Sunday, December 13, 2009

Economic Reformism and Radicalism

I have been criticized many times for being too idealistic or radical in my goals to transform our economy. Am I reaching for an unattainable pie in the sky? Shouldn’t I just be focusing on helping to make capitalism more humane and sustainable? After all, isn’t capitalism inevitable, an economic evolutionary endpoint that just needs refinement?

Capitalism, which requires private ownership of capital that allows some to make a profit off others, creating hierarchies of work (or non-work in the case of some capitalists), seems scarcely desirable to me. But then again I am against any unnecessary, undemocratic hierarchies as I believe all people have some intelligence about how to co-create a positive future. I also believe in collective wisdom, in that if we pool our resources and intelligence we can do better together than we could do on our own. Capitalism suggests against this. It reveres elites who push themselves to the top of the heap through competition, manipulation and force and gives them unequal power, sometimes obscene amounts of power, leaving the average person a passive slave unable to create their own future, much less create a collective future.

But Rome is burning. We have climate change, peak oil, all kinds of toxic and radioactive pollution, water shortages, food shortages... Shouldn’t we be focusing our attention on solving these problems before we slide into complete chaos? To a large extent these problems were created by the same kind of elites (corporate and government leaders) that nonprofits and many activists hope to get to see the light and make change before it’s too late. To some extent it works. These elites listen and will sometimes help to ameliorate these problems, partly to appease their constituents and consumers and probably partly out of real concern.

However, they are not likely to make significant change that would require much tougher laws and significant economic restructuring. Why? Because it’s against their interests. If Nike is making lots of money off sweatshop sneakers or Home Depot is banking off of unsustainable logging, why would they concede and reduce their profits? Now we can pass laws to force them to reprioritize living wages and sustainability and we should. But the need for laws and expensive tough enforcement is almost endless. Loopholes, new ways to evade detection, and green washing abound. And then there are just new problems. Each new problem requires new laws and enforcement that first have to be identified and then passed if corporations will let them.

There is a major systemic problem. The control over how the economy works is clearly undemocratic and is partly caused by capitalism, which concentrates wealth and therefore power. The lack of democratic oversight of the economy leads to all kinds of problems. And democracy is very challenging at a national level, particularly in a country the size of the US. There is a lack of participation, transparency, accountability and feedback at such a grand scale and corruption abounds. To the extent that it is possible, decisions about the economy should be made at the local level where participation, transparency, accountability and feedback are possible.

Still Rome is burning. I am not suggesting that we don’t try to reform corporations and the government. This is very important work. Especially work concerning corporate personhood, corporate charters (including sunset mechanisms), campaign contribution and third party work. All of this if it happened would radically change the landscape. But for one, people have been talking corporate and election reform for a long-time and little has happened, in large part because the government is reluctant to bite the hand that feeds it. Not that it can’t be done, but it would require a mass movement and perhaps general strikes and mass protests.

The work that we are attempting at the local level with worker cooperatives, local currencies, credit unions, land trusts, mutual aid projects, and participatory budgeting is not only more radical, but also totally doable. We don’t need to ask anyone if we can start printing a new currency or start a coop though we may need a little bit of money. We can create lots of free clinics, community gardens and credit unions within certain parameters. We are mostly limited by our motivation and energy to do this work.

If you want to wait to get permission to have an economic (r)evolution from the same kinds of people that created the need for one, then fine, please do. But I am not going to sit around and wait for permission. I am starting one here in my community right now. And if we do it right, it make be so attractive so as to create a spark that lights the world on fire… this time in a good way.

1 comment:

  1. Hey! Saw your blog post, thought you might be interested in the work we do at Democracy Unlimited in Humboldt County, Ca. We're trying to address much of what you speak to:

    Keep up the good work!