A Definitive Fork in the Road

A Definitive Fork in the Road

by Steve Ulvi

San Juan Island

We conflate our form of government, representative democracy/republic, with our economic system, capitalism, despite the startling divergence of emphasis of these organizational forms. No matter how you parse these concepts, or define your world view, today’s political decisions regulating and reinvesting our immense national wealth and power, clearly favor a small minority of citizens and concentrate wealth shamefully.

The fatal flaw of capitalism has always been in ignoring “negative externalities” – unaddressed bad consequences- in industrial development and production that rightly should be addressed in the initial cost of production. It is irrational and economically inefficient to ignore externalities that allow privatization of maximum profit while socializing deleterious impacts on citizens and the natural environs. How is it possible that shared clean air and water, essential for health and the community of life, continue to be subservient to capitalist profit-taking in 2019?

Government fails when it does not adequately control the destructive excesses of capitalism in order to protect inalienable human rights, ecosystem services and the public commons. Not to mention honoring future generations.

We know that the accumulation of atmospheric pollution caused by madly burning fossil fuels since the first steam engine in 1780, has become a cataclysmic, human-driven global externality. The open collusion of American government and powerful business interests is in servitude to capital and those who have it, while all but destroying the shrinking middle class’s abilities to build equity and financial solvency by their own labor. Plutocracy. There will be a reckoning.

Any hope for future community resilience in order to endure the cascading impacts of severe climate disruption fueling festering social inequity and collapsing ecosystems, lies in community self-determination. The key is a political willingness to participate in governance and actively harness economic forces toward a locally sustainable community.

We enjoy an especially hopeful island geography with a strong, but tenuous economy. Our land bank and more recent affordable housing fund, are unique examples of affirmatively employing corrective shaping of a strong economy by imposing small taxes on private property sales after petition by residents and a majority vote. Harnessing the problem to fund the solution. Promising public access to the restorative tranquility of nature and permanently affordable homes to enable our essential working families to settle in for the long haul.

We continue to hem and haw at a definitive fork in the road, as revealed in the details of the rigorous update of our county Comprehensive Plan. We either exert intelligent control over free-wheeling capitalist forces that blindly diminish future options for community self-determination, or we suffer the compounding externalities of the out of control mantra of growth for its own sake.

We only have so much leverage in the regional maelstrom to come. How about incentivizing sustainable practices; agricultural expansion for local food and critical carbon sequestration, more diverse economic sectors, small business expansion, carbon neutrality, over-tourism reduced, healthy family cohesion, electric cars, additional taxes on empty homes, large scale composting.

Anything is possible.