Thursday, October 21, 2010

Valuing Natural Resources and Ecosystem Services for Sustainable Development

Economists moved a step closer to implementing the crucial concept of including the value of natural resources and ecosystem services onto the balance sheets of companies and countries. A new report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature (TEEB) details why this is so vital to sustainable development, and to the wealth and well being of the world's poor today and everyone in the future.

You can read more about these issues and the TEEB report at Suite101: How Much is the Earth Worth? Valuing Resources and Ecosystems

You might also like my January, 2010 post on some earlier research in this area.

Robert Adler
for the institute

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Need, not Greed”

The national media announced yesterday that the nation’s top bankers treated themselves to a whopping $144,000,000,000—that’s 144 billion dollars--in pay and bonuses this year. That is quite a nice reward for a bunch of people who should be held responsible for the financial mess we’re in.

It seems to me that most people do not remember that it was these very same bankers who created and invested in the bundled, unsecured mortgages that just over two years ago pushed the financial and stock markets into freefall. Instead of directing their rage at the people who are responsible, millions of Americans are now taking out their anger at the Obama/Pelosi “axis of evil,” as if they were responsible for the 14,800,000 people who are still officially unemployed in the United States.

It’s not unusual for the public to resort to irrational anger during economic downturns. The question is why the ultra-right-wing Tea Party has been able to energize and direct this outrage. Where have the Democrats, the party of the people, been as lines at food banks and unemployment windows grow?

When Democrats were Democrats, FDR declared a “Bank Holiday” to brake the bank panic of 1933. My proposal for such a holiday is, admittedly, a little different than FDR’s. I propose that the ultra-rich on Wall Street take a holiday and forego their outrageous pay for one year. I propose a total holiday because these bankers argue that if they pay their top talent less, they will jump ship to another firm. So if all these investment geniuses earn the same – nothing -- for a year, none of them will be tempted to jump ship.

It is not that they—prudent, conservative, upstanding, and financially responsible individuals that they are—don’t have some money in the bank for this rainy day holiday. After all, this year’s $144 Billion was preceded by last year’s $139 billion.

What would this accomplish?

The US median income is a mere $43,317 in comparison. Simple division demonstrates that we could create 3.66 million more jobs, cutting the ranks of the unemployed by almost a quarter. If instead we picked the median wage for women we could cut unemployment by almost a third. On the other hand, if the unemployed accepted the minimum wage, $15,080 a year, we could get 64.5% of them back to work.

With all these people back to work, they would be buying goods and creating even more jobs. Pretty soon the federal government would not be paying out unemployment claims and could, responding to recent Republican demands, start balancing the budget. And states, receiving revenues once more from the sales and income taxes on the newly employed wouldn’t have to lay off teachers, nurses, police and firefighters.

Of course, we should not take this proposed “holiday” seriously for a moment. The high finance paper-shufflers and computer wizards on Wall Street would not, for a moment, agree to such an arrangement. Silly me. The Wall Street elite are where they are, doing what they are doing, and pulling in the money they are pulling in because they would never for a moment consider sacrificing for the good of the country or their fellow Americans.

However, engaging in a moment of fantasy does force one to look more closely at reality. Why are these very people who brought economic tragedy upon so many still reaping outlandish financial rewards? Why is all the outrage coming from the Far Right? Where are the political leaders who are willing to stand up to these parasitic financiers and serve the needs of the common, hard working (if jobs were available) individual?

The Founding Fathers were wrong: not all people are created equal. It is true that we still operate in a profit and loss economy—only the profit part is going year after year after year to the very rich and the loss is going to the growing proportion of people at the bottom who continue to lose their jobs, homes and hope for the future.

I’m certain that those who would get jobs under this proposal would not complain about working on a “holiday.”

Lou Miller, Ph.D.

for the institute