To begin, let’s distinguish between economic activity for expansion, economic activity for maintenance and economic activity for sustainability. Expansion is how the standard of living in a country is increased. In short, when economic activity exceeds what is required to maintain a baseline level for a population of a given size, the result is greater affluence per capita in the population. Think of affluence as that portion of income that can be devoted to discretionary spending beyond meeting truly basic needs. On the other hand, maintenance merely keeps up with population growth, or lack thereof, and maintains the status quo. Depending on where you live this could be well beyond or below basic needs. Sustainable economic growth would be economic activity that for a given population size and life style could be continued indefinitely. An economic model that could continue indefinitely would require a lifestyle that rests upon a sustainable draw on resources and waste generation that can be absorbed and processed by the planet.
Presently, a minority of the world population enjoys an affluent lifestyle that was generated by the expansion model and depends upon an unsustainable draw on resources and waste generation. Many such developed economies are having difficulty, for various reasons, with expansion and may be reluctantly trying to hold to a maintenance model by default. There are a number of impediments to economic activity based on expansion. These impediments open up an opportunity to consider the possibility of developing an alternative model, which should focus on sustainable economic activity. It may be possible for sustainable activity to also maintain some level of affluence, given a small enough population, or significant improvements in technology and its application.
Several factors currently depress expansion of economic activity, especially in the developed economies, which are responsible for a major portion of the world economy. In no particular order of importance, the first of these is debt. Almost all of the developed world’s economies are heavily in debt, both public and private. Heavy debt is also widespread in the developing world. In January, 2017, Reuters News reported that total global debt had reached 325% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and rose by 11 trillion dollars in the first nine months of 2016 alone. The report also indicated that approximately half was public (government) and half private debt. Few embrace the implications of this situation, but it seems obvious to me that a sound economy cannot be built upon a foundation of burgeoning growth in public and private debt. Generally, debt is most defensible when it is put to productive purposes. The underlying premise of capitalism is that capital is accumulated through saving surpluses and then lent to productive enterprises that will yield sufficient return to, at minimum, repay the debt plus a reasonable return on the loan. The developed economies have drifted so far from this view of debt that to call them capitalist economies is laughable.
The second factor is birth rates (see Figure below). Again, virtually all developed countries are at or below the replacement rate for their population, which is on average 2.1 children per adult female of reproductive age. This has two obvious consequences. The first consequence is that the size of the population in developing countries is either no longer expanding, is static or is declining. For example, according to data reported in Wikipedia, as of 2005, the fertility rate in Europe was down to 1.41, in North America down to 1.99, in Japan down to 1.5 and in China down to 1.6. When population is expanding in developed countries, it is almost always due to immigration. The mere shifting people around doesn’t, in itself, affect total world population to any significant degree. It does, however, increase the demand for resources as immigrants move to developed countries with the expectation of being able to improve their lifestyle, a goal that they often achieve. This could have an effect on total population because there is a close relationship between improvement in lifestyle and lower birth rates. Lifestyle, of course, includes more income but also includes other factors such as better health care and greater personal sovereignty, especially for women. The decline in fertility rates is a global phenomenon illustrated by a worldwide fertility rate of 5.02 in 1950 and a rate of of 2.65 in 2005. It is estimated that the worldwide rate will be down to 2.05 by 2050. This rate is slightly below the projected replacement rate of 2.1. Even so, large portions of Africa and the Middle East are projected to remain above their replacement rates.
The second consequence of the decline in birth rates is to increase the proportion of older people in the population. An examination of spending by age cohort indicates that spending begins to pick up for people in their 30s as a result of career progression and family formation. Peak spending occurs in people in their 40s and 50s. People moving into their 60s and beyond, as a group, make fewer purchases in the consumer economy than do younger people. Thus, as a population ages and becomes progressively older, on average, there is a reduction in demand for consumer goods. As the demand for consumer goods falls, this further suppresses the potential for expansion of the economy.
A third factor is the proportion of the working-age population that is employed. It is obviously difficult to be a consumer of any consequence if one has little if any discretionary income or perhaps no income at all. Governments are prone to manipulate economic statistics such as unemployment rates so this problem is a bit difficult to appraise. However, an independent estimate from Shadowstats for the U.S. put the true unemployment rate at approximately 23% in 2016. At the same time, U.S. government statistics suggest that unemployment in 2016 was 4.7%. This discrepancy is due in part to Shadowstats including discouraged and displaced workers in its estimate while the government only counts individuals actively seeking employment within the past four weeks. If you’re unemployed and haven’t sought employment in the past four weeks, you aren’t counted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as unemployed. Whatever the true figure, it is clear that declines in economic activity will further increase unemployment.
To add fuel to this already bleak outlook, a recent estimate put the loss of jobs to automation, worldwide, at over one million per year, with acceleration likely going forward. This will have its biggest impact on older workers who are less able to retool for alternative employment. This is due to time constraints relative to remaining working life, existing financial demands and lack of resources to pursue such training. Many of those unemployed now and not counted because they have given up seeking employment probably belong in this group. Even for those older workers fortunate enough to retrain for alternate employment, they will be facing new careers at the entry level that seldom provides the income and benefits lost. This is not a solid basis for expanding economic activity.
A fourth consideration is resource limits. The World Population History site defines ecological footprint as the rate of consumption of natural resources and the generation of waste, together with the planet’s ability to replenish those resources and absorb the waste. Carrying capacity is an estimate of how large a population can be supported by the available resources and their replenishment, along with the capacity to reabsorb waste. The Population Institute estimates that the human species’ ecological footprint is currently between 140% and 150% of carrying capacity. Further, they estimate that before the population expansion stops and begins to decline, the total population will be between 9.5 and 11 billion people (see Figure below) and will be at approximately 300% of carrying capacity. In short, to maintain the status quo now requires the resources and capacities of 1.5 planets and will soon require the resources and capacities of 3 planets. Obviously, this is not sustainable. Perhaps the load can be reduced by greater efficiency and new technologies, but if not we may be in a race. A race to see which line we cross first — an ecological or a population implosion. If the latter comes first then the former might be avoidable. If the former comes first the latter may be far greater than expected from a decline in fertility rates.
