Twin troubles awaken new politics

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Choosing between economic and ecological conservatism

By John Bartlit

Should we worry about the national debt? Is it wise not to cut down a mountainside full of trees to meet current needs?
The questions together are a curious pair. Or more to the point, how curious that we never hear the questions asked together.       
They are but two forms of the same question: How do we husband assets so as to maintain capabilities for those who come later?              
Mull on it. The fields of economics and ecology are more the same than different. They are chapters in the same book.
Even their names look oddly alike for a reason. “Economist” and “ecologist” both derive from the Greek word “ecos” (oikos), which means “house.” Originally an economist was a manager or keeper of the house (home economist).
An ecologist is a keeper of the big house in which we all live.
The theme of the national debt crisis is we cannot spend more than we replenish on an ongoing basis. Overspending results in loss of the nation’s long-term ability to raise capital at a decent price.
Lenders run away. The money supply erodes. Lenders in the U.S. and abroad demand higher interest rates.
The case against overcutting trees on a mountainside is we cannot cut more trees than we replenish on an ongoing basis.
Overcutting results in loss of the mountain’s long-term ability to raise trees at a decent price. Water runs away. Soil erodes. Nutrients are not replenished by nature.
Water, soil and nutrients cost more to deliver than before.
There is one large difference between money and a mountainside of trees.
Money is money and can be moved anywhere it is needed.
In contrast, trees on one mountainside cannot stop floods and erosion on another mountain.
 Economics and ecology evolved from the same batch of principles.
Both pursuits find the same unyielding link between what is sown and what is reaped, which ultimately governs outcomes.
The disciplines coalesce in a popular saying: There is no such thing as a free lunch.
And thereby hangs a tale or two. Milton Friedman was a conservative-minded, world-renowned economist at the University of Chicago from 1946 to 1977.
He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976. He popularized the economic axiom by using it as the title of his 1977 book, “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.”    
Barry Commoner was a liberal-minded, world-renowned ecologist at Washington University in St. Louis from 1947 to 1981.
He put forward the Four Laws of Ecology, of which #4 states there is no such thing as a free lunch. Those are the very words.        
The Fourth Law of Ecology was not pillaged  from Milton Friedman.
It is distinctly true in either venue.   
“There is no free lunch” is a mainstay of conservative economists and conservative ecologists.
Both schools of caretakers anchor their doctrine in the same bedrock. The strangest irony is hearing both camps recite the same truth to damn each other.
Political banners copy the quirk.
 One party selects economic conservatism and the other selects ecological conservatism.
Each one wants to conserve half our assets and deplete a vital half.   
What if a third party were to rise from the status quo?
A rising party needs a pointed name that stands apart from the old ones freighted with icons, a name that prods us to solve the problems we face.
A sharp prod of a name is the “Generations Party.”
The new party platform is easy to construct.
It pops up everywhere we turn, on the right, the left and in between.
Economic and natural assets are intertwined; loss to one hurts the other.
We need both to stay strong for generations to come.
The Generations Party keeps sight of the bedrock. We reap what we sow.  
There is no such thing as a free lunch.        

John Bartlit
New Mexico Citizens
for Clean Air & Water