The Law of Unintended Consequences

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Andy Moore

Attracting the Green Vote

Sustainability is about preserving the Earth for future generations by living in balance with the natural capital provided to us for free by nature. Ecological economists are working hard to design direct policies – like resource taxes and cap and trade systems to address this issue. The trouble is they don’t work. You only need to look at the current shambles of the ETS to know that the paper it was written on would have been more effective at reducing pollution if left as a tree.

Henry George on the other hand didn’t conceive his economic theories in response to environmental concerns. However, it should come as no surprise that encouraging the efficient use of land promotes ecologically sound principles. It is highly likely that taxation of site values will indirectly conserve resources much more effectively than policies designed with that direct intention. I agree with Clifford Cobb who says “the best way to solve problems is by indirect means”.

But Georgist economics alone will not save our natural capital from depletion – Henry himself had no reason to see this as a problem in 19th century America, believing instead that the Earth could sustain a population of 100 billion. Therefore the issue of resource depletion must be considered. If Georgists can learn about limits from ecological economists and environmentalists can learn about achieving goals through indirect means – our policies could be implemented quietly, efficiently and very effectively by harnessing the power of the modern green vote.

History is littered with disastrous effects from the law of unintended consequences, but positive results can be achieved by exploiting the same force. Social and economic equity are indisputably the direct results of Georgism. The positive environmental effects are second and third tier consequences; further proof of the power in its application.

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