Fred Pearce, in his book The Coming Population Crash, offers a couple of interesting statistics. First, the figures he presents indicate that the ecological footprint of the average U.S. citizen is just shy of ten times that of the average Indian or African. He further compared the world’s wealthiest one billion people with the remaining people and found that the ecological footprint of the wealthiest is 32 times that of the remaining population. If you, as an individual, have an income of at least $12,500 (just above the U.S poverty criterion for an individual), you can count yourself among the top one billion. He offers the following illustration.
“A woman in rural Ethiopia can have ten children and her family will do less damage and consume fewer resources than the family of the average soccer mom in Minnesota, Manchester or Munich.”
In short, the suggestion was that a decrease in the number of affluent persons would do more to reduce the ecological footprint of the human species than to merely decrease the size of the overall population. Perhaps this will be accomplished independently of any policy initiatives or programs. A demographer recently pointed out that demographic trends, especially in the developed countries, foretell an impending world population implosion. He thinks this could begin as early as 2050 while others think 2100 is a more likely date for population declines to begin. Fortuitously, the leading edge of the predicted decline will be in the developed countries with the most affluent populations. Longer term, the trends will impact the overall world population. The critical question is whether or not this population decline and lessening of the demands on the environment will be large enough and occur soon enough to save the planet from ecological disaster.
Given all the factors potentially contracting economic activity, especially in the developed countries, one must consider whether the goal of expansive economic growth is truly a viable concept except perhaps temporarily for the most impoverished countries. Over the last decade there have been massive attempts by governments in developed countries to stimulate economic growth through lowering interest rates and by infusing money into their economies, which has been “borrowed” through various mechanism and thereby further increasing levels of government or public debt. The premise that lies behind these moves is that lower interest rates and more money available for lending will result in more borrowing and spending for consumption. The hypothesis is that this increase in spending using borrowed money will in turn stimulate economic activity. The simple fact is that private debt is already excessive. If this strategy yields any positive effect on discretionary spending, it is likely to be limited and of short duration. One technique that is invariably turned to under such circumstances is to lower credit standards to stimulate borrowing. This often has the desired effect short-term but makes likely further undermining of the economy through subsequent credit defaults.
It would appear that it is past time for the developed countries to wake up to the fact that expanding growth economies based on consumption simply can’t be sustained. Where resources should be focused is not on how to bring back expansive growth but rather on developing a new economic philosophy that is not consumption and growth-oriented. What is needed is an economic philosophy that is oriented toward a sustainable standard of living. Such a philosophy would, on average, result in a lower standard of living in developed countries and a higher standard of living in developing countries. This clearly will not come about under an economic model that emphasizes consumption and expansive growth. Whatever form such an economic philosophy might take, it will likely meet with massive resistance on many fronts. There are billions of people who aspire to an affluent life- style, many of whom will not be happy to hear that it is not possible. There are many hundreds of millions of people who enjoy affluent lifestyles who will not be happy to hear that it cannot be equitably justified nor environmentally sustained. In addition, there are huge vested interests in the business community, government and social institutions that will fight change to the bitter end.
At present, economic thinking holds that the goal should be to raise the standard of living in economically depressed countries to one approximating that in the developed countries. However, it seems highly unlikely that the resources exist to make this a viable goal. Even should it be accomplished, the demand on resources would, in all likelihood, result in an environmental collapse. Even if the environment proves more robust than believed, the current and anticipated future consumption of resources isn’t likely to be sustainable.
Presently, it is estimated that between 800 million and one billion people live lives in which hunger is a regular experience. In a recent article (March, 2017) in the New Scientist magazine, it was suggested that enough food is being produced now to meet the needs of those people short of sufficient food. All of the food necessary to feed the hungry is lost through waste, according to the author of the piece. However, the problem isn’t simply to stop wasting food, because there are coincidental factors such as infrastructure, distribution and payment for the food even if made available. It is estimated that to meet the growing needs moving into the middle to the end of the century will require an increase of 70% over current agricultural production levels.
One major problem area going forward is Africa. Africa presents a special problem for several reasons. The two most critical problems are robust population growth and failure of the green revolution, that has ended hunger in other parts of the world, to penetrate into Africa to any significant extent. However, it is time for green revolution 2.0. The first version of this revolution has relied upon intensive agriculture employing manufactured fertilizers, pesticides, new crop strains, massive amounts of water for irrigation and mechanization. All of the components comprising green revolution 1.0 pose problems that need to be addressed in version 2.0. According to the New Scientist piece mentioned above, one solution is to develop an intensive and precision-based approach to agriculture. This would include new types of food crops relying on things like algae and genetically modified crops that require less use of pesticides, fertilizers and water. Further, such crops should not require expansion of the amount of land under cultivation. Version 2.0 should also employ technology to provide precision amounts of pesticide, fertilizer and water only to the plants that need it and only in the amounts needed (see an example of precision agriculture). Finally, while 2.0 needs to be adopted throughout agriculture, it especially needs to be implemented in the areas where the need is greatest and by the people in need. To do this successfully will require overcoming political, cultural and attitudinal obstacles.
