Monthly Archives: April 2010

Community Stability and the Challenge of Climate Change (with Thad Williamson, 2010)

Consider the following: In all likelihood there will be well over 400 million people living in the United States in 2050, and possibly as many as one billion people by the year 2100. Where will those people live? And how can we, at that size, live in a sustainable manner, given the fact that the United States already has a grotesquely disproportionate carbon footprint and has not made any serious progress over the past two decades towards reducing it?

Global warming will impact every society in the world, but no other country has precisely this dilemma. Compared to Europe or Japan, per capita carbon emissions are inordinately high, in large measure because of the sprawling way we organize our metropolitan areas and our high reliance on the automobile (Buehler et al, 2009). Further, unlike most of those societies, population in the United States continues to steadily grow, and there is little reason to think that this trend will subside.

Re-shaping our metropolitan areas for a low-carbon footprint over the next 40 years will require a comprehensive strategy to stabilize the economic basis of American cities. We must break with the past not only with respect to energy use and transportation, but also with the way we treat cities as disposable items that can be abandoned when market conditions change.

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The Undeserving Rich

(This article first appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Dollars & Sense)

Collectively produced and inherited knowledge and the (re)distribution of income and wealth.
By Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly

Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in the nation, is worth nearly $50 billion. Does he “deserve” all this money? Why? Did he work so much harder than everyone else? Did he create something so extraordinary that no one else could have created it? Ask Buffett himself and he will tell you that he thinks “society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned.” But if that’s true, doesn’t society deserve a very significant share of what he has earned?

When asked why he is so successful, Buffett commonly replies that this is the wrong question. The more important question, he stresses, is why he has so much to work with compared to other people in the world, or compared to previous generations of Americans. How much money would I have “if I were born in Bangladesh,” or “if I was born here in 1700,” he asks.

Buffett may or may not deserve something more than another person working with what a given historical or collective context provides. As he observes, however, it is simply not possible to argue in any serious way that he deserves all of the benefits that are clearly attributable to living in a highly developed society.

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