Steady State Economics and the New Congress

by Brent Blackwelder

My New Year’s wish is for everyone to see the movie Inside Job. It’s a dynamic overview of the people, forces, and philosophy behind the global financial crisis and the ensuing bailouts of the “too-big-to-fail” banks and investment firms. Inside Job shows how pervasive the corruption of the global financial system has become. The movie singles out various Democrats and Republicans as being part of the problem, but it also contains scenes of some keen Congressional investigators such as Senator Levin of Michigan, Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, who is shown grilling the heads of the big banks and exposing the kinds of swindles that took place.

Advocates of the steady state economy should be working more closely with the cutting-edge organizations fighting global corruption because the corruption and its attendant bribery of public officials is undermining governance around the world.

The ongoing economic depression is the very time steady state advocates should be pushing for a totally different way of proceeding, a way to avoid the boom and busts of the past. We need to blow right by the typical politicians pushing their pet hackneyed ideas for getting the economy moving.

We don’t want to return to the same spot we were in, only to have a new round of speculators crash the economic system and undermine governance. It is important, therefore, to force decision makers in Congress and the Executive Branch to think about a paradigm shift and what a steady state economy would look like.

One obvious approach is to continue increasing the teach-ins, symposiums, and conferences that feature this deep economic debate. CASSE (the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy) can provide the names of experts to university groups, religious congregations, and public interest organizations who want to host events to educate their members and the public about new economic models.

Rallies and demonstrations can help make a difference in awareness and can stimulate Congress to conduct hearings. For example, Tea Party activists demonstrated repeatedly this past fall at Republican primaries to protest the deficit and the gridlock in Congress and to push for tax cuts. Many were bankrolled by powerful right-wing interests, and they got a lot of press. Advocates of big economic change need to think about doing more demonstrations to raise awareness and force Congressional oversight into new economic models of sustainability.

For example, on the United Nations Anti-Corruption Day, December 9, I organized a demonstration outside the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The U.S. Chamber has been a large force pushing growth at all costs and is well known for its anti-sustainability positions. But what is not so well known is the Chamber’s opposition to those trying to clean up global corruption and improve governance.

On behalf of the Tax Justice Network with participation by Common Cause, Public Citizen, and Friends of the Earth, we paraded in front of the U.S. Chamber and laid out the charges against it. For example, the Chamber is seeking to weaken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and is blocking efforts to abolish offshore tax havens, which contain vast sums of money (about $20 trillion) that go untaxed by any jurisdiction.

In addition to protests, rallies, and teach-ins, there may be other opportunities to confront the new Congress to get a deeper economic discussion going. Here are a couple of possibilities. Given the stated desire of most of the 97 new Members to cut federal spending, Congress should be challenged to eliminate the subsidies for polluting industries, especially for fossil fuels. The last Congress unfortunately continued the big subsidy for corn ethanol that will cost several hundred billion dollars by the year 2022. The new Congress could reverse this decision, and it could cut the agricultural commodity subsidies that benefit agribusiness and undermine organic food production. The challenge is to make the Congress vote and then we can tabulate the results and expose any hypocrites.

Many advocates of a steady state economy criticize gross domestic product (GDP) for failing to give an honest indication of the well-being of the nation. In 1989 Senator Robert Kasten (R-Wisconsin) added an amendment to the Commerce Department appropriations bill that required the Department to product an index of gross sustainable production in addition to the usual GDP. The provision became law and the Commerce Department started implementation, but in the mid-1990s the fossil fuel lobby forced the removal of this modest requirement. Perhaps as part of truth-telling to the American public, Congress could reinstate this provision.

I have suggested several measures of offense, but in 2011 we may have to work significantly on defense. For example, more bailouts may be proposed without any serious reform conditions. Keep in mind the inability of Congress to resist bailing out too-big-to-fail corporations.

For example, take the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler by the last Congress and the Obama administration. Why wasn’t a provision added to prohibit these companies from suing state or federal governments? GM got bailed out and then sued the State of California over clean car standards.

The Obama administration could have insisted on binding conditions for the production of better mileage vehicles similar to Toyota’s Prius and provided for government fleet purchases of high-mileage vehicles. Dan Akerson, CEO of General Motors, recently told the Economic Club in Washington: “We commonly refer to the geek-mobile as the Prius…I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Prius.”

Let’s make sure that Obama and the new Congress don’t continue rescuing fossilized corporations that stubbornly cling unsustainable policies of the past.

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1 reply
  1. Bruce E. Woych
    Bruce E. Woych says:

    This business of war game scenarios that are not designed to protect American citizens in mass as much as to suppress the population with a “crisis” driven (ambiguous and relatively undefined: completely open to interpretation) appears to be a physical extension of this secret policing state. It now appears that we first set up systemic enforcement and security methods in foreign and remote lands under covert operations and then insidiously bring them home as legitimate devices and apparatus against domestic and constitutional stability by civil society.

    The perimeter security (treaties) being quietly designed to envelope North America is the inverse and asymmetrical version of the peripheral boundary setting (missile) systemics that are being set up to encircle Russia and China in a dangerous model that feels all too close to the geopolitical militarization of the continents prior to World War I.

    Obama, who appears to act like a CIA executive asset with ac-company group think in tow, did not have a domestic life here in his early years of enculturation. I have serious doubts about the “narrative” and even misinformation about his background despite being a staunch democratic supporter. His speeches now appear fabricated in retrospect, his actions completely defy the pure rhetoric of his communications.

