multipliers,” i.e., the number of times a dollar recirculates within a particular local economy. “Buy local” strategies and enhanced local supplier networks also tend to increase local stability. Another approach is based on new forms of local currency, such as “Ithaca Hours” in Ithaca, New York–i.e., “money” which can only be spent at local businesses.

 

Still another strategy entails the strategic placement of public facilities–including universities, hospitals, and government agencies. Many struggling localities dream of landing a major public asset or facility as a development anchor: hundreds have bid on the siting of new federal facilities and even new prison construction. With government economic activity approaching 40 percent of GDP, opportunities for careful targeting of such activity to enhance local community stability abound.(49)

 

Possibilities for rooting and stabilizing economic activity in local communities may be increased by a trend which has traditionally (and quite rightly) been viewed as debilitating to community–the decline of manufacturing in the United States. The manufacturing sector today employs less than 14 percent of the workforce and is projected to shrink to approximately 9 percent by the middle of next century.(50) The economy of the future will be dominated by the service sector, a sector that is much more locally-oriented, enjoys fewer economies of scale, and has far less need to agglomerate around central locations (such as ports or rail connectors) than the manufacturing sector. The trend offers new opportuntities for strategies aimed at local stability. Indeed, a recent study by Wim Wiewel and Joseph Persky already reveals “not a decrease but an accelerating increase” in the “percentage of economic activity . . . [that] serves local markets” between 1979 and 1989.(51)Economist Thomas Michael Power has also documented a “growing localness”:

 

About 60 percent of U.S. economic activity is local and provides residents with the goods and services that make their lives comfortable. This includes retail activities; personal, repair, medical, education, and professional services; construction; public utilities; local transportation; financial institutions; real estate; and government services. Thus almost all local economies are dominated by residents taking in each other’s wash. . . . This figure represents an increase from 52 percent over the last two decades, an increase that has occurred largely because the aggregates of retail and wholesale sales, services, financial and real estate, and state and local government are making up a larger and larger percentage of total earnings. In 1940, locally oriented production represented just 42 percent of total earnings.(52)

 

Given these and other trends it is no longer unreasonable, even in narrow economic efficiency terms, to speak of rooting economic activity in particular places as an achievable goal in the new century. Taken together, the various strategies offer the possibility of a slow but steady enhancement of local economic stability–the precondition of many other changes at the level of the community.

 

“Embedding”

 

Stability is a necessary but clearly not sufficient condition of further development. A second is the systematic embedding of economic activities in local communities so that they can be shaped by democratic accountability in general and ecological concerns in particular–both in order to deal with problems locally and to help nurture a longer term norm structure which can constrain larger regional and national activities.

 

A slow build up at the local level of a variety of embedding mechanisms requires rooting capital in communities so that there is a community of responsibility for the consequences of economic activity–and wherever possible also some form of local democratized ownership. As we have noted in connection with community stability “anchoring,” there are many possibilities along these lines: non-profits in business, municipal enterprises, worker-owned firms, locally-owned corporations, etc. In addition, new legal structures can enforce a return to the original concept of the corporate charter–i.e., that incorporation is a privilege to be reserved for entities that meet public needs.(53)

 

One of the most important developments occurring just below the surface of public awareness is the growth of new economic institutions which democratize capital in some way, and which are potentially more capable of being embedded and made accountable to community ecological concerns. The growth of such institutions is well known among specialists. However, those not familiar with this field are often surprised at its range and extent. For instance, currently functioning in the U.S. alone there are:

 

  • Some 3,500 to 4,000 Community Development Corporations.(54)
  • More than 48,000 cooperatives generating over $120 billion in annual economic activity. (The National Cooperative Bank estimates that one-third of all Americans, roughly 100 million, are directly served by at least one type of cooperative.)(55)
  • More than 15,000 significanlty worker-owned firms whose employees own 9 percent of corporate equity in the U.S.(56)

 

The remaining three categories are less well developed and less well known. There are:

 

  • Some 120 community land trusts in 32 states and the District of Columbia–the vast majority of which have gotten off the ground in the past 15 years.(57)
  • A wide range of municipally-owned enterprises–from the 2,000 municipally-owned utilities to municipal-owned recreational facilities and transportation systems to such less traditional ventures as cable television, Internet provision, retail stores, hotels, and baseball teams. Indeed, local governments typically use municipal enterprises to bring in nearly half of their total self-generated revenue.(58)
  • More than 350 community development finance institutions (including community development banks, community development loan funds, and community development credit unions).(59)

 

Another emerging model for local-level governance and “embeddedness” of economic activity–“civic environmentalism”–offers additional possibilities for future development. The traditional regulatory state approach has been applied to only a limited set of environmental problems –mainly those which are most amenable to monitoring compliance. A typical example: the Clean Water Act has done a reasonable job of limiting concentrated dumping–but little formal regulation has been applied to the more difficult problem of “non-point source” pollution, i.e., releases from widely-dispersed locations, such as farms.

 

Locally negotiated, flexible approaches have been adopted in numerous areas as alternatives to traditional “command and control” regulation–in, for instance, habitat preservation, forestry, toxic release control, green space preservation, land trusts, etc. Some authors see the trend as a vital way forward in dealing with some of the most deeply intractable environmental problems.(60) From the perspective of political-economic design, the most interesting “Civic Environmental” experiments are those which provide for sustained citizen input into local corporate decision-making.

