Archive for the ‘Ecology’ Category
As of March 5, 2008, Ralph Nader’s campaign has now placed a preliminary platform online. You can find it here: http://www.votenader.org/issues/
Let’s review the items one by one.
1. Adopt single payer national health insurance
As I understand it, this would work by having, in essence, a single, national, government-run health insurance agency. There are two rationales for this: (a) to achieve universal health coverage (at present, 40 millions Americans have no health insurance); and (b) to reduce overhead costs associated with the ‘private insurance bureaucracy’, which, it is claimed, consumes about 31% of every health care dollar.
Clearly we need to address issue (a). However about (b) we should be cautious. First, competition generally brings costs down. I don’t understand the argument that a single government-run health insurance agency would somehow have lower administrative costs than those of privately-owned companies. The former would be performing the same tasks, only with no competition and so with less incentive to find ways to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve service quality.
And where would you go if you had a complaint? Think about it: would you want the IRS to be in charge of your health care reimbursement?
I worked in a private health insurance company once, and it seemed to me they were always finding ways to improve service, process, and efficiency. They recognized and took seriously a responsibility to promote patient health and welfare. With improvements in computer and communications systems, private health insurance service is getting continually better.
2. Cut the huge, bloated, wasteful military budget
Definitely. This is a good platform policy.
3. No to nuclear power, solar energy first
Probably good. I’d rather we say instead “other energy sources, especially solar energy”.
4. Aggressive crackdown on corporate crime and corporate welfare
Nader coined the term, ‘corporate welfare’, in 1966. For him it means the government’s bestowal of grants, tax breaks, or other special benefits on corporations. This platform plank is related to the need for lobby reform, which is definitely a good idea. The phrase ‘aggressive crackdown’ hints at a basic animosity Nader holds towards corporations.
Further, corporate crime and ‘corporate welfare’ are separate issues. The former is a legal-criminal matter; here we need to enforce existing laws. However, what Nader calls ‘corporate welfare’ is a social policy issue.
Nader, of course, has a long history as an anti-corporate crusader, and tends to overstate things in this area. Economist Eric Blair, in his blog, put it well:
When I hear Nader speak of government’s ‘corporate paymasters’, I get flush with embarrassment, because it’s the sort of gross oversimplification that makes people think liberals are all dumb. It is based on a false us-versus-them dichotomy. All of us, capitalists and laborers alike, want to have a healthy economy where we all have some kind of income and lots of the stuff we want to consume with that income readily available. Gosh, that’s going to involve corporations, especially if we want things to be efficiently done.
See Eric’s article Critique of Ralph Nader’s 2004 Platform for details. Eric’s comments above are in line with my thoughts about Redeeming Corporations and Renewing America. Use corporations for good; don’t scrap them or see them as innately bad things.
For background on Nader’s position, see this article:
5. Open up the Presidential debates
To bring more third-party and independent ideas into public view during elections. Definitely.
6. Adopt a carbon pollution tax
To reduce greenhouse emissions. We do need to reduce greenhouse emissions, but it’s not clear that a tax like this is a way to do it. Arguably, a ‘disincentive tax’ like this should be linked to offsetting societal costs associated with the thing taxed. For example, cigarette tax revenue should be directed to treating smoking-related illness, preventing smoking, etc. It’s hard to see how that principle would apply here — but maybe we could spend it developing alternative energy sources.
Other various criticisms of a carbon tax can be found here:
7. Reverse U.S. policy in the Middle East
If that means to switch from making enemies and war to making friends and peace, yes.
8. Impeach Bush/Cheney
This one sticks out like a sore thumb. Why impeach Bush/Cheney? Because of the war? Then why not impeach the US Congress while we’re at it? Or how about the majority of voters who implicitly endorsed the Bush administration in the 2004 elections? Come on, this is back to hate politics. Let’s raise the level of public discourse, and focus on issues, not personalities.
9. Repeal the Taft-Hartley anti-union law
Huh? Again, Nader’s atavistic 60’s liberalism shows. Does he really thinks labor unions are going to save America? Personally, I tend to see labor unions as an example of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” That is, labor unions are quasi-governments which (1) are run by selfish, greedy leaders; (2) exploit and coerce workers; and (3) are in the long run much less transparent and democratic than the regular government is.
10. Adopt a Wall Street securities speculation tax
At first I rejected this as being too unrealistic. Then I realized that what matters here is not Nader’s hypothetical solution, but that he’s raising the issue at all. The issue is that people, companies, and sometimes machines(!) presently engage in millions of short-term stock trades, solely for speculation. A company buys millions of dollars worth of stock and then sells it an hour later with a big profit. Sometimes this is based is on insider information; other times it involves deliberate manipulation by huge financial corporations to influence stock prices.
