Carol Kuczora: Toward an ethical economy |

Carol Kuczora: Toward an ethical economy

Who should remain sick because they can’t pay for medical expenses or insurance? Who should not fulfill his or her potential because they can’t pay for education? Nobody, of course. And in many countries that is unthinkable.

Except here. So much for “equal opportunity.” Such deprivations are unethical.

What makes something ethical? Laws? Authority? Tradition? No, those are what sociologists call mores (“MO-rays”), not ethics. Morals (from mores) are relative to culture. Ethics are virtually universal, like the Golden Rule.

Ethics arise from natural compassion. From birth to adulthood, the human sphere of compassion grows ever outward to encompass more people, more living things. Similarly, our perspective in time allows us to care about the future, even beyond our lives. We care about each other, and we care about consequences of our actions.

There is, of course, a counter impulse. Under threat of injury or loss, we regress to self-protective sentiments, even aggression. What’s all this got to do with economics?

Corporate capitalism embodies an incentive system that squelches compassion. To make a killing, one can’t “afford” to care about long-term consequences or harm to others; that would cut into profit. It is also short-sighted, commonly focused on quarterly interest. Moreover, run rampant, capitalism tends to concentrate wealth into fewer and fewer hands. And consolidation puts free enterprise out of business.

That concentration causes the majority of the population to become poorer. Is that the objective of any economic system? No, it sends the whole process into a self-destructive wobble. And, income inequality is even a predictor of violence.

Economics is about production and distribution. Politics is about decision making and who gets to do it. Economic and political systems can be mixed and matched. They are on different scales. Some countries have chosen different economic systems through democratic political processes. If the objective of an economic system were to maximize fulfillment and avoid undeserved loss and grief, it would work very differently than corporate capitalism.

The biggest ethical issue ever to confront humankind, because of its dire consequences, is the climate crisis. Consider the scope, the prospect of suffering, as heat becomes unbearable and droughts, floods, and rising oceans displace people. To know is to act — or to cower.

Beyond our wasteful habits developed in a period of abundance, the biggest contributor to the climate crisis has been the behavior of the big actors — corporations and government. Corporations have typically “externalized” the costs of pollution and waste, leaving the consequences for the public to contend with. Governments have waged destructive wars, a huge source of pollution and waste of resources.

Virtually all scientists and most people understand that the resultant unprecedented emissions of greenhouse gases are overheating the planet by trapping solar radiation. Still, many people still fail to grasp the urgency.

How do we fix this mess? I trust most of us have been doing all the little things: We change our light bulbs, drive and fly less, avoid single-use plastics, eat less red meat. Those measures are not nearly enough. We also have to do the big stuff — or get corporations and governments to. They’re the large-scale polluters. That means we have to boycott and lobby and write and pressure CEO’s and legislators to do the right thing.

What is the right thing? Is there a way to assure a habitable earth for our children? Achieve economic fairness? Save democracy from authoritarianism? Are those related? Yes: Unregulated corporate greed has destabilized the economy, corrupted our politics, and threatens the planetary life-support system.

California’s Cap and Trade system might help, but the legislative plan that appears most likely to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, while reducing gross economic injustice, is the proposed Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, HR 763. The Senate companion bill is S 3791.

That is a national bipartisan market-based plan to charge extractors and importers of fossil fuels a fee at the source, and distribute the revenue evenly to families every month. That would benefit most people while incentivizing development of the clean energy sources of the future. It’s a big step toward a more ethical economy through our political process – and, what is even more important, a habitable Earth for our children.

Research it with an open mind. Start here, by visiting

Carol Kuczora lives in Grass Valley.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to correct the number of HR 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. The Union regrets the error.

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