Another area that will surely become more problematic as we move deeper into this century, with growing population pressures, is farming animals for meat. This practice is a highly inefficient method of producing food. Animal farming uses more energy and water than growing crops like wheat or potatoes. Further, it puts significant amounts of the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere. The US DOE estimates that there is three times as much man-made methane as man made CO2 being released into the atmosphere. Sooner or later, efforts to reduce greenhouse gases will have to come to bear on methane and that means on animal farming. The worst offender is beef. Of popular meats probably the best environmental choice is poultry. If you want to make a personal contribution to reducing greenhouse gases, perhaps the best contribution you can make is to become a vegetarian, at least until cultured meat becomes viable.
We do not presently have a sustainable economic model, especially in the developed world. Keeping everything as it is now leads to projections of a doubling of the demands above equilibrium by the end of the century or earlier. We may somehow manage to meet the needs of a world population that is expected to expand, at least until mid-century, if not to the end of the century. However, it is unlikely that we will reduce resource consumption to a sustainable level, even if we manage to cut in half resource consumption through greater efficiency while demand doubles or even triples. Likewise, it seems unlikely that we will be able reduce pollution of the environment to a sustainable level given the needs and demands of an expanding population. Perhaps, abundant additional resources can be obtained and processed off-planet. That would reduce pollution and lessen the strain on this planet’s resources and still permit a high standard of living for everyone. A scientist and science fiction writer, Ben Bova, wrote a book, The High Road, outlining such a plan several decades ago, but it did not garner much interest. Critics think this approach is not truly viable at present and they may be correct. However, plans exist to begin exploiting asteroids for resources. If not viable, then there is always the hope of salvation by new planet-based technology.
Assuming that we manage to survive until world population goes into decline, the next big problem is to determine what would be the most realistic economic model that would permit sustainable economies. I am not an economist and won’t even hazard a guess as to what such a model might be (an alternative model). I’m just an observer commenting on things as I perceive them. However, I think the model would need to accomplish at least three things. First, it would need to adequately meet the material needs of everyone, which I would define in terms of providing a level of resources necessary for good health. Second, it would need to provide the opportunity for everyone to have a constructive role in society, which could include what has traditionally been viewed as work but would not be limited to such activities. Third, there would need to be enough opportunity for flexibility in lifestyle to provide for individual differences and freedom of choice without placing unsustainable demands on the environment. A model of this sort is probably not a realistic goal for a world population anywhere near its current size and expanding. Thus, the model would need to be implemented to coincide with the low point in the predicted population implosion. Some estimates put that low point at a worldwide population of approximately five billion, which would be about half the maximum of 10-11 billion projected for the end of the century. Some studies suggest that the upper limit on population, consistent with attaining sustainability, is about 7.5 billion. The goal would be to hold population, once down, to between 5 and 7 billion people. A population that stays within this range is probably the best hope for a sustainable economy and a healthy environment.
The second big problem is to get a large enough buy-in to such a model that it can be successfully implemented. On this point, I will hazard a guess that, when proposed, it is highly unlikely to be freely embraced by a majority, especially in the developed countries. In my view, for such a model to be freely embraced would require a significant shift in attitudes. For this to happen, I think there would have to be a change in the prevalent philosophy underlying the thinking of a significant percentage of the world population. The current philosophical underpinning of thinking for many people is materialism. While this has been a productive way of looking at the world for science and technology, it has a significant downside. Implicit in scientific materialism is the view that the universe and life within it came about accidentally and has no inherent meaning or purpose. At the level of the average individual, this leads to the bumper sticker philosophy of “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” In short, the average person, especially in developed countries, derives meaning and purpose from consumption and accumulation. As long as this is how many people find meaning and purpose in their life, there is no hope for acceptance of a model for a sustainable economy and healthy environment that ultimately depends more on cooperation rather than on competition.
If a sustainable model isn’t freely embraced, which doesn’t seem probable, then when circumstances reach a crisis level sufficient to make it clear to most people that there is no alternative, except the collapse of civilization and perhaps extinction, then an alternative model might be embraced. Such a crisis might be sufficient motivation, but species-suicide is not off the table. Leaving aside “crisis motivation” as the solution, what are the other options? I will answer this in terms of my own value system, which places a high value on individual sovereignty. One can use force, threat or intimidation, contrived incentives or persuasion to influence people’s behavior. Clearly, the first two options are coercive and inconsistent with the principle of individual sovereignty. Albeit more subtle, the third method is also coercive. The use of contrived incentives to influence a person’s choices is an effort to manipulate the person and therefore represents a soft form of coercion. The final method, persuasion, may be the only method that is consistent with individual sovereignty and is fully acceptable to me. However, this is an approach that takes long-term thinking and planning and cannot be implemented quickly.
The mostly likely approach that I think governments will take, if they act at all, will be coercion by “police” action broadly applied and possibly leading to what might become a military dictatorship. Such an approach, I think, would require coordinated action by most of the world’s governments. It seems to me this would be very difficult to bring to fruition. There would probably also be massive resistance, overt and covert, to a broadly coercive approach. Whatever your position is on “climate change,” it serves as an illustration of how an activity requiring restraint that has to be implemented worldwide can generate resistance on many fronts. Widespread resistance would probably undermine the imposition of a sustainable model. Further, the stronger that governments become, the more susceptible they are to intellectual, economic and political corruption. Even if a strong arm approach should be initially successful, I think it would be eventually doomed to failure.
Economist Steve Keen is optimistic about the final outcome, with a caveat, “Ultimately I believe we’ll work out a means to live sustainability on this planet and, in the very distant future, to live beyond it as well. But to do so, we have to understand our current situation properly. There is no chance to move towards a better future if we misunderstand the situation we are currently in.” See the Addendum at the end of the essay for a perspective on the current situation.
