Economic policy

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Reserve Bank has squeezed us like a lemon, but it’s still not happy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2024 - 4:58am in

Let me be the last to tell you the economy has almost ground to a halt and is teetering on the edge of recession. This has happened by design, not accident. But it doesn’t seem to be working properly. So, what happens now? Until we think of something better, more of the same. Since May Continue reading »

The Steady State Economy Act: Halfway to the Hill?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/05/2024 - 11:46pm in
by Brian Czech

image of capitol hill, through some trees

It’s a long way to the top of Capitol Hill. (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Promulgating the steady state economy via federal legislation has long been a primary goal at CASSE. However, even a primary goal isn’t necessarily pursued from the get-go. Much of the CASSE run thus far has been focused on raising awareness of the need for a steady state economy. Raising such awareness was even higher on the list of goals, because drafting statutory law is of limited use if there is no knowledge of the need for it.

In the midst of the Covid crisis, fifteen years after the establishment of CASSE, we formally commenced developing a steady state economy bill. Covid forced the societal door open for some rethinking of economic policies and activities. We walked through the door and introduced the steady state economy as a post-covid policy vision.

The tentative title of the bill was the “Full and Sustainable Employment Act” (FSEA). We chose this title to emphasize the wholesale replacement of the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978 (FEBGA). If the United States has a central economic policy, it’s FEBGA, a pro-growth law hopelessly out of date. (As we like to say at CASSE, growth is sooo 20th century.)

We went so far as to nickname our own developmental bill the “Full Seas Act.” The idea (as elaborated in Supply Shock) was to put an end to the excuse-making metaphor, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” In the 21st century, we’ve run out of material for building more “boats.” We’re running out of room “at sea,” too. A sustainable economy means replacing the boats as they run their life course, not trying to force even more boats—people, businesses, industries—onto the crowded seas.

Our testing of the metaphorical waters was inconclusive, and in 2023 we simply renamed the bill the “Steady State Economy Act.” Putting the phrase “steady state economy” in the very title of the bill makes it crystal clear that we are literally proposing the establishment of a steady state economy in the USA, and not just whistling Dixie.

Findings and Declarations

Perhaps the most important section of a statute is the findings and declarations of Congress. In most substantial laws, the findings and declarations set the stage for the rest of the content. Take, for example, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, in which Congress found and declared that species “have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development.” This crucial phrase will forever serve as a reminder that Congress set the precedent long ago in recognizing the ecological threat of economic growth.

For the Steady State Economy Act (SSEA), we had the advantage of having our key findings and declarations—the ones we want Congress to adopt—thought out far in advance. The findings, especially, have taken the form of an online, signable position statement for two decades. Similarly, the declarations stem from the “therefore” clauses of the position statement.

The findings and declarations in the SSEA were first presented under the “Full Seas Act” noted above. Providing them here will reinforce these central pillars of the SSEA, where they will comprise Section 2:

SECTION 2. FINDINGS AND DECLARATIONS.

(a) FINDINGS. The Congress finds that—

(1) Economic growth, as measured with gross domestic product (GDP), requires a growing human population, increasing per capita consumption, or both.

(2) Consistent with the natural sciences, including basic principles of physics and biology, there are limits to economic growth within and among nations.

(3) There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, including the maintenance of: clean air and water; productive soils; biological diversity; stocks of natural resources including water, timber, fisheries, minerals, and fossil fuels, and; funds of ecosystem services including nutrient cycling, pollination, waste absorption, and carbon sequestration.

(4) A well-maintained, non-degraded environment is the foundation of a productive economy. Therefore, and because of the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, there is also a fundamental conflict between economic growth and the long-term maintenance of the economy including jobs, income, and wellbeing.

(5) A well-maintained economy is vital to national defense. Therefore, and because of the fundamental conflict between economic growth and the long-term maintenance of the economy, there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and national security.

(6) There is abundant environmental and economic evidence that long-term limits to growth have been and are being reached and exceeded in the Nation, other nations, and globally.

(7) There is abundant evidence that perennial fiscal and monetary efforts to stimulate GDP growth are increasingly causing environmental, economic, and social harm while resulting in fewer benefits, with the harm gradually exceeding the benefits.

(b) DECLARATION. The Congress declares that—

(1) It is heretofore the policy of the Nation to undertake a gradual but certain transition from the goal and pursuit of economic growth to the goal and pursuit of a sustainable steady state economy, with stabilized or mildly fluctuating population and per capita consumption as generally indicated, all else being equal, by a mildly fluctuating GDP.

(2) The transition to a steady state economy must be undertaken with every intent and effort to achieve and maintain the full employment of the labor force consistent with environmental protection and other aspects of economic sustainability including a balanced federal budget and the effective control of inflation.

(3) The President, President’s Cabinet, Council of Economic Advisors, Federal Reserve, and federal agency directors will immediately cease and desist from developing strategies and initiatives to grow or stimulate the economy. Existing policies, programs, and projects designed explicitly to grow or stimulate the economy shall not be extended beyond fiscal year 2030 or beyond the designated sunset date, whichever comes later.

(4) The Congressional Research Service, collaborating with the Office of Management and Budget and Council of Economic Advisers, will review and summarize the federal agency mission statements, goals, objectives, policies, programs, and practices designed for GDP growth, producing a Report on Federal Growth Incentives no later than 30 April 2031.

