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The Next President’s Inaugural Speech (If Only…)

by Brent Blackwelder, Head Speechwriter

Once upon a time the United States was a global pioneer of democracy and justice. The founders of this great nation articulated a noble vision of inalienable rights — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Times have changed. We have emerged from this presidential campaign with an ignoble vision of alienating wrongs — venom, vitriol, and the pursuit of pettiness. The campaign, including my campaign, dodged the most important issue of our era: coming to grips with the ecological reality confronting life on this planet. Today I pledge to make our nation once again the leader in solving economic, environmental, and social crises.

We have built a global economy that refuses to recognize ecological limits to growth. Repeated financial collapses, mushrooming corruption, and rampant speculation have characterized the last twenty years. We will blaze a new trail over the next twenty years; we will take bold steps to confront the failed global economy. Better late than never, we will face the issues of climate change and population growth that we have been avoiding for political expedience.

Modern industrial societies, with the United States leading the way, are emitting so much pollution that we have endangered the stability of earth’s climate and jeopardized the survival of over one quarter of the planet’s species. Our global population of over seven billion needs access to goods and services, but almost a billion are already struggling to obtain the bare necessities. Our civilization is using natural resources much faster than the earth can regenerate them. Scientists explain that we would need one and a half earths to keep consuming at our current rate. We can do better.

Our goal is to create a true-cost economy, a sustainable economy that gives everyone a fair chance. No more cheater economics and no more casino economics. We will put the cheaters in jail and close down the Wall Street casinos.

We will challenge the zealous pursuit of economic growth as the solution to the all problems. Much of our so-called economic growth has cost us far more than it has been worth. We have ruthless growth that benefits a few at the top but does nothing for most Americans. We have futureless growth that destroys resources, such as water and farmland, that will be needed by our children and grandchildren. Our economy should line up with our family values. We tell our children to save for the future. We don’t tell them to outspend their peers and judge the quality of their lives based on quarterly financial reports.

We will fund family planning so that the 250 million women worldwide who want such services can get them. All U.S. foreign aid will be screened to ensure that women will be better off as a result of the assistance.

While America has been sleeping, other nations have stepped into leadership roles:

  • Iceland has become the leader in empowerment of women; women hold the majority of jobs in university education and have nearly half the seats in parliament.
  • Bhutan has become the leader in measuring progress; this small Himalayan nation has committed itself to maximizing gross national happiness rather than gross national product.
  • Costa Rica and Sweden are leading the way in climate stabilization by instituting carbon taxes.
  • Germany, a nation with unexceptional wind and solar potential, has became the world’s largest generator of electricity in both categories.
  • Several European nations are taking the lead on jobs, shifting to shorter work weeks to relieve unemployment and enable citizens to spend time as they choose.

It’s encouraging to see other nations stepping up, but the United States need to get in the game. We can no longer stand still and watch other nations pass by on the way to a sustainable twenty-first-century economy.

Your odds of being struck by a meteorite are better than your odds of hearing a speech like this from one of these candidates.

Instead of rehashing the vicious debate over the deficit, I will move to implement a Robin Hood tax of just half of one percent on financial transactions. This simple and fair tax would yield billions in revenue and prevent Wall Street gamblers from playing with our money. We can have prosperity without growth.

We will adopt a four-day work week. There is no winner in a rat race. We will share the work, so that everyone can have a job, and we will trade the high productivity of our workers for a time dividend — meaning more time spent with our families and less time spent at the office.

Instead of fighting wars over oil, our military will prevent wars by helping to engineer the transition to clean energy. The military is already far ahead of the public and politicians in recognizing the threat of climate disruption. For example, the U.S. Army is working to get its bases off the electric grid and onto renewable energy. We will accelerate efforts like these and apply them across the nation.

We have only to look at the history of our nation to find inspirational leadership. The United States led in stewardship of the land with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first, in 1872. Faced with mounting pollution in the 1960s, we responded to the challenge. Congress launched the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, and assumed global leadership in reducing pollution by passing clean air and water laws. Other countries replicated our laws.

Now, even though most citizens are aware of profound economic and environmental problems at home and abroad, the United States has been a drag, not a leader. Instead of excuses and gridlock, we will take responsibility for our actions. My administration will put aside pessimistic notions of what we can’t do and focus on what we can do.