 

Barbara Scott Murdock and Ken Sexton of the Center for Environment and Health Policy at the University of Minnesota report one particularly interesting example: In Manchester, Texas, a Rhone Poulenc chemical plant, a local environmental group, and representatives of the community met in the wake of a serious chemical release in 1991. The company felt pressure to negotiate because it needed its permit to incinerate hazardous wastes renewed. The plant signed a binding agreement to allow a health and safety audit by an expert to be chosen by the community; to open company documents; to sponsor a study of health effects of the plant; and to improve the emergency notification system. Ultimately, Murdock and Sexton argue, “where community members hold veto power, voting power, or the ability to block a permit, they can have substantial power to affect a company’s environmental decisions,” regardless of which particular form they use to negotiate with the company.(61)

 

Some experimentation with civic environmentalism undoubtedly consists of public relations measures undertaken by companies in order to gain credibility by involving local activists–without allowing them any real authority or traction on the problems they seek to address.(62) Nevertheless, in combination with other capital embedding strategies, such experiments and innovations may also offer promise for the long haul.(63)

 

Income, Wealth and Capital

 

Community economic stability and embedding economic activity in a local culture of ecological sustainability are two major thrusts in the direction of enhancing the basis of long term norm evolution at the community level. The problems of individual economic security, inequality and free-time force us to reconsider the way larger economic activity is owned and controlled.

 

It is now a commonplace that wealth and income inequality has increased dramatically over the past quarter century. Since 1973 the top 5 percent of families has seen its share of national income increase by more than a third (from 15.5 percent to 20.7 percent); the top fifth has seen its share increase by 15 percent (from 41.1 percent to 50.4 percent). Meanwhile, the share of every other income group has fallen: the rise in the top share has come at the expense of all households in the “bottom” 80 percent.(64)

 

Disparities in wealth are much greater and have grown much more dramatically. Professor Ed Wolff of New York University has shown that the top one-percent’s share of household wealth has more than doubled since the mid 1970s: from 19.9 percent in 1976 to 40 percent in 1997.(65) The top one percent now owns more than the entire bottom 95 percent of Americans combined. Bill Gates alone owns more than the bottom 45 percent combined (more than 120 million people).(66) If one removes equity in owner-occupied housing from the picture and looks simply at financial wealth (which includes all forms of business ownership, bonds, real estate, etc.), the richest 0.5 percent of households alone possess 42 percent.(67)

 

Even more challenging: these relative comparisons ignore the much larger absolute income and wealth gap, which is growing annually (even at times when relative inequality stays the same). Thus, if we make $10,000 and you make $500,000 one year and we make $20,000 and you make $1 million the next, relative inequality has stayed the same (a ratio of 1 to 50)–but the real-world, absolute gap between us has increased from $490,000 to $980,000! The absolute inflation-adjusted gap between the average family in the top 5 percent and the average family in the bottom 20 percent grew from $137,365 in 1979 to $233,994 in 1998 (all in 1998 dollars).

 

Current trends of income and wealth distribution have produced what may be described as a “perpetual envy machine.” As Juliet Schor observes:

 

….As a result of their increased income, the rich and super-rich began a bout of conspicuous luxury consumption, beginning in the early 1980s. Members of the upper middle class followed suit with their own imitative luxury spending. (Thus began the so-called decade of greed.) The 80 percent below, while gaining some ground in absolute terms, lost relatively to those above them. Not surprisingly, they emanated dissatisfaction and pessimism and engaged in a round of compensatory keeping-up consumption.

 

…As members of the bottom 80 percent of the population have fallen behind relatively, they have become more inclined to imitate those in the top income group. The difference between what they aspire to and the income they have available to spend–what I call the ‘aspirational gap’–has increased enormously ….(68)

 

Not only does growing inequality drive status-insecurity, it encourages consumption by creating new needs. Robert Frank has noted that the “arms race” among car buyers is not simply a matter of taste or status-indication: to the extent drivers of small, relatively fuel-efficient cars face the possibility of collision with a 7,500 lb. Ford Expedition, they are very much encouraged to buy a larger car for the sake of safety alone.(69) In addition, inequality helps generate urban decay–which in turn has played an important role in driving suburbanization and its concomitant auto-centered (and expensive suburban) economy as residents move to escape urban woes and to place their children in better schools.(70)

 

Traditional tax-and-spend policies aimed at reducing inequality not only are in trouble in the current period, but except in extremely unusual moments they have never achieved sustained improvement in either relative or absolute inequality. At best, traditional approaches have on the whole served to slow down a deep-seated century-long trend towards ever greater inequality. As MIT economist Lester Thurow has noted, only “great social shocks such as wars and economic depression” have actually been able to (temporarily) halt or reverse the trend. However, as Thurow writes, “no one knows how to engineer such changes in less extreme situations.”(71)

 

Recent studies illuminate in statistical detail how obstacles to income redistribution follow in most OECD countries directly from the simple fact that the relatively affluent have–as a function of their affluence–disproportionate political power to block redistributive measures.(72) As a consequence, a growing number of analysts at various points on the political spectrum are coming to accept that tax-and-transfer measures are simply not likely ever to succeed in stemming the inequality tide. Robert Reich explains: “Trying to redistribute income from those relatively rich to those relatively poor through specific federal programs . . . has become next to impossible, as evidenced by the difficulties of funding everything from Head Start to housing subsidies.”(73)

 

The difficulties facing tax-and-transfer policies have forced a steady stream of authors to propose new remedies–especially those that are asset- or wealth- based rather than income-based. The underlying idea is that allocating capital may ultimately be more politically feasible and more efficient than trying to compensate for inequality through redistribution. As Harvard economist Richard Freeman observes, “Equality of income obtained in the first instance via greater equality of assets, rather than as an after-the-fact . . . state redistribution of income from rich to poor, would enable us to better square the circle of market efficiency and egalitarian aspiration.”(74)

 

Many writers here and abroad have also begun to explore models of larger-scale economic activity which move beyond the corporation as we commonly know it. For instance, the late Louis Kelso; Cambridge University Nobel Laureate, the late James Meade; and the radical American economist John Roemer have all put forward carefully worked out proposals for quasi-public corporate structures which pass profits on to citizens as a matter of right. Other scholars are revisiting the very early vision of the Tennessee Valley Authority–a regional public enterprise structured along grass-roots participatory principles. In another area entirely, many have noted that approaches to Social Security reform which include stock market investment point ultimately towards some form of public management or oversight on behalf (minimally) of unsophisticated poor and low income Americans–and this in turn (as conservatives fear) is likely to lead to greater public control of capital investment.