Further, knowledgeable traders can make huge profits even when stock prices decrease! All this creates an incentive for vastly powerful financial institutions to produce a fluctuating stock market.
This has created a bizarre, nightmarish economic machine which controls our economy, our society, and our lives, and enslaves us. It’s a huge, huge issue. I’m just not sure that a tax is a way to do handle the problem. We have enough taxes already. I believe we should simplify the tax code (e.g., a flat tax), not make it more complex.
It might be an utterly naive suggestion, but maybe it would be better to simply ban short-term stock speculation altogether, rather than to specially tax it.
11. Put an end to ballot access obstructionism
Make it easier for third-party and independent candidates to get on election ballots. Yes.
12. Work to end corporate personhood
Should corporations have the same rights as individuals? I guess it depends on what rights we’re talking about. A complex question. For background, see:
Nader/Gonzalez are doing what third-party candidates should: to diversify the issues being considered in the election. Follow their election, listen to their speeches, research their ideas. Nader has 40 years’ worth of articles you can find online explaining his views.
Nader deserves credit for working to raise the public awareness and for better focusing on important issues than the Democrat-Republican candidates.
Ran across this article at the World Resource Institute website:
From the article:
Urbanization – A Glimpse of the Future
“Cities continue to be seen as offering economic opportunity superior to what can be realized in the countryside. Urban migration takes place on such a scale that we now have a new category of cities ‘megacities’, with populations over 10 million. By 2015 there will be 23 of these megacities; most will be found in the developing world. They will include Beijing, China; Cairo, Egypt; Mumbia, India; Lagos, Nigeria; Mexico City, Mexico; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 12 years, nearly 3 out every 4 city dwellers will live in a megacity. By 2030, conditions in megacities will define the quality of life for nearly 5 billion of the earth’s inhabitants, most of whom will be under 18 years of age.”
My main criticism is that the view here is somewhat limited by prevailing paradigms of thought. The solution isn’t necessarily to build more trains and bus lines, as was done in the previous century. We need an entirely new post-modern approach, with things like:
- Pedestrian-friendly cities. We need to get people out walking (or biking); getting exercise and, hopefully, fresh air.
- Better designed cities, where people need to travel less to get to work, shopping, and healthcare
- Things like courier services. Let a delivery cart bring the groceries to your house.
- Telecommuting and distance-learning
Nothing in the report explicitly contradicts these ideas, but neither are they emphasized. The conclusion:
“To meet these challenges, sustainable mobility will need a model representing a social and political approach to sustainable development in cities, one that invites and embraces public-private partnerships to create and finance sustainable transport solutions.”
also concerns me for two reasons. First, as always, the “public-private partnership” model leaves out the spiritual dimension. Second, there is too much emphasis on institutions, whether private or public. It’s like saying, “to save people for the harms produced by institutions, let’s promote new institutions.” The hidden premise is that we need to do more to solve the problem. Maybe we need to do less — or at least to consider obvious simple solutions before resorting to grand schemes of mass transportation, etc.
Here’s an example of what I mean by doing less, or perhaps we could call it doing by not doing. Last summer, Brussels had a “car free Sunday.” For one day, all unnecessary transportation by cars and trucks was discouraged. People took to the streets, families on bicycles, enjoying the sunny day. It utterly changed the tone and complexion of the city, from a stressful urban center to a charming European capital. Just do this every Sunday and see what happens. No new “public-private” partnerships. No new bonds. No new taxes. Just gradually ban internal-combustion vehicles from the city centers. This will produce immediate benefits, and also change peoples’ values. Values: that’s the key. We need to change people’s values and attitudes. That is both a relatively inexpensive solution, and a better one than building more mass transportation systems.
Finally, the article seems to take as inevitable that urbanization will continue. We should examine this assumption carefully consider whether post-modern de-urbanization is attainable and better. There’s an old saying that bears repeating: God made the country, man made the town, and the devil made the city.
Do we want urbanization to continue or not? We can stop it if we choose. As the report’s opening paragraph makes clear, this is something of historical importance. In the past human civilization evolved blindly, subject to economic forces, and innumerable problems resulted. But now we know enough to shape our own destiny.
My views are themselves doubtless shaped by my own North American and European experience. The situation in developing countries is potentially different. But if the developing countries de-urbanize, this will set an example and establish paradigms that developing nations will emulate.
Epilogue: After posting this , I found an informative article about sustainable cities and ecocities in the Wikipedia.
John S. Uebersax