I am not at all optimistic that a workable solution can be found and implemented in a successful manner quickly enough to save the planet and save Western-style civilization. I am reminded of a comment by Terrance McKenna, a commentator on culture, who described technological civilization as a cultural temper tantrum. This brings us to the most basic question of all and one that many might avoid — does it really matter whether we save the planet and ourselves or not? The quick and thoughtless answers is yes. However, consider two diametrically opposed ontologies. One has already been alluded to above — scientific materialism, which sees reality as having an independent existence, external to ourselves. The reigning paradigm posits that the material universe came into existence as a random event. As luck would have it, it just happened entirely by chance, to be organized in such a way that it would unfold with the necessary conditions present for life to evolve. Finally, again by chance, the random interaction of elements in the universe combined in such a way as to yield living cells. These living cells evolved through mutation, adaptation and reproductive fitness into ever more complex biological structures until self-aware and intelligent life arose and eventually became us. The crowning achievement of chance.
Under the materialist scenario, I think humans are a species without purpose and therefore without meaning beyond the existential meaning that each of us can wring for ourselves from our brief existence. As individuals and as groups, we weave narrative stories that give our lives meaning but only within the context of the narrative. These narratives are, after all is said and done, just stories. We are a species in a habitat subject to extinction at any time by a cosmic roll of the dice. Without belaboring the point, I suggest that you consider recent examples of some past events that without much ramping up could, under today’s conditions, have a civilization-ending impact, if not extinguish the human species. As relatively recent examples, consider super volcanic explosions such as Krakatoa in 1883, coronal magnetic ejections from the sun like the Carrington event of 1859 or incoming space debris such as the Tunguska explosion of an asteroid over Siberia in 1908. If you’re unfamiliar with these, look them up and then consider their potential impact on modern technological society. A catastrophic result would be even more likely should the event be much larger like some that have occurred farther back in the past. Then there is always the possibility that we’ll follow one of our narratives into a blind alley and destroy ourselves. We have many options for self-destruction among which we can also count the effects of nuclear weapons, weaponized biology and environmental overload and collapse. Of course, even should we survive all rolls of the dice and suicidal behavior, science predicts that the universe will eventually end. The nature of its termination is not certain but it could expand until it exhausts itself, grows cold and dies with a whimper, or it might contract, implode and die with a bang.
The second ontology and counterpoint to scientific materialism is what I have written about as panentheism and others as monistic idealism. One contemporary proponent of this worldview is Bernardo Kastrup, whose several books (amazon.com) and papers (academia.edu) I recommend to you. He has a short video summarizing monistic idealism (see links page). If one looks at the the two ontologies as pyramids, they look very similar but hold radically different implications. Before describing the pyramids, recognize that all ontologies make assumptions. If there is only one base assumption, it is termed an ontological primitive. Such a base assumption is necessary because you can’t go on indefinitely explaining one thing in terms of another (e.g, where does X come from?, from X1, where does X1 come from?, from X2, where does X2 come from?, from X3 and so on ad infinitum). The “buck” has to stop somewhere and that is at the ontological primitive or base assumption. The materialist pyramid begins at the base with the assumption of space/time, which reminds me of Einstein’s remark, “Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live.” Moving up the pyramid toward the apex, we come to energy & matter, then atoms & molecules, then chemistry, then biology and finally mind. The pyramid for idealism is almost identical except that it begins at the base with the assumption of awareness or consciousness and then moving toward the apex comes space/time and so on. Everything moving up the pyramid is derivative of the base assumption nx times removed.
Briefly, the big shift with this change in base assumptions is that now instead of thinking of reality as something “out there” it is something “in here.” That is, what you take to be an external reality actually is a manifestation in consciousness, and you likewise are a manifestation in consciousness. By way of analogy, think of reality under idealism like a virtual reality, computer game. If you don’t have any experience with these games, it may not be a good analogy for you. If you want to explore this analogy further, one source you might look into is the book My Big T.O.E. (theory of everything) by Tom Campbell. An analogy that has been used for millennia is that of a dream with which you probably do have some experience. However, whether you are in a dream or a virtual reality game, everything would seem real to you. The game runs under a set of rules and if the rules won’t allow you to walk through walls, you will be deflected by a wall should you walk into one. It would seem like a “real” wall but it is actually just an illusion created in a “computing” space by a computer. Essentially, the same applies to a dream, except it is being created in your consciousness by mind. In fact, some have suggested that one function of dreaming is to remind us that consciousness can generate “realities” and thereby serves as a hint for recognition of the actual nature of our perceived reality.
Under the idealism scenario, there is meaning and purpose, which for brevity’s sake I’ll just say is Awareness’ way of generating experience for itself and the opportunity to evolve. Put another way, we and our world are illusions within an infinite, eternal, intelligent and creative Awareness or Consciousness exploring itself. Thus, the illusion, like a virtual reality game, once set in motion plays itself out according to the defining ruleset governing it. Should, for example, the evolution of the universe, under the ruleset, happen bring into our orbital path a large asteroid or engage in a nuclear war and life on this planet is extinguished or even if the entire planet is destroyed, it doesn’t really matter in any fundamental sense because Awareness or Consciousness goes on and you are a thread within it. It is like failing the fifth grade — embarrassing but not fatal. There will be a new game or dream on a new planet, perhaps even in a different universe.
“The standard run represents a business-as-usual situation where parameters reflecting physical, economic, and social relationships were maintained in the World3 model at values consistent with the period 1900–1970. The LtG standard run scenario (and nearly all other scenarios) shows continuing growth in the economic system throughout the 20th century and into the early decades of the 21st. However, the simulations suggest signs of increasing environmental pressure at the start of the 21st century (e.g., resources diminishing, pollution increasing exponentially, growth slowing in food, services, and material wealth per capita). The simulation of this scenario results in ‘‘overshoot and collapse’’ of the global system about mid-way through the 21st century due to a combination of diminishing resources and increasing ecological damage due to pollution.