 

An intriguing and potentially suggestive approach is that of the Alaska Permanent Fund. The state fund manages an income flow derived ultimately from oil exploitation so as to provide each individual citizen a dividend (well over $1,000 in recent years).(75) (Alaska’s general revenues are also provided in large part by earnings from mineral rights.) Of course, from an ecological perspective this example is deeply flawed because it depends so heavily on the exploitation of oil, which involves environmental degradation of many kinds. However, the institutional mechanism for providing at least some additional support to individuals suggests practical possibilities that might one day be developed in other areas.(76)

 

We believe an answer to increasing inequality will ultimately require some form of democratization of capital at the national level which builds on such ideas–and perhaps on other examples (from municipally-owned firms to public land ownership). Interesting precedents also include state and local government investments in local firms through venture capital funds. (A 1996 survey found that more than a third of responding city governments had used venture capital invesestment strategies and 52 percent had engaged in some form of equity participation.(77)) State governments are also involved–more than 20 regularly participate as venture capitalists in start-up companies.(78) The Federal government, of course, owns one-third of the nation’s land.

 

A new institution to democratize wealth would likely allocate income flows to individuals, building on the precedent of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Alaska Permanent Fund. It would derive its funds directly from earnings rather than taxation. In addition to direct support for individuals, funds could also be used to support public functions such as local education, public universities, health care, and environmental protection.(79)

 

Getting a handle on growing inequality and even beginning to reduce the vast disparities will probably also ultimately require an income and wealth cap (or very high taxation) of some form for the very rich–either through traditional taxes on income and wealth or through much more stringent taxation of large sums of inherited wealth.(80)

 

Technology, Productivity and Time

 

Clearly what Kelso once called a “second income” which flowed through to individuals could not only help reduce inequality and achieve greater personal economic security; it would also feed back into local community stability strategies. Again, a second line of income could open up the possibility of greater free time–and of increasing satisfactions other than those provided by consumerism.(81) The most interesting options, however, involve trading money for time–and translating the trajectory of productivity increases over the coming century into a reduced work week.

 

A small number of privileged Americans now have sufficient wherewithal, financial and psychological, to personally attempt to live lives of “voluntary simplicity.” However, as Jerome Segal has argued, a key requirement of any serious approach to reducing the work week for the vast majority is the provision of a stream of income unrelated to work. This could be done either via an approach like the Alaska strategy of direct income payments or a modification of the current Earned Income Credit, or alternatively through indirect subsidies similar to those currently used in France.(82)

 

Significant opportunities for change in this area are likely to emerge as the economy changes. The basic fact is that the productive potential of the U.S. economy is already massive: If the output of the American economy–today–were to be divided equally among all families (or groups) of four, each would receive over $125,000. Even Social Security Administration projections, based on very conservative assumptions, suggest the economy will produce $308,000 per family of four by the end of the next century. The slightly more optimistic assumptions used by the Council for Economic Advisors generate an estimate of $538,000 per family of four by the year 2100. (All figures in current dollars.) The economy of the 21st century is likely to be so productive that instead of taking future gains in the form of more “goods,” it would be rational to reduce time worked.(83) Indeed, the work week might well be trimmed to half the current norm (Segal proposes 25 hours) or less–even as families enjoy the same or greater economic abundance as today.(84)

 

There is a reciprocal relationship between the structural arrangements inherent in any large national institution which can alter the ownership and control of capital so as to permit greater redistribution of time and income–and the impact of that time and income on such institutions: New norm patterns are necessary to control the ecological thrust of any large scale economic entity and make it accountable to the public. But the development of these norms in turn requires that citizens have the time and income to participate in democratic oversight–time and income which only such larger institutions can provide. If the “virtuous cycle” inherent in the relationships here described can be achieved–and bolstered community-by-community through “bottom-up” norm evolution–the larger system structures can potentially be organized in a systematically sustainable manner.

 

Scale

 

This preliminary set of proposals has so far proceeded at two levels–the local and the national. However, ultimately, we believe a different level of scale is important to consider. Americans have mainly failed to directly confront the gigantism of the continental scale of the United States. Many discussions of social and political theory related to sustainability, and many proposals for change, utilize comparative European models: the Scandinavian countries did this, the Germans did that, the Dutch did this. However, these European countries are of a geographic scale so vastly different from our own as to make most comparisons questionable. For instance, Germany could be tucked into the states of Washington and Oregon. France could fit inside Texas. The Netherlands is minuscule.

 

The United States is so large today that it is extremely difficult to generate a social consensus in favor of expanded ecological protection. If we agree that the size of a polity has implications for consensus building,(85) then we ultimately need to look to entities that are smaller than the continental national government: states or groupings of states within a region, for example. Smaller-scale and semi-autonomous regional polities with increased powers and responsibilities vis-a-vis the national government are ultimately likely to be another important element in a reconstructed ecologically sustainable system.

 

At the very least, a reconstructed system would need mechanisms at the state or regional level to ensure that one community does not pollute another. There would also inevitably need to be a planning mechanism to help allocate sufficient capital to each community to guarantee local-level economic stability and to help communities adjust when some industries decline due to market shifts.

