Public policy! Front and center!For citizens to ecologize, governments need not favor efficiency - just stop favoring waste. The state grants subsidies and tax breaks to businesses who convert creation into production. Going beyond the call of duty, the state excuses their routine pollution. Without even trying to favor consumption over conservation; the state's taxes do. To top it off, society's custom of privatizing natural rent keeps producers and consumers grounded in old, slothful ways. By rewarding waste, we penalize efficiency. On this tilted playing field, one with the lumps of subsidies and the tilts of taxes, technologies lean and clean have a hard time competing.
Here's how subsidies, license, taxes, and rent-retention impact extraction, agriculture, transportation, and energy.
* Price supports and limited liability prop up mechani-chemical agri-business, not organic gardening.
* Freeways, overly wide streets, and free chastisement of overseas suppliers that everyone pays for, not just drivers, pave the way for car dependency, not an integrated use bikes and buses.
* Cost-plus contracts and the use of tax-free bonds, forcing other taxpayers to make up the difference, benefit power utilities, not solar converters.
2, License (the state fails to charge for "externalities").
* The price of processed food does not include losses of soil fertility, bio-diversity, collapsed aquifers, poisoned ponds, etc.
* The price of gasoline does not include the losses from smog - damage to crops, lungs, buildings, etc.
* The price of AC electricity does not include losses from acid rain, nuclear radiation, inundated valleys, strip-mined meadows, etc.
* The tax on income makes labor more expensive, especially at the margin, where youths entering the workforce seek jobs in recycling, reforestation, organic agriculture, and deconstruction (what better outlet for male adolescent energy). Having to pay wages plus taxes on income and for social security, bosses employ fewer workers.
* The tax on income makes capital less remunerative, so a blue chip stock, not quite so visionary, becomes more attractive than a risky new start-up trying to make money doing good. A hybrid electric car or a fuel-cell light enough to power buses and trucks begs for funds while a GM doesn't.
* The tax on property makes improvements to buildings more expensive year after year. For example, when homeowners add solar panels, they increase the value of their structure, so the municipality taxes them more, discouraging some owners from making ecological improvements.
4, Rent retention (privatizing publicly-generated land values).
* Farm owners, by retaining rent, use land as collateral to qualify for loans to buy big-ticket combines and irrigators. Retained rent also raises the price of land, precluding poorer farmers who might try the less expensive organic methods.
* Not having to pay the rent to their community, owners awaiting a higher future return under-use prime sites, forcing development outward. Sprawl requires cars, displacing buses, bikes, and people.
* By taxing, rather than living off rent, governments can afford to lose land to a dam or its value to a nuclear power plant. Clean energy, on the other hand, would not depress land values, the proper source of public funds.
Jeffery J. SMITH, president of the Geonomy Society, publishes The Geonomist and organizes events in and tours to places considering reform of taxes and subsidies. firstname.lastname@example.org; www.progress.org/geonomy 5209 SE 28th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97202-4506 USA; 503/235-6679