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There’s hope for a new economy in the New Year

Early in 2011 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a profound condemnation of the global economy’s ill-conceived pattern of growth: “For most of the past century, economic growth was fueled by what seemed to be a certain truth: the abundance of natural resources. We mined our way to growth. We burned our way to prosperity. We believed in consumption without consequences. These days are gone… Over time, that model is a recipe for national disaster. It is a global suicide pact.” (Spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 2011).

That’s a somber statement, but there’s hope that the U.S. will break free from this “global suicide pact” and develop a fundamentally different economy. My prediction for 2012: decentralized forces, formed in response to the unsustainable and unfair economic situation, will begin to fundamentally change how our national economy works. People in the Occupy Wall Street movement and groups working on human rights, public health, clean energy, and social and tax justice are laying the groundwork for a shift to a steady state — a dynamic and sustainable economy that pursues prosperity and full employment without GDP growth.

The grassroots mobilization to support clean energy and a healthy environment is a sign of the shift to come. The work of diverse groups protesting the dirty tar sands pipeline from Canada to Texas motivated a huge turnout at the White House, with over 1,000 people being arrested. These protests were strong enough to get President Obama’s attention. He delayed a decision on the pipeline and elevated the issue to center stage on the Republican agenda.

Statistics give us another hint that we’re headed in the right direction toward a steady state economy in 2012. Despite efforts by the Republican Congressional Leadership to undermine environmental protections (e.g., ongoing denial of climate change and attempts to gut EPA regulations), U.S. emissions have dropped by 7% in the last four years and are in line to drop further. Vehicle miles driven have declined, and ridership of public transportation is up 2%.

A cynic might say that the reason is simply the recession, but that’s only a small part of the story. Important actions such as renewable energy standards at the city and state levels are helping. Religious congregations participating in the Interfaith Power and Light initiative are reducing their carbon footