A wise society would choose some short-term pain in exchange for much less future pain.
A wise society would understand that the foundation of the cliff it is climbing is crumbling and that it should start climbing down to reduce future harm.
A wise society would move slowly and deliberately as it climbed down to avoid falling.
A wise society would use some of the following techniques to climb down:
- Educate citizens on what is going on and why.
- The goal is to minimize responses like panic or blame that can cause a breakdown of law and order or war; and to increase social cohesion and cooperation.
- Implement population reduction policies.
- The goal is to achieve a humane population reduction before nature forces an inhumane population reduction. Given the severity of human overshoot we may not be able to out-race nature however, as Albert Bartlett said, every problem on earth improves with fewer people, so we should do what we can.
- Hold referendums to allow citizens to set priorities for reduced government spending.
- The goal is to engage and empower citizens in difficult decisions that will have to be made. We need to move away from traditional and divisive left vs. right politics into pragmatic resource husbandry.
- Reduce government spending until expenditures are a little less than tax revenues.
- The goal is to configure a government that can function effectively through a prolonged economic contraction punctuated with occasional shocks, and that offers services its citizens can afford.
- Model the availability of key resources taking into account the increasing cost of production caused by depletion, and declining demand (what people can afford) caused by falling incomes, declining debt, and decreasing government spending.
- The goal is to understand the shape of our Seneca curve which is needed for the next point.
- Implement policies to proactively reduce the consumption of key resources a little faster than the models predict will occur in a free market.
- The aim is to maintain social order by controlling the decline rather than being controlled by the decline.
- Prepare fair rationing policies and mechanisms.
- The goal is to be prepared for possible supply disruptions.
- Increase the interest rate enough to cause a steady decline in debt.
- The aim is to climb down to a lower and safer elevation.
- Hold a referendum to decide a maximum reasonable wealth gap between the average and the rich. Tax excess wealth from the rich to pay down public debt. There are 3 justifications for this policy:
- In a shrinking economy the wealth gap between rich and poor will naturally tend to widen through no fault of the poor or skill of the rich. This is already occurring and will accelerate as the economy contracts.
- A too wide wealth gap is unhealthy and dangerous for a society. Think French revolution.
- Paying down public debt with excess wealth benefits everyone, rich and poor, because it helps to stabilize the money system in a shrinking economy.
- Note that the excess wealth should not be redistributed to the poor because this will accelerate our problems by increasing inflation, resource depletion, and CO2 emissions.
- Implement an aggressive luxury consumption tax.
- In our new world, conservation is good and gluttony is bad.
- Place a tariff on imported food and use the funds to support small-scale local food production.
- The goal is to build resiliency to global food supply shocks that might result from a financial or energy crisis, or climate change damage to crop productivity.
- Prohibit the development of farm land or the sale of land to non-residents.
- This policy recognizes that in the long run the most valuable asset a country will have is its arable land.
- Encourage soil restoration.
- As fossil energy derived fertilizers become scarce we will once again have to rely on organic practices for soil fertility. We have depleted most soils. It will take time to rebuild them. We should start as soon as possible.
- Plant trees.
- Planting trees is one of the few things we can do to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. In addition, wood will be a very valuable future resource.
- Protect and restore watersheds.
- Water is the only thing more important to life than food.
- Encourage schools to teach skills required in a less complex society.
- Much of what is taught today will not be useful at our destination.
I realize that denial and other human behaviors make it highly unlikely we will do any of the above.
I also realize that some of the ideas require more thought to ensure a good balance between increased short-term pain vs. decreased long-term pain.
I wrote this to demonstrate that we are not without means to influence the future in a positive direction.
20 thoughts on “What would a wise society do?”
thats a pretty dang good list!
I agree wholeheartedly with my brother, Nate…this is a kick-ass list, Rob!
I’ll be promoting it for a long time to come.
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Hear, hear! Excellent!