“The comprehensive technology approach attempts to solve sustainability issues with a broad range of purely technological solutions. This scenario incorporates levels of resources that are effectively unlimited, 75% of materials are recycled, pollution generation is reduced to 25% of its 1970 value, agricultural land yields are doubled, and birth control is available world-wide. These efforts delay the collapse of the global system to the latter part of the 21st century, when the growth in economic activity has outstripped the gains in efficiency and pollution control.
For the stabilized world scenario, both technological solutions and deliberate social policies are implemented to achieve equilibrium states for key factors including population, material wealth, food, and services per capita. Examples of actions implemented in the World3 model include: perfect birth control and desired family size of two children; preference for consumption of services and health facilities and less toward material goods; pollution control technology; maintenance of agricultural land through diversion of capital from industrial use; and increased lifetime of industrial capital.”
Turner, G. M. (2008). “A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality.” Global Environmental Change 18(3): 397-411.
Most libertarian discussions on education focus on promoting private schools. Advocates for private schools do not go far enough. They assume that a system of private education would be consistent with libertarian principles. However, private schools can be as oppressive or even more oppressive than government schools. Private funding does not necessarily result in schools that respect the personal sovereignty and individuality of each student. Libertarians need to promote libertarian principles for all schools.
The foundation for a libertarian education requires recognition of both personal sovereignty and individuality. A sovereign individual is a free agent engaged in self-determination. Free agents set their own goals and choose the means to achieve those goals. Further, a community of unique individuals represents a diversity of goals and of methods for reaching those goals. The only limits libertarians should accept on personal goals and the means used to achieve them would be prohibition of the use of coercion or force to prevent the exercise of personal sovereignty by another. The purpose of education is to help an individual acquire knowledge and develop skills. This is a noble objective, but it does not justify the use of coercion or force in its pursuit. The choice to seek an education and the nature of that education is a matter of personal sovereignty.
The education of children raises an important question about personal sovereignty, what is the extent of personal sovereignty possessed by a child? In principle, no difference exists between the degree of personal sovereignty possessed by a child and an adult. Practically speaking, however, dependence on adults limits a child’s sovereignty. Childhood dependence implies a degree of immaturity and a limited capacity to employ reason in making choices. Thus, a parent or parent surrogate has a right to be involved in the educational choices of a child. However, there remains a question about the nature of that involvement.
Parents or others can attempt to influence educational choices by a child in several ways. One can use force, threat or intimidation, or use contrived incentives to influence a child’s educational choices. Finally, one can use persuasion to influence a child’s educational choices. Clearly, the first two options are coercive and inconsistent with libertarian principles. Albeit more subtle, the third and fourth methods are also coercive. The use of contrived incentives or deception to influence a child’s choices is an effort to manipulate the child and therefore represents a soft form of coercion. The final method, persuasion, may be the only method that is consistent with libertarian principles. Persuasion, properly conducted, appeals to the reason of a child. Successful persuasion convinces a child of the correctness of a particular choice. Persuasion is not coercive but educational and contributes to the development of a child’s reasoning ability. Teachers function as surrogate parents. Thus, a persuasion-based approach to education should also extend to teachers. A teacher can best exercise persuasion through a cooperative alliance* with a student. In such an alliance, a student’s participation and cooperation in the educational process is essential. The only way that a cooperative alliance can be formed is for a teacher to develop a positive, supportive and therefore a personal relationship with a child.
Thus, education should be a persuasion-based process that is consistent with personal sovereignty and free choice. The most obvious educational practice that is contrary to this view is compulsory education. Compulsory education, whether imposed by law or parental fiat, should be the first target of libertarian efforts to reform education. Libertarians should focus on the repeal of compulsory attendance laws and promote the principle of persuasion as the basis for education. Compulsory school attendance and the authoritarian atmosphere it promotes often leads students to engage in counter control behavior. Counter control is behavior intended to neutralize or overcome external efforts to manipulate a person. Counter control in students can lead to withdrawal from participation, disruptive behavior, vandalism, truancy and dropping out. In short, it produces many of the maladies that affect schools.
The second foundation for a libertarian education is individuality. Individuality is a natural product of diversity. First, people are biologically diverse. Biological diversity produces a range of abilities and predispositions that are highly variable at the individual level. Thus, part of our individuality is a natural consequence of our complex genetic heritage. Second, people exhibit cultural or social diversity. Different cultures have adopted a variety of values, goals and means. Biological diversity interacts with cultural diversity to produce a complex bio-social individuality. The only limitation a libertarian education should accept on the expression of individuality is on the use of coercion or force to prevent the exercise of personal sovereignty by another individual.
A pervasive focus in education that disregards the individuality of children is a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Obviously, given biological and cultural diversity, schools can offer no single, best curriculum for all students. An educational program guided by libertarian principles requires a diverse curriculum that reflects the biological and social diversity of a student body. Such a curriculum needs to be diverse in both content and teaching methods to maximize choice. When schools maximize choice, a child’s natural interest can be engaged. An education program that respects a child’s individuality promotes personal responsibility and self-determination. A sufficiently diverse curriculum would not need to use coercion or bribery to motivate students. Thus, a second focus of libertarian efforts at educational reform should be directed at promoting recognition of individuality and its implications for educational programming.
One can apply the principles of a libertarian education to home schools, non-profit private schools, for profit private schools or to government schools. The principles may be easier to implement for some schools than others, but the principles are appropriate for them all. Libertarians who are interested in educational reform should promote adoption of libertarian principles in education. Adoption of such principles has the potential to transform both government and private schools.
