Hawaii Needs Free Markets, Not “Sustainability”

Daniel de Gracia II 

In Hawaii, one of the latest buzzwords to take policymakers by storm is “sustainability,” and in 2005, the 23rd Legislature of the State of Hawaii established the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Task Force.  The Task Force defined sustainability  as the “preferred future” for our islands , in which “systems replenish themselves. They don’t rely on the consumption of economic, social and environmental assets for progress.” Who could possibly be against that, right? But there’s only one problem: That kind of “sustainability” comes at the cost of a government-dictated economy and it is a model whose origins do not come from our island values or founding American traditions. If this vision of sustainability prevails, we are headed for Paradise Lost.


One of the first mentions of “sustainability” as it applies to economic progress and environmental protection was made by the United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1987. The Brundtland Commission (also known as the World Commission on Environment and Development) was convened per the mandate of a General Assembly resolution requesting a special commission be formed to develop an international policy vision for the year 2000 and beyond.


The Commission, chaired by Norwegian physician Gro Harlem Brundtland, released a 374- page report entitled Our Common Future which stated, “What is needed now is a new era of economic growth, growth that is forceful”iv and that “sustainable global development requires that those who are more affluent adopt life-styles within the planet’s ecological means”.


Brundtland’s team of 22 policymakers saw the planet as a single organism populated by a smaller organism – mankind – which was out of balance and in need of control and regulation to prevent destruction of the biosphere. “This commission’s hope for the future,” their report states, “is conditional on decisive political action now to begin managing environmental resources.”


The U.N. panel was certain that climate change “springs directly from increased resource use,”  reinforcing the belief that under a free market system humans will simply do what they do best and destroy the planet in their quest for survival, growth, and development. “The role of public policy,” says the report, “is to ensure, through incentives and disincentives, that commercial organizations find it worthwhile to take fuller account of environmental factors in the technologies they develop.”


Unfortunately for Hawaii’s residents, what should have been an ignored and misplaced memorandum collecting dust in the deepest bowels of a State Department warehouse was somehow reincarnated by the 23rd Legislature in 2005 as the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Task Force.


The Brundtland Commission featured 22 experts; the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Task Force featured 25. The U.N. report painted the picture of a world plagued by deforestation, desertification, and widespread inequality; the Hawaii report painted the picture of “fragile island ecosystems” threatened by “invasive species” and how “disputes between the sectors are a bit more fierce, most recently with the Hawaii Superferry incident where the issues of growth and access between our islands were in conflict.” Brundtland’s people believed that the greenhouse effect came from increased use of resources, and the Hawaii Sustainability Task Force likewise asserted that there “is irrefutable evidence that global warming is real and occurring at an alarming rate.”


Just like the U.N. had determined that an optimal world had to be controlled by government planners into “growth that is forceful,” the Hawaii Sustainability Task Force determined that the State “must be more aggressive in directing growth” and like the U.N., likewise believed central planning and behavioral modification through a combination of carrot-and-stick legislation and public conditioning were essential in creating what it called the preferred future.


To spare you the effort of having to read both the 1987 Brundtland Commission Report and the Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan, know that the two reports are nearly identical in their conclusions, and the only difference is that wherever the U.N. report mentioned inequalities of the Third World or developing nations, the Hawaii report replaces those words with “Kanaka Maoli” (Native Hawaiians) or “poor and needy,” and repackages it all in a shorter, 87-page report flowered with local terms and pictures of Hawaii. The spirit and objectives of both reports, however, are essentially the same.


The Austrian economist Frederich Hayek warned, “The more the state plans, the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.” The reason why central planning doesn’t work is because the world we live in is completely unpredictable and changing every moment. Who would have thought in 2005 when the Legislature voted for the 2050 Sustainability Task Force to be created that in less than three years, Hawaii would be embroiled in a fiscal crisis with its revenues in the red – and yet, twenty five people thought that they knew best about how to plan the next 45 years of Hawaii’s people into a one-size fits all model. The concept that a handful of people can somehow steer an economy is fatal to economic growth and stability. The only model that works is the free market, because the free market is able to adapt rapidly to change, whereas government planning is forced to remain committed to error until new policy can be enacted by legislation or until policymakers are ejected from office. The free market is able to make instantaneous corrections whenever mistakes are made or inequalities arise. Since the free market is based entirely upon supply and demand, the free market is a more “sustainable” concept than government enforcement.


The Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan is the worst possible way of approaching Hawaii’s future. Not only does it borrow heavily from the United Nations’ model of global governance and operate based on scientific theories of climate change and planetary capacity which are very much in dispute, but it puts forward the basic proposition that people are merely clay to be molded by the government into whatever government sees fit. This is simply unacceptable.


Government cannot ensure an environment where there are only profits and no losses. Government cannot provide absolute security against planetary change, environmental disasters and socio-economic inequalities. To attempt to do these things would be to commit to a course that cannot be accomplished by a free society.


It’s time to rethink our attitudes towards sustainability and start asking some hard questions. Do we believe that individuals have a right to determine their own future, or should government say what the preferred future for Hawaii is?


The question, fellow liberty lovers, is yours.



Daniel de Gracia, II is an ordained minister and has a Master’s degree in Political Science from Southwest Texas State University and specializes in international organizations and comparative politics. He is a columnist with the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle, and lives in Waipahu, Hawaii.

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