Jan 16, 2012

MLK Sustainability Quote (?)

I fear MLK is going to become like the Bible, or Adam Smith, or Mao -- you can find snippets to justify anything. If I take a sound-bite from the MLK archive and point it at the challenge of sustainability though, I hope the Karmic powers of social justice will not find fault. Here's the quote:
"The fact is that everybody in this country lives on welfare. Suburbia was built with federally subsidized credit, and the highways which take our white brothers out to the suburbs were built by federal money."

The message is equality and racial barriers, but generically, the point could be "there are hidden subsidies everywhere, and many of them amount to "perverse incentives". These are subsidies that work in opposition to societal goals. The highway subsidy exacerbated the economic disenfranchisement of minorities, but it also created our one and a half hour commutes, and, in tandem with the mortgage deduction (another subsidy), the excess of square footage that is contributing to our energy hangover. The cheap crap that I can buy because some workers somewhere, that have no power to negotiate or other job options, are paid next-to-nothing, is also subsidized, and so I buy more of it. Corporate subsidies are in the news every day now. The "free market" is an artificial construct; things are always skewed. So lets not freak out if somebody suggests we should tweak things a bit to encourage people to act in ways that increase our chances of survival. We created sprawl, and our huge footprint. We are obliged to fix it. The good news is that we can be creating sustainable, livable communities at the same time.