Sunday, October 28, 2012

Presidential Debate Fantasy

The debates between the two major candidates for President of the USA have been, in my judgment, rather superficial. The candidates have dwelt on who said what and whose fault is which, rather than digging into the fundamental moral and economic issues.

Here is a presidential debate fantasy on how the candidates could engage in a more basic way. Included are Green and Libertarian Party fantasy candidates, with the tax position of the Libertarians based on that of the 2012 candidate rather than the platform, since the candidate is not following is party’s free-trade platform. Also included is a fantasy candidate of the Free Earth Party.

Democrat: Rich people often pay a lower income tax rate than middle income folks. The tax cuts of a decade ago favored rich people whose income comes from dividends and capital gains. To reduce the deficit and pay for medical care as well as investments in new technologies such as solar energy, we need to raise the tax rates on the rich. It won’t hurt them or the economy to pay a bit more.

Republican: High tax rates on the additional income of corporations and small business reduces investment, employment, and growth. We should eliminate many of the deductions, credits, and exemptions on higher incomes while reducing the tax rates. Economists agree that lower tax rates on a large tax base would have the supply-side effect of more investment and employment. The Democrat demand-side policy of more spending and bigger deficits has not worked.

Green: The poor should not pay any income tax. There should be high taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations. There should also be a transaction tax on trades of stocks, bonds and other financial assets, because this would reduce speculation and trading that does nothing for the economy. The rich can also be taxed more by eliminating the cap on Social Security taxes. Also impose a wealth tax on the very rich. Greens also advocate taxing pollution and land values. We also want to tax unhealthy foods.

Free Earth: It’s great that Greens favor taxes on pollution and land value. The Free Earth Party says that these should be the limit of taxation. Government should not tax the rich just because they are wealthy. What matters is the source of their wealth. Land value taxation would prevent fortunes from natural resources and community-created land value, while untaxing all labor and capital would promote maximum employment and economic growth. We get the most economic justice from sharing nature while honoring individual self-ownership.

Libertarian: All taxes on income should be abolished. Instead, there should be a national sales tax. That way, savings would not be penalized. It is OK to penalize borrowing for consumption, because that reduces excessive debt. Also, we allodial libertarians, in contrast to the minority geo-libertarians, believe that any tax on land violates private property rights. We are also not keen on taxing pollution, because we don’t think it does much harm. A sales tax is the least worst tax, because it does not tax savings, and does not violate the sacred right to own land, which is a higher right than the right to freely engage in trade. Much of sales tax revenue comes from rent or is at the expense of rent anyway, so it does tap some of the land rent, and the fact that a high national plus state sales taxes would have a lot of tax evasion does not bother us, since we don’t like paying any kind of tax.

Democrat: I will ignore the views of the Libertarians, Greens, and Free Earthers, because they are minorities who don’t matter. We Democrats support allowing the decade-ago tax cuts for the wealthiest, for those making over $250,000 per year, to expire. We want a minimum tax on the rich so that no millionaire pays a smaller share of income in taxes than do middle class families. This won’t hurt growth, because millionaires will hardly miss the money.

Free Earth: The conventional policies of both the Democrats and Republicans created the Crash of 2008, the high unemployment, and slow recovery. Only a radical tax shift, replacing taxes on wages and enterprise to taxing pollution and land value, will eliminate the subsidies that promote pollution and economic trouble. The fair tax share of the rich is the land rent they receive from government’s public goods; tax that, and not their enterprise and investment. Our economic woes come from ignoring sound economics, even if they are minority viewpoints.

Republican: The reason the minority parties are minorities is because people reject their kooky policies. Taxing land value would confiscate the value of real estate. We don’t need fancy new taxes. Just flatten and broaden the income tax.

Libertarian: But the reason the income tax has become complicated and convoluted is that special interests can lobby for tax favors. That’s why we need to replace the income tax with a flat national sales tax.

Free Earth: Libertarians need to read Professor Mason Gaffney’s writing on sales tax suicides. We favor property rights, but not subsidies. The rent generated by communities and public works is not a proper individual property right. To the creator belongs the creation, and the creations of communities belong to communities, not to conquerors and subsidy seekers.

That ends my presidential debate fantasy.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sardines: A Sordid Story

Sardines are delicious and healthy to eat, but much of the consumption of these fish is for feeding to animals, and this is destroying the wildlife of the seas. We are possibly witnessing the fulfilling of the prophetic verse in Revelation 8:9, “one third of the living creatures which were in the sea died” (World English Bible).
Already several fish ecologies, such as the fish by the coast of Namibia, have collapsed. Sardines and anchovies are in some places the main prey of the predators up the food chain, including birds, seals, dolphins, and whales.

Much of the sardine catch is ground up and fed to farmed fish and factory-farmed chickens and pigs. World-wide, 14 million tons of wild fish, such as sardines and anchovies, are fed to mass-produced food animals. About 75 percent of the fishmeal and oil fed to carnivorous farmed fish come from the harvest of small, open-ocean fish such as anchovies, herring, and sardines. When you eat a farmed salmon, you indirectly eat sardines and the other fish feed.

Marine scientists in organizations such as Oceana are advocating reductions in commercial fishing for sardines and other food fish. The Institute for Ocean Conservation Science convened the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force of thirteen preeminent fisheries scientists to develop recommendations on forage fish management. Its report recommends cutting “global fishing for crucial prey species” by half. It stated that “globally, forage fish are twice as valuable in the water as in a net.” The report, published in 2012, is called “Little Fish, Big Impact: Managing a Crucial Link in Ocean Food Webs.”

The global fishing industry is now engaged in a vicious circle of the destruction of the ocean food base. After the large fish such as tuna are depleted, fishing then goes after the smaller fish, and then the depletion of the fish at the bottom of the food chain further reduces the animals higher up the chain, which then induces a greater catch of the smaller fish. The “little fish” now amount to 37 percent, by weight, of the global fish harvest, up from 8 percent 50 years ago.

An economic analysis of using fishmeal as livestock feed includes an ethical application, since the concept of the pure market economy necessarily involves ethics. The pure market consists of voluntary human action, and the concept of voluntary action requires a universal ethic to designate acts a good, evil, and neutral. Voluntary action includes acts that are neutral and good, while involuntary acts, those that coercively harm others, are morally bad or evil, and outside the market as violations of natural moral rights.

Such ethical analysis includes the origin of property rights. Our equal self-ownership endows human beings with property rights to their own personhood as well as what they produce. But self-ownership does not extend to natural resources such as wildlife. The premise of human equality, from which natural moral law is derived, implies an equal global benefit from the surplus of natural resources such as the fish in the ocean, and equality applies also to future generations. Hence, natural moral law requires a sustainable harvest from the seas. One cannot logically blame a non-existing “free market” for the depletion of the world’s fish. The fishers do not have a morally justified property right to the ocean’s wildlife.

The efficient and equitable way to harvest the global fish stock is to set a quantity limit to the catch of each animal type and location, and then let fishers bid in auctions for portions of the catch. The funds from the auctions would be economic rent that should be devoted to research, monitoring, and enforcement of the catch quotas. Market demand would then allocate the fish to the most wanted uses. The limitation of the fish catch, such as half the current amount, would raise the price of sardines and other such fish, and would most probably greatly reduce the use of sardines for fishmeal for livestock. The industry would find substitutes, or reduce the amount of livestock as the feed price rises.

A sustainable harvest of oceanic fish requires an international agreement. Such treaties have been difficult to establish and enforce. Those governments which are more responsible and seek such agreement could implement the treaty, and then impose penalties on the countries that refuse to cooperate.

At any rate, there should be more popular awareness of the fish depletion problem, before Revelation 8:9 becomes reality.