(5) A Commission on Economic Sustainability (“the Commission”) is hereby established to include the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Secretaries of Agriculture, Energy, and Commerce, chaired by the Secretary of the Interior, to estimate and monitor environmentally sustainable levels of population and socially optimal levels of GDP. The Commission will produce a Report on Sustainable Population and Optimal GDP no later than 31 August 2031.

(6) The Commission Chair, with counsel of the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, Secretary of Commerce, Federal Reserve Chair, and Secretary of the Treasury, drawing on the Report on Federal Growth Incentives and the Report on Sustainable Population and Optimal GDP, and pursuant to the framework provided in subsequent sections herein, will develop and deliver to the President, no later than 31 August 2032, a 25-year Steady-State Transition Plan detailing and scheduling the adjustments, modifications, additions, and deletions necessary to establish a system of government operations most conducive to a steady state economy at an estimated optimal level of GDP.

(7) The President, Cabinet secretaries, and federal agency directors shall not overlook the existence, neglect the enforcement, or underfund the performance of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, or any other of the Nation’s environmental laws or regulations on grounds that said laws or regulations may interfere with the workings of the economy or slow the rate of GDP growth.

Progress on the Bill, Procedural and Strategic

Senator Bernie Sanders, looking pensive.

Senator Bernie Sanders, concerned about excessive CEO pay, might like to ponder the Salary Cap Act. (Flickr)

The declarations above are more thorough than in a typical bill, as they are designed to put some procedural meat on the policy bone right from the start. As we develop the bill, some of the particulars laid out in the declarations will be shifted to subsequent sections.

Each significant section we draft is a prospective “feeder bill,” feeding into the broader SSEA. In this way, we hope to establish ties with members of Congress and their staff, as some of these feeder bills will be highly relevant to pre-existing concerns expressed on the Hill. For example, a recurring theme in Congress is the exorbitant pay of billionaire CEOs. Our Salary Cap Act ought to resonate with every politician who expresses a sincere concern about excessive income.

The Salary Cap Act is a good example of a bill that can unify those concerned especially with sustainability (thus far a small group including CASSE) and those concerned primarily with economic fairness (a larger number of individuals and organizations). Any feeder bill that connects with pre-existing concerns of members of Congress will help us educate those same members on limits to growth as well, and the need for a steady state economy. That helps us hew to our 501(c)(3) status as an educational non-profit organization with only limited lobbying clearance.

Below is the draft SSEA table of contents, provided only to the Section level. A more complete outline of the bill includes subsidiary sections, along with hyperlinks to a handful of feeder bills we’ve drafted thus far.

 

Section 1. Short Title; Table of Contents.
Section 2. Findings and Declarations.
Section 3. Definitions.
Section 4. Executive Adoption of Steady-State Goals.
Section 5. Fiscal Policy.
Section 6. Monetary Policy.
Section 7. Sustainable Immigration.
Section 8. Trade and Capital Mobility.
Section 9. Labor and Income.
Section 10. Housing and Transportation.
Section 11. Caps And Tradeable Permits.
Section 12. Economic Incentives.
Section 13. Prohibitions.
Section 14. Penalties and Enforcement.

 

This feeder bill approach won’t be without its challenges. Developing a complete collection of feeder bills doesn’t mean we will be able to simply splice them together to produce the SSEA. Rather, we’ll need to consolidate various components and pay careful attention to problems of redundancy or inconsistency. For example, most of our feeder bills will include a Definitions section. Those will be removed from their immediate context and compiled into a comprehensive Definitions section for the full SSEA. This type of work will require impeccable attention to detail, similar to the work performed by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, the codifiers of statutory law. We are prepared to do this type of work in-house, slowly but surely.

As a small non-profit organization, we don’t have the resources to hire attorneys with copious legislative experience. However, we do have one full-time staffer devoted to the SSEA: Policy Specialist Daniel Wortel-London, who we hired in May, 2023. He has a Ph.D. from New York University and a keen interest in economic policy. Since signing on with CASSE, he has studied the canons of statutory construction and elements of style in drafting legislation. He assists with the development of feeder bills and monthly columns at the Steady State Herald, which are reviewed and fleshed out in-house.

As we develop more of the SSEA, we’ll be welcoming the help of individuals and organizations with an interest in the act as a whole or in particular feeder bills. A glance at the table of contents above, or further inspection of the deeper outline, should help third parties decide if they are interested in assessing, helping with, or funding the work. Potential collaborators should also consider some of the core policy principles we adhere to.

Policy Design Principles, Old and New

Each of our SSEA feeder bills follows the basic “SATG” model of public policy developed by political scientists Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram. The bill we draft is the statement (S) of policy, in which we identify the agent or agencies (A) charged with administering the policy. These agencies monitor and oversee actions by a particular “target” or targets (T) in order to fulfill the goal or goals (G) of the policy. If any of these elements cannot be readily identified in a bill, the design is flawed and the bill needs more work.

For example, our Luxury Cap Act (S) charges the Secretary of the Treasury (A) with administering a set of caps and taxes on luxury goods and services. This disincentivizes producers and consumers (T) from producing and consuming luxury goods and services, thereby lessening the nation’s ecological footprint, which is the policy goal (G).

In constructing the SSEA and prioritizing feeder bills, we draw from our long-running list of our top 15 policy recommendations. We also adhere to the policy principles outlined in the Daly and Farley (2010) textbook, Ecological Economics. Some of the policies we develop—such as the Salary Cap Act—come directly from the policy proposals provided in Supply Shock (now published by the Steady State Press).

image fo the USGS logo, which says "science for a changing world" under the USGS.

