The three most important win-win-win measures

What are the most important measures to make the world better? Three measures have large and multiple positive impacts: veganism, family planning and a green tax shift with a basic income. These three measures are positive in terms of a rights ethic, a welfare ethic and an environmental ethic. They also refer to three suppressed or disadvantaged groups: animals, women and workers.


The first measure is something that we can do in our daily lives: consume plant-based products and avoid animal products (meat, eggs, dairy, leather,…). We do not need animal products to live a healthy life, because well-planned vegan diets provide an adequate supply of nutrients.[1]

Legumes such as beans, soybeans, chickpeas and peanuts are ideal vegetable protein sources and a good alternative to animal proteins. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in flaxseed, purslane, walnuts and seaweeds such as nori. These products are healthy plant-based alternatives for fish. Vitamin D can be produced by the body when the skin is exposed to UV-radiation of sunlight, but it is also present in mushrooms such as shiitake. Vitamin B12 is important in a healthy vegan diet is. It can be found in fortified breakfast cereals, fortified vegetable milk and chewing tablets (which may be processed in meals). Vegetable milks based on hemp, soy, almond, coconut, hazelnut, rice or oats are healthy alternatives to animal milk when they are fortified with vitamin B12, D and calcium. Calcium is also found in dark leafy vegetables (eg. kale) and sesame paste. These products, as well as apple syrup, fortified breakfast cereals, dried fruits and cashew nuts, also contain a lot of iron. Vegetable iron is better absorbed by the body when vitamin C (eg. fruit juice) is added to the meal and milk, coffee, tea and red wine are avoided during the meal. Nuts contain lots of other minerals such as selenium (in brazil nuts) and zinc (in walnuts and pumpkin seeds). Leather, fur and wool can be replaced by plastics such as polyurethane (synthetic leather), polyacryl (fake fur) and fleece or polyester (synthetic wool). The production of these alternatives, and vegetable fibers such as hemp fiber, has a lower toxicity, land use and CO2 emissions than the production of leather, fur and wool.[2]

1) Advantages from a rights ethic

The production of animal products violates basic rights of sentient beings. Everyone has a right to bodily autonomy and a right not to be used as merely a means. We should not use someone’s body against his or her will. Someone’s body belongs to that individual, not to us. Livestock farming is a kind of slavery.

2) Advantages from a welfare ethic

  1. The well-being of animals. Breeding, capturing, confining and killing fish and livestock animals causes suffering. An early death is a loss of future well-being.
  2. Health of consumers[3]
    1. Chronic diseases. Vegans have a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases[4], high blood pressure, several cancers[5], chronic obstructive pulmonary disease[6], dementia, Alzheimer[7], diabetes[8], obesity[9], stroke[10], kidney diseases[11], Creutzfeldt-Jakob, allergies[12] and toxic chemicals (heavy metals, dioxines, PCB, pesticides in fish[13]). Compared to average omnivores, vegans have a 15% lower risk of chronic diseases[14], a 10%-15% lower mortality rate[15] and have the highest nutritional quality indices[16]. Animal products contain unhealthy saturated fats and carcinogens, whereas plant products have high levels of healthy fibers and antioxidants. A non-vegan diet will be the cause of death of roughly 1 out of 10 deaths and contribute to 10% of the global loss of healthy life years (disability adjusted life years).[17]
    2. Acute food poisonings. Animal products are often contaminated with harmful bacteria. Vegans have a lower risk of acute food poisonings and bacterial and intestinal infections.[18]
    3. Mental health. Animal products contain more arachidon acid, which can increase depression and mood swings.[19]
  3. Health of producers
    1. Slaughterhouses, livestock farms and fisheries offer the most dangerous job conditions, with (lethal) accidents[20], infections with (antibiotic resistant) bacteria[21] and respiratory problems due to particulate matter.
    2. Mental health. People working in slaughterhouses often suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.[22]
  4. Health of the public
    1. Livestock farming increases the risk of widespread, pandemic zoonotic diseases (flu, Q-fever, SARS,…)[23], more air pollution (ammonia, particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide), more water pollution (nitrate) and more toxic algae blooms. Livestock farming contributes to climate change and emerging infectious diseases.[24]
    2. Food security. Livestock farming is a waste of food. It requires more grains and soy to produce meat and milk than to produce plant-based alternatives such as tofu and soy milk. Omnivorous diets require more land than plant-based diets. A vegan diet has a higher productivity per hectare.
    3. Some indigenous people (e.g. in Brazil) are threatened by expanding livestock farming and the use of dangerous pesticides for the production of animal feed.
    4. World income. Due to improved health (lower health costs) and improved environment (lower costs of climate change), a vegan diet results in an increase of 0,4-13% of world income (global GDP) by 2050.[25]

3) Advantages from an environmental ethic

Livestock farming and fisheries have a high negative impact on ecosystems. They are probably the main cause of biodiversity loss. About 1/3 of the global biodiversity loss is caused by livestock farming.[26] Vegan food production has a much lower impact on the environment and biodiversity by reducing global warming, deforestation, pollution (pesticides, veterinary medicines), water depletion, soil erosion, particulate matter emissions, salination through irrigation, eutrophication, acidification, energy consumption, overfishing, ozone depletion and fragmentation of natural habitats.[27] In Western countries, veganism is the most important measure to reduce the ecological footprint and carbon footprint by up to 15%. That is a greater saving than other important measures such as insulating buildings, using public transport or bikes instead of cars, switching to renewable electricity and avoiding food waste in households.

Family planning

The second measure is a charity that we can financially support. Each year 80 million women get an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy. Half of those pregnancies end up in abortion, the other into births. Organizations such as Marie Stopes International, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) invest in family planning.

Everyone is entitled to access to cheap, high-quality contraceptives, correct information, education and services for reproductive health, in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Investing in reproductive health creates fair conditions for a voluntary pregnancy reduction, without coercion or paternalism.

An investment of 1000 euro in family planning prevents about 100 tons of CO2 emissions (approximately equivalent to the annual emissions of five Belgians)[28], 7 unplanned births, 2 miscarriages, 8 abortions (of which 5 unsafe), 2 complications from unsafe abortions, 0.3 infant deaths at birth, 0,02 maternal deaths and 0.03 children becoming orphaned.[29] Those 1000 euro will save 12 healthy life years of mothers and newborn children. This makes contraception the most cost effective method to save healthy life years in the developing countries, after malaria prevention (primarily through mosquito nets), tuberculosis treatment and deworming. And for every euro invested in contraception 1.4 euro medical costs will be saved.

1) Advantages from a rights ethic

Women have a right to self-determination over their own body (bodily autonomy). An unwanted pregnancy is a violation of this right.

2) Advantages from a welfare ethic

  1. Women
    1. Physical health of women. Family planning leads to less risky abortions and less maternal mortality. An unwanted pregnancy or abortion is always a risk for women in poor countries (higher risk of fistula, bleeding, infertility and infections).The rapid succession of pregnancies increases maternal mortality: 35% of the deaths of women during childbirth could be avoided by preventing unwanted pregnancies.[30]
    2. Mental health of women and families.Unwanted pregnancies often take a heavy toll on the emotional well-being of women and their families. Women who become unintentionally pregnant have a higher risk of depression during and after pregnancy (and they smoke more and eat more unhealthy food).[31]
    3. Education of women. Unwanted teenage pregnancies prevent education and economic opportunities of women.
  2.  Children
    1. Physical health of children.The rapid succession of births are not good for the other children and babies in the family: about a million babies could be saved every year if the successive pregnancies of a woman are spread with at least two years. Children born from unwanted pregnancies often have a lower birth weight and more birth defects.[32]
    2. Mental health of children. Children of unwanted pregnancies often have emotional difficulties, poor school results and behavioral problems that lead to more delinquent behavior.[33] The quality of the parent-child relationship is lower when the pregnancy was unwanted, and the children are at higher risk of neglect and abuse.[34]
    3. Education of children. An excessive number of children puts great pressure on educational facilities. In smaller families, children can receive more parental attention which enhances their quality of education.
    4. Nutrition for children. An excessive number of children puts great pressure on food security. There is more competition for food.
  3.  Partners
    1. Health of sexual partners. Some forms of contraception, such as condoms, reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.
  4. Poor people
    1. With a high birth rate population growth can be higher than economic growth, which means that the income per person decreases. That can cause a downward spiral because a poorer population has a worse access to reproductive health facilities. Investing in family planning can break this negative spiral.
    2. Poverty reduction and emergency aid without investment in family planning is often swimming up against a stream, because population growth aggravates the problem of hunger.
  5.  Governments
    1. Through family planning, there are fewer births and therefore less expenses required for education and health (eg. vaccination costs,…)
  6. Future generations
    1. Sustainability. A rising population puts greater pressure on natural resources and increases pollution.Therefore future generations run a higher risk of resource scarcity and health problems caused by pollution. Family planning is the only ethical way to help poor people without burdening future generations with extra hunger and pollution problems.
    2. Peace. A lot of unwanted births generates a youth bulge with a lot of young people. Violence is usually caused by young people (mostly men and boys). A youth bulge (a large young population) is one of the demographic stress factors that increases the risk of violent conflicts. A decline in the annual birth rate of 5 births per 1000 corresponds with a 5% decrease in the probability of a civil conflict in the next 10 years.[35]

3) Advantages from an environmental ethic

Biodiversity and ecosystem health. With a high number of unwanted pregnancies, the birth rate will be very high and the world’s population increases too much. The increasing use of natural resources and the increasing pollution due to the activities of an increasing number of humans threatens biodiversity and ecosystems. Through investments in family planning the population will stabilize and the global average fertility rate may soon fall below 2.1 births per woman. Increasing funds for family planning can reduce the world population in 2100 to 7 billion people instead of 12 billion.[36] Investing in family planning is also one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce global CO2 emissions: it takes about 6 to 12 euro investment in family planning to avoid 1 ton of CO2.[37]

Green tax shift and a basic income

The third measure is an economic measure we can support politically. A green tax shift involves an increase in taxation of natural resources and a decrease in taxation of labor. The taxation of natural resources is a taxation of the economic value (economic rent, Ricardian rent or surplus profit) of natural resources, including the use of land, minerals, sea, fuels, the electromagnetic spectrum, water, ecosystem services, the carbon assimilation capacity,… Those resources are finite and cannot be created, which means there are no production costs and the supply is constant and perfectly price inelastic.

Someone who possesses a scarce natural resource obtains a monopoly over that resource, which means that one can enjoy an unearned income from that property. This income is undeserved because it is not the result of labor, risk-taking or entrepreneurship. The unearned income is the economic rent of the natural resources and is the surplus revenue above what is required for a company to generate normal profits. It is the price that the highest bidder would give to use that resource.

The exclusivity or monopoly acquired by the appropriation of a natural resource means that someone else can no longer use that resource. Natural resources such as land and raw materials are in this sense excludable: they can be exclusively appropriated and its own use or possession excludes its use or possession by others. A taxation of the economic rent of natural resources is actually the payment of a license to use or possess the resource. All natural resources belong to the community, and if one wants to possess a part of the resource, one has to pay a fee to the community as a compensation or remuneration for the exclusive ownership that one acquires. As an example: if one emits a ton of CO2, one appropriates a part of the finite natural carbon assimilation capacity of the earth. Someone else can no longer use that part of the assimilation capacity. Therefore, one should pay a carbon tax as a remuneration to the community for the exclusive right to use that part of the finite assimilation capacity.  Similarly, a nitrogen tax is a fee for appropriating a portion of the capacity of ecosystems to process nitrogen and to avoid over-fertilization. By emitting CO2 or reactive nitrogen, you actually rent a part of this natural capacity from the community. Therefore, a carbon and nitrogen tax is like a land value tax: the payment of rent to the community in order to use a piece of land or resource.