 

*

 

The general line of potential development we have suggested in this paper involves the slow reconstruction of local economic and social patterns–together with slow changes in institutions of capital ownership at all levels. It is possible, of course, that no significant changes may ever occur–even over very long stretches of time. On the other hand, it is not inevitable that all positive change will be slow. An illustration of how ongoing activity may erupt into new power is the new–and largely unpredicted–explosion of efforts to limit sprawl in many urban areas: For decades wasteful land use, transportation and other destructive and unplanned urban development went largely unchecked in many parts of the nation. Suddenly, however, a movement of surprising strength emerged during only a very few years: In the fall of 1998 alone over 70 percent of 240 state and local ballot measures were approved at the state and local level for “capital investments in green [anti-sprawl] infrastructure.”(86) The powerful new citizen activities to limit growth are a phenomenon of importance in their own right. They also suggest that long term norm, institutional, and system change may possibly be more open in the future than many now think.(87)

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. A slightly revised version of this article is published in Nature, Production, Power: Towards an Ecological Political Economy, ed. Fred P. Gale and R. Michael M’Gonigle (Aldershot, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 2000).

 

2. Gar Alperovitz is Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, College Park. Thad Williamson is a Graduate Student in the Department of Government at Harvard University. Alex Campbell is Special Assistant in the University of Maryland’s Civil Society/Community-Building Initiative.

 

3. . For an annotated listing of some attempts, see Thad Williamson, What Comes Next? Proposals for a Different Society (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives, 1998).

 

4. . Sustainability as a central concern can be traced to the Club of Rome report: Donella Meadows, et al., The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind (Universe Books: New York, 1974). Usage of the term has become so widespread, in fact, that some question its usefulness, see for e.g., Sharachchandra M. Lele, “Sustainable Development: A Critical Review,” World Development 19, No. 6 (1991): 607-621.

 

5. . Lester W. Milbrath, “Becoming Sustainable: Changing the Way We Think,” in Building Sustainable Societies, Dennis Pirages, ed. (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1996), 275-298.

 

6. 4. USSR State Committee for the Protection of Nature, Report on the State of the Environment (Moscow, 1989), cited in Hilary French, Green Revolutions: Environmental Reconstruction in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Worldwatch Paper 99 (Washington DC: Worldwatch Institute, 1990), 5, 11; see also Larry Tye, “Poland is Left Choking On Its Wastes,” Boston Globe, 18 December 1989, cited in French, Green Revolutions.

 

7. 5. Facts on Eastern Europe from French, Green Revolutions, 11, 12, 23; quote from Margaret Shapiro, “Capitalism Compounds Moscow’s Ecological Mess,” Washington Post, May 21, 1993.

 

8. 6. Chenggang Wang, “China’s environment in the balance,” The World & I 14, No. 10 (Oct 1999), [On-line] Available from PROQUEST; Robert F. Ash and Richard Louis Edmonds, “China’s Land Resources, Environment and Agricultural Production,” The China Quarterly 156 (December 1998): 836-879; Changhua Wu, “The Price of Growth,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 55, No. 5 (September/Octobert 1999), 58-66.

 

9. 7. Kenneth N. Townsend, “Steady-State Economies and the Command Economy” in Valuing the Earth: Economics, Ecology, Ethics, Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend, ed. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), 27-96.

 

10. . One study found greater environmental degradation in command economies than market economies, even at similar levels of GNP, see T. Zylicz, “Environmental Policies for Former Centrally Planned Economies: A Polish Perspective,” Mimeo (Poland: Warsaw University, 1990), cited in L. Kenneth Hubbell and Thomas M. Selden, “Central planning, internal security, and the environment,” Public Finance Quarterly 22, No. 3 (July 1994): 291-310.

 

11. 9. For a comprehensive overview of environmental failures in the Soviet Union, see Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, Jr., Ecocide in the USSR (New York: Basic Books, 1992). For discussion of the priority given to industrial goals, see Barbara Jancar, Environmental Management in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1987). For a theoretical model which suggests self-interested central planners are likely to over-produce consumer goods (versus environmental goods) and seek to minimize public awareness of environmental problems, see L. Kenneth Hubbell and Thomas M. Selden, “Central planning, internal security, and the environment,” Public Finance Quarterly 22, No. 3 (July 1994): 291-310. For accounts that emphasize the lack of oppositional political culture, see D.J. Peterson, Troubled Lands: The Legacy of Soviet Environmental Destruction (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1993) and Vladimir Sobell, “The Systemic Roots of the East European Ecological Crisis,” Environmental Policy Review 1 (1990): 1-10. For a discussion of the problems of effectively regulating economic activity in a socialist economy, see Leonore Shever Taga, “Externalities in a Command Society,” in Environmental Misuse in the Soviet Union, Fred Singleton, ed. (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1976), 75-100. For a discussion of the dangers of combining centralized state power, ideology, and a weakened civil society, see James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State (Yale University Press, 1998), 88-89. For a discussion of these issues in relation to China, see Eduard B. Vermeer, “Industrial Pollution in China and Remedial Policies,” The China Quarterly 156 (December 1998): 952-985.

 

12. 10. A. Adriaanse, et al., “Resource Flows: The Material Basis of Industrial Economies,” a joint publication of the World Resources Institute (WRI); the Wuppertal Institute; the Netherlands Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning, and the Environment; and the National Institute for Environmental Studies (Washington, D.C.: WRI, 1997), p. iv, cited in WRI, World Resources 1998-1999 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), [On-line] “Wasting the Material World: The Impact of Industrial Economies,” Available at: http://www.wri.org/trends/wasting.html [November 10, 1999].

 

13. 11. WRI, World Resources 1998-1999, 333, 345, [On-line] “Energy and Materials” and “Atmosphere and Climate,” Available at: http://www.wri.org/facts/data-tables.html [November 10,1999].

 

14. 12. WRI, World Resources 1998-1999, [On-line] “No End to Paperwork,” Available at: http://www.wri.org/trends/paperwk.html [November 10,1999].

 

15. 13. WRI, World Resources 1998-1999, [On-line] “Fragmenting Forests: The Loss of Large Frontier Forests,” Available at: http://www.wri.org/trends/fragment.html [November 10,1999].

