Ten years ago, no one would have considered pollution as providing one of a country’s major financial problems. The point has been reached however, where the capacity of the natural systems which make up the biosphere, to go on absorbing with impunity the ever increasing quantities of the 2 million or so pollutants we are continuously exposing them to, is being severely strained.
The damage done, let us not forget, is cumulative, over and above the rate of natural recovery, which is, in relation to the damage, minimal. What is more, the problem is no longer purely a local one, it is becoming increasingly global. Throughout the world, mainly by annihilating fish populations (especially in inland waterways), by reducing fresh water supplies, by stunting plant growth, by corroding buildings, and significantly contributing to the development of a new set of diseases of which cancer is the most widespread and the most devastating, it is visibly beginning to affect the nature and extent of human activities and hence that of the economic process to which they are increasingly geared.
What is important to realise is that the costs involved must be paid for one way or another, either directly or indirectly in the form of expenditure on pollution-control installations. Most of it, as it happens, is likely to be paid in the former way, because pollution-control is not that effective and also because the capital to pay for it is unlikely to be made available in anything like the amounts required.
For this there are two obvious reasons over and above the general shortage of capital.
Firstly, pollution still ranks low in the average man’s preoccupations, and hence among Government priorities. Neither growing affluence, nor increased knowledge of environmental problems seem to influence governments to spend more on pollution-control than is essential to keep the economic machine functioning and to take the air out of the sails of the more clamorous environmentalist movements.
Consider for instance that neither Hull nor Montreal are equipped with any sewage treatment plants of any kind – and that the excrement of their inhabitants is simply released as raw sewage into the nearest waterway. Seen in the light of the latter’s megalomaniac extravagance, in building a complex of tunnels and motorways which make its approaches more daunting than those to Los Angeles, in constructing the biggest airport in the world, and in putting up the most ambitious installations of all time to accommodate a one-off sporting event, this can only be regarded as truly scandalous.
Secondly, many industries simply could not support the full cost of really effective pollution control. This appears to be true of feedlot operators, who very often cannot get rid of animal wastes, save by dumping them in the nearest waterway.
It appears to be true of the asbestos industry. The fibres most closely associated with asbestosis and lung cancer seem to be the smallest ones – which can only be detected with an electron microscope and which it is unlikely to be economic to control.
It is certainly true of uranium mining, in which the casualty rate from lung cancer among miners must remain inordinately high (as much as 50 percent in some mines, it appears).
It is so of the nuclear industry in general, which has not found a means of reducing the exposure of its workers to levels as much as thirty times higher (5 rems which is the new proposed annual limit in the US) than that at present judged acceptable (0.17 rems) for the general public, nor of separating its wastes from the biosphere for anything like the time they will remain highly toxic to most forms of life.
In general, it must be so of all those industries making toxic synthetic substances which cannot be effectively recycled by life processes such as PVCs, PCBs, organophosphate and organochlorine pesticides, etc. whose general use, as Commoner has so convincingly shown, has been responsible more than anything else for the radically increased pollution of the last decades.  There is probably no economic means of preventing these substances – when in general use as they are today – from causing serious biological damage, save by not producing them. Since this would mean correspondingly reducing economic activity, it is not today acceptable.
In spite of this, pollution-control in the US, according to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), is likely to cost $194 billion in the decade 1973 to 1982 with peak spending in 1976 amounting to $320 per family of four. This means an expenditure of nearly $20 billion per year. It is admitted that even this will not effectively cut down pollution damage. According to CEQ, it will lead to a general improvement in air pollution. Water pollution problems, on the other hand will probably get worse. There is likely to be little progress in land use planning, and pesticide production is likely to continue growing.
The total costs are likely to be very considerably higher – and, at the present stage of the art, largely unquantifiable. Several attempts, however, have been made to calculate some of the biospheric costs of pollution, and to show how they must eventually be reflected in economic costs.
Watt considers this problem with respect to four Californian counties, two of which, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo are relatively air-pollution free, while the two others, Riverside and San Bernardino, are close to Los Angeles, and hence highly polluted.  He found that the incidence of respiratory diseases is 2 – 5 times less in the former than in the latter. He considers that clearing the air pollution would reduce the death rate by 38 percent. Further material from both the US and the UK, according to Watt, suggest that this is an underestimate and that 50 percent would be more realistic. He considers that the direct costs are so high that “almost any expenditure to control air pollution in big cities would be justified”.
Zerbe calculated that in 1965 air pollution costs in Canada were $52.46 per head, $70.94 in Ontario and $93.98 in Toronto.  On the basis of these calculations, Pollution Probe estimate that by 1980 these figures would be respectively $115.38, $156.78 and $207.70 – assuming that pollution levels will increase in proportion to economic activity and population trends. This would mean total costs by 1980 of over $4.2 billion for Canada as a whole, nearly $2 billion for Ontario, nearly $1.8 billion for Toronto.
These figures only take into account a fraction of the probable total costs, direct or indirect. No value is assigned, for instance, to human suffering or death, aesthetic costs or ecosystem damage – all of which in a variety of ways, must eventually be translated into economic costs.
In general, the real costs incurred by industry in polluting our natural environment have only just begun to be internalised and as this proceeds, which indeed it must do, so will the viability of industrial enterprise be correspondingly reduced.Back to top
If the public is beginning to awaken to the cost of pollution it is also beginning to feel that its interest as consumers does not always coincide with that of the producers. This new awareness, whose flames have been fanned by the activities of the indefatigable Ralph Nader, is giving rise to a very considerable increase in the costs of regulating industrial production so as to assure that consumer products conform to the ever more exacting new standards set by Government in answer to ever more vocal consumerist agitation.
In the estimation of President Ford $130 billion – or $2,000 per family – are spent every year just in enforcing these standards. Their cost to industry is, needless to say, considerably higher.
As a result of the pressure applied by the Consumer Products Safety Association, the price of a $100 lawnmower is said to have gone up to $185,  that of automobiles so as to meet current safety as well as pollution standards by $320 . Tyre manufacturers complain that safety standards have increased their costs by $150 million  while Federal Drug Standards are said to cost consumers $200 – 300 million a year.
The regulations established by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) are said to have increased costs in all by as much as $3.12 billion  and these, it is expected, will rise very considerably once new noise standards are established.
Particularly significant is the result of a public survey which showed that 56 percent of Americans want even more government regulation and only 45 percent want less, which seems to reflect the growing mistrust of industry. It suggests that these new costs will have to be met if the public is to be persuaded to accept the industrial way of life; and indeed, as awareness grows concerning the real costs of industrial activity, they can but increase still further.Back to top
In a traditional society, the functions of social control are assumed by the family and the small community at no financial cost. The reason is that both these basic units of social organisation are self-regulating, as are the other natural systems – biological organisms, ecosystems etc – that make up the biosphere.
A mother does not have to be paid to look after her children, nor to assure the proper functioning of her household. Nor does a husband have to be paid to assure his family’s material sustenance and protect it from the various challenges to which it may be subjected.
This is also true of the small community when left to itself. The members of an African tribe, for instance, all participate in its government simply as a matter of course. It is their duty to do so, and also their cherished prerogative. The same is still true of those few communities in Europe where participatory democracy is still practiced, for instance in a number of the more rural Swiss Cantons.
It ceases to be the case, however, once the functions normally fulfilled by the family and the community have been usurped by an institution that is external (asystemic) to these natural systems, thereby rendering them redundant and assuring in this way their inevitable disintegration.
This, however, gives rise to two sets of costs: firstly those involved in paying for the institutions that attempt, rather inadequately to take over; secondly those involved in controlling the pathological symptoms of social disintegration, which must inevitably manifest themselves in different forms.
Thus, the educative function of the family and the community has been largely usurped by the state, which has given rise to the ever increasing cost of putting up and operating a plethora of educational establishments. Increasingly, things that were once learned during the course of growing up within the family and of everyday living within the community, must be formally taught with the aid of increasingly elaborate technological devices, in specialised educational institutions of some sort, and the cost is rapidly getting out of hand.
At the same time this means a reduction in family and community responsibility. It also means that youth is correspondingly submitted to socially random influences, i.e. influences that are not designed to help them fulfil their family and community functions which is what education, in traditional societies, is all about.  The result of this is further social disintegration and further institutional costs.
The economic functions of the family, in particular, have been usurped by the developing cash economy. Such functions as tending the vegetable garden, baking bread, cooking the family meals and making the clothes for the different members of the family, contributed to its cohesion and assured that it remained a real unit of behaviour. Increasingly, today, both husband and wife must go out to work to pay for the growing number of material goods and services required for the purposes of everyday living.
Very few activities occur in the home – which is largely empty except at night. Food is bought in supermarkets – convenience foods at that, requiring the minimum of preparation in the home, while clothes and other material goods are all bought in shops. Even entertainment is provided from the outside in the form of radio and television programmes.
Just as people increasingly live in dormitory suburbs, they now also live in dormitory homes – lifeless shells – that provide an ever less adequate social environment for their members.
The economic functions of the community that once contributed to making it a viable social unit have been largely usurped by large commercial concerns. The very shape of a modern settlement is that which best favours the functioning of such concerns; social considerations being regarded as almost irrelevant and people being moved from one community to the next in accordance with the requirements of their work – which prevents the establishment of any durable social bonds. It is said that in the US, less than 15 percent of people live in the area in which they were born.
The welfare function of the family and community have also been usurped – largely by state institutions. Day-care centres are increasingly exempting women from the duty (and the pleasure) of bringing up their children, while old people’s homes exempt them from those of caring for the elderly, and vast free state-run hospitals make it unnecessary for them to look after members of their family who should happen to fall sick.
Once the family and community have been effectively destroyed in this way, people become entirely dependent on state welfare. As this occurs, a veritable new social class comes into being, which Jordan  refers to as the “Claiming Class”. Its development in industrial countries is noticeably giving rise to a right-wing reaction among the working classes, who despise the claimants and resent their ability to obtain, by various bureaucratic stratagems, all sorts of financial benefits for very little work. This, together with a similar resentment for foreign workers and immigrants of different ethnic groups, is probably the most important new factor in the politics of many industrial countries.
The social control function of the family and the community has also been usurped by increasing government control of almost every aspect of people’s lives. Public opinion, reflecting traditional values, has always been the only really effective instrument of social control. There is little social deviancy in an African tribe, nor even in a rural village – to the extent that it has succeeded in remaining outside the orbit of the larger conurbations.
The cost of replacing this self-regulating mechanism by external institutions – the police force, law courts, prisons, and every type of institution for caring for those who have resorted to some form of retreatism in an effort to escape from the intolerable social environment – is increasingly exorbitant, as is the direct cost of the damage done by these different types of deviants. These are all the social costs of economic growth and, as they increase, so do they render industrial activity that much less viable.
A measure of family disintegration in the US is provided by the following facts. In 1973, there were 913,000 divorces in a single year, one for every four marriages.  In 1974, 6.6 million families were headed by women (one out of every eight, a 50 percent increase since 1955) many of whom, indeed a greater proportion than ever before, had never married. 
In Britain there were 621,000 single women struggling to bring up 1,080,000 children  – who will thereby all be subjected to different degrees of family deprivation and will grow up to display a correspondingly pronounced tendency towards some form of social deviance.
It must be noted that this situation could not occur in a traditional society, in which firmly entrenched cultural patterns strongly backed by public opinion prevent a situation arising in which children could be brought up in an unsatisfactory family environment of this sort.
What makes matters worse is that divorced women are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain support from their husbands, of whom, according to a study in Wisconsin (1972) 20 percent were in arrears on payments after one year, and 42 percent were paying nothing at all.
What is more, in general the women concerned must work full-time which means that their children are not only deprived of a father but, during most of the day of a mother as well. 
A further measure of family breakdown in the US and the UK is the increasing violence within the remains of the family unit. Battered wives have suddenly emerged in the UK, and also in the US, as a major social problem. In many US cities, domestic violence often leads to death, and is indeed responsible for a high proportion of all murders.
Another measure is the number of runaway or ‘throwaway’ children, which is increasing very rapidly. In 1975, it was expected that the figure for the USA would increase by 50 percent over the 1974 figure.  Their fate is generally unpleasant. Among other things, they provide the principal source of prostitutes in most large American cities.
A further measure is the increased abandonment of old people, who tend to be confined to institutions, where they are ‘stored’ at very considerable cost – often under heavy sedation – until they die. In Britain, the cost of maintaining the aged is said to absorb nearly 45 percent of the country’s total expenditure on welfare, a figure that is expected to grow with the predicted further increase in their number in the next decades.
In the US, the fund established to provide old-age and disability payments is proving insufficient to do so. By 1990, it is expected that the system will be running a deficit of $20 billion a year. There just will not be enough money collected in the future to pay off all the benefits that people have been promised (whose cost has gone up from $300 million in 1945 to $68.9 billion in 1975 (estimated). Back to top
The number of alcoholics in the United States nearly doubled between 1958 and 1971, while that of alcoholics as a percentage of the population has more than doubled (from 2 percent to 4 percent). 
The cost of alcoholism in terms of loss of wages and productivity alone has been estimated at $10 billion – which, if one takes into account the cost of treatment, the associated crime and delinquency and vandalism, the family and communal tension and deprivation that it contributes to, must be but a fraction of the real cost.Back to top
The number of suicides in the US has risen by 50 percent between 1955 and 1973. In 1973, 24,440 people are reported as having committed suicide. Only a proportion of suicides are registered as such. If all were registered it is estimated that suicide would rank as fourth or fifth among the causes of death. It is estimated that between 70,000 and 80,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 will attempt suicide in the US this year and between 3,000 and 4,500 will succeed. 
In Canada, as is apparent from Figure 8, the suicide rate has doubled in the 49 years between 1921 and 1970. The cost of this, the ultimate form of retreatism, has, as far as I know, yet to be estimated.Back to top
Crime can be intimately linked with all the other symptoms of social disintegration. As Murphy, President of the Washington Police Foundation, writes:
“We have to face facts. There is too much instability in our cities. As long as we have unemployment, underemployment, broken homes, alcoholism, drugs, and mental health problems, we are going to have crime.”
And along with the rest of these problems, crime has risen in the US and the UK in the most dramatic fashion. In the US, the number of crimes rose in the 10 years from 1963 to 1973 from 314,230 to 861,000, while aggravated assaults during the same period rose from 172,250 to 412,000.
According to the FBI, in 1974, $42 million were stolen in robberies, $1.2 billion in burglaries and $816 million worth in larcenies. These costs are expected to go on increasing. 
What is more, theft is constantly taking new forms. Arson for profit, for instance, is now said to be an established business, and according to insurance experts, 100,000 fires were set in 1974 to collect insurance, the cost exceeding $350 million. One of the side-effects, of course, is to bring about a corresponding increase in insurance premiums, which further affects economic viability.
According to a firm of brokers  specialising in channelling funds into the thriving crime-control business, the economic impact of crime and related expenditures – including police, corrections, the courts, prevention services and equipment – exceeded $21 billion in 1971. This figure, they regarded as “only indicative and does not include the value of loss or damaged lives and/or property, or the cost of the fear and suffering generated by the impact of crime.”
One must also take into account that all crimes are not reported to the police, indeed it would appear that in the US less than half are. According to the Law Enforcement’s Assistants Administration, the number of crimes committed in some cities is more than five times the number reported. 
The same trends are visible in other industrialised countries. Thus, in Sweden, the crime rate has jumped 90 percent in a decade. In the UK a recent report estimates that the cost of crime in Britain in 1974 was at least £1,670 million and this does not take everything into account.
“Many crimes are not reported for instance and figures of losses from arson do not take into account the disruption of business and employment, the loss of overseas markets, etc. It is estimated that in 1975 the cost will be about £2,000 million.” 
Visible trends in our industrial world undoubtedly favour further increases in the crime rate. The large-scale introduction of women into the cash economy, for instance, has led to a massive increase in female criminality. In the US, between 1968 and 1973, the arrest of women for serious crimes ranging from car theft to murder went up 62 percent compared with only 8 percent for men.Back to top
Another measure of social disintegration is the increasing vandalism in industrial countries. It is particularly high among youth in the larger cities. In the US the damage done to schools by vandals in the academic year 1972/3 was estimated to be $500 million, working out at about $10.87 per pupil, or about the same as the amount spent on textbooks that year.
The total cost of vandalism to the nation is hard to estimate. According to the police, only one case out of three gets reported. What is certain is that it is colossal and increasing every year. Back to top
If an industrial society provides an unsatisfactory social environment for its members, it is biologically equally unsatisfactory – so much so that it is giving rise to a new range of diseases – the so-called diseases of civilisation.
These include most forms of cancer, ischaemic heart disease, diabetes, diverticulitis, peptic ulcer, appendicitis, varicose veins and tooth caries. Their incidence appears to increase very much in line with per capita GNP, and their human costs are rapidly coming to be reflected in economic costs. Health costs are also increasing very radically in line with general demoralisation and alienation. Psychological problems are multiplying as are prescriptions for sedatives and tranquillisers.
Modern medicine, depending as it does on the use of medicines of increasing biological potency (such as antibiotics and corticosteroids), tend to give rise to all sorts of side-effects. Iatrogenic diseases are, in fact said to account for a high proportion of current disease. Various figures have been quoted. At the recent meeting of the British Association, it was suggested that they accounted for perhaps 20 percent of all disease, “and this may only be the tip of the iceberg”. 
Its efficacy in reducing the incidence of the diseases it is designed to deal with has been overrated, as it is primarily concerned with treating their symptoms. Its inability in the long run to control infectious diseases has already been pointed out.
For these and other reasons, economic growth must lead to a continual increase in the cost of disease and its control. So much so, that in 1975, the US spent $118 billion on health services, which is $547 for every man, woman and child. This represents a 13.9 percent increase from $104 billion two years ago.  If medical costs were to go on increasing at this rate, it would reach a stupendous $500 billion by 1985 – or half today’s Gross National Product.
It goes without saying that none of these trends towards ever increasing expenditure on counteracting the biological, social and ecological destruction caused by economic growth can continue to be met for very long.
This is yet another set of trends that cannot be projected into the future. Regardless of their ideological commitments, governments will have to cut down ever more drastically on every sort of expenditure – in particular, on that designed to maintain all those institutional services that are expected of a welfare state. This must be the only way to make available more capital for investment in capital goods – energy installations, factories etc. Since governments will still be short of capital for this purpose, investment in the production of all but the apparently essential consumer products will slowly be abandoned. In any case, with the growing inflation and reduced economic growth, ever fewer people will be able to afford them.
All this means an implicit abandonment of the philosophy and goals both of the welfare state and also of the consumer society. It means, in fact, that we are now entering, at best, a period of economic contraction, at worst one of economic and social collapse.
Which it is to be depends very largely on decisions that must be taken now – that should, in fact, have been taken some five years ago, when the issues involved were first presented in concise form to the decision makers and the general public.
It depends on whether we decide to adapt to the new conditions that are unmistakably emerging, or obstinately cling to ever more obsolete socio-economic forms which must inevitably be eliminated by the brutal and unsparing hand of natural selection. It depends, in fact, on whether we assume responsibility for the necessary adaptations, or alternatively, as we put it, in A Blueprint for Survival, we decide to “delegate to disaster.”
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