Who Owns the Earth?
I am somewhat sympathetic to the libertarian, conservative view of people spending their money and assets as they see fit. Thus, if a business owner wants to dump their sewage into a river, have at it. And why should the government regulate how landowners use their land, or how rich people spend or invest their wealth?
In this view, people own their land and assets. Certainly, the government can tax and regulate but, generally speaking, people do whatever they want. What is missing from this is charging for externalities, for shared resources and costs borne by others. But who should manage charging for all this and where should the money go?
I believe the only answer is to institute some form of steady state economics.
As the early industrial revolution demonstrates, the poor are subject to exploitation by rich capitalists. What was not so clear until the environmental movement pointed it out is that the ecosystem is also subject to exploitation by both rich and poor.
Rich people can easily say poor people are poor because they are lazy or dependent on drugs or unwilling to learn employable skills. Certainly this is true in some cases.
A poor person finds it vastly more difficult to get out of poverty while a rich person easily gets ever richer; the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. And the rich have absolutely no incentive to help the poor except when they want to avoid a peasant rebellion with soldiers slaughtering farmers armed with pitchforks and butcher knives.
Why should those having advantage by their birth be allowed to exploit the poor? We are fortunate to live in a society that spends some effort providing subsidized benefits for the poor; we should be doing far more.
Why should the rich own the environment and pollute it? Of course, they produce products used by rich and poor alike. But it seems there should be limits to ownership — who owns what and how much they can own and what they do with it. But who is to decide these matters? Can we trust an elected government to manage such things better than individuals or corporations?