Terminology - Nature's Bounty

One of the popular discussions in the US these days has to do with "framing" an issue. This was partly inspired by a book by George Lakey on the subject. People like Karl Rove have made a career out of picking words that resonate with voters. I think it is time we start to develop our own terminology.

My first stab in the area of resources below:

Traditional economics divided things into three: labor, capital and land. The debate about what constitutes what has been going on ever since the days of Adam Smith.

The economist Henry George devoted the first several chapters of his book "Progress and Poverty" to clearing up the muddle. While his ideas are clear enough, they weren't adopted by others in the same sense and the confusion continues.

I would like to talk about "land". What economists mean by land is a term of art which includes natural resources. What the common man means is quite different.

I propose substituting the term "nature's bounty". That is, what ever exists in the world naturally or as a consequence of natural actions. This includes the usual things like land, rivers and lakes, but also includes forests and extractive minerals. Those things which exist because of the action of the sun and the moon, like the wind and the tides are also part of nature's bounty.

Recently man has discovered new regions of nature's bounty. Some examples: the radio spectrum and the area in space useful for satellites. The thing that all of nature's bounty has in common, is that it exists without the hand of man and that it is a limited resource. Some of nature's bounty is renewable like sunlight, but much is not like coal and oil.

The industrial world has created the concept of private property which allows certain groups to expropriate nature's bounty for their own benefit. This has led to the situation where a public resource is consumed for private gain with no compensation for the loss which will be suffered by all future generations.

To emphasize this fact we need to stop referring to things as natural resources, or land, and start to frame things so that it is clear what is being consumed. We are consuming something which is not ours, it is "nature's bounty" and must be fully accounted for.

Moral: The world is not ours, we are only visitors.


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Copyright © 2006 Robert D Feinman
Feel free to use the ideas, but the words are mine.