The 1970s: From Rotting Carcasses Floating in the River to Kayak Races, by Charles Hugh Smith

It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you’re living in a garbage dump. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

If we don’t bother measuring national well-being, the health of the nation’s commons and resources and advances in the public’s interests, then we foolishly call a decade of tremendous advancement “stagflation.”

Correspondent J.D. read The Forgotten History of the 1970s and kindly added a graphic example of the remarkable transformation wrought by the federal Clean Water Act and other environmental regulations mandating the clean-up of the nation’s air and other public “commons”–the nation’s biosphere and resources that we all share as an essential part of the common good and the public trust.

The point of my previous post was to explain that measuring the economy by narrow measures of “growth” and “profits” grossly distorts what’s actually happening and what’s actually valuable–and despite economists’ delusional obsession with “growth” and “profits,” it isn’t “growth” or “profits.”

What’s actually valuable are advances in national well-being and security and the common good. These may be advanced by “growth” and “profits,” but they can also be diminished by “growth” and “profits.”

As Adam Smith took great pains to explain, open-market Capitalism can only function within a moral and ethical social structure. Stripped of moral constraints, “growth” and “profits” become fatal cancers in the economy and society. In and of themselves, “growth” and “profits” have no moral or ethical center; if those benefiting from “growth” and “profits” destroy the public commons and diminish the common good, those costs are ignored.

That’s the problem with proclaiming “markets solve all problems.” They don’t; in fact, left to their no-moral-compass ways, they create horrendous problems for the many subjected to the profiteering of the few, problems that destroy public “commons,” the common good and the public trust.

What better way to foster “growth” and boost “profits” than dump offal and carcasses in the public’s rivers, rather than bear the costs of proper disposal? This is one manifestation of The Tragedy of the Commons, a concept clarified by Garrett Hardin in his seminal 1968 essay of the same name: if a for-profit private enterprise can offload costs of its own production onto the public, that cost savings enables faster growth and higher profits.

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