 

16. 14. WRI, World Resources 1998-1999, 333, 345, [On-line] “Food and Agriculture,” Available at: http://www.wri.org/facts/data-tables.html [November 10,1999].

 

17. 15. Alan Durning, How Much is Enough (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 38, citing Ralph C. Kirby and Andrew S. Prokoprovitsh, “Technological Insurance Against Shortages in Minerals and Metals,” Science, February 20, 1976.

 

18. 16. Jennifer Mitchell, “Nowhere to Hide: The Global Spread of High-Risk Synthetic Chemicals,” World Watch 10, No. 2 (March/April, 1997), 32-33.

 

19. . Joel Blau, Illusions of Prosperity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 43.

 

20. . See Juliet B. Schor, The Overworked American (New York: Basic Books, 1991), The Overspent American (New York: Basic Books, 1998), and “What’s Wrong with Consumer Society? Competitive Spending and the ‘New Consumerism'”, in Consuming Desires, Roger Rosenblatt, ed. (Washington, D.C.:Island Press, 1999), 37-50; Fred Hirsch, Social Limits to Growth (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976); James S. Duesenberry, Income, Saving and the Theory of Consumer Behavior (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949); Judith Lichtenberg, “Consuming Because Others Consume,” Report from the Institute for Philosophy & Public Policy 15, No.4 (Special Issue, Fall 1995): 23-28; and Robert H. Frank, Luxury Fever: Why Money Fails to Satisfy in an Era of Excess (New York: Free Press, 1999).

 

21. . Mancur Olson’s observations on the incentive structure of interest group politics suggest that this will be an on-going and unresolvable problem, see The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965). On the ability of corporations to minimize the enforcement of environmental laws, see Robert Worth, “Asleep on the Beat,” The Washington Monthly 31, No. 1 (November 1999): 36-41.

 

22. 20. Mark Dowie, “Greens Outgunned,” Earth Island Journal 10, no. 2 (Spring 1995), [On-line] Available from Lexis/Nexis. John Stauber and Shelton Rampton, Toxic Sludge is Good For You!, (Monroe, Me.: Common Courage Press, 1995), 128.

 

23. . “Green Scissors ’99,” (Washington, D.C.: Friends of the Earth, 1999), [On-line] Available at: http://www.foe.org/eco/scissors99.html [October 29, 1999]. Shifting the “path” of technological innovation, of course, can have a very significant impact on long-term environmental outcomes: see Eban Goodstein, “The Economic Roots of Environmental Decline: Property Rights or Path Dependence?” Journal of Economic Issues 29, No. 4 (December 1995): 1029-1043.

 

24. In regard to air pollution, dramatic reductions in lead emissions have been made and U.S. emissions of volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide are all down approximately a third since 1970. This, to be sure, is a reversal of trend: emissions are no longer increasing. However, they continue at high levels. Other emissions, particularly those contributing to ground-level ozone, remain at levels that threaten human health in numerous cities. Additionally, little progress has been made in regards to nitrogen oxide emissionsa primary contributor to acid rain–and hundreds of other air pollutants are entirely uncontrolled [United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), GEO 2000 (London: Earthscan, 1999)

 

[On-line] “North America–Atmosphere,” Available at: http://www.unep.org/geo2000/english/0101.htm, [November 4, 1999]; Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Quality: Along the American River, 26th Annual Report (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998), 282]. As regards water quality, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that a far larger percentage of rivers and estuaries now support “designated uses” (fishing or swimming) than in the early 1970s–between 55 percent and two-thirds currently as opposed to about 25 percent twenty-five years ago. Bodies of water such as Lake Erie are no longer “dead” [Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, Betrayal of Science and Reason (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1996), 51-53; Gregg Easterbrook, A Moment on Earth (New York: Viking, 1995), 628-29; Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Quality, 25th Anniversary Report (Washington, D.C.:U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997), 225-231]. Beyond such successes, however, a recent report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has questioned the validity of the data upon which EPA bases its claim that overall water quality is significantly improved [PEER, “Murky Waters: Official Water Quality Reports Are All Wet,An Inside Look at EPA’s Implementation of the Clean Water Act” (Washington, D.C.: PEER, May 1999)]. On the negative side of the ledger, water pollution from agricultural run-off is clearly worsening [UNEP, GEO 2000, [On-line] “North America-Freshwater,” Available at: http://www.unep.org/geo2000/english/0099.htm [November 4, 1999]; J. Clarence Davies and Jan Mazurek, Regulating Pollution: Does the System Work? (Washington, DC: Resources For the Future, 1997), 19]. Similarly, while there is legislation on the books intended to protect wetlands, net loss of wetlands persists in the United States, and not even the most optimistic environmental activists imagines that wetlands acreage can be restored to, say, the 1970 level. While the rate of loss of wetlands has been cut significantly, net losses continue at over 100,000 acres per year [Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Quality: Along the American River, 304, 306].

 

25. 22. Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, Adria Scharf, and Thad Williamson, Index of Environmental Trends (Washington, DC: National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives, 1995).

 

26. . See Brian Tokar, Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash (Boston: South End Press, 1997); Andrew Rowell, Green Backlash : Global Subversion of the Environmental Movement (London: Routledge, 1996); and Jacqueline Vaughn Switzer, Green Backlash : The History and Politics of Environmental Opposition in the U.S. (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997).

 

27. . John S. Dryzek, Rational Ecology (New York, Basil Blackwell, 1987).

 

28. . United Nations Environment Programme, “Press Release …” for the GEO-2000 report, September 15, 1999, [On-line] Available at: http//www.unep.org/geo2000/pressrel/inde.htm [November 2, 1999].

 

29. . See Carol Kaesuk Yoon, “Few Federal Checks Exist on the Growing of Crops Whose Genes Are Altered,” The New York Times, November 3, 1999.