A lot of arguments over the abortion issue are tied to religion. I think religions can best be characterized as beliefs about insights gained by exceptional individuals. As belief systems, they substitute dogma and ritual for spiritual insight. Thus, I consider religions to be aspects of popular culture that are at best a means of social influence and at worst a method of exploitation. The abortion issue is just the type of emotional issue that religious “leaders” can and historically have used to accrue political and social power to themselves. Up until a few decades ago the hot emotional issue used by many religious “leaders” to garner political and social power was racial segregation. In the future, it will no doubt be something else. I reject any argument marshaled by individuals whose primary motive is probably social manipulation for the purpose of imposing their beliefs/dogmas on people who don’t agree with them.
The next line of argument I’d call a “natural law” argument for lack of a better term. This position argues that any living being capable of self-agency owns his or her life (I’d prefer body) and ethically speaking no one has a right to take that life (I’d prefer appropriate that body). Thus, the debate comes down to one about property rights, which are defended by libertarians, among others. The sticky point in this argument comes in determining when one has achieved the status of a human being and hence acquired property rights to one’s body.
I do not consider a dividing cell mass a human being. It may have the potential to be a human being but so does a skin flake in your bedding, given the development of cloning technology. Until a developing fetus is capable of sustaining itself outside of a parasitic relationship, it is not a realized human being and has no property rights over its developing body. (Note: Mere birth does not convey the status of human being under the definition used, though there is a high probability that the two will coincide, which in no way implies that one causes the other.) In fact, to give such a cell mass property rights is to put its property rights in direct conflict with the property rights of the host of whose body it is an integral part. As long as the cell mass is in a parasitic relationship with the host’s body, it is for all practical purposes a part of the body over which the host, a realized human being, exercises sole property rights.
The only way to prevent abortion is by the appropriation of a person’s body (property) by threat or physical force. A role usually assumed by the state, but certainly not limited to the state. Usurpation of property rights is not limited to the state and can be done by other types of organizations or even by individuals. Those who wish, for whatever reason, to involve themselves in the property decisions of another have only one acceptable means. They may attempt to affect the decisions of another through rational persuasion, if the person is willing to entertain their arguments. They never have a moral or ethical right to impose by force or coercion their belief or preference on another sovereign individual.
This country without doubt has a problem with illegal residents. Why? First and foremost is that there are many places in the world that are so politically oppressive and economically impoverished that there is no shortage of people who want to get out and find more favorable circumstances. Second, we have a problem because the U.S. has an immigration policy that is so restrictive that many people despair of ever being able to legally immigrate and decide to take matters into their own hands and ignore the law. Finally, we have a problem because the federal government has shown itself either unwilling or unable to maintain the integrity of the territory comprising the U.S. The latter is a problem that goes well beyond illegal residents and includes problems related to smuggling and security to name two major concerns.
I favor immigration reform and reform that would significantly increase the number of immigrants. Why do I favor immigration reform? The answer is out of self-interest. First, immigrants supply a pool of individuals with little or no stake in the status quo. A regularly renewing pool of such individuals provide the fresh perspective and talent needed to keep the country moving forward. Second, without immigrants the U.S. population is approaching zero growth due to a falling birth rate. Without immigrants the U.S. population will very likely begin contracting within a few decades. Population growth rates below replacement levels are already a problem for many countries such as Italy, Japan and Russia. Further, it is a problem faced in the near future by a number of countries such as the U.S. and China. Thus, many of the countries in the world will soon be in competition for a diminishing pool of working-age adults who want to immigrate. The U.S. has a huge debt, an even larger pool of underfunded obligations and unfunded guarantees that need to be met. These cannot be satisfied with a flat or declining working-age population. In short, we must grow economically or face an economic collapse such as that recently endured by Russia. Leaving aside, for the present, the issue created by the intersection of economics and climate change.
I application for immigration status should be open to anyone who meets a couple of simple tests. First, the person should be capable of supporting him or herself as evidenced by sufficient assets to do so or by having secured a contract for suitable employment within the U.S. Second, the person should pose no clear threat to civil order or national security. I think immigration status once granted should extend to an applicant’s immediate family, which includes spouse and dependent children but reaches no further. I would place no limits on the number of immigration applications approved each year and would not have any restrictions related to country of origin. I would offer work visas under the same guidelines as immigration (excepting the asset criterion) to anyone wishing to legally work here on a temporary basis.
We have restrictive policies that generally limits immigration and virtually prohibits immigration from some parts of the world. We also have a less than flexible policy about temporary work visas. Given these conditions it is not surprising that we have a large population of illegal immigrants who have made their way here from around the world. Migrants from Mexico, Central and South America probably comprise the majority due to geography but certainly points of origin extend beyond this hemisphere. I do not think it wise to allow this de facto immigration policy to continue to operate. I also do not have much sympathy for people who are willing to flaunt U.S. immigration law, even though it is flawed. I personally know people who would like to immigrate to the U.S. but who are not eligible to apply and who have enough respect for the rule of law not to take the matter into their own hands. If I had to choose between these two types of people, I would favor those that respect the law. However, we do have around 15 million illegal residents in the country so one issue is what to do about them.
It is unlikely that we are capable of deporting 15 million people not to mention the problems this would cause in many cases. For example, in families where the adults are illegal and the children are citizens what is the proper course of action? Personally, I think citizenship by birth granted to children of non-citizen parents in the U.S. is something that needs to change. However, it is the law and those children are not only legal residents but citizens. Because of the complexity of the situation, I favor amnesty for illegal residents whose only legal violations have been of immigration law. Convicted felons should not receive amnesty for violations of immigration or criminal law.
