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
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
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
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
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
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