Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chapter 33: At the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima or Why Political Questions Are Not All Economic: By Mark Sagoff

Well I can tell right off the bat that this chapter will be mostly, if not entirely, political in nature.

Well lest get on with it. The into paragraph starts out with stating that we need policies to "guide those responsible for setting ecological and environmental protection policies." The big questions are who will decide how the policies should be formed and on what basis should the decisions be made? Survey have shown that the ranking of significant environmental threats by the general public and by environmental scientists both have very different priorities. Mark Sagoff is the director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy (IPPP) at the University of Maryland as well as President of the International Society of Environmental Ethics (ISEE). He is also the author of many works such as The Economy of the Earth: Philosophy, Law and the Environment (Cambridge University Press, 1988). In this chapter which is taken from the book after which the chapter is named (as always), Sagoff discusses his belief that environmental problems are complex and require more comprehensive assessment than can be made on the basis of economic analysis alone. Essentially he is saying we can't look at the issues or problems within the environment from a purely economic point of view, we need a deeper understanding of them.

The key concept of this chapter is: the limitations of economics in making environmental policy.

We start off with the first section covering the story behind Lewiston, New York near Buffalo and Lake Ontario Ordinance Works, where the federal government decided to dump the residues of the Manhattan Project. Residents say that a south wind blows radon gas through the town. At a recent conference Sargoff attended several parents expressed their concerns and fears surrounding the discovery of cases of leukemia that had been found in children in the area. Meanwhile New York State officials said that people who smoke take greater risk than those who live near waste disposal sights. The parents were not happy. The officials then describe the people as "neurotic" because they refused to recognize or act upon their own interests. They didn't see how risk-benefit analysis had anything to do with the issues they raised. Along the Military Highway are numerous landfills and the decaying remains of abandoned factories.

Now onto the section titled Political and Economic Descisionmaking. This section is concerned with the economic and political decisions we make about the environment. Some people believe that these two should be the same ideally and that all problems with the environment are problems in distribution. This train of thought puts control of the issues right in the consumers lap. It is the individuals values and willingness to pay. Justice and fair society then becomes a matter of distributing goods and services so that more people get more of what they want. Thus the only values we have are those that can be priced in a market. The problem with this idea is that not all people think of themselves simply as consumers. and many of us regard ourselves as citizens. We act as consumers to get what we want for ourselves and as citizens to get what we believe is best for the community. The issue then is do the goals of the consumer and citizen ever overlap? Will a person vote for the things they buy? In short, no. Sargoff then provides some examples of how we think differently when our different roles are involved. He loves his car and hates the bus, yet he will support a candidate who to tax gasoline to pay for public transport. He has an "Ecology Now" sticker on the bumper of a car that leaks oil. Here lies the question as to whether the public economy should serve the same goals as the household economy.

Cost-benefit Analysis vs. Regulation is the next section. Here we are given a historical tidbit. On the 19th of February in 1981 President Reagan published Executive Order 12,291 which required all administrative departments and agencies to support every new major regulation with a form of cost-benefit analysis that established that the benefits of the regulation to society outweighs the costs. A month before a dispute arose between lawyers for the American Textile Manufacturers Institute over the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which was to severely limit the acceptable levels of cotton dust allowed in textile plants. The lawyers claimed the benefits would not outweigh the costs. The Supreme court, (after an opinion was past on the dust issue) found that the OSHA need not be supported by cost-benefit analysis. The Supreme Court also said that "Congress, in writing a statute, rather than the agencies applying it, has the primary responsibility for balancing benefits and cost." This opinion supported the principle that legislatures aren't necessarily bound to any sort of concepts of regulatory policy. Agencies also need not justify the standards they set on cost-benefit grounds. The purpose of the Reagan Administration is to make economic goals more apparent in regulation. The author feels it is foolish to take the the Administration too literally as you cannot solve worker safety and environmental law can be reduced to simply a matter of cost-benefit accounting.