 

30. . Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies (New York: Basic Books, 1984).

 

31. . Scott D. Sagan, The Limits of Safety (Princeton University Press, 1993), 39.

 

32. . On this point, see also Hilary French, Partnership for the Planet: An Environmental Agenda for the United Nations (Worldwatch Institute, 1995).

 

33. . On the importance of work for human satisfaction, see Robert Lane, “Does Money Buy Happiness?” The Public Interest 113 (Fall 1993): 56-65.

 

34. . Daniel A. Underwood, “The Institutional Origins of Crisis for Economy and Ecology,” Journal of Economic Issues 32, No. 2 (June 1998): 513-522.

 

35. . This issue is also related to revising the measurement of the Gross National Product. Only a measure that takes into account a significant portion of pollution and resource use costs can effectively assess whether the growth taking place is real–and/or environmentally benign. See Richard W. England and Jonathan M. Harris, “Alternatives to Gross National Product: A Critical Survey,” G-DAE Discussion Paper #5 (Medford, Mass.: Global Development And Environment Institute, 1997).

 

36. 33. Barry Commoner, for one, has argued that the technology of production is the single most important factor in total pollution produced, “Population, Development, and The Environment: Trends and Key Issues in the Developed Countries,” International Journal of Health Services 23, No. 3 (1993): 519-539.

 

37. . For a representative listing, see Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989).

 

38. One can also question the likelihood of success of such an approach, given the severity of information problems in authoritarian government structures. See John S. Dryzek, “Complexity and Rationality in Public Life,” Political Studies 35 (1987): 424-442.

 

39. 35. Cambridge Reports, polls cited in Willet Kempton, et al., Environmental Values in American Culture (MIT Press: Cambridge, Mass., 1995), p. 4.

 

40. . Easterbrook, A Moment on the Earth, 446.

 

41. . Alan J. Quinlan and Stanley B. Greenberg, “RE: The National Environmental Impact in 1996,” A report to the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club (January 30, 1997).

 

42. . Ronald Inglehart, Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in 43 Societies (Princeton University Press: Princeton, N.J., 1997). For a review of literature on postmaterialism, see Jan Van Deth and Elinor Scarborough, The Impact of Values (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

 

43. . For discussion of the importance of building alternative norm systems at the local level, see Marie D. Hoff, Sustainable Community Development: Studies in Economic, Environmental, and Cultural Revitalization (Boca Raton: Lewis Publishers, 1998); Thomas Prugh, Robert Costanza, and Herman Daly, The Local Politics of Global Sustainability (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, forthcoming); and David W. Orr, “The Ecology of Giving and Consuming,” in Consuming Desires, 137-154.

 

44. . In addition to providing a basis for norm development, local economic stability is important for the development of locality-specific knowledge–see James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State, particularly his concept of metis–and for providing a shared identity as a basis for successful negotiation, see Carmen Sirianni and Lewis Friedland, “Civic innovation & American democracy” Change (Jan/Feb 1997) 29, 1: 14-23; and DeWitt John and Marian Mlay, “Community-Based Environmental Protection: Encouraging Civic Environmentalism,” in Better Environmental Decisions, ed. Ken Sexton, Alfred A. Marcus, K. William Easter, and Timothy D. Burkhardt (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1999). A negative corollary, pointed to by Juliet Schor in The Overspent American, is that a loss of community stability has increased the “aspirational gap”: Americans are becoming more likely to compare their levels of getting and consuming to public figures or media images rather than the more achievable levels of their neighbors.

 

45. While specific proposals vary, a number of environmental writers and activist organizations now advocate measures to assure that–minimally–American environmental regulations are not sidestepped or overturned either by permitting goods made in environmentally harmful circumstances to enter the U.S. market duty-free or by making American laws (especially at the state and local level) subject to challenge by other nations under free trade agreements or multilateral agreements on investment rules. The most far-reaching proposals aim at a systematic, upward harmonization of baseline environmental laws and practices among trading partners (such as the United States and Mexico) over time. For a comprehensive treatment of trade issues by a leading ecological economist, see Herman E. Daly and John Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good; for critical discussions pertaining to globalization in general by an academic economist, see Dani Rodrik, Has Globalization Gone Too Far? (Washington: Institute for International Economics, 1998) and The New Global Economy and Developing Countries: Making Openness Work (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999); and for a representative proposal from activist groups, see the Alliance for Responsible Trade, “Alternatives for the Americas,” 1997, available from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

 

46. For a comprehensive listing of policies and their potential, see Gar Alperovitz, David Imbroscio, and Thad Williamson, Democracy, Community, and Economic Viability in the Global Era (forthcoming).

 

47. See below, pp. 21-22.

 

48. 42. John Louge, “Rustbelt Buyouts: Why Ohio Leads in Worker Ownership,” Dollars & Sense (September/October 1998): 34-35.

 

49. The usual figure (30-33 percent) does not include such government activities as utilities, universities, and other direct facilities, see U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1998, 118th ed. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998), pp. 307, 451.

 

50. . Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Regional Projections to 2045: Volume 1, States,” July 1995 [On-line] Available at: http://www.beadata.bea.doc.gov:80/bea/ar/rprj2045.htm [June 1998]. Even much of traditional manufacturing is shifting towards a service-manufacturing hybrid, which can also allow for more localized economic activity. See Patricia Panchak, “The Future Manufacturing” (Interview with Peter Drucker), Industry Week 247, No. 17 (Sep 21, 1998): 96-105.

 

51. 44. Wim Wiewel and Joseph Persky, “The Growing Localness of the Global City,” Economic Geography 70, No. 2 (April 1994): 129.

 

52. 45. Thomas Michael Power, Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1996), 37, 49.

 

53. . Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, “Petitioning to Revoke the Charter of Unocal,” Liberal Opinion Weekly, September 28, 1998; Peter Behr, “Maryland’s Hostile-Takeover Defense,” The Washington Post, February 25, 1999, p. E1.

 

54. . National Congress for Community Economic Development (NCCED), “1998 Census of CDCs,” [On-line] Available at: http://www.ncced.org/ [October 15, 1999]; NCCED, “Tying it all Together: The Comprehensive Achievements of Community-based Development Organizations” (Washington, D.C.: NCCED, 1995).

 

55. . National Cooperative Bank, “A Day in the Life of Cooperative America,” (Washington, D.C.: National Cooperative Bank, October 1998), 9.

 

56. .The National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO), “A Brief Introduction to Employee Ownership” (Oakland, Calif.: NCEO, 1997), [On-line] Available at: http://www.nceo.org/library/eo_basics.html [November 11, 1999]; Corey Rosen, “An Overview of ESOPs, Stock Options, and Employee Ownership,” (Oakland, Calif.: NCEO, 1998), [On-line] Available at: http://www.nceo.org/library/overview.html [November 11, 1999]. “Worker-owned firm” here means companies that distribute ownership broadly to all or most employees. The criteria is notthat employees necessarily have majority ownership.

 

57. . Interview by National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives (NCESA) staff with Julie Orvis of the Institute for Community Economics (ICE), June 1998.

 

58. . Theodore J. Stumm, “Revenue Generation and Expenditure Implications of Municipal Non-utility Enterprises,” Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting and Financial Management 8, No. 4 (Winter 1997): 498-515.

 

59. . For more information on such innovations, see Ted Howard, “Ownership Matters,” YES! A Journal of Positive Futures 9 (Spring 1999): 24-27; and “Innovations in Ownership” (Washington, D.C.: NCESA, forthcoming).

 

60. . See, for e.g., Charles Sabel, Archon Fung, and Bradley Karkkainen, “Beyond Backyard Environmentalism,” Boston Review 24:5 (October/November 1999): 4-11; and Troy D. Abel, “Devolution Revolutions: Civic Environmentalism and Local Policy Effort,” Paper delivered at the 1999 Annual Meting of the American Political Science Association, Atlanta, Ga., September 2-5, 1999.

 

61. . Barbara Scott Murdock and Ken Sexton, “Community-Based Environmental Partnerships,” in Better Environmental Decisions, 377-400.

 

62. . See the responses to Charles Sabel, Archon Fung, and Bradley Karkkainen, “Beyond Backyard Environmentalism,” by Theodore Lowi, Cass Sunstein, Jacqueline Savitz, and Matt Wilson and Eric Weltman, in Boston Review 24:5 (October/November 1999).

 

63. . Robert Frank suggests another reason that community stability is vital for reducing the drive to consume: Material consumption as a means of indicating status is particularly important among strangers. See Robert H. Frank, Choosing the Right Pond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985). Therefore, greater instability in personal relations may increase the importance of status-oriented consumption.

 

64. . U.S. Census Bureau,”Historical Income Tables – Families. Table F-2. Share of Aggregate Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent of Families (All Races): 1947 to 1998,” [On-line] Available at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/histinc/f02.html [November 11, 1999].

 

65. . Ed Wolff’s preliminary data for 1997 cited in Chuck Collins, Betsy Leonard-Wright, and Holly Sklar, Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing American Wealth Gap, with Forewords by Juliet Schor and Lester Thurow, (Boston: United for a Fair Economy, 1999), 10.

 

66. . Shifting Fortunes, 5, 18; “A Scholar Who Concentrates . . . on Concentrations of Wealth,” Too Much, Winter 1999, 8.

 

67. .”A Scholar Who Concentrates . . . on Concentrations of Wealth,” Too Much, 8.

 

68. 61. Juliet B. Schor, “What’s Wrong with Consumer Society? Competitive Spending and the ‘New Consumerism’,” Consuming Desires, 37-50.

 

69. . Robert H. Frank, “The Victimless Income Gap?” The New York Times, April 12, 1999 [On-line] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/yr/mo/day/oped/12fran.html [April 12, 1999].

 

70. 63. Jerome M. Segal, “Rising Consumption, Unchanging Needs,” Report from the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy 15, No. 4 (Fall 1995): 27.

 

71. For a rigorous and systematic new analysis of this problem, see Francisco Rodriguez, “Essays on Redistribution, Development, and the State,” Ph.D. Dissertation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1998). See also John E. Roemer, “Why the Poor Do Not Expropriate the Rich: An Old Argument in New Garb,” Journal of Public Economics 70 (1998): 399-424; and Mancur Olson, What We Lose When the Rich Go on the Dole: Tax Deductible Llamas Hurt the Economy More than Welfare Cadillacs,” The Washington Monthly (January 1984). Lester C. Thurow, The Zero-Sum Society : Distribution and the Possibilities for Economic Change (New York: Basic Books, 1980). For a history of inequality in the U.S. see Jeffrey G. Williamson and Peter H. Lindert, American Inequality: A Macroeconomic History (New York: Academic Press, 1980).

 

72. . Francisco Rodriguez, “Inequality, Redistribution and Rent-Seeking,” Mimeo (College Park, Md.: University of Maryland, Department of Economics).

 

73. . Robert Reich, “Forward,” in Richard Freeman, The New Inequality: Creating Solutions for Poor America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), viii-ix.

 

74. . Freeman, “Solving the New Inequality,” in The New Inequality, 14. See also Samuel Bowles, “Globalization and Redistribution: Feasible Egalitarianism in a Competitive World,” Paper for presentation at the World Congress of the International Economic Association in Buenos Aires, August 23-28, 1999.

 

75. 68. Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, “An Alaskan’s Guide to the Permanent Fund,” 4th ed. (Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, 1991). See also monthly and annual reports of the Alaska Permanent Fund, (Juneau, AK), available at: http://www.apfc.org/.