By amnesty I mean forgiveness not legalization. Legalization of past law violations is logically equivalent to making something illegal retroactively. Amnesty should be limited to forgiveness of violations of immigration law. In short, if you are granted amnesty you will not be subject to prosecution for violation of immigration law. Amnesty does not mean being rewarded with a fast track to citizenship and jumping ahead of everyone else in the world who wants to immigrate to the U.S. For example, when Vietnam era draft dodgers were granted amnesty, they were relieved of any risk of being prosecuted. They were not, however, rewarded with veterans’ benefits along with amnesty. So, where does that leave formerly illegal residents who have been granted amnesty?
I think any such resident who is employed should be able to apply for and be granted a work visa good for a fixed period such as three years. This visa should cover the applicant and any dependents in his or her immediate family. Renewal of the visa should be available as a matter of course at the end of the visa period. If such a person wishes to apply for immigrant status and be on track to citizenship, he or she should follow the same application procedures as anyone else in the world who wants to immigrate and become a citizen. If the immigration reform that I favor and discussed above were to be adopted, persons already in the country and holding a work visa would have an advantage in the immigration process. I see no easy way to avoid visiting this injustice upon persons outside of the U.S. who want to immigrate. It is an imperfect world.
The proper venue for getting changes in immigration law is the U.S. Congress. If you want changes in the ground rules for immigration, you should be advocating and lobbying with your congressional representatives. No one else has the authority or power to change the laws in the U.S. All other actions are a waste of time and largely amount to political grandstanding.
I do have a major concern related to Mexican immigration into the U.S., especially in border states. Niall Ferguson, a well known historian who studies economic history, has put forth an historical hypothesis about the causes of the conflicts in the twentieth century. He discussed his hypothesis and the evidence supporting it in his book War of the World. What he argued was that the recipe for conflict has three ingredients. These ingredients include overlapping ethnicities populating a geographic area, economic stress and either an inability or unwillingness by authorities to maintain order. Today one can see these ingredients coming together in several locations including the area where Iraq, Iran and Turkey come together (the Kurd “problem”); the area including the northwestern part of China (Xinjiang) and the territories in northeastern Pakistan (the Uygur “problem”); and the southwestern U.S. and Mexico (the Mexican “problem”). All of these areas, among others, have the potential to become violent. There exists a real possibility that an increase in Mexican immigration into border states could fuel the fires of ethnic conflict. I don’t argue that immigration should be restricted because of this concern but one should recognize the potential and attempt mitigate the factors that could cause conflict to erupt.
I also think that there is a downside to increasing immigration that is often overlooked. While immigration reform would increase the population and expand the tax base, which has some clear economic benefits, it also means growth. For those who are concerned with energy independence, conservation of resources, pollution, protection of the environment and similar endeavors, growth is a significant threat to all of those goals. If one advocates for expanding the population it follows that the economy must be expanded to accommodate the new citizens and the increased birth rate that will follow them. An expanding economy will put additional strains on meeting the goals mentioned. There is an inherent contradiction between increases in population, economic expansion and concern for the quality of life. We may have to choose between economic stagnation and financial chaos or environmental degradation and diminished quality of living conditions. Carefully consider what you ask for because you may get it.
Borderlands and Immigrants
Arizona, Borderlands and U.S. — Mexican Immigration
Spiritually speaking, free will or the ability to make meaningful choices is a critical concept for the evolution of consciousness or refinement of consciousness (see also here and here). The panentheistic principle of the primacy of Consciousness and its expression through the quantum monad, which was discussed in an earlier piece (Goswami’s Quantum Philosophy, Part II), is assumed. Implicit in this view is acceptance of the panentheistic conception of reality, which requires the ability to make meaningful choices or free will. How then might the requirement for free will be construed in a manner that meets the necessary conditions for the evolution of consciousness?
Simple determinism asserts that everything we do is predetermined and therefore our apparent choices are really an illusion. From that point of view, we have only what appear to be choices and all the outcomes that follow from such imaginary choices are predetermined and beyond our ability to influence. In short, the chain of causality that began in the distant past, perhaps with the origin of the material universe, set in motion a chain of cause and effects that still continues and will continue into the future. That chain of causality passes through us and determines what we think, feel and do. Clearly, there are no real choices that might allow for the operation of free will in such a dismal conception of life. Further, such a conception renders impossible any meaningful conception of moral responsibility. If one’s behavior is wholly determined and outside of one’s ability to influence, how can an individual be held accountable for his or her actions? Finally, if simple determinism governs everything then a spiritual vision that entails the evolution of consciousness (or the soul if you prefer) cannot be valid.
Indeterminism (a.k.a. absolute free will) is the opposite of simple determinism. Absolute free will means one can by choice affect an outcome that is not predictable from its antecedents. In short, one can do things that violate the principle of causality as it is commonly understood (a.k.a. magic). For example, someone walking on water would both violate the principle of causality and demonstrate a choice outcome that is not predictable from its antecedents. Interestingly, the principle of causality or simple determinism has, at the quantum level, been experimentally demonstrated to be untenable. This suggests that reality almost certainly does not rest upon simple determinism. The quantum world appears, however, to be governed by statistical determinism, which includes all possible outcomes and even some that might be considered “magic.” However, “magical” outcomes, while possible, are extremely improbable. It is clear that no mere mortal is likely to ever observe or experience one of these highly improbable outcomes. Thus, indeterminism is not suitable for our purposes because meaningful choices leading to systematic consequences are not possible and such choices along with their feedback are necessary for the evolution of consciousness.
The libertarian philosopher Richard Taylor proposed an alternative to simple determinism that he calls complex determinism, which recognizes that human agency is a primary factor in causation. That is, human agency or in the case of an individual self-agency can alter a chain of causality and initiate a new branch in an unfolding sequence. This brings us back to free will. In this view, free will is no longer absolute but rather is probabilistic, which is similar to the statistical determinism of quantum physics. Free will then, for me, is equivalent to complex determinism. Complex determinism suggests that in any given situation there are usually multiple possible outcomes, none of which require magic; i.e., they have a basis in antecedent events. Each of these possible outcomes is more or less probable than another. The most common outcome is the one with the highest probability. This is what is sometimes described by the phrase “the path of least resistance.” Recall the example about the collapse of a wave of possibilities discussed in an earlier piece (Goswami’s Quantum Philosophy, Part I).
When one arrives at a meaningful decision point in life, the complex and tangled web of antecedents that have led to the decision point generally allow for more than one possible consequence or outcome. Suppose that the decision point contains five possible outcomes or choices. Each has a probability of expression. If the path of least resistance is followed, the choice made will be the one most closely associated with one’s habitual and conditioned pattern of behavior. This default choice, in fact, is not really a choice so much as it is an acquiescence. Default responses that follow the path of least resistance are very common and give the appearance of following from simple determinism.
Research has provided evidence that suggests decisions are made at a subconscious level before one is consciously aware of them. This it is argued is evidence for simple determinism. An alternative interpretation is that this research is evidence that habitual or high probability responses are virtually automatic. Fortunately, the research also shows that there is a small delay between the subconscious decision, awareness and action. This delay is the window of opportunity that provides room for free will. Self-agency effected through intention and deliberate choice, based on forethought and anticipation of consequences, can influence and change the probability functions of potential outcomes. Thus, the first step is to prevent the default or habitual response from occurring. The second step is to undertake a deliberate effort to make manifest a possible alternate response. In short, if one is willing to be attentive and make the effort, it is possible to exert self-agency and become a causal force in your own chain of causation. I have a web page and ebook devoted to this endeavor.
In this conception of complex determinism, there are three principle contributors to human action: biological factors, environmental factors and self-agency. It is important to recognize that all three influences operate through predisposition, not predestination. Consider two identical twins with virtually identical biological inheritance who are predisposed to diabetes. Further, suppose that the twins live in an environment that has varied dietary choices but one that includes an abundance of readily available, tasty, refined carbohydrate foods. Such high glycemic environments predispose one to the development of diabetes. The interaction of the biological and environmental predispositions (what’s known as an epigenetic factor) make avoiding diabetes unlikely, especially given the predisposition to follow the path of least resistance. Eventually, one twin develops diabetes and the other does not. Clearly, this would never happen if biological and environmental causation were predestination. We can ask why did these different outcomes occur?
Very likely part of the answer is that the twins created different environments from the choices they made. Suppose that they took a class on nutrition while they were in high school or college in which they learned of the hazards of overeating a high glycemic diet. This was not welcome news since both had become accustomed to eating a high glycemic diet. Let’s assume that one chose to continue eating a diet rich in refined carbohydrates. This twin followed the habitual pattern and took the path of least resistance. The other chose a diet that emphasized complex carbohydrates. This choice was clearly available to both but only the second twin exercised self-agency and took the more difficult path of resisting habitual patterns and making healthier choices. Thus, these different choices in lifestyle differently influenced the possibility of developing diabetes in the twins.
In my view, we do have the ability to make real choices. We can, at least, make choices from among those potential outcomes that are possible given the antecedents. Our choices, reflected in our intentions and actions, influence (but do not control) the probable outcomes available in situations in which we are actors. Self-agency has the potential to carry us to a tipping point that can set in motion a new causal chain. Most of us, most of the time, fail to exercise self-agency and simply follow the path of least resistance and thereby give the impression of being controlled by simple determinism.
Complex determinism construed as self-agency then appears to meet the need for the meaningful choices necessary for evolving consciousness. Accepting self-agency as essential for evolving consciousness leads to recognition of personal sovereignty as a natural right. A sovereign individual is a free agent engaged in self-determination. Free agents set their own goals and choose the means to those goals. Further, a community of sovereign individuals represents a diversity of goals and methods for achieving those goals. Evolution of consciousness can only be achieved by freely taken choices. This means that it is incumbent upon anyone who accepts the primacy of Consciousness, implicit in panentheism, to avoid interfering with other people’s choices to the greatest extent possible. This is important because it is the intent behind choices, not the acts in and of themselves that is important for the evolution of consciousness.
There are several ways in which one individual might attempt to affect the choices of another individual. First, one can use force to impose choices on another person. Second, one can use threat or intimidation to impose choices on someone else. Third, one can use contrived incentives to influence another person’s choices. Fourth, one can use deception as a means of influence. Finally, one can use persuasion to influence the choices of another person. Clearly, the first two options are coercive and inconsistent with self-determination. However, the third and fourth methods are also coercive but in a more subtle way. The use of contrived incentives or deception to influence someone’s choices is an effort to manipulate them and therefore represents a soft form of coercion. The final method may be the only method that is consistent with self-determination and the evolution of consciousness. Persuasion, properly conducted, appeals to the reason of another person. Successful persuasion convinces a person of the correctness of a particular choice and is thereby most likely to affect intention as well as action. Persuasion is not coercive but educational and is the only ethically acceptable method of influencing others in a society of sovereign individuals. Thus, sovereign individuals in their exercise of self-agency must accept some limitations on personal behavior. Specifically, they must accept a prohibition on the use of force or coercion directly or indirectly against others in the pursuit of their goals, except when necessary for self-defense or protecting others from harm.
See also: “What does quantum physics have to do with behavior disorders?” for more about self-agency.
For a related case history see: “Big Jim: A case history”