In a changing world, and pursuant to the “no net gain in bureaucracy” principle, many USGS ecologists would be reassigned to biocapacity and ecological footprint mapping. (USGS).

We have also adopted a few principles along the way, including one we call “no net gain in bureaucracy.” Rather than designate new agencies (A) entailing the hiring of thousands more civil servants, we lean on existing agencies for their expertise in everything from ecological footprint calculation to money supply management. The experts in these agencies are themselves a type of target (T); their approach and activities will change substantially upon passage of the SSEA.

For example, since FEBGA was passed in 1978, the Federal Reserve has had essentially a two-part mission: full employment (which they pursue via “rising tide lifts all boats”) and stabilized prices (which they have interpreted as low but steady inflation rates.) Pursuant to the SSEA, the Fed will be out of the growth business and concerned almost exclusively with minimizing inflation by prudently managing the money supply in close concert with the Department of the Treasury. Economists at the Fed will still be the most capable experts for doing that, even with (or especially with) the tightened mission.

The ”no net gain in bureaucracy” principle helps us adhere to another steady-state policy principle: “No net gain in expenditure.” Spending our way to sustainability leads us straight into the teeth of the “trophic conundrum,” whereby it costs an environmental impact to generate real money for new government programs and incentives. This is why you’ll find a greater degree of “prohibitive policy” in our work than in the proposals of those who favor a market-oriented or grant-providing approach toward steady-state behavior.

That brings us to one more principle worth noting: Political feasibility is to be sought while developing policy, not used as an excuse to eschew policy development. We wouldn’t be working on the SSEA if we didn’t think it would garner political feasibility in the coming decades of ecological unravelling, economic crisis, national insecurity and international instability. Compelling policy work and political feasibility will come hand-in-hand.

So, are we half way to Capitol Hill with the SSEA? Well, not in terms of the percentage of material that needs to be drafted. On the other hand, we’ve laid the foundation and assembled some of the most crucial expertise, and that is some of the most time-consuming work. So, in that sense, perhaps we are halfway indeed!

Brian Czech is CASSE’s Executive Director.

The post The Steady State Economy Act: Halfway to the Hill? appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The Steady State of Beautiful Bayfield County

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/05/2024 - 11:19pm in
by Dave Rollo

photo from the water looking toward the shoreline of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Buildings surrounded by autumn colors are seen

The port town of Bayfield, Bayfield County, Wisconsin. (Wikimedia Commons).

Bayfield County, Wisconsin is situated on the shores of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. Deep in the heart of the Great Northwoods, the county is unique in its glaciated beauty. It also happens to be a rare example of a county in harmonious balance between its natural and constructed communities.

Bayfield County has been refreshingly free of growth controversies and displays key attributes that approach the characteristics of  a steady-state county. Its citizens understand the value of local forests and farmland, and they embrace a conservation ethic that guides their stewardship of county resources. A regional land conservancy is active and respected in the community, and citizens understand the benefits of local agriculture.

Of special interest to the Keep Our Counties Great campaign, the conceptual framework for a steady state economy is established in the Bayfield County Comprehensive Plan. The plan embraces sustainability, systems thinking, and climate resilience.

A Stable Economy and Careful Planning

Bayfield County has had a low and stable population (approximately 15,000 residents) for more than 40 years. It’s also had a stable GDP of $400 -$450 million. Although residents’ income is slightly below the U.S. mean, security of home ownership is much higher than the national average, 87 percent compared to less than 66 percent nationwide.

While Bayfield enjoys a relative lack of controversy over growth and development, it shares challenges with other communities. These include home affordability and a shortage of housing for seniors. In response to these challenges, the County Board okayed construction of 60 workforce and retirement housing units in Washburn, the county’s largest community. Notably, however, the county integrated this additional housing within town boundaries. And it granted approvals primarily in response to the needs of the community rather than a developer’s pursuit of profit. Indeed, local officials seem averse to the typical sprawling housing tracts that are so common elsewhere.

Take, for example, the case of the local landowner who petitioned Bayfield’s Plan Commission to build a subdivision on a parcel of more than 100 acres. The parcel sat on a high bluff with striking vistas, a tempting place to build homes. But the commission voted it down, partly because the land was situated within an orchard district. Instead, a plan commissioner encouraged the landowner to contact a local land conservancy to explore an alternative idea focused on preservation.

stone courthouse of Bayfield, Wisconsin with a bright blue sky aboave and a broad spread of grass in the foreground

Government agencies in Bayfield are attentive to conservation of resources. (Jimmy Emerson, Flickr)

The conservancy received this suggestion warmly. And it aligned with the Farmland Preservation Program that guides local planners. Together, the landowner and the conservancy created the Fire Hill Preserve, a recreation area that conserves the parcel’s woods and includes a trail system for residents and visitors.

Bayfield County’s planners have methodically evaluated and mapped all the farmland in the county to conserve the agricultural base. Amazingly, that base is growing; farm acreage increased by 13 percent over the last decade. The number of farms increased over the period too, to more than 400, so average farm size fell.  One-third of the farms are less than 50 acres in size.  Individuals or families constitute more than 95 percent of the owners of Bayfield County farms.