Government revenues from a resource and land value tax can be partly invested in public goods and services, and partly distributed to everyone in the form of a universal unconditional basic income. This basic income reflects the economic value that all natural resources have for everyone. It is the economic value of a part of the natural resources to which someone is unconditionally entitled. Large landowners (e.g. landlords and bankers), resource owners (e.g. mining companies) and large-scale resource users (e.g. heavy industries and rich consumers) will strongly contribute to this basic income. As the basic income is not financed by an income tax, workers do not bear the cost of financing the basic income. From the idea of equality, the basic income is a basic right to which everyone is equally entitled, because natural resources belong to everyone equally

The wealth generated by previous generations can also be taxed. Previous generations have produced wealth (buildings, machines, goods), and after their death that wealth belongs to the community. With an inheritance tax (and a wealth tax, because a part of one’s wealth is inherited), a portion of this wealth created by previous generations can flow to the community in the form of a basic income.

Adding up all these taxes and paying them out as a basic income is equivalent to giving each person an equal share of the natural resources and inherited wealth. The basic income is sufficient to buy those natural resources and inherited wealth to which one is entitled. Everyone receives a piece of fertile land, an amount of fuel and raw materials (minerals, water), a number of goods (machinery, housing, infrastructure) that were made by previous generations, an amount of the CO2 absorption capacity and a part of the electromagnetic spectrum to transmit messages. These are the things that you get for free, because you can buy them with your unconditional basic income.

A basic income financed by a tax on natural resources and inherited wealth can arouse no envy. There is no government coercion, because no one is forced to relinquish a part of their own productivity or own income (own value creation).

1) Advantages from a rights ethic

A high taxation of labor can often be considered as a subtle form of theft or slavery (exceptions are social security payments and taxes to correct for labor market failures). Workers own their own labor. The body of the worker creates added value by processing land and raw materials. If the worker had not been active, there was no added value. But that added value belongs to the laborer himself. Everyone has full ownership over their own body and therefore to some extent also over the added value that is created by their own physical activity. A high tax on labor is a kind of use as merely a means, because the bodies of the workers are used against their will: the workers are forced to give away part of the added value they created by their own labor. On the other hand, the economic value (rent) of land and natural resources are not created by workers, so a taxation of this economic rent is not a violation of the right not to be used as merely a means.