 

76. A related approach is the recent proposal of Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alcott to grant every American an $80,000 “stake,” to be paid in four annual increments starting at age 21 to all high school graduates. (The money could also be accessed at age 18 to help pay for college.) Ackerman and Alcott frame their proposal, which would be funded by a 2 percent national wealth tax, as a way to ensure that every young American has the means to make substantive choices about their future. In the long term, they also believe that the “stakeholder” proposal would generate more attachment of Americans to the community at large as each person growing up realizes they have a concrete stake in the society [Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott, The Stakeholder Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999)]. Others have presented similar schemes: Robert Kuttner has proposed that new-born babies be given capital ($5,000 to each infant, plus $1,000 a year, so as to produce a stake of $50,000 by age 18–more if held longer) [Robert Kuttner, “Rampant Bull: Social Security and the Market,” The American Prospect 39 (July-August 1998): 30-36]. Michael Sherraden has proposed 90 percent matching allocations of capital assets for poor people who save. These Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) are currently being experimented with by many state governments and some NGOs using foundation funding. Legislation has been proposed in the U.S. Congress to spend $100 million funding IDAs. [Dana Canedy, “Down Payments on a Dream,” Ford Foundation Report 29, No. 1 (Winter 1998): 4-7.]

 

77. . Susan E. Clarke and Gary L. Gaile, The Work of Cities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 84.

 

78. . National Association of State Development Agencies, Directory of Incentives for Business Investment and Development in the United States: A State by State Guide, 5th edition (Washington, D.C.: National Association of State Development Agencies, 1998) [CD ROM].

 

79. . For a discussion of different mechanisms to make this efficient, see Louis Putterman, John E. Roemer, and Joaquim Silvestre, “Does Egalitarianism Have a Future?” Journal of Economic Literature 36, No. 2 (June 1998): 861-902.

 

80. See Gar Alperovitz, “Distributing Our Technological Inheritance,” Technology Review 97, No. 7 (October 1994): 31-36.

 

81. . See Alain Lipietz, Green Hopes: The Future of Political Ecology, trans. Malcolm Slater (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1995).

 

82. . Jerome M. Segal, Graceful Simplicity (Henry Holt and Company: New York, 1999), 92.

 

83. France is already moving towards completion in the year 2000 of agovernment-mandatedshift to the 35-hour week, see “Focus: Reducing Work Week in France: A Preliminary Assessment,” Societe Generale France: Monthly Economic Report, June 10, 1999, [On-line] Available from: Lexis-Nexis. Many German workers are already working 35 hours or less through voluntary agreements, see Alain Lipietz, Green Hopes: The Future of Political Ecology, trans. Malcolm Slater (Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1995), 50. Workers in Norway work only 1,400 hours a year, or the equivalent of forty 35-hour weeks, suggesting significant room for improvement given even current technology, see “Work, Work and More Work,” The New York Times, September 11, 1999, p. A15. A 32 hour week has recently been proposed in Canada, see John Willis, “The 32-Hour Cure,” Alternatives Journal 24, No. 2 (Spring 1998): 4.

 

84. . Greater free time also makes possible less consumption-oriented means of providing human satisfaction. More time-consuming patterns of travel, recreation, and consumption are often inherently less resource-intensive. See Wolfgang Sachs, “Wasting Time is an Ecological Virtue; Slow is Beautiful,” New Perspectives Quarterly 14, No. 1 (January 1997), [On-line] Available from Lexis/Nexis.

 

85. . See Peter J. Katzenstein, Small States in World Markets (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985); Robert A. Dahl and Edward R. Tufte, Size and Democracy (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1973); Friedrich von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944), 221-22, 235-36; Henry C. Simons, Economic Policy for a Free Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 13; and “Small But Perfectly Formed,” The Economist, January 3, 1998.

 

86. . Phyllis Myers, “Livability at the Ballot Box: State and Local Referenda on Parks, Conservation, and Smarter Growth, Election Day 1998″, A Discussion Paper Prepared by Phyllis Myers, State Resource Strategies, for The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy (January 1999), [On-line] Available at: http://www.srsmyers.org/srsmyers/elections.htm [October 11, 11 1999].

 

87. . The emerging anti-sprawl movement is suggestive in other respects as well: 1) It reflects the importance of exeriencing a problem in one’s own locality and citizen action; 2) It serves as another civic learning opportunity specifically related to the need to democratically delimit market behavior; and 3) Many of the more successful strategies involve community or regional control or ownership of land.

 

 

 

84. . Greater free time also makes possible less consumption-oriented means of providing human satisfaction. More time-consuming patterns of travel, recreation, and consumption are often inherently less resource-intensive. See Wolfgang Sachs, “Wasting Time is an Ecological Virtue; Slow is Beautiful,” New Perspectives Quarterly 14, No. 1 (January 1997), [On-line] Available from Lexis/Nexis.

85. . See Peter J. Katzenstein, Small States in World Markets (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985); Robert A. Dahl and Edward R. Tufte, Size and Democracy (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1973); Friedrich von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944), 221-22, 235-36; Henry C. Simons, Economic Policy for a Free Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 13; and “Small But Perfectly Formed,” The Economist, January 3, 1998.

86. . Phyllis Myers, “Livability at the Ballot Box: State and Local Referenda on Parks, Conservation, and Smarter Growth, Election Day 1998″, A Discussion Paper Prepared by Phyllis Myers, State Resource Strategies, for The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy (January 1999), [On-line] Available at: http://www.srsmyers.org/srsmyers/elections.htm [October 11, 11 1999].

87. . The emerging anti-sprawl movement is suggestive in other respects as well: 1) It reflects the importance of exeriencing a problem in one’s own locality and citizen action; 2) It serves as another civic learning opportunity specifically related to the need to democratically delimit market behavior; and 3) Many of the more successful strategies involve community or regional control or ownership of land.

 

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