Re: [GRRN] Greening California

RecycleWorlds (
Wed, 4 Aug 1999 13:41:02 -0500


Oh you've pegged me wrong in your defense of market forces (see below).

IF you (or I) were god and we could decree those tax changes,
obviously -- after all I am an economist too -- that could ripple out over
the whole economy far more effectively than narrow regulations. Then we'd
be on the same page.

But, it never was my point to deny that. Rather, I was addressing
whether the passage of sound tax changes are, since we are not Gods, within
our power at the present time in view of the complete control the special
interests currently maintain over the tax writing process combined with the
lackluster temper of public involvement compared with -- dare I say it --
THE sixties...or thirties...or 1890's (somebody may notice a 30 year cycle
to all this). My conclusion is that at this time we are extraordinarily
unlikely to get any sound results and, if by fluke, we did effectively
mount public pressure on some point, it would surely be subverted into
something completely different before it saw the light of day.

It is for that reason that I feel we need to focus our energies on
those battles which can (1) galvanize public engagement and (2) be
successful. Now before you jump all over me, I would agree the successful
results from those sorts of hotdog backyard fights are limited in their
reach ... the ban on DDT might be an example. But, because we will never
move mountains and forever be marginalized nibbling on the edges of power
so long as the affected public remains disengaged, the restoration of the
sense that we can "beat city hall" is the immediate prize that we
desparately need from which will later flow the broader victories than can
substantively affect the future course of our society.

A number of years ago I did extensive research on what leads one person
to become an activist and that factor (the belief that you can beat city
hall) is the key one. (I've just moved ofices and can't find it right now,
but I wrote and got the cross tabs for
the major study of environmental attitudes that was done this past spring
for the Geological Society and they, too, found the same thing...people are
pissed big time about environmental issues but are doing very little
because they don't believe that anything can be accomplished.)

Fights over systemic tax code biases that indirectly impact the
environment adversely -- a little bit in every corner of the natural world,
but not devastatingly in any one special gem -- are just not the place to
restore that sense of joi de vive over being active. Remember the days of
the Fox,
Steve Lovejoy, etc. etc.

If we're going to light a spark to bring back that cycle, it will not,
in my view, come from adjusting the safe harbor 18 month holding period for
capital gains on deferred assets amortized for recognition of off shore tax
liabilities imposed on qualified property purchased on the third Wednesday
of the eighth month of the year following leap year. It's going to be to
stop poisoning our children's drinking water by a ban on [insert your
favorite poison], etc. etc. etc.

Peter Anderson
RecycleWorlds Consulting
4513 Vernon Blvd. Ste. 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Phone:(608) 231-1100/Fax: (608) 233-0011
-----Original Message-----
From: William P McGowan <>
To: RecycleWorlds <>
Cc: GreenYes <>
Date: Wednesday, August 04, 1999 12:46 PM
Subject: Re: [GRRN] Greening California

I have a problem with the global nature of Peter's statement, for while
everything he says is true about how ideas become laws, it seems he
misses the main point about trying something as daring as "supply side
economic policy." One of the main thing that jumps out at any
environmental historian is the power of the market to effect change in an
environment--in this sennse William Cronon's Changes in the Land shows how
the intrduction of something as banal as iron tools into the North
American native populations fundamentally changes the economic orientation
of the community, moving it from a usufruct society to one based on

In a capitalist economy such as ours, tax policy does and will afect
human behavior. It is simpler to adjust since it does not have a
bureacracy standing behind it, and more importantly, it is something that
has not really ever been tried.

One of my favorite statements by a polictician is that of FDR at the
beginning of the New Deal, when hhe said they would experiment with ways
to get the country out of Depression, and if their first ideas didn't
work, they'd admit their mistake and move on.

Today, it seems that the environmental community fears the market
unnecesarily, preferring to regulate it through bureacracy than to direct
market forces towards positive public policies that benefit us all.
Perhaps this is because most of the environmental legislation passed has
followed the same path that Peter describes for tax policy--sure, there
were hearings, but minds had already been made up, and most substantive
changes in environmental legislation have in fact been put in bills in the
dark of night.

William Mcgowan
UCSB History/Rincon Recycling