Bayfield County has created a thriving local food economy featuring a consortium of growers, the Bayfield Foods Farmers Cooperative. The coop maintains a year-round CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, whose customers purchase portions of the farms’ harvests, which comprise some 200 foods. The coop offers easy access, with 20 locations for pick-up. It also provides bulk food purchases and wholesale deliveries to stores and restaurants. The coop’s mission is to “re-build local food systems.”

The county food system includes nine farmer’s markets, one on the Chippewa tribal land, the Red Cliff Mino Bimaadiziiwin Tribal Farm Stand. As promoted by the Bayfield County government, local food has a multiplier effect, yielding twice as much income for the local economy as imported food. Recirculating dollars locally is a hallmark of a sustainable economy. It pays dividends in keeping farmland protected and providing employment in the county.

A Focus on Biocapacity

Biocapacity describes the regenerative capacity of an area, while the ecological footprint refers to the acreage required (within the area or elsewhere) to support the economy of the area. Biocapacity is the ultimate basis for the human economy and from a sustainability perspective should be larger than a community’s footprint. At the global level, humanity’s footprint exceeds the planet’s total biocapacity. Few counties have undertaken assessments of their biocapacity and footprint, which makes care for the local environment especially important.

Indeed, careful management of local biocapacity is a prerequisite for a steady state economy. This ethic is evident in the careful oversight of forests and farms by Bayfield County planners. The forests of Bayfield County, comprising 85 percent of the county, provide area for sustainable timber harvesting, wildlife habitats, and a repository for carbon, the sequestration of which is a recently recognized economic service in the county.

The Northwoods region is a contiguous belt running from northern Michigan through Wisconsin and into Minnesota. It is regarded as globally significant for water resources, biological species diversity, and carbon storage. Bayfield County’s biocapacity is certainly important locally. And it is integral to the ecological and climatological functioning of the Northwoods and, by extension, Earth.

Bayfield County was not always a model of biocapacity conservation. As was common a century ago in the upper Midwest, Wisconsin lost nearly all its northern forests to logging. Much of the denuded landscape was not capable of supporting agriculture, either. During the Depression, when many landowners could not pay their taxes, the county government acquired the land. Today, the county owns and manages nearly 170,000 acres. Forests have regenerated and the landscape has repaired itself, largely because the land is held in public ownership by federal, state, and county agencies.

map of Bayfield County showing public land there.

Public land held by county, state and federal agencies.

 the Superior Coastal Plain, the Northwest Sands, and the North Central Forest.

The ecological landscapes of Bayfield County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indeed, Bayfield is exceptional in having half of its land held publicly in a state where 85 percent of the land is privately owned. Moreover, Bayfield forests comprise the third-largest county forest in Wisconsin. The state legislature established them in 1927. Since then, harvesters have managed the county forests responsibly, providing around $5 million annually in timber product sales. Now the biocapacity of Bayfield County is generating income not just from timber products but also from carbon sequestration.

In 2021, Bayfield County registered 90 percent of its forests in a voluntary, 40-year carbon offset program with the American Carbon Registry. County officials are working with ANEW, a market-based emissions-reduction consultancy, to generate and market carbon credits. They are using a stringent methodology for assuring the integrity of the offsets.

It’s not clear, however, how the program deals with the Achilles’ heel of offsets. Generating money to purchase carbon credits from Bayfield County (or any county) entails an environmental impact somewhere else, due to the trophic requirements of economic activity. Brian Czech calls this thorny dilemma the “trophic conundrum.” He further argues that the environmental costs of generating money tend to exceed the environmental benefits of spending that money, even on conservation programs. This doesn’t mean forest conservation is a bad idea. Quite the opposite. But it points toward the importance of regulatory policy for conservation, as opposed to the strained attempts to perform conservation with market mechanisms.

In any event, the Bayfield arrangement is expected to provide nearly five million metric tons of carbon credits in the first 20 years of operation, more than offsetting the emissions of the Bayfield county population. The project was the first of its kind on county forest land in the USA.

The Bayfield County Forest Comprehensive Land Use Plan focuses on sustainable practices. It mirrors the County Comprehensive Plan’s commitment to sustainable community development. Its aim is to avoid generating environmental impacts that compromise the prospects of future generations. The Forest Comprehensive Land Use Plan is unique among such plans. It includes input by the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Their reservation is located along the coast within Bayfield County. Their voice is integral to forest management practices, and is provided biannually by the Bayfield County Tribal Relations Committee.

Another crucial component of protecting the biocapacity is a conservation land trust that evaluates critical habitat for preservation. The Landmark Conservancy is a regional land trust with key landholdings in Bayfield County. It has developed a strategic conservation focus that concentrates efforts for climate resiliency on 17 focus areas within its region. Four of the 17 are located in Bayfield County with the largest area, the Lake Superior South Shore Streams, coinciding with the Lake Superior Coastal Plain. This coastal plain is particularly important for shorebirds that are among the most threatened bird guilds. Their populations have declined by 50 percent over the past 40 years. In fact, the area is vitally important as a migratory route for a variety of birds.

Landmark Conservancy and county officials have also collaborated on land protection in Bayfield County. Recently they worked on the purchase of 3,900 acres of forests to safeguard migratory bird habitat.