I am not proposing an unachievable agenda for the American people, but rather a solid plan to build on our past triumphs and cooperate with today’s leading countries, regions, cities, and towns that have begun the quest for an economy with a future. We will systematically transform the United States from the biggest consumer to the biggest conserver. We will take up the challenge of leadership so that we can once again pursue the noble vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Full Seas Act and the College of the 21st Century

by Brian Czech

Brian Czech PhotoIf we aren’t living in an “educable moment,” then we must be dumber than a doggone boot.  Financial collapse, fiscal crisis, skyrocketing gas prices, global warming, revolutions in crowded countries, unemployment all around… let’s graduate from the College of the 21st Century and recognize the old kindergarten lessons about limits to growth were right after all.  All that stuff they handed us later about perpetually growing the “information economy” was like a loosy-goosy high school course conceived by some ideological school board.  Sometimes it takes a hard-core college course to get back to reality, and now we’re all enrolled whether we like it or not.

We just can’t have a perpetually growing population, perpetually growing consumption, or perpetually growing economy.  To think there is no limit to growth on a finite planet (Earth comes to mind) is equivalent to thinking we could have a stabilized economy on a perpetually diminishing planet.  In other words, we could gradually squish the $70 trillion global economy into one continent, then one nation, then one city… you get the picture.  It’s becoming an “information economy,” right?  So eventually we could squish it into your blackberry, leaving the rest of the planet as a designated wilderness area!

Have you ever heard anything so ludicrous?  Yet it’s precisely, mathematically as ludicrous as thinking we could have a perpetually growing economy on Earth.

All this means we can’t have perpetually growing employment, either.  In fact, to strive for perpetually more jobs on a finite planet is to ensure growing unemployment.  (At least it can’t be “perpetually” growing unemployment, because it can’t get higher than 100%.)

So let’s get down to the brass tacks of amending the Full Employment Act before we flunk Sustainability 101.

The Employment Act of 1946 was amended as the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978.   The original and amended versions are commonly referred to as the “Full Employment Act.”  Among other things, the Full Employment Act calls for “full employment and production,” “increased real income,” and “balanced growth.”  By “balanced,” Congress was calling for economic growth under conditions of general equilibrium.  This means an economy growing in concert; an efficiently allocating, circular flow of money with no big eddies of unemployment.

Now let’s look at the assumptions used to underwrite the Full Employment Act.  One obvious assumption post-World War II would have been population growth.  With a growing population, full employment requires economic growth (growing GDP).  Given the assumption of population growth, then, the goal of the Full Employment Act can be interpreted as a policy for full employment and economic growth.

Of course the other highlight (or lowlight) of the historical context was the Great Depression, during which unemployment not only devastated society, but shocked the pants off neoclassical economists.  Pursuant to an arcane theory called “Say’s Law,” they thought the production of goods would be automatically met with the consumption thereof, so they didn’t believe in a sustained or lengthy period of unemployment.  They didn’t believe in macroeconomic tinkering, either.  Then John Maynard Keynes the Brit changed all that with his General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money.  They called it the “Keynesian revolution” and that’s how we got into deficit spending to “stimulate the economy.”

Fast-forward to our educable moment of financial collapse, fiscal crisis, skyrocketing gas prices, global warming, endangered species, revolutions in crowded countries, unemployment all around, and we see that we need another kind of economic revolution.  We need a steady state revolution to move from the old, unsustainable goal of economic growth to the new, sustainable goal of a steady state economy.  We need to heed the steady state economics of Herman Daly like we heeded the general theory of Keynes.

It took 32 years for the original Employment Act to take on the unsustainable baggage of the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act.  It’s been 32 years since then; time again to retool.  We need to draw up a Full and Sustainable Employment Act, which will have the advantage of a useful acronym, “Full SEA.”  Soon enough it will be known as the “Full Seas Act” to remind us that the “rising tide lifts all boats” metaphor is officially defunct.  There’s no more water to rise the tide, and only so many boats can fit.

The Full Seas Act will clarify that there is a limit to population and economic growth, and therefore a limit to employment.  Within the act, “increased real income” will be amended to “sustainable real income.”  “Balanced growth” will be replaced by “sectoral balance” or “efficient allocation of resources.”  Language will be added to describe that the goal of sustainable, full employment requires stabilization of population and per capita production and consumption.  Pursuant to the goal, the Full Seas Act will establish some commonsense educational programs toward stabilizing population and the ecological footprint of the economy.

The Full Seas Act will also call for an annual Report to the President on Population, Production, Consumption, and Capacity (RPPCC) to help monitor how unsustainable our economy is getting.  With population data from the Census Bureau and production data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, our slim new Bureau of Population and Consumption (BPC) will be calculating our ecological footprint to determine how sustainable our GDP is.  The President will help us matriculate from the College of the 21st Century by summarizing the RPPCC in the annual state of the union address.

Now some might say, “What planet are you on??”  They think a BPC, an RPPCC, and the Full Seas Act are figments of a futuristic imagination.  Well I’m right here on a finite planet called Earth, feet firmly on the ground and living in an educable moment of financial collapse, fiscal crisis, skyrocketing gas prices, global warming, revolutions in crowded countries, and unemployment all around.

What planet are you on?

Opportunities for a Different Economy in 2011

by Brent Blackwelder

With last November’s election there are new governors, state legislatures, and a very different U.S. House of Representatives. The issues of budget cuts, tax reform, corruption, the global financial collapse and the rise in unemployment are high on the agenda. We have an opportunity to shape the debate on these issues and bring the steady state economy into the discussion.

Here are some of my ideas for 2011.

Public Education

We need to conduct a series of seminars or teach-ins across the country to challenge conventional economic thinking, to expose people to the concept of a steady state economy, and to find workable solutions to all the economic problems we face. If you would like a seminar or teach-in for your community or your college, please contact me. Such sessions would involve audience interactions with leading advocates of new economic approaches and would feature dynamic discussions of what a steady state economy would look like, how to accomplish a transition to such an economy, and opportunities for financial and economic reform this year.

Financial Corruption and Tax Evasion

Financial corruption is undermining all aspects of governance. Tax dodgers are depriving governments around the world of essential revenues. The result is less money for enforcement of health, safety, and environmental standards and reduction of many vital social services. It doesn’t take long under such conditions for citizens to lose faith in the ability of the government to provide security and other meaningful services.

We can work on two tasks in 2011 to address these problems. First, we can solidify important legislative gains made last year to curtail corruption, by making sure new regulations have strong provisions to prevent tax dodging (note: the Administration will be writing regulations to put new agencies like the Office of Financial Research into action). Second, we can demand new laws to force disclosure of clandestine owners of offshore tax havens. Those who want to be part of grassroots efforts on these issues should contact me.

Tax Reform and Budget Cuts

The last election featured headlines about growing deficits, massive cuts in federal spending, and the influence of Tea Party activists. Republicans are demanding spending cuts on the order of $100 billion but are short on specifics. At the same time, Democrats are angling to avoid big reductions in domestic spending.

The win-win solution to the pending impasse on budget cuts is to go after offshore tax havens and other tax dodges that are costing our country $100 billion a year. More and more people and corporations are moving money they earn in the U.S. to offshore havens where taxes are inconsequential. Goldman Sachs used this technique to reduce the percentage of its income going to taxes from 34% in 2007 to less than 1% for 2009. Exxon avoided paying U.S. taxes in 2009 even though it had billions in profits. The Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development reports that 83 of the top 100 U.S. corporations have subsidiaries in tax havens. Such tax avoidance by multinational corporations not only hurts taxpayers, but also costs the governments of developing countries an estimated $160 billion per year, according to a new report by ActionAid. Tax avoidance by corporations is a major factor in keeping poor people poor around the world. For example, in Ghana, SABMiller’s subsidiary Accra Brewery is the second biggest in the country with over $40 million in yearly sales, but through clever accounting, it has paid no taxes the past two years. At the same time Marta Luttgrodt, who sells this beer at her small food and beverage stall near the brewery, must pay a number of taxes to the Ghana Revenue Authority or she will be closed down. ActionAid estimates that the taxes SAB Miller has avoided paying could have put 250,000 children in school in the countries where the company operates.  Click here for more on this story.

Great Educational Movie

For a captivating picture of the global financial collapse of 2008, the bailouts, and the behavior of big bankers and Wall Street firms, the movie Inside Job is a must-see. Inside Job provides a comprehensible and dynamic overview of the collapse in the U.S. and around the world. If you are not already infused with a sense of outrage over the criminal behavior of so many involved in the scandals, you will be after seeing this movie. Help spread the word.

Key Changes in the Tax Code

Tax reform will be a major topic for action this year. Progressives need to be on the offensive and demand a better taxation framework. It is our civic duty to see that our tax structure is fair, that people live up to their responsibility to pay taxes, and that tax incentives do not encourage undesirable activities. For example, the tax code should impose fees on pollution and on products that harm public health. Often the reverse is true. The government has subsidized the purchase of gas-guzzling hummers and delivery of junk food into public schools. We should push both political parties to eliminate all government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. If you want to be part of the subsidy debate on energy, please visit Friends of the Earth.

We have lot of work to do to build a sustainable and fair economy. But we also have a lot of opportunities to minimize perverse subsidies, eliminate tax dodging, create meaningful employment opportunities, and put the brakes on the financial roller coaster that is being driven by speculators. Contact Dr. Brent Blackwelder to follow up.