The Weath of Nations and Nature

March 9, 2018

We are inspired this week by an article in The Conversation, which tells the story of a fusion between the ‘need’ for plastics and a new plant-based plastic solution, with the potential to heal the world by putting nature as the central stakeholder in the manufacturing, use and disposal of plastics.

It is a hopeful article for today, in particular. Today, the 9th of March, is also the anniversary of the publication of Adam Smith’s, Wealth of Nations, a book of great fame held to be the capitalist’s handbook; a devotee of fusing the concept of ‘free’ with the word ‘market’. In a lesser known aspect of Smith’s work, he said that we needed to exercise self-restraint in the pursuit of self-interest: it has also been a less-applied aspect of the work.

As the timescale stretches from its original publication in 1776, Wealth of Nations, there is an observation and an increasing awareness, that as far as nature goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch; and there is also a limit to the number of lunches it may be able to produce.

Those responsible for creating ‘free’ economic policy, have often used the economics of Smith to create approaches to progress that have been devastating to the planet; perhaps failing to regard nature as the ultimate warehouse of resources.

Perhaps to our forefathers (and foremothers), the vastness of the earth was less conceivable than it is in today’s connected world. Perhaps the ability of the earth to absorb waste and still produce resources was conceived as non-exhaustive. Perhaps no one was conceiving anything as humans took on the role of the ‘user’ and the planet became the ‘used’.

Whether we put it down to accidental ignorance or willful ignorance, the ignorance has not led us to bliss. Continued ignorance won’t put us back on the right path.

Deeper questions are being asked about the relationship between our natural environment and the social, economic and spiritual dimensions of that environment are important. Those deeper questions are leading to new solutions and different choices about how we exercise our ‘freedom’ in the market, putting the power of choice in the hands of consumers.

We are all learning how to make better choices, and swapping bad habits for better habits as is the consequence of understanding. The Byron and Northern Rivers community would, I safely suspect, be able to lead many other communities in this regard – one of those cases where the crowd is better than the leader. So I’ll end by asking, “What can we do better?”

One Response to “The Weath of Nations and Nature”

  • Mike says:

    Plant based plastics would be great, the only problem is the rich oil based economies/counties of the world who because of self interest will resist any threat to their market share and the oil companies that employ hundreds of thousands of people will not let this threat to there business model threaten their profits. this is the main problem with capitalism, people want to hold onto capital and not share. Even when we are faced with a catastrophic outcome, money seems to win out?

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