 Comprehensive Planning with a Systems Approach

Clearly, Bayfield County officials hold a vision for land planning and development that emphasizes protection and preservation of its lands and natural systems. Indeed, Bayfield County begins its 2023 Comprehensive Plan with a commitment to a “future that places sustainability, systems-thinking, and climate change resilience at its core.” The Plan focuses on seeing community facets in an integrative way, rather than in isolation. In the words of the authors, “the approach views a community as a dynamic and interconnected system, rather than a collection of separate parts.”

side-by-side graphics showing linear thinking on the left, with two dots and a single arrow pointing from one to the other. On the right, systems thinking is depicted, with 8 dots and many arrows pointing among them.

Public land held by county, state and federal agencies (left) and the ecological landscapes of Bayfield County (right). All of Bayfield’s ecological landscapes are within the Northwoods Country.

The State of Wisconsin mandates the nine elements of the plan, so they are common to other plans. But the Bayfield plan’s focus on interrelationships of community is unique and rare in county plans. By understanding how actions in one area affect others, policymakers and officials are less likely to do harm.

Traditional policymaking often fails to capture a policy’s full costs or account for negative “externalities”—side effects that are external to  the policy’s primary goal. By contrast, an integrative, holistic approach to policymaking doesn’t seek to accomplish one goal while neglecting others. It takes full account of the costs of a policy, which helps to minimize negative side effects.

The plan does not explicitly prescribe limits to county growth. But it subjects growth and development decisions to a range of considerations relevant to a long-term sustainable future. Growth is not a driver within the comprehensive plan; indeed, it is only briefly mentioned. The many needs of the community place bounds and constraints on quantitative growth and prioritize qualitative development.

Advancing a Path to Steady State

Steady-state economics is a response to a systems failure in conventional economics and flawed societal assumptions about infinite growth. These failures to integrate systems thinking into planning are degrading ecosystems and jeopardizing human flourishing—and perhaps humanity’s survival—as economies worldwide increasingly approach and exceed planetary boundaries.

Communities need a holistic approach to planning and a respect for biocapacity if they are to counter the present-day inertia of growth. By establishing an integrated, systems-based approach to its comprehensive planning, Bayfield County is moving toward developing a community consensus on reducing negative externalities in policy making. There is room for improvement, to be sure. For example, the county would do well to swap out its market-based carbon sequestration program for regulations that prohibit forest cutting to ensure long-term forest health.

Still, Bayfield is an encouraging example of a county that stewards its resources. Instead of a siloed approach to county planning, Bayfield County officials recognize their county as a complex adaptive system. The County is committed to protecting and enhancing its biocapacity and including indigenous perspectives in its planning.  It stands as a steady-state model for other communities to follow.

 

Dave Rollo is a Policy Specialist and team leader of the Keep Our Counties Great campaign at CASSE.

The post The Steady State of Beautiful Bayfield County appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Our great leap backward in China trade ignores China specialists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/05/2024 - 4:51am in

Last month Prime Minister Albanese cheerfully welcomed the Chinese government’s removal of import duties on Australian wine. Following numerous government-to-government talks held in Canberra and Beijing over recent months, it was seen as a positive step in a new era of Australia-China relations. For winemakers, it was merely a small win on the journey back Continue reading »

Labor deploys ‘security’ to protect bad policy from proper scrutiny

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/05/2024 - 4:52am in

Politicians are increasingly using the word to justify bad policy initiatives and fend off criticism of their decisions. I doubt if you’re waiting with bated breath for next Tuesday night’s federal budget, but since it’s the big set-piece event of my year I’ve started limbering up. I’ve set my bulldust detector to ping every time Continue reading »

From “Boring” to “Roaring” Banking

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/04/2024 - 10:00pm in

Harder to measure, but no less crucial, is Epstein’s identification of the intellectual “capture” of both the academy and policymaking institutions—their infiltration by financial interests and the economic paradigms that prop them up. ...

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The great winner picking winner stopping show

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/04/2024 - 4:56am in

In that newspaper of record of extraordinary bias – The Australian – there is much preaching about the sanctity of the market mechanism and the absolute folly of the government’s plan to subsidise investment in new industries. Such sharp economic brains have not, however, cared to admonish nor demand we terminate the massive subsidies given Continue reading »

Introducing the Commission on Economic Sustainability Act

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/04/2024 - 12:40am in
by Daniel Wortel-London

picture of U.S. Capitol

New economic paradigm—and policy—needed in the U.S. Government.

What U.S. federal agency is responsible for identifying and reducing the environmental and social costs of economic growth? None, really. The government has plenty of agencies and programs devoted to conservation, natural capital accounting, “green” industrial policy, and just transitions. But none address the elephant in the room: economic growth. Growth is what causes a nation’s ecological footprint to exceed its biocapacity.

To address this issue, in 2020 CASSE proposed a Full and Sustainable Employment Act (FSEA). Central to the FSEA was the establishment of a Commission on Economic Sustainability. Consistent with steady-state principles, the Commission entailed no net increase of bureaucracy. Rather, the Cabinet-level commissioners, led by the Secretary of the Interior, would simply refocus some of their duties on the matter of sustainable population and GDP.

The paradigm-shifting FSEA has evolved into the plainly titled Steady State Economy Act, carefully pieced together with “feeder bills.” The bill I introduce herein is the Commission on Economic Sustainability Act (CESA).

Growth is the Footprint

Economic growth results from the combined effects of changes to a country’s population and per capita consumption. Economic growth correlates tightly (and causally) with a higher throughput of materials and energy. Therefore, the overall size of an economy as represented by GDP gives a good indication of its broader ecological footprint.

image of boulder-sized bags of waste piled high next to a road

More growth, more waste. (Ryan Brooklyn, Unsplash)

Since the 1970s, the resource demands of the U.S. economy have overshot the country’s biocapacity. This “overshoot” threatens human wellbeing and the foundations of economic development more generally. To address the social and ecological perils connected to the swollen size of our economy, we must slow economic growth. And we must reduce the economy’s size to be consistent with our environment’s biocapacity.