2) Advantages from a welfare ethic

  1. Workers and the unemployed. Unlike a tax on labor, a tax on the economic rent of land and natural resources does not create an economic allocational inefficiency or “deadweight loss” (loss of the productive potential of the economy), because the supply of natural resources is perfectly price inelastic. The supply of labor is not perfectly price inelastic, so a tax on labor will generate a loss of efficiency and a lower economic surplus and productivity. By taxing labor, some economic incentives are distorted and some useful economic activities are suppressed. A labor tax penalizes workers (who must cede part of their work) and generates additional unemployment because gross wages rise. Reducing taxes on labor benefits the workers and the employment. Adding a basic income will also improve the quality of the worst jobs and the flexibility of the labor market, making it easier to share work. With a basic income, employers are required to provide more attractive jobs and employees can put more pressure on employers because the employees become less dependent on wage labor to meet their basic needs. Unlike conditional unemployment benefits, an unconditional basic income can help poor people out of the unemployment trap.
  2. Consumers. By reducing taxes on labor, the free market is less disturbed and economic efficiency is increased. Especially products that require a lot of work but make little use of valuable natural resources become cheaper for consumers. The products that have a low value added by labor and no externalized costs (all external costs are already internalized) will retain the same price for the consumer. That is because the supply curve is price inelastic, which means that the burden of a land value tax and a natural resource tax will fall on the owners of land and resources. The owners cannot pass on these taxes to the consumers or lessees. Tenant and mortgage borrowers always pay the full land value, even in a system without a land value tax. But in a system without land value taxation, the tenants pay the owners (eg. landlords) and someone with a mortgage loan pays the full land value to the financial institution. In this case, the income of land value (the economic rent of natural resources) is privately collected by landowners and bankers. Each tenant and each borrower is already paying the equivalent of a land value tax to the landowner or banker. With a resource and land value tax, the tenant pays the same amount of economic rent, but now the income generated by this economic rent on land and resources flows to the government (i.e. the community) instead of private landowners, resource extraction companies and bankers. The products that are too cheap because external costs (eg. from pollution or CO2 emissions) are not yet internalized in the price, will become more expensive when natural resources (eg. the CO2 absorption and pollution processing capacities of the natural ecosystems) are taxed. This tax is nothing but an internalization of the external costs. If external costs are not internalized (eg. when there is not CO2 tax), it comes down to freely distributing rights to the use of natural resources without taking into account the limited earth’s supply. In this case, too many emission and pollution rights will be handed out, as if the processing capacity of the earth was infinitely large. With a natural resource tax, there will be an improvement in the efficiency of the use of resources and hence more and cheaper products will be produced with the same amount of resources (if all external environmental costs are internalized).
  3. Urbanites. With a land value tax, the vacancy rate in cities drops because landowners want to use their land as fully and efficiently as possible. The urban expansion by urban sprawl will decrease because poorly utilized land costs too much money on land value taxes. The current system of taxation of property taxes the land value of a plot of land too little and taxes the added value (construction and maintenance of buildings) too much. Consequently, activities that create added value (such as useful investments in improvements of buildings) and efficient use of land are discouraged in the current system.
  4. Homeless people and tenants. With a land value tax, financial institutions and brokerage firms are much less inclined to speculate on land prices, causing prices in the housing market to remain more stable.
  5. Government
    1. Tax compliance. Many natural resources, in particular land, are immobile and very visible, making tax evasion, avoidance and fraud much more difficult.
    2. Budget. Reducing labor taxes will decrease the unemployment level and hence reduce the need for unemployment benefits. A stagnation or negative economic growth increases unemployment and thus increases expenses for unemployment benefits. But if government revenues heavily depend on taxes on labor and the amount of labor shrinks, tax revenues will fall. Declining revenues and rising expenditures lead to higher government debt. The same problem occurs with an ageing population, whereby the proportion of active people and workers decreases and the pension expenditures increase. If on the other hand the government income depends on a resource and land value tax, the government will make less debt in periods of negative growth or with ageing populations. Adding a basic income (financed by a resource and land value tax) also decreases the pressure to have a job and to create jobs. Subsidizing enterprises to create jobs will be less necessary.
    3. Labor redistribution. In order not to overload the earth, we will have to evolve towards a zero growth economy, with a zero growth in the use of natural resources. Therefore, economic growth has limits: some kinds of economic production cannot rise further. The economic production is equal to labor productivity (average economic added value per hour of work) times the amount of labor (number of hours of work). If labor productivity increases due to technological improvements while production should remain constant because of environmental constraints, the amount of work decreases. In a system with unemployment benefits (without a basic income) a decrease in working hours will lead to more unemployment: some people do not have or find a job, others still have a lot of work. A basic income (financed by a resource and land value tax instead of a labor tax) makes it easier to distribute the work by a shortening of the working week, allowing more people to work and also get more free time.
    4. Compensation for public investments. By public investments in public goods (eg. construction of roads, sewers and electricity networks, construction of nearby hospitals and schools, security, emergency services, maintenance of public parks,…), the value of land in the city increases. Landowners who do not pay a land value tax, see the value of their land increasing without them having to pay for it and without having to work for it. Tenants pay a higher rent to the landowners and so tenants rather than landowners pay for the costs of the public investments. With a land value tax, there are no longer undeserved profits for landowners who benefit from land appreciation through investments by the community/government. According to the Henry George theorem public investments in public goods might even be financed almost entirely by a land value tax, because rising land values lead to a rising tax revenues.
  6. Everyone
    1. Stable economy. With a resource and land value tax there will be less land speculation and hence fewer financial and housing bubbles. The value of land increases with economic growth as the demand for land increases and supply remains constant. Speculators have a tendency to buy land and wait until the value has risen to sell the land with a profit. The value of land increases even more when land is bought. But producers who (unlike speculators) want to use that land in a productive way, become less able to buy that land. This reduces the production and we get a downward phase in an up and down swinging economy. A land value tax makes it less attractive to speculate on land, because the value of the land is taxed, and banks will lend more money to economically useful investments (eg. new technologies) rather than real estate investments. The banks will receive less unearned profits from the economic rent of land (through interests on mortgage loans).
    2. Property rights. A resource and land value tax provides an answer to the question what may be privately owned. The added value created by someone’s labor is private property. Natural resources are collectively owned, but they can be used exclusively by a person as long as that person reimburses the community for this exclusive right via a resource and land value tax. Paying such a tax is equivalent to borrowing instead of owning the resource from the community. By paying the taxes we do not acquire any ownership but a license to use a resource, and if one returns the resource in a worse shape to the community (eg. giving back an overexploitation eroded farmland), one must pay an extra compensation for the damage.
    3. Physical health. If one has to pay for the appropriation of the finite processing capacity for waste products and toxics, production will be more efficient (less polluting).
    4. Mental health. A basic income reduces stress, depression and burnouts.
    5. Justice. A green tax shift combined with a basic income favors the poorest people (unemployed,…). The wealthiest people (landowners, bankers,…) pay the most. A land value tax is progressive: it is mainly paid by the rich (the ones who possess a lot of resources). Combined with the basic income, economic inequality will decrease. The basic income financed by taxes on natural resources and inherited wealth really comes down to a reallocation of those resources, with the greatest benefits for the poor.

3) Advantages from an environmental ethic

  1. Less use of resources. High taxes on labor and low on natural resources incentivizes companies to invest in a resource-intensive industry and not much in labor. Companies will rather use machines that consume a lot of fossil fuels, because energy is cheap, instead of recruiting workers who are more expensive due to the tax on labor. By shifting taxes from labor to natural resources, the production will become more labor-intensive and less resource-intensive, so the impact on the environment will decrease. One will invest more in efficient alternative technologies and create jobs in environmentally friendly sectors. Environmentally friendly labor-intensive economies such as the repair economy will increase.
  2. More efficient use of resources. With a resource and land value tax resources are used more efficiently and economically, one can better take into account the finite nature of resources and the finite capacity of ecosystems to process pollution. This makes it possible to decrease our environmental footprints (carbon footprint, water footprint …) and our impact on biodiversity and ecosystems. For example, a tax on land reduces urban sprawl and the vacancy rate of buildings. A more efficient (compact) use of land creates more space for nature. Suppose a CO2 tax would be 100 euro per ton CO2 (so the compensation fee to the community for the exclusive right to use a part of the earth’s carbon absorption capacity equivalent to 1 ton of CO2 costs 100 euro). If you manage to reduce your emissions with 1 ton of CO2, you will have to pay 100 euro less in taxes. This saving is much more than the decline in your basic income, which was financed with these taxes. Your basic income would fall by 100 euro divided by the number of people (i.e. with only 100/7000000000 euro). Hence, everyone has an incentive to reduce CO2 emissions and resource use.

The three measures refer to three groups who are often exploited or vulnerable: animals, women and workers. However, these groups are not the only winners. The consumption of animal products, unwanted pregnancies and inefficient labor taxes are also harmful to others and to biodiversity. The three measures indicate what we can do in our personal daily lives (eating vegan), what charities we can financially support (family planning such as Marie Stopes International, UNFPA and IPPF) and what political-economic measure we can best support (a green tax shift with basic income). Of course there are many other important measures, but for the time being I do not know any other measure that has so many great benefits for so many different parties.

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