Too many important decisions are dominated by the opportunistic pursuit of “easy money” at the expense of longer-term economic benefits, not to mention human health and quality of life.
At the heart of this problem is an over-simplistic, readily contradicted assumption that, whatever the circumstances, profitable job-creating schemes must be indiscriminately seized, making all other factors secondary. The critical consequences of these practices are ignored at ever-growing cost to our nation.
Hidden within this approach is the carefully cultivated fantasy that markets are “free” and self-regulating. Contrary to that sacrosanct tenet, it’s clear that the costs of goods and services have long been at the mercy of public policies that decide what activities are favored in policy – such as oil-industry tax credits, or allowing pollution and other destructive impacts to become public costs.
When waterways are contaminated by mining activities, if the cost of protecting related water-quality isn’t included in the price of mined materials, the “market’ is inherently distorted by the arbitrary exclusion of those impacts. Thus, the market price of related products are discounted by the value of deliberately exempted impacts, and a significant portion of mining costs are unfairly shifted onto unwary taxpayers.
Similarly, creating jobs as if all employment has comparable benefits and costs often produces unfair burdens on society. Aside from possible variations in wages and employee benefits, consider the environmental consequences of a job in the solar-power industry compared with working at a fracking operation.
Given the scientifically verified consequences of fracking and the combustion of fossil-fuels, important distinctions between these alternatives are self-evident. Comparisons based on health risks and accident rates of these industries would lead to similar conclusions. Yet U.S. policies favor all jobs equally.
More recently, tariffs have been reintroduced into the arsenal of market-manipulating policy devices. Tariffs are openly intended to “correct” alleged impacts of global markets on U.S. interests. However, tariffs are now imposing self-abusive market distortions that unintentionally handicap certain domestic industries in attempting to help others. They also create incentives for penalized trading partners to seek alliances with other nations – likely to weaken long-term American economic prospects.
Responsible economic goals must be tempered by insightful understanding of market dysfunctions and unwanted outcomes caused by public policy. Tampering with economic policies when motivated by simplistic methods of trade retaliation and indiscriminate pursuit of profits will worsen economic stability while also degrading environmental quality and public health.
Compounding these mishandled and misunderstood policies are dire warnings in recent reports on climate change. Unless U.S. policies are guided by the urgent priority of reducing greenhouse gases, irresponsible economic and trade practices will sabotage vital environmental functions that are essential to our quality of life, indeed our survival.
David Kyler, director
Center for a Sustainable Coast