For this reason policymakers need to focus on GDP in developing our nation’s sustainability strategy. In particular, they should understand what drives GDP growth and what could reduce it. This is because analyzing GDP reveals, in ways that analyses of natural capital or “ecological footprints” do not, the specifically economic drivers behind our ecological crises.

When combined with analyses of the nation’s biocapacity, we can evaluate how much we need to shrink GDP to fit within a “safe operating space” afforded by nature. GDP is already a familiar yardstick to policymakers and the public, and economists calculate it with exceptional rigor. Thus, GDP should be the prime metric for sustainability analysis and a key guide to sustainability initiatives in the United States and elsewhere.

Missing the Target

Most sustainability strategies do not identify the costs of economic growth, much less scale this growth back in a just way. Instead, they focus on reducing the symptoms of growth and advocate for actions like de-carbonization and “net-zero” goals. Others measure overshoot using natural capital accounting and by incorporating “planetary boundary” frameworks into policy planning decisions.

Missing are initiatives that forthrightly address a key driver of our ecological crisis—the economy’s unsustainable size. Nor do we have initiatives that identify viable and just strategies for reducing it. To be sure, scholars like Daniel O’Neill, Peter Victor, and Tim Jackson have developed models proposing policy routes toward a steady state economy. But these paths are generally developed in an academic context. They incorporate only a limited suite of policy tools. And they don’t address the full range of levers driving growth, from federal fiscal policies to planned obsolescence and bank-created money. They generally focus on “ideal-type” policies, rather than those that can be developed realistically within existing national legal landscapes.

a row of four brown houses, each with solar panels on the roofs

More solar panels won’t help much if consumption inside is growing. (Christine Westerback, Creative Commons 4.0)

Here is where a Commission on Economic Sustainability comes in. The Commission’s founding premise—a conclusion really—is the fundamental conflict between sustainability and growth. It would identify the federal policies and initiatives that promote this growth. It would calculate an optimal size for the economy as measured by GDP, based on the ecological requirements of the country and its citizens’ social needs. And it would develop a whole-of-government, 25-year strategy to reach this target in a way that maximizes fair redistribution and efficient allocation.

There are, of course, great difficulties involved in identifying the targets and strategies mentioned here. In part these difficulties are technical, including the challenge of identifying drivers of economic growth that are both granular and comprehensive. Others are ethical, such as identifying the material needs of the population while accounting for ecological health and personal freedom.

These difficulties, however, should not discourage us. We can tackle the ecological emergency only by addressing the forces driving it: the growth and size of our economy. The issues involved in tackling our civilizational challenge can be addressed through science and political debate. The Commission on Economic Sustainability is the agency that will keep us on track.

The Commission on Economic Sustainability Act

The Act establishes a government body responsible for measuring, monitoring, and coordinating federal efforts to reduce economic growth to environmentally and socially sustainable levels.

Section 2, “Findings and Declaration,” states that there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Because this conflict threatens both the economy and security of the United States, it is necessary to reduce growth through concerted federal activity. The section therefore declares that establishing a Commission on Economic Sustainability is in the interest of the United States.

image of the seal of the Department of the Interior

A good Secretary of the Interior has the background, resources, and independence required to chair the Commission on Economic Sustainability. (U.S. DOI)

Section 4 establishes the Commission. The Secretary of the Interior will chair it, and members will include the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Secretaries of Agriculture, Energy, and Commerce.

Section 5 directs the Commission’s Chair to produce a report identifying all federal activities that incentivize economic growth. Among the activities to be identified are funded and unfunded rules, regulations, policies, programs, laws, and initiatives implemented by all federal commissions, agencies, and departments.

Next, section 6 requires the Chair to produce a report identifying environmentally sustainable levels for the growth of population and GDP for the United States.

Section 7 directs the Chair to produce a report identifying a 25-year plan for establishing a steady state economy at the optimal levels of population and GDP established in Section 6.

Section 8 requires the Chair to produce a report summarizing the Commission’s activities and proposals, and to submit it to Congress annually.

The CESA is designed as a stand-alone bill and as a key component of the larger Steady State Economy Act. It addresses, as no other federal body currently does, the unsustainable growth that threatens national prosperity and security alike. And by identifying the drivers of this growth and coordinating government-wide strategies to reign them in, the CESA will help ensure a better, steady-state future for our people, nation, and planet.

 

Daniel Wortel-London is a CASSE Policy Specialist focused on steady-state policy development.

The post Introducing the Commission on Economic Sustainability Act appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The Supreme Court May Give Us Another 2008 Financial Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 03/04/2024 - 6:11am in

The United States Supreme Court will soon decide a case that could decimate consumer protections against abusive banking practices — potentially allowing banks to disregard state laws meant to prevent the kind of predatory lending that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

Legal experts say that the case, Cantero v. Bank of America, could invalidate a host of state laws that protect people from predatory lending, junk fees, and other financial scams. The case is ostensibly about a New York statute that forces banks to pay interest to consumers on certain mortgage accounts — but big banks are fighting for the court to rule they are exempt from that law and many others in states across America.

