All Commentary
Thursday, March 1, 1973

The Natural Controls


Mr. Batten, experienced forester and student of human and natural resources, presently is a free-lance writer in Boulder, Colorado.

“We reject all forms of racial oppression or political enslavement. Above all, we see in war the ultimate misuse of science, the baleful destroyer of all economic and social benefit and the final betrayal of our common humanity.”

This statement was buried at the end of a list of General Principles adopted by the Non-Governmental Organizations meeting in an Environment Forum in conjunction with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm last June.

Another principle from the Forum: “We must accept new economic perspectives…. Both in production and physical consumption, the world economy must come to be in balance with environmental carrying capacity.” Another noble goal — but do the delegates to the Forum mean the same thing as I when we agree that “We must accept new economic perspectives?”

A person’s conception of that statement depends on how he views today’s economy. In order to understand each other, we must first define what we see.

In the world economy of today, I see a world of division; a world struggle for power; a world torn apart by trade barriers; increasing reliance on the force of government to fulfill human goals; increasing demands that those who are better off “share” their good fortune with the less fortunate; a world of bickering, violence, and conflict as many nations and individuals seek to gain advantage and power over others through force — the force of majority rule, the force of alliances, or the force of brute strength.

On the other hand, the majority of the delegates to the Environment Forum probably see in our present system that the undeveloped peoples, races and nations have been held back by force by wealthier nations, or by colonialism. They feel a sense of despair at being unable to rise above poverty because of trade barriers or legal restrictions imposed on them by the more powerful; they envy the more wealthy, and see wealth to be gained with power. They attribute all the good things of the developed nations to the power those nations have wielded in international politics, and their own lack of wealth to their own lack of power.

International Planning

Their solutions, then, are more government planning on an international scale; a world system of taxation, the spoils to be used to help the developing nations control environmental problems; and a redistribution of the world’s resources.

These are not measures that will lead toward more freedom, less slavery, the elimination of poverty, or an end to war. Those who support them simply seek to wrest power from those who have it, and give power to those who do not —the same old method that has been used throughout the history of man. As long as this attitude prevails in this nation and on this earth, mankind will be doomed to conflict and violence, and some part of it will be doomed to poverty and slavery.

It is the very exercise of power that creates slavery, keeps one nation or race bonded to others more powerful, leads to violence such as that tragic incident in Munich last August, and causes wars.

A truly new perspective would be one that would drop trade barriers, drop laws and agreements that give to some advantage over others through the force of some legal structure, and give the individual the freedom to do with his resources what will best meet his own goals.

It is logical to ask: Without some kind of controls, how can we be expected to conserve resources, and live within earth’s human carrying capacity? Won’t we just keep on using up materials at our present alarming rate?

The answer is that we have controls through natural law that are much more efficient than any controls man can devise. Without man-made interventions, the natural controls would operate freely, and would serve to bring the economy into balance with environmental carrying capacity.

Man does not make the laws that compose the system of nature. He only discovers them. He cannot repeal them, no matter how hard he may try.

Though man has learned to fly, he has not repealed the law of gravity. He has only learned to apply other laws of nature in such a way that he can create lifting forces stronger than the pull of gravity. When the systems that man has devised fail, he crashes back to earth.

Supply and Demand

There are economic laws such as the law of supply and demand: If the supply of an economic good remains constant and demand rises, then prices will also rise. If the supply increases and the demand remains constant, then prices will fall.

It is this law, working in combination with others, that provides the means for the world economy to come into balance with its supply of natural resources.

Since natural laws govern the forces of life that created this universe in which we live, all of those laws are in harmony with each other. If man can learn more about them, and use them in his human and economic relations, he will learn to live in peace with his fellow men, and in harmony with his environment.

Under natural law, it is the function of prices to bring supply and demand toward balance. Thus, when the reserves of natural gas appear to be running short, and demands are increasing, we find the prices going up — in spite of the attempts of regulatory agencies to hold them down.

If the prices are successfully held down, we can be sure that there will be shortages of natural gas in the near future. If prices are allowed to find their own level, they will rise to the point where gas producers will be willing to invest risk capital in a search for more reserves.

Yet, it is to the best interest of those same producers that the prices not go too high — because at some point, it will become more profitable to produce gas from coal, or to develop some other source of energy. If the producers are not successful in locating more reserves, then the price of gas will continue to rise until alternative sources of energy are developed and substituted.

In short, as defined by one economist, economics is the science of making scarce materials go around. If we let it work, the natural system of economic law will provide that the scarce resources of earth continue to meet human needs.

It is when man intervenes to upset the workings of economic nature that he begins to have troubles. It is when he tries (always without success) to repeal natural laws — by artificial trade barriers, price controls, production quotas, inflationary policies, and other means — that we find ourselves destroying our natural resources and our environment.