It’s a clear plan, far mone rational than the wishful thinking that passes for climate policy everywhere. Sadly before step one, don’t we also have to change the world’s basic power structures, and those gospel stories of perpetual progress and growing opportunity for all deserving people that are told to get most people to support them voluntarily? Let’s imagine we manage that, decide collectively to be rational and disciplined good global citizens, and so then get to steps 6 to 16. I’d like to raise a second question about where, and in whom, to invest our dwindling resources while climatic conditions deteriorate. Should we not invest a fair share into already extant communities that are the most sustainable and the most resiliant to deprivation and ongoing crisies? Those less (over) developed areas with, by necessity, the best skills and experience to survive the worst situations with the least means? Anyway, nice to read a little reason in this mad world! Thank you!
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One of the reasons I write about genetic denial of reality is that citizens today have the democratic power to change the system but don’t use their power, because they don’t understand what’s going on, and because they tend to deny anything unpleasant. There have been, and are, alternate choices on the ballet, but we don’t vote for them. I’m not saying these choices are perfect but they are better than the status quo. There is nothing to blame other than the genes we were born with. I had hoped that awareness of what our genes are up to might increase free will but that hope seems to have no basis in reality.
I haven’t thought about the other question you raise and don’t yet have an opinion.
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Let’s not give up ‘hope’ yet, have courage while we grieve. I enjoyed the unintentional pun of ‘alternate choices on the ballet’ sb ballot. but the sense of there’s more than one way to tango does fit your analysis. Great contribution Rob, I’ll thinking of dozens of people, like local philanthropists and citizen leaders, to send it to.
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What a powerful list! And a practical list at that. Rob, I’m still reading but as you can see I must pause to pass on my thoughts.
This list, and your entire site here, are among the best a person could read through online. Superb culmination of the road the human psyche has taken, its capabilities, its wishes, optional solutions to the real problems we face, no beating around the bush, naming names and calling spades spades. If only you would be POTUS.
Thanks. Our core problem is that anyone running for election on this platform will receive zero votes. Our genes are in control and they obey the Maximum Power Principle (MPP) and our unique intelligence is powerless to override because it exists only because we evolved to deny unpleasant realities.
I disagree with a surprising amount!
and 3., I like the ideas, but I’m increasingly concerned that collective democratic/majority governance is a poor way to get to good answers. I’d like to see an evidence basis for what sorts of education and empowerment actual lead to better results.
Public sector debts are essentially insignificant for a floating, currency-issuing sovereign state like the US, Australia, UK. I think pop-MMT is pretty bullshit but the actual economists behind it make very strong cases against this public-debt concern. Focus needs to be on the real economy, $ are just lubricant, and public debt is just spreadsheet figures. Also applies to 9. The real economy is the constraint in dealing with crises, not money; public sector fiscal constraints are political/cultural, and in a suitable extreme crisis can be ignored.
autoformat errors? Those were re 1 and 3, then 4.
Economists do not understand thermodynamics and the relationship between wealth and energy which means they do not understand the economy. Their profession is an embarrassment that should be banned from universities for not following the scientific method.
Steve Keen is a rare economist who understands energy, thermodynamics, limits to growth, and MMT.
Thanks for the interesting link. I’m a big fan of Keen.
In this paper Keen explains why we will not be able to maintain current GDP without fossil energy and by implication must therefore plan to contract the economy. Unfortunately he does not explain how this can be done in a civilization preserving manner given our high debt levels which must default in a contraction. Even Keen seems to avoid a full on discussion of reality.
Here is another talk by Keen that I liked:
What a great parody of yourself you did here.
I thought the name of the site is UN-denial. Should you change it to simply “denial”?
This is yet another utopian list created by an intellectual ensconced in the core of the empire and profiting from it. Its purpose is to make people feel better and continue doing what they are doing.
For all those that reply enthusiastically about it – how old are you? There have been proposals like this since 1960s (probably well before). But that dang human nature (that all idealists ignore) gets in the way. So naturally the reaction from the pet intellectuals is to force people “for their own good”.
So you better pray that nobody this idealistic will get in power in your country, otherwise the next step is concentration camps and genocide.
Thank you for reminding us why we are screwed. Even people that understand overshoot don’t want to do what needs to be done. Enjoy the party while it lasts.