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Keeping the County Great: Rappahannock’s Steady State

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/03/2024 - 1:09am in
by Dave Rollo

panoramic view of forests and farms in Rappahannock County

Farms and forest occupy Rappahannock County. The Shenandoah Mountains lie to the west. (Wikimedia Commons)

It would be difficult to match the pastoral majesty of northwest Virginia, with its rolling hills covered in forests and prime farmland at the northern foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The region boasts the Shenandoah Valley to the west and Shenandoah National Park (SNP). Sitting at the eastern doorstep of the Park is Rappahannock County, part of the Piedmont region of the state, which lies between the mountains and the coastal plain.

Rappahannock is unique among the counties of the northern Piedmont for its careful approach to conservation. Unlike neighboring jurisdictions, Rappahannock County has carefully guarded its rural character and natural beauty—an astounding achievement given its proximity to the Washington, D.C. Metro (less than 50 miles away). Missing in Rappahannock are the big box stores, strip malls, fast food restaurants, and sprawl that are common outside the county’s borders.

Threats from Exurbia

Super commuters” and telecommuters have created great demand for land in the counties west of Washington, D.C. Extending beyond the coastal plain cities of Washington, Arlington, and Alexandria, whose combined population is 5.5 million, the Piedmont region and the mountains beyond have felt the effects of this hunger for land.

map of the counties west of the Washington, D.C. region

Rappahannock County lies on the periphery of the exurban D.C. metro area. (Wikimedia Commons, modified).

The population of suburban Loudon County has increased more than tenfold in 50 years, to 440,000 people. Fauquier County, sandwiched between Loudon and Rappahannock, has tripled since 1970, to 76,000 residents. Fauquier is now considered part of the 22-county D.C. metro area, out on the exurban fringe.

Yet despite growth pressures—actually, because of active resistance to them—the population of Rappahannock County has held nearly steady over the past half-century, at 7,500 people.

Growth pressures have intensified over the years and are now on Rappahannock County’s doorstep. The county has successfully staved off most conversion of land to housing tracts, but neighboring counties have approved large development projects within a few miles of the county line.

In Culpeper County, immediately southeast of Rappahannock, the County Planning Commission granted unanimous approval of a massive development at Clevenger’s Corner. The development consists of 774 homes and a 144,000 square-foot commercial center. The approval was consistent with the county’s “growth centers” vision described in its 2005 comprehensive plan. To the people of Rappahannock County, Clevenger’s Corner is an object lesson in the type of development to avoid. They point to it when they complain to their elected representatives about the consequences of loosening zoning restrictions.

Pressures of Growth Tested

Rappahannock residents’ preference for conservation was put to the test recently, as was Rappahannock County’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan, by two controversial development petitions in the villages of Sperryville and Washington. The proposal in Sperryville was denied, while the one in Washington was approved, but they both reflect a cautious review of development that is more or less consistent with a steady state economy.

Sperryville, with more than 350 residents, has a vibrant village center. At the boundary of Shenandoah National Park, it benefits from significant tourism, and is buoyed by visitors frequenting the handful of shops, galleries, and restaurants. It is unincorporated, and development decisions are made exclusively by the County Board of Supervisors.

In Washington, by contrast, commercial and cultural activity has waxed and waned over time, and population has fallen from a high of 250 residents to 86 today. The mayor has set a goal of increasing the town’s population to roughly its former high. Unlike Sperryville, Washington (and most towns and villages in the County) is incorporated; development within its boundaries falls under the purview of the Town Council.

The Sperryville development proposal was for changing the density requirement of a local parcel from five acres per home to two acres (referred to as “upzoning”). This proposal generated a great deal of public opposition. In response, environmental restrictions on the parcel were introduced, which reduced the developable area and the number of homes. However, a petition of nearly 400 signatures urged the Board of Supervisors to reject the rezoning request outright. Ultimately, the Board agreed with the opposition to the proposal and kept the current zoning, at five acres per home.

View down Main Street in Sperryville, VA, with houses on one side of the street

View of Main Street, Sperryville, Virginia (Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile in Washington, the Rush River Commons project consisted of a mixed-use (commercial/residential) proposal on 5.1 acres that featured slope constraints and environmental challenges. The Washington Town Council viewed the project as valuable for shoring up town commerce. They also liked its inclusion of space for nonprofits and 20 units of affordable housing, a key consideration in their comprehensive plan.

After approval of the first phase by the town council, the developer offered a second phase that not only entailed additional building but required expansion of the town boundary by three acres. This required approval from the County Board of Supervisors. County residents pushed back on the proposal, and it was only after the developer removed the residential component and met twenty-five other conditions that the Board approved the project.

Thus, although the Board of Supervisors finally approved the Washington development, it imposed a high degree of stringency in the review process. Concern over the town’s loss of 60 percent of its population was likely a key reason for the decisions by both the town and county governmental bodies.

In the Sperryville and Washington cases, meeting records, public comment, and letters to the editor of the local Rappahannock News illustrate a substantial degree of public input from throughout the county. Civic involvement explains, to a large degree, Rappahannock County’s success at preserving land and resisting growth pressures.

Comprehensively Speaking

The Rappahannock Comprehensive Plan of 2020 updated the previous 2004 plan in significant ways. The Board of Supervisors implemented a downzoning (an increase in minimum lot size) of approximately 90 percent of the county’s land. Current zoning allows only one housing unit per 25 acres. This check on development is popularly supported and was reflected in elected leadership and appointments to the Planning Commission.

