On October 24th the Gund Insititute for Ecological Economics is holding a teach in which aims to respond to the recent #Occupy protests on Wall Street and around the country. The event has been driven by the efforts of the Institute’s graduate students. Below is a statement on the event from Joshua Farley who is a Post Carbon Fellow, a Fellow of the Gund Institute and a Professor in the Community Development and Applied Economics faculty at the University of Vermont. Josh also co-authored the book Ecological Economics.
Some might think that this teach in is calling for radical changes. The truth is that our economy has been undergoing radical change for 40 years. We have shifted from an economy focused on production, on the buying and selling of real goods and services, to one driven by excessive consumption and financial speculation. Financial speculation, the buying and selling of paper or electrons, now constitutes over 90% of market transactions. Stocks are held on average for less than 30 seconds. We have shifted from a middle class America to a plutocracy— an unprecedented concentration of wealth and the political control that comes with it. 40 years ago the richest 1% captured less than 1/10 of the national income; today they capture nearly ¼. Middle class America is fading fast.
Radical change is happening.
At this teach in we have presented a conservative vision, a return to the values of the past, when Americans worked hard and invested in the future, when we believed in paying our own way, even when that meant 91% tax rates under Eisenhower, when family and community took precedence over mindless consumption.
Radical change is happening. Our goal is to guide that change in a direction that brings shared prosperity and justice for this and future generations. We must shift from an economy based on wasteful use of fossil fuels to one based on the careful stewardship of renewable energy. We must shift from an economy based on depleting our inherited trust fund of natural resources and healthy ecosystems to one based on rebuilding them.
But how do we make change, how do we achieve our goals? Donella Meadows dedicated her life to studying complex systems, and came up with 3 powerful leverage points, three places to intervene to direct radical change in the desired direction.
One powerful lever is to change the rules that guide the system. We have laid out some important rule changes that would have a big impact, such as reclaiming our money system and common assets, or restructuring taxation. But this is not enough.
A more powerful level is changing our goals, deciding what our economy is for. Ever growing GNP is a pointless goal, one that envisions ever increasing production as the sole purpose of economic activity, one that is indifferent between a single hedge fund manager earning $5 billion or 100,000 families earning $50,000. Our goals must be shared prosperity and justice, meaningful, fulfilling jobs, and rich, rewarding lives. Genuine progress. Until we redefine a recession as increasing poverty, misery, unemployment and inequality, we will do little or nothing to solve those problems.
The most powerful lever, however, is to change our paradigm, our understanding of what is physically and ecologically possible. We must recognize that we live on a finite, fragile planet in which material consumption cannot expand forever. We cannot rely on economic growth to solve our problems, to end poverty, to provide the resources to clean up our environment. Continuous economic growth is impossible as well as undesirable.
Once we change our paradigm and change our goals, the changes in the rules will just be common sense.
In conclusion, we have one demand: change the rules that guide our economic system. Make them conducive to shared prosperity, not the unjust redistribution of our common wealth into the hands of the few.
We have one demand: change the goals that guide our system. Our goal is shared prosperity, not endlessly increasing GNP.
We have one demand: change our paradigm, our understanding of what is possible. Acknowledge the fact of a finite, fragile planet that we cannot afford to abuse.
Upon whom do we make these demands? Upon which political and economic leaders? We make these demands upon ourselves. Upon those willing to stand up to confront our unjust and unsustainable system, to call for a return to a society willing to pay its own way, to live within its means; for a return to an America that inspires the world to do better, that leads the planet toward a sustainable and desirable future. We make these demands upon ourselves, and we will not rest until our demands are met.