As anyone who’s read this blog for any length will attest, I am a man who believes in the wisdom of the open market. And I will argue until I’m blue in the face that a free and open market, especially one prodded by government incentives, spurred by government investment, and unencumbered by limited government vision, is a ticket for game-changing breakthroughs – especially in the areas of product development and that often delicate balance that must be struck between a prosperous nation’s economic and its physical heath.
That’s why I was delighted to stumble upon this little kernel last week. Turns out a Georgetown economist just issued a white paper on behalf of the National Bureau of Economic Research that says U.S. manufacturing output between 1990 and 2008 had increased by 1/3, yet in that time U.S. industry’s pollution had decreased by 2/3.
That, my friends, is astounding.
But more than that, the person conducting the study, Arik Levenson, revealed that this drop in pollution did not come in a way many cynics might have otherwise suggested; namely, because we off-shored our heaviest and dirtiest manufacturing functions to underdeveloped and third world counties. To the contrary, his study of 400 manufacturers showed that 90% of this country’s collective decline in pollution was a result of manufacturers having adopted cleaner production processes, including greater and more sophisticated efficiencies, recycling programs, and pollution-capture technologies.
Granted, it was not a soup-to-nuts study of all pollutants, and measured only levels of six of the usual suspects (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and two types of particulate matter), but still; those are some incredibly heartening findings.
And it is one more example, of why, for all the U.S. continues to trail China in some instances, we’re light years ahead in others.
Could a government alone have achieved such results? Not in a million years.
But because rekindling this country’s manufacturing fire and reducing its industrial waste was a hand-in-glove effort between a number of responsible and market-savvy individuals in the private sector and one deeply concerned federal government, a little bit of economic and environmental magic was somehow able to happen.
And maybe we owe it to ourselves to take a moment to reflect on that.