The opening statement of the comprehensive plan emphasizes the value that residents find in the county’s undeveloped lands: “When asked what brings the most pride related to Rappahannock County, there were various answers generally related to the unique viewsheds, the rural nature, the preservation of land and open spaces, and the citizens that help keep it that way.”

Popular support for constraints on development is clearly evident: “When asked what should never change about Rappahannock County, responses generally referenced the natural beauty and the zoning restrictions that control development.” Clearly, residents prize the natural attributes of the county over proposed alterations imposed by development.

Fortunately, Rappahannock County can draw on state-level policy to limit land conversion. For example, a foundational element in Rappahannock’s success in farmland preservation is the State of Virginia’s 1971 LUVA (Land Use Value Assessment) law allowing local governments to assess land by its “use value” rather than its typically higher market value. Through LUVA, real estate taxes are lower for lands that are useful for production of food, fiber, or timber. This creates an incentive to keep land rural and productive. The policy is effective: Ninety-eight percent of farms in the county are still family-owned, and 80 percent are smaller than 179 acres.

map showing areas of conservation easement in Rappahannock County

Rappahannock’s permanently protected land. (Piedmont Environmental Council)

The Piedmont Environmental Council, a regional environmental organization founded in 1972, has played a significant role in environmental protection and conservation for more than half a century. It promotes parks and trails, supports the local food system by connecting consumers to producers, encourages an active civic culture, and builds on land conservation successes.

The PEC has permanently protected more than 420,000 acres through the use of conservation easements. In Rappahannock County, conservation easements total approximately 34,000 acres, 20 percent of the county’s area. These are held by a consortium of organizations, including The Land Trust of Virginia, Virginia Outdoors, local and state governments, and the PEC. Together with the Shenandoah National Park, conservation easements cover more than 38 percent of Rappahannock County.

The PEC goal is to place 50 percent of the privately held land in the Piedmont region—a million acres—into permanent conservation status. The PEC has determined that the 50 percent goal is the minimum area required to preserve species diversity in the region. The secondary goal is to create a vibrant rural economy.

The PEC is in the process of targeting farms in the upper Rappahannock watershed that could also provide an anchor for the rural economy. Farm Bill programs through ALE (Agricultural Land Easements) provide grants—up to 50 percent of the land’s fair market value—to farms for placing their land in easements, with tax benefits on the remaining land value.

The Need for Vigilance

The inclination of town and county residents alike is to resist sprawl, as reflected in the 2020 comprehensive plan. The Land Use section provides that ”…we the people of Rappahannock County declare it to be a ’scenic county‘ and all goals, principles, and policies will reflect and devolve from this fundamental recognition.” The  “Principles” section includes six that are directed toward land conservation. Two principles pertain to economic growth and development. However, they call for maintaining “growth areas” of urban infill for commerce and affordable housing. Economic growth is allowed only when it “assists in maintaining our existing balance and is compatible” with the natural and rural nature of the county.

Principle 10 promotes the philosophy that “land is a finite resource and not a commodity” and needs protection. Principle 9 encourages “citizen involvement in the planning process,” citizen education regarding the value of the natural and rural environment, and provision of an avenue for citizen participation in the oversight of development proposals.

The Rappahannock Comprehensive Plan’s “Goals” section is likewise explicit regarding land conservation. Seven goals require protection and preservation of the natural attributes of the county. Only one goal entertains prospects for further economic growth. It includes the directive to “Define the future boundaries of growth in village and commercial areas necessary to preserve our community character and to maintain the balance that exists today.”

Since growth is constrained by restrictions and within discrete physical boundaries, what level of growth is likely, especially given the demographic and affordability challenges of the county? The Board of Supervisors recognizes that as the county ages, gentrification prevents younger and poorer community members from living and participating in the county. Yet younger residents are usually needed to work in agriculture.

Graph with an upward-sloping line showing increases in the number of conservation easements in Rappahannock County

The remarkable success of protection by conservation easement within the County. (Piedmont Environmental Council)

The comprehensive plan anticipates population growth of 0–1 percent per year. This is not a goal, but a response to a variety of causes. The plan indicates that infrastructure such as schools are adequate to accommodate an increase of 750–1,500 county residents. This means a total projected population of 8,800 people, similar to the County’s population in the year 1900.

Rappahannock’s comprehensive plan embodies a limits-to-growth ethic that is consistent with the county’s legacy of resisting development pressures. The use of conservation easements and support for an agrarian base with ecological integrity is also consistent with a steady state economy. However, conservation easements are vulnerable to violation, the doctrine of changed conditions, and other legal challenges in a nation pursuing economic growth. Vigilance will be required to maintain the terms of easements. Ideally, these easements would be bulwarked by a sturdy framework of conservation lands owned by the county or a fee-title land trust.

Continued advancement toward a steady state economy could also be encouraged by replacing references to quantitative “growth” in the comprehensive plan with principles of qualitative improvement. And because the county’s population growth has long fluctuated within a small range and at a low level, the county could explicitly aim to maintain this dynamic equilibrium for the purpose of protecting its biocapacity. With these moderate changes, the plan could serve as a model for keeping a county great by maintaining a steady state.

 

Dave Rollo is a Policy Specialist and team leader of the Keep Our Counties Great campaign at CASSE.

The post <em>Keeping</em> the County Great: Rappahannock’s Steady State appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

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