Saturday, June 04, 2005

Justice for the Generations

We've seen that it is far from clear how anyone could come to have an absolute property right in the first place, and that this is a huge problem for rights-based defenders of capitalism. Perhaps one could appeal to some form of Rawlsian or utilitarian principle in the initial distribution of natural resources, to ensure that everyone gets a fair share. But what about people that aren't born yet? It seems unjust to exclude them from consideration. Yet, if they're included, we'll have an indefinite number of people to share our natural resources around, so there mightn't be enough for each to have any!

An absolute property right entitles the owner to dispose of their property however they wish -- even destroying it, if they so desire. But surely it would be a gross injustice for the present generation to destroy the world's natural resources. We cannot have any such right. So we cannot have absolute property rights. A better conception would involve provisional property rights. The idea there is that individuals are granted use of resources, so that they - and others - might benefit. But they do not have full ownership -- the state may take the resources back (through tax) when others have greater need of them, or when newcomers join the system.

This view is also much more environmentally friendly: we are seen as custodians rather than owners of the planet. We have no right to trash it, for the world belongs as much to future generations as it does to us. As such, our current behaviour (in terms of pollution and other natural vandalism) is incredibly unjust. We all think it's wrong for a pregnant woman to recklessly endanger her baby by allowing toxins (booze, smokes, drugs) into her system. Yet here we are, pumping all sorts of toxins into the ecosystem -- similarly reckless behaviour which will likewise cost the next generation. What is wrong with us?

3 comments:

  1. This is true from the utilitarian forward looking logic

    But one could say - generally speaking - each generation has a better life than the last one so generally the new ones are ripping off the old ones by taking advantage of what they left without leaving anything (ok superanuation aside) themselves to the previous generation.

    Of course I generally dont buy that argument but just noting one could use it.

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  2. Capitalists simply dont care. They care solely about profits and maintaining their wealth and power. Yes its unethical, but they dont care. Might is right after all isnt it? There is little incentive to be ethical when your rich and powerful.

    But it is interesting regarding the use of future generations resources.
    Your argument also applies to labour not just physical resources. Governments borrowing from future generations. Our children and grandchildren are born to a burden of debt from their forefathers. They are effectively born into wage slavery. Increasing levels of taxable income is required in the future to pay for todays excesses. Its Ok with an increasing pool of workers available, but the baby boomers retiring shows that there is a downside to this practice. The increasing population method of paying todays bills is simply unsustainable in terms of resources.

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  3. > Might is right after all isnt it?

    Might is right is not an artificial thing it is a fundimental principle of the universe. What you can change is HOW might is channeled into action not WHETHER is is channeled into action. Everytime you fight to change the natural way of thing it will tend to cost you in terms of resources. this is why channeling might via a capitalist system tends to work ok - it limits hte amount of effort you have to spend trying to push water uphill all you have to do is try to fight negitive practices like theft.

    As for the rest I generally agree - I think baby boomers because of their relitively large voting block hve negotiated a good deal.

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