- Jul 07
Laying a Foundation
Newsletter Article - July 2008
In the effort to sustain Cape Cod and to develop an organization that engages individuals to work towards that end, we encourage the sharing of knowledge and experience by groups as well as individuals.
In a capitalist economy, competing self-interests spur economic growth and build wealth. The Scottish economist Adam Smith articulated the principles of the individual’s “invisible hand” more than 200 years ago. Smith published his ideas at a time that coincided with the American Revolution in which we broke away from Great Britain and established a new political framework that relied on the voting rights of the individual. And throughout our history, shared or common interests have often become broad-based coalitions for change.
“Trust-busting” efforts of the early twentieth century restricted the emergence of monopolies. The “New Deal” set in place programs designed to counter the consequences of the Great Depression. The “Great Society” chipped away at social barriers that limited the access of minorities, especially blacks, to economic opportunity and political power. And opposition to military operations mired in Vietnam led us to change course and pull out and end that conflict. Anti-war sentiment now is pursuing similar end results regarding our ongoing military operations in Iraq. All of those accomplishments resulted from the invisible hands of individuals seeking solutions to problems.
In the broad mix of matters that fall within the term “sustainability,” concerns about “climate change” have emerged as a groundswell of common interest. This groundswell is not only affecting our national policy but also that of state and local governments.
The private sector too is focused on these climate concerns, and companies are resetting their mission statements to be “green” or “sustaining.” We see marketing slogans similar to that of one of our local utilities which states that “climate is everything.”
In each of these instances, broad common interests took shape as similar self-interests coalesced. Public policies and business practices changed in response to these shared self-interests. And this occurs constructively to the extent that individuals form their thoughts and opinions based on accurate and commonly shared information.
We serve our own self-interests when the broad community is engaged in civic life. This engagement fosters the exchange of information, and this sharing of knowledge then makes it easier both to understand the priorities and observe the practices of our public and business leaders. It is the joining of our “invisible” hands that makes the hand of those in power visible, whether their power is economic or political. As citizens in a democracy, we need to know the direction in which we are actually heading. We need to understand how closely it relates to the expressed intentions of those we’ve empowered to lead us.
Sustainability is all about this exchange of accurate information. And to that end, we have established a Web site that encourages this exchange and welcomes content provided by others who have specific areas of interest and expertise. We are also building a database of individuals and organizations committed to Cape Cod and to sustaining its quality of life. We look for ways to promote and supplement the efforts of nonprofits. We regard education and the exchange of ideas as the fundamental underpinnings of our society. Education and training are the essential foundation of economic opportunity and well-being for individuals.
Sustainability is far more than the concern about “climate change” or the “green” initiatives that are emerging as a set of shared “self-interests.” Sustainability is fundamentally a set of “invisible hands” and interests that help shape our common interaction. Sustainability is not top down, it is bottom up. It relies on collaboration, not command and control. It is an “invisible hand” that can guide society in shaping its priorities and attending to the consequences of its economic, social, and public policies.
Allen Larson, President
Cape Cod Center for Sustainability