Now onto Substituting Efficiency for Safety. The OSHA was passed in 1970 and was a big win for labor unions. In it it instructs the Secretary of Labor to set "the standard which most adequately assures, to the extent feasible...that no employee will suffer from material impairment of health of functional capacity even if such employee has regular exposure to the hazard..for the period of his working life." An example of this is given when in 1977 the Secretary lowered the parts per million (ppm) exposure level to benzene from 10 to 1ppm. The American Petroleum Institute (API) argued with much evidence that the benefits to the workers did not equal the costs to the industry. The standard therefore did not appear to be rational. The Secretary stood by this standard however on the grounds that the law demanded it. The view was that "an efficient standard might have required safety until it cost the industry more to prevent the risk than it cost workers to accept it." The United States Court of Appeals agreed with the API. This narrowly base Supreme Court decision had a division over the role of economic decisions in in judicial review. Justice Marshall concluded that the decision of the court "requires the American worker to return to the political arena to win a victory that he won before 1970." The decision of the Supreme Court raised many questions. Should courts only uphold only political decisions which can be defended on economic grounds? Should democracy only be allowed so long as it can be constructed as a rational response to a market failure or an attempt to redistribute wealth? The problem behind all this is "An efficiency criterion, as it is used to evaluate public policy, assumes that the goals of our society are contained in the preferences individuals reveal or would reveal in markets." Essentially this ideal assumes we speak our opinions through how much we are willing to pay, rather than listening to and reponding to our views and opinions.

Liberty: Ancient and Modern. Efficiency doesn't work as the criterion of public safety and health as it leads people to ignoring competing visions on what society should be like. It bases overeating off of the market an assumes that is how people think. There are two roles for everyone being the legislator and the consumer. The legislator will not be treated as a bundle of preferences to be juggle in a cost-benefit analysis. Also refered to as the individual, they are to be treated with respect. Benjamin Constant wrote an essay describing this titled De La Liberte des Anciens Comparee a Celle des Moderns. It is a comparison of the ancient world to the modern one in which he (Constant) states that the despite the modern world being more focused on privacy and civil over political liberties, "the individual rarely perceives the the influence that he exercise," The area of natural environment is under the control of public values rather than individuals. Just as we refuse to look at worker safety as a commodity, we refuse to treat the resources from the environment merely as public goods in the economist's sense. How can we balance efficiency with moral. So far Sargoff says that legislative debate and ending in a vote is the best methods we have so far.

Values Are Not Subjective. Essentially this section is a repeat of the cost-benefit analysis information presented throughout the entire chapter so I will only briefly highlight any extra information presented. This section basically describes the viewpoint of the analyst. All valuation happens in foro interno (debate) or in foro publico (has no point). In this format the reasons people give their views does not count only how much their willing to pay to satisfy their wants (as if this were not already beaten into our skulls so far). Economists argue that their role as policy makers is valid as they are neutral among competing values in society. According to James Buchanan the political economist, "is or should be ethically neutral: the indicated results are influenced by his own value scale only insofar as this reflects his membership in a larger group." The beauty of cost-benefit analysis is: "no matter how relevant or irrelevant, wise or stupid, informed or uninformed, responsible or silly, defensible or indefensible wants may be, the analyst is able to derive a policy from them - a policy which is legitimate because, in theory, it treats all of these preferences as equally valid and good."

The next section is titled Preference or Principle? In this section we explore whats called a Kantian conception of value. "The individual, for Kant, is a judge of values, not a mere haver of wants, and the individual judges not for himself or herself merely, but as a member of a relevant community or group." The principle and idea behind this concept is that some values are more reasonable than others. Kant recognizes that values, like beliefs, are states of mind which have an objective content as well. So far we have covered two ways of thinking, the cost-benefit/analyst approach and the Kantian approach. The general message from this section is that there are some questions and issues better suited to the first approach (such as the ration of Frisbees produced to yo-yo's) trivial things, while issues that have an knowledge, wisdom and/or morality component. The latter must be viewed through a Kantian perspective to be dealt with properly, because issues such as abortion can hardly be dealt with in a price margin fashion.

The final section is The Citizen as Joseph K. and is a bit of a wrap up of the Lewiston affair that started off this chapter. The people wanted to know of the dangers they were experiencing and if the sacrifice asked of them was legitimate. The response they received from the corporations was a personalized one. "just people serving people," was what the people were given and is consistent with a particular view of power. It identifies power and with it the ability of an individual to get what they want. If an official were to put aside their personal interests, it is assumed that they put aside theri power to. The people Lewiston are trapped and do not know how to criticize, resist or justify power. For to do this depends on distinctions being made between good and evil, innocence and guilt, etc. Sargoff says that we cannot abandon the moral function of public law. "The antinomianism of cost-benefit analysis is not enough."

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