Environmental Degradation as a Ponzi Scheme

Governor Perry considers Social Security to be a Ponzi scheme. I am baffled by this assertion when the program’s unfunded liability out to 2080 is in the neighborhood of 1.2 percent of GDP. Apparently Perry uses the words “Ponzi scheme” to mean “any pay-as-you-go program operated by the federal government.”

Although Perry’s charge is misdirected, the idea that we can harm future generations through unsustainable policies should be taken seriously. Consider: Our current standard of living is being supported by rampant consumption of subsidized fossil fuels and other present-oriented policies that deplete the planet’s finite resource base and that impose other damage on the natural environment. We may live comfortably over the next few decades by melting the polar ice caps, eroding biodiversity, polluting the ocean, and releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

In my view, such unsustainable environmental policies amount to a more frightening and costly Ponzi scheme than any entitlement program. We don’t think about things that way. Maybe we should.

First unrelated programming note: Here’s my web article in the Nation on the death penalty in Texas

Second Unrelated programming note: Word to Mark Kleiman’s post here. The president was good last night.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.