Wealth Of Delusion

Half of the expected 50,000-plus delegates are already gathered here at the United Nations’ World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), scheduled to last a fortnight.  Corporate lobbyists huddle prominently with governmental representatives — such summits were, after all, a key forum for Enron and its ilk to promote their own “green” agenda.  Still, the bulk of the activists are of the purer anti-growth species.

Yet it is the Johannesburg agenda, not corporate lobbyists pushing Kyoto and its nascent sister treaties, which represents the most outstanding incongruity.  Though the WSSD is a conference ostensibly over environmental problems, those problems all are borne of poverty, and the prevailing interpretation of “sustainability” is anti-wealth.  One German “institute” received prominent space to hold its seminar on “wealth eradication”.  Peter, meet Paul.

One local magazine dedicates the bulk of its current issue to the relevant problems, of “imbalance between rich and poor.”  On an individual level, that’s a specious concern plainly exposed upon even the slightest scrutiny:  modern Man has redefined poverty.  The poor in free societies possess near-universal access to that which only the upper classes enjoyed a century ago, plus other amenities that most of the world consider luxuries such as refrigeration and temperature control.  For international bureaucrats, that apparently pales against the horrors of people getting very wealthy.

Applied to states this analysis is mendacious, trillions in foreign aid having proven that poor countries aren’t “developing” states at all, but to varying degrees endemically corrupt.  That is one issue the Bush Administration appears set to handle absolutely properly here, demanding “good governance” reforms to secure foreign aid, so unless a country shows it can handle the funds there is simply no point is throwing more good money after bad.

The “hard green” movement and their population-despairing brethren both share the population bogeyman.  Like environmental problems, population troubles are a direct function of poverty.  Poor countries are plagued by adults, unable to create wealth in typically corrupt regimes, procreating beyond their means expressly because they envision their sole prospects for old age sustenance as children with strong filial obligations.

Developed countries do not procreate at any level one could consider “unsustainable” — unless you count that negative growth impedes their ability to support their own elderly.  No, rich countries’ population troubles arise through migrants fleeing poverty.  When a society produces only people, that is what it will certainly and increasingly export.

So, barring a simple anti-prosperity prejudice, experience removes any reasonable dispute that wealth creation is the ticket out of environmental degradation, about which the greens increasingly rail in the face of an ever-improving environment.  Even the UN admits that above a threshold of about $5,000 per capita income, wealthier is cleaner, and therefore healthier.  The same lesson holds true for population.  But, there is an anti-prosperity bias present.  Mainstream publications here call growth “rapacious”, directly akin to greed, even representing “the mentality of a cancer cell.”

Though poverty is the enemy, the Left ritually gathers by the tens of thousands, this time in Johannesburg, to disparage and defeat the wealthiest societies.  These forces, both governmental and non-, espouse restricting freedoms via international agreement to impose their standards, ardently opposed to the U.S. ideal of exporting the broadest guarantees of property rights and unlimited economic opportunity.

Wealth of course means, as most of the world understands, internal plumbing (at minimum, abundant and safe drinking water), electrification and automobility for most among the population.  These facilitators of health, safety, and economic opportunity are undeniably intertwined with freedom.  That is, the environment is bettered not through new international bureaucracies in fancy buildings in chic European cities, but by open markets, property rights and the rule of law.  The WSSD’s solution is creating bureaucracies to “manage” freedoms; a quick review of the program reveals that the amenities of wealth are to come from private hands as only a desperate, last resort.  At minimum, private efforts must be undertaken in “partnership”.

This raises the question:  what is the UN’s real agenda?  It is entertaining to ask a green if she does not so much have a problem with what comes out of the SUV (or, better, minivan), as with what goes in it.  But the inconsistent arguments reveal that theirs is not a purely anti-people campaign.  J.D. Tucille of Free-Market.net, admitting the hazards of guessing motivations, sagely reminds us that “economic liberty and civil freedom (that against which the Joberg agenda seems aggressively geared) minimize the role of government functionaries.”  That is, the sustainability these bureaucrats arguably seek is merely their own.