CONSEQUENCES OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

by Ronald Gordon Ziegler While it is not peculiar to hear such characters as Al Gore spout forth the hypocrisy of their concern over the destruction of the environment by the drive for economic development, the recent appearance of an ideology of so-called sustainable growth belies the hidden agenda behind the babbling. Vice President Gore has written that the most deadly invention of man has been the internal combustion engine, but he also bemoans the terrible destruction of our forests and the horrible impact of tobacco on our society. These last two rantings seem especially peculiar given the role both industries played in the establishment of the Gore family fortune, not to mention the role such interests played in Gore's personal political rise. The liberal mentality is often marked by a deep sense of guilt, but one wonders why it is that if such sources of wealth are so troublesome, the Vice President does not simply rid himself of the terrible yoke of the burden of such wealth. But one has come to expect Gore to alter positions to fit his political ambitions. His pro-life posture was sacrificed on the alter of high ambition, but no less so has been his switch on tobacco. When he was seeking the Presidency in 1988, he railed in behalf of tobacco before the representatives of that interest, shouting of his growing up experiences of working in tobacco fields with his hands. More recently, he has come to the issue with tearful recollections of the 'tobacco' caused death of his sister. Somehow, it wasn't so troublesome to him, after her life was tragically lost, to accept big campaign contributions from big tobacco. But taken together, the three rantings do approach the arguments raised by the advocates of sustainable growth. The rudimentary error of that analysis lies in the matter of subjective vs objective value. The United States has adopted the policy of actually paying underdeveloped nations not to develop on the premise that the inherent value of the natural states lost in such development makes their loss unacceptable. Such an outlook views crude oil in the ground as possessed of an inherent value and rejects the notion that its value comes only when it is 'harvested' and made into petroleum which can be utilized as a source of wealth that is life sustaining. The issue is between sustainable growth and life sustaining development. There are more trees in North America today than there were before the development of the continent began with the Columbian Exchange. But in the view of sustainable development, it is the inherent value of the growing tree that is important and not the harvested wood that may be used for manufacturing something, whether that be a house or a piece of furniture, or whatever. Trees contribute to the quality of life in a variety of ways, and therefore possess inherent value short of being cropped. The harvesting of trees somehow diminishes the real value of the natural state, which must be maintained for their value to be actualized. Such thinking becomes extremely problematic for people living on the edge of subsistence. Apparently, there is genuine value in reaping the value of the uncut trees by enjoying perhaps their beauty as one starves to death. As with so much of the liberal agenda, the argument inevitably tracks back to a fundamental sense that the world is overpopulated. If you scratch a liberal, you find Malthus not far beneath the skin. Not surprisingly, you also find Marx, or at least, one of the collectivist schemas. The solution seems always to rear its head that the regime must be proactive in intervening in the economy to prevent the destruction of subjective value. But the world is not overpopulated. It is simply underdeveloped. And yet that is something the liberal mindset generally, and specifically sustainable growth, is bent on rejecting. There is no development possible to sustain the overburden of population on the earth. Decades of sustainable growth type policy, however, has not succeeded in remedying the quagmire we have gotten ourselves into on this score. When I was in high school back in the middle sixties, we were fed a regular diet of horrible forecasts based on the projection that the world's population would exceed some 12 billion by the year 2000. During my college years, it was contended that by the dawn of the new millenium the world's population would exceed 10 billion, and midway through my thirty years in secondary classrooms, it was touted that the population of the earth would be at an acceptable level of 8 billion by the end of the century. And now, as we approach the century mark, it is argued that there will be an unsustainable world population of about 6 billion as the next century dawns. Estimations of World Population In the Year 2000 Year Estimated World Population in 2000 1965 12 billion 1975 10 billion 1985 8 billion 1995 6 billion It is possible, of course, that the propagators of such figures were just wrong, that their projections were erroneous. It is also plausible that the policies of the last half century have actually have been responsible for the lowered estimations. That means, of course, that the policies of sustainable development have reduced the population of the world by some 6 billion persons since 1965! A sundry group of variant policies are at the heart of such developments, ranging from birth control and forced abortion to appropriate technology. But even the comparatively innocuous measures of birth control, in as much as they can be termed individualized determinations (which as often as not they were not), pale beside the others. The saw of the population crisis bespeaks, though, of a flawed conceptualization of wealth, which views it as a fixed and finite entity. And this stems of the fundamentally flawed notion of an entropic universe which is part and parcel of the perspective. This rejection of, or inability to perceive, the negentropic character of the universe has resulted in the elimation of 6 billion lives in the last third of a century! Moreover, most of these have been among darker skinned people of principally what has been called the Third World or South. There is a word for that -- genocide. Now