Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 262).
This is a longer than usual post for my nerd “rap battle” with Brad Zarnett
Can a Culture of Capitalism Ever Support a Truly Green Leader? Whilst “green leader” is a proselytizing and off putting name that needs rethinking, my short answer:
- If a “green leader” wants to be a “showboating control and command Tsar” at the center of everything then no.
- If a “green leader” wants to contribute to national culture via open source environmental data (not opinions) and facilitate laws to price and prevent environmental degradation then let the market provide solutions, I say yes.
Capitalism is an economic system responsible for lifting millions of people out of poverty. However, capitalism is getting a bad rap and is now being blamed for “climate change” or as it should really be known, “environmental degradation”. It is too easy to point the finger at capitalism because it is nebulas and most people do not understand what it is. IMHO, the real culprit is not capitalism but weak political and civic leadership plus the continuing subsidizing of legacy industries leading to externalities and consumer indifference.
The foundations of capitalism are private enterprise, property rights, rule of law and individual self determination. I would argue there are few free market capitalist countries. Canada is currently a balance of socialist atrophy plus corporate oligarchy.
Full disclosure, I am a social libertarian, a fiscal conservative, a fan of free market capitalism and market led solutions. I also believe in socialised healthcare and impeccable stewardship of environmental resources because some things like healthcare, national defense and environmental degradation are risks so big, they need to be collectively managed.
IMHO, the prime drivers for environmental degradation are recency bias and consumer culture. Environmental degradation is a “tragedy of the commons” problem. The solutions IMHO, are in free market capitalism i.e. In the free exchange of goods and services with transparent price and cost discovery.
I have never hunted or even held a gun in my life but my favourite example of a market solution, is the conservation and management of wild life via the use of hunting. Many near extinct animal species in Africa and North America have been restored by generating a high animal value via hunting and licenses. Yes, developing a hunting industry has saved animals from extinction. We need to place a high value on the environment.
I think all Canadians find child labour offensive. However, somehow we are OK with it when they are making our iPhones and clothes? Our consumer culture plays into our recency bias that tomorrow will be like today. We do not see how our goods and services are made and delivered, therefore, we do not think about the impact and costs of our supply chains. We need to see the impacts of environmental degradation.
For me, culture is the emergent property of everything going on in society at any given time. Culture matters because it is driven by demographics, resources, struggle and aggregate behaviour. Therefore, culture becomes somewhat reinforcing and this gives rise to regional and national identities. To effect real change in an open society you have to shift the culture.
Canadian Liberal Government Legislate for Net Zero by 2050
There is zero chance of this happening. This is performative, political bullshit. Bill C12 currently has no targets or enforcement. Prime Minister Trudeau said enforcement will come from Canadians. “Any government that does not have a plan to meet targets will hear from voters” he said. If you believe this I have a “sure fire stock market system” to sell you.
Any political statement or legislation on environmental degradation that does not include definitions, measurement and the “how” on actionable next steps is just cheap talk. The only thing that counts, is action.
If I was Capitalist “El Presidente” of Canada
My solutions to environmental degradation require government to legislate, then step aside. I think there are three main areas to address.
1 – Massive, open source data & reporting
I would legislate requiring industry, municipalities and governmental agencies to measure and publicly report each month or in real time:
- Water quality in lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
- Fish stocks in rivers and Canadian fishing grounds.
- Air pollution levels in all municipalities.
- Monthly total Canadian and provincial oil & gas consumption.
- Monthly total Canadian and provincial waste disposal.
This reporting must be open source with stiff penalties for failure or false reporting. The internet will provide people who take an interest in this and raise alarms as necessary.
As this reporting develops a growing pool of data my hope is that the environmental Overton Window will shift and in time, shift consumer culture.
2 – Removing agricultural and industry subsidies and tariffs to reveal the real costs of the food chain, industry and car culture
Agriculture and industry, particularly oil, gas and car manufacturing, are subsidized via tariffs and lobbying. This is a fraud distorting market pricing signals and generating externalities. It has to stop. For example, why do trains find it hard to compete with cars? Well, car manufactures let the government build roads without making a payment contribution but train companies have to pay towards building their own “roads” for their trains. We need to remove tariffs and subsidies, even for “green technologies”.
To minimize disruption, all subsidies would be phased out over a 20 year period to allow businesses to plan and manage this transition to an open economy.
3 – Building code, emissions legislation and plastic pollution
Carbon pricing is a complex and expensive to administer tax, it is a dead letter. The better way to reduce carbon is via free market price discovery and consumer choice.
As El Presidente I would let the consumer decide what to pay for after:
- Updating building code to be performance based with revised energy and water use efficiency requirements every 5 years.
- Legislate at municipal, provincial and federal level for carbon emissions caps for existing buildings similar to New York’s 80×50 Road map
- Increase the cost of fuel, yes via sales tax, at inflation plus 1% every 2 years until fuel costs in Canada are on par with Europe.
- Legislate for car emissions improvements every 5 years until electric car use reaches 50% of total cars on the road.
- Legislate against single use plastic and make manufactures responsible for plastic disposal costs.
Costs for 1 thru 3 above would be off-set to a degree by savings in government subsides to agriculture and industry via reduced income tax. Dreams are free I guess!
I feel the prevailing fundamental assumption is that the government knows what is best and is the most efficient allocator of resources and capital. I would argue that evidence points to government projects and expertise performing below the private sector.
IMHO, governments role should be limited to engaging with prevailing culture and measured environmental data, identifying regional and national risks then passing legislation facilitating free market pricing and solutions via consumer choice.
There is probably a good reason I am not El Presidente of Canada (can’t think of one though). Will any of the above be actioned? I doubt it very much. However, one thing is for sure, what we are doing now is not working, something needs to change.
The most powerful force for change I have seen is consumer disobedience. If the Overton Window and culture can shift, the market and politicians will be forced to react. If we all stop buying F150 trucks and drive less, I am sure less F150 trucks would be made. BTW, there are no F150 trucks in Europe, gas is too expensive.
We need to shift our consumer culture, put a price on the environment and make the polluters pay. If we let it, capitalism can work.
All hail, El Presidente, eh!
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