    The Domestic Intelligence Apparatus has to be appreciated not just as an extension of the National Security State, but also as a more deeply historical extension of the apparatus left secreted in the shadow of the Cold War power operatives. Are we really so immune from our own secret intelligence community to believe that, like Russia and their KGB, they have no hand in the power dynamics of our political system? The assault on American political culture has been a sequence of succession planning and insults, and my own suspicions include all aspects of capture and positions including the Presidency itself over the last three to four decades (at least).
    Consider the list of changes to American ethical stances which include pre-emptive warfare; extra judicial killing (read: assassination squads); 6 covert war actions run simultaneously; mercenary private armies and outsourced privatizing of military operations (corporate and outside the law for the most part); neo-colonial “free market” profiteering and exploitation of underdeveloped countries (and calling them “emergent” to give it appeal) with concurrent policing and political crony leveraging that has given us the reputation of being the single most “DEMOCRATIC BUSTING” power in the global community. I am sure that you can extend this “foreign” policy list of “accomplishments” from the recent past news events if you have followed the trail at all.

    Doestically we have the “Bust-Out” and Looting of the Federal Reserve to finance the high crime strata of international finance and secure/fortify the upper classes against the stress and distress swarming and storming of our economy as the central power elements of this apparatus steal and seal their fortunes and futures. If you look at the way we have handled the outside world in terms of economy, politics and military policing you can not help but recognize that the very same exact thing is happening now to our domestic infrastructures and mid-range superstructures. It is all being reorganized under false premise one by one but also in mounting complexity. The first amendment assaults from corporate to crisis induced wiki-journalism suppression. The outright censorship of information in the federal sector level (a very huge president and core initiating facto for the test on and against the rest of us later on as it is expanded. Same holds true for the pension surrendering and salary stagnation imposed by Obama policy directives. A new “easier” to enroll listing of terrorist suspects has just been announced which essentially has no criteria except to be accused (well where have we seen THAT before all over the world used to exterminate political enemies…) .Indefinite detention, no doubt, is about to break loose since we already do have cases of people disappearing that are less than legal, so this process opens the door for legitimating the “Manning” canning of American rights to due process.
    Obama is supposed to have been a “Constitutional” specialist at the U. of Chicago? Well look at the history and financing of those departments at the U. of Chicago and now look at his personal track record (lip service and zero action is the norm) in office. The list goes on…and on…and on…The American system of democratic liberty is being privatized and dismantled by pure manipulation, crisis machination, legitimation and capture. Misinformation and outright professional narratives and counter-narrative strategies are opaque and market forwarded from dissembled cognitive dissonance through sustained disbelief and denials to illusions under appeal to authority systemics of hierarchy and power scalar (“trickled down” ) to mass delusions, disenchantment and disillusionment; antagonized by financed ranting groups couched in righteous terms of patriotic favor and kindling a reactionary dissent that can only fuel the fires of more Unified Quest controls in our crisis orchestrated future. So what I would like to know is how a steady state actuates itself when it is a process of manipulation and deceit domestically and politically?

    We tend to think of “equilibrium” and systems theory homeostasis and steady states as questions of civil society (civilization) but the power “statics and dynamic” are more derived from the geopolitical status of “self preservation” (at all costs) between systems as much as and perhaps more than within them. Consider the thinking that goes on daily under financial wars and hostile intentions between nations and states: each attempting to “stabilize” their own perceived self preservation as a steady state (relatively speaking). It is constant change. Fluidity and balance defy a universal gravity.

    Consider the passage simply explaining “balances of power” in the above linked google search page:

    “n international relations, a balance of power exists when there is parity or stability between competing forces. The concept “describes a state of affairs in the international system and explains the behaviour of states in that system” (Fry, Goldstein & Langhorn, 2004).[1] As a term in international law for a ‘just equilibrium’ between the members of the family of nations, it expresses the doctrine intended to prevent any one nation from becoming sufficiently strong so as to enable it to enforce its will upon the rest.

    “BoP” is a central concept in neorealist theory. Within a balance of power system, a state may choose to engage in either balancing or bandwagoning behavior. In a time of war, the decision to balance or to bandwagon may well determine the survival of the state.

    Kenneth Waltz, a major contributor to neorealism, expressed in his book, “Theory of International Politics” that “if there is any distinctively political theory of international politics, balance-of-power theory is it.”.[2] However, this assertion has come under criticism from other schools of thought within the international relations field, such as the constructivists and the political economists[3][4]”


    The basic principle involved in a balancing of political power, as Charles Davenant pointed out in his Essay on the Balance of Power, is as old as history, and was familiar to the ancients both as political theorists and as practical statesmen. In its essence it is no more than a precept of common sense, born of experience and the instinct of self-preservation.

    More precisely, the theory of Balance of Power has certain key aspects that have been agreed upon throughout the literature on the subject. First of all, the main objective of states, according to the Balance of Power theory is to secure their own safety, consistent with political realism or the realist world-view. Secondly, states reach an equilibrium because of this objective of self-preservation. States, by trying to avoid the dominance of one particular state, will ally themselves with other states until an equilibrium is reached.[5]

    As Professor L. Oppenheim (Internal. Law, i. 73) points out, an equilibrium between the various powers which form the family of nations is, in fact, essential to the very existence of any international law. In the absence of any central authority, the only sanction behind the code of rules established by custom or defined in treaties, known as ‘international law’, is the capacity of the powers to hold each other in check. If this system fails, nothing prevents any state sufficiently powerful from ignoring the law and acting solely according to its convenience and its interests.”

    Somewhere between the multilateral and the unilateral balances of external and domestic forces is a line of self interests that are in direct contradiction with a civilization process of homeostatic steady state economy and this does not even enter into the crisis in consciousness between economic and ecological disequilibrium. The regressive forces are counterbalancing and sustaining a delusional “stasis” termed status quo and laissez faire.
    Pardon me if I appear cynical, but I don’t think this is a “systems capacity” problem.


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