that is serious language, but it is words expressed quite consciously and deliberately, for that is precisely what the policy decisions have produced. Intrinsic values of nature bear striking similarity to a worship of nature, but it also views humanity as a sort of plague upon the earth, for it is the propagation of the species which holds requisite the development which 'destroys' the intrinsic value. Indeed, the objective value of life sustaining development places worth in the life of the human being. That which promotes life sustenance is of objective value. Furthermore, the intrinsic value perspective converges not only with collectivist policy solutions, but also with the conceptualizations of radical environmentalism. They are, of course, doomed to failure. You cannot defeat the market forces. What such policy can do, however, is extract a tremendous cost in the effort to resist them. Sustainable development is really not development at all, but its antithesis. And sustainable development equals radical environmentalism equals collectivism. It also approximates relativism in its rejection of objective reality. The notion that poor societies need to rely on the level of technology that is appropriate to their level of development -- what agencies such as the IMF and World Bank have called 'appropriate technologies' -- consigns such cultures to not only remaining undeveloped, but to digging a deeper hole for themselves, where they actually slip backwards in terms of development and life sustaining capacities. That credit is extended on such bases forces them further into insolvency. And, lest their be any confusion over where responsibility for this lies, one must remember that the organizational structure of such apparati as the IMF puts control under the primary economic powers in it (the G-7 and the US). Unable to implement development which will produce wealth adequate to raise living standards, they in fact cannot even maintain the initial level of development. Neither are they able to produce social surplus capital adequate to repay the credit, as autocannibalization and then primitive accumulation result. The arc of collectivism is inevitably toward Malthus. It may be difficult, perhaps, to imagine such agents as committed to such ends, except that population control is at the core of their conditionalities. By decapitating the very substance of development, such conditionalities, portrayed as inevitable, they seal the fate of the policies and the populations which fall victim to such planning. But it is unmistakably the case that these are policy choices, and the only inevitability is the outcome of the policies pursued. Alternative policies need not constrain the choices of the victims of such programs. Pursuit of life sustaining development need not accept, for instance, any inevitability of an opportunity choice which must be exercised between human life and, say, the continued existence of elephants. But through the constraints of sustainable development, both populations are constrained from propagation or even existence. The quickest path toward extinction of tigers, for example, is the ruse of maintenance of environments that are supposed to nuture their existence at the cost of life-sustaining development. It may not conclude in the extinction of man, but it will in drastic population reduction (aka, genocide), whereas capitalist acts among consenting adults in free markets tracks in precisely the opposite direction. Sustainable development requires governmental stricture if for no other reason than it runs counter to the self interested pursuit of human character. One may see the inevitable consequences of such dedication of policy even in the world's most advanced and developed economy, that of the United States. Rates of economic growth from about 1945 to 1970 averaged easily double what they have since then. And that decline correlates precisely with the burgeoning public sector of the latter period. It is more than correlation, however; it is causation. Less developed areas have fared even less well as a result. There is another related result of such regime stricture. Hayek called it the 'slippery slope.'Rousseau set the discussion in slightly different terms. The expansion of such stricture leads to the demise of the general will. Thus, the expansion of regime encroachment requires further regime stricture in a downward spiraling vicious cycle toward totalitarianism. The arc of collectivism is not only toward Malthus, it is inevitably toward totalitarian fascism. Quite remarkably, the least developed and least populated continent, Africa, is also that generally portrayed as the most overpopulated. It has been there most recently that famine and the like have reared their ugly heads most clearly and deliberately. And yet, if comparative population and development among the continents is tracked back prior to colonization, the slave trade, and imperialism, the continents are at a sort of equilibrium in relationship to one another. Africa is, of course, not overpopulated by any stretch of the imagingation. It is, however, terribly underdeveloped. Most dispicably, though, the trend is one of deliberate policy. It is the result of regime stricture. Resisting the forces of the market forces have been tantamont to attempts to resist the tide, but at a tremendous extraction of human flesh. Probably no where does the commensurate destruction of the general will manifest itself, however, than in the United States. The expansion of the leviathan of governance has led to this. The purported 'anarchy' of markets is replaced by the genuine anarchy of the undermined general will. The bogeyman of sustainable development is, of course, capitalism. The supposed greed of self interested pursuit is the problem which the altruistic promotion of the public good must counteract. Regime stricture in behalf of intrinsic value thus does much more than undermine objective value. Sustainable development policy reduces life sustaining development. It is not the earth that is in the balance, but humanity that is threatened. The destruction of wealth creation capacity leads toward a 'reality' of insufficient wealth for sustaining life. September 19, 1997 Return to the beginning Continue