This is part of a series of short posts in which RFF scholars will analyze the environmental plank of the Republican and Democratic Party platforms. This post and others look at the Republican platform. Watch this week for a similar series of posts looking at the Democratic platform’s environmental agenda. As with all posts on Common Resources, this and other posts in this series are the opinions of the authors alone, not Resources for the Future.
The most powerful environmental policy is liberty, the central organizing principle of the American Republic and its people. (2012 Republican Platform, page 19)
Labor and resources are factors of production, which owners of capital are at liberty to use to maximize their profit in the marketplace. They may exercise that liberty as they wish, constrained only by the rule of law established by government. Less government means less constraint means more profit (at least near term), making the deployment of profits to limit government one of the best investments money can buy. But government is the handiwork of equal citizens, not unequal dollar holders, so how can a small percentage of moneyed men at the top get government to do their will? They need to get citizen support at election time, and as time has passed they increasingly have. The historic egalitarian, middle class economy built by grandparents and parents who came through the Depression and World War II is dying out with them. Newer generations have been left to struggle over a stagnant earned income pie. Many who think they can or should be winners in this struggle, or at least hold their own, are looking to grab a share at the expense of those traditionally discriminated against or otherwise vulnerable – including, prominently, the (non-voting) planet. When times harden up, it is tempting to identify and ally with winners, look down on losers and choose the easier path of squeezing the weak over confronting the powerful.
In an enormous, robust economy on a world class resource base, the pattern of wealth generating wealth at the expense of a sustaining environment and a lengthening tail of left behinds can go on for a long time. As far as workers are concerned, we are already three decades in. The fruits of production are not going to the people doing the producing (see chart).
The Republican platform looks further down this path. Republican tax proposals benefit high income filers more than low (extend the Bush income tax cuts; reduce marginal income tax rates an additional 20 percent across the board) and favor unearned income over earned income (eliminate taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for filers up to $200,000; end the estate tax; repeal the alternative minimum tax; reduce the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 25%; allow for return of corporate profits held abroad without US tax) (pg. 2 of the platform). Familiar positions regarding labor also appear – against card check, project labor agreements and Davis-Bacon and for a national right to work law (pg. 8). New this year is praise for Republican governors standing against organized public service workers (also pg. 8).
The platform speaks of an all of the above energy policy (pg. 15), but Republicans support billions of federal tax preferences for oil and gas companies and oppose tax incentives for renewables like the production tax credit for wind power, saying in the platform that they "encourage the cost-effective development of renewable energy, but [that] the taxpayers should not serve as venture capitalists for risky ventures.” (pg. 16).
Elsewhere, references to the environment are oriented toward getting more development:
- modify NEPA to "create regulatory certainty for infrastructure projects, expedite their timetables, and limit litigation against them" (pg. 6).
- "the Forest Service should be charged to use [its forest] resources to the best economic potential for the nation" (pg.17).
- "all efforts should be made to make federal lands managed by the Forest Service available for harvesting" (pg 18).
- "Congress should consider whether parts of the federal government’s enormous landholdings and control of water in the West could be better used for ranching, mining or forestry through private ownership" (pg.18).
- "correctly apply environmental laws and regulations, always in support of economic development, job creation, and American prosperity and leadership" (pg. 19).
- "prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations that will harm the nation’s economy and threaten millions of jobs over the next quarter century" (pg 19).
We do not know how far we can continue along this path, but we know that there is a sting in the tail. People will not easily settle for subsistence, and people in the streets are not powerless. Nonetheless, they can be beaten. But nature cannot be beaten, and it will have the ultimate say on human sustainability. People belong to the planet, not vice versa -- a law of nature which even the biggest economic hegemons are not at liberty to violate.