May 24, 2013
An Economic Alternative to Exploitative Free Market Capitalism
Posted on Jan 31, 2013
By Thomas Hedges, Center for Study of Responsive Law
“There’s an allure in trying to meet microeconomics and neoliberal economics on its own ground,” says Carroll Muffett, moderator of the discussion and president of the Center for International Environmental Law, “to say ‘if you want to put a price on everything, here’s the price for this and look how massive the price is,’ whether it’s access to water or it’s pollination … but for me the danger is: Is meeting them on their own ground what we should be doing? Is there an inherent compromise in there that risks giving up something that ultimately cannot have a value put on it?”
Until recently, Bollier and Muffett say, there has been much wiggle room for the free market to expand. But as the basic needs of fresh water, energy and food are being overproduced or vanishing because of climate change, companies are finding that their only options are to draw from the scant resources of Third World communities to meet their profit margins. It is a test to see what, in the end, neoliberalism holds higher in value: money or life.
Muffett says that question has already been answered in the building of the coal-fired Medupi Power Station in South Africa. An assessment of the power station projected that there wouldn’t be enough water to keep the plant operating and meet the needs of the local community. The watershed adjacent to the plant is already so overtaxed that it doesn’t reach the sea. The company, Eskom, proposed to reroute water from another watershed for its main operation and use the local supply for its filtration system. It would raise the price of water for the community to keep “poachers” from draining the source.
“The water that’s being poached,” Muffett says, “is to give people access to fresh water and to water their crops for subsistence living.
Both Bollier and Muffett say this is the result of an economy based on the philosophies of Thomas Malthus and John Locke, whose models do not guarantee the right of existence. To exist, one must have money. It becomes the defining characteristic of life.
“That’s the risk in the natural capital approach,” Muffett says. “It’s saying ‘if you give me a thousand dollars, that’s a substitute for my bees, my pollinators, for the land where my ancestors are buried.’ And there is no substitute for that.”
This article was made possible by the Center for Study of Responsive Law.
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