on a claim that certain kinds of wants are somehow manipulated manifestations

On a claim that certain kinds of wants are somehow

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on, a claim that certain kinds of wants are somehow manipulated, manifestations of false consciousness, or otherwise less-than-real. CONCLUSION: INCOME AND WEALTH IN A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE The transition to sustainable patterns of development, almost regard- less of how one defines sustainability, requires debate both about the content of consumer preferences and about the tension between those private wants and conceptions of the public good. This presumes, of course, the existence of political conditions under which such a debate can occur without endangering its participants. Such condi- tions are by no means universal (UNDP, 1992: pp. 26–33). Even under such permissive political conditions the problem of income remains, as Oates reminds us, and “[p]overty itself is perhaps the most severe obstacle to the free development of preferences and beliefs” (Sunstein, 1991: p. 23). Here we come to the inescapable issue of distributive justice as it applies to sustainable development. If even today’s global level of economic activity is environmentally unsustainable (Goodland, 1995: pp. 5–6), then considerations of equity demand that tradeoffs between the provision of adequate levels of nourishment, clothing, shelter and health care rather than (for instance) the purchase of socits3.tex; 12/07/1997; 2:16; v.6; p.19
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118 TED SCHRECKER luxury cars by local elites or the accumulation of offshore bank accounts should be resolved in favour of the former option. Once again, it is important to note that much public policy as it applies to the distribution of income both within and among countries has implicitly rejected this conclusion. In the industrialized countries, moving toward a more egalitarian distribution of available income within the constraint of static, or even shrinking aggregate income at the regional or national level would generate the anticipation of substantial losses on the part of the actors best able to defend their incomes, whether through political organization or through property rights. Policies to make the global distribution of income and wealth more equitable, whether through debt relief, direct transfers or other mechanisms, are even more likely to generate such anticipation. Ideally, ecological constraints on economic activity would lead to a philosophical debate both about the consumer preferences that drive the quest for higher incomes and about entitlements to income and wealth. That debate would deconstruct the idea of “merit” as well as exploring the moral dimensions of the automatic entitlement to income associated with the ownership of property in general, and of financial assets in particular. When, to put the matter simply, should the meeting of essential needs, or the provision of a mini- mum standard of living, outweigh the interests of shareholders and lenders? A more likely outcome, which must be taken into account when discussing the social dimensions of sustainable development, is that potential losers would defend their incomes by all means at their disposal. In extremis
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  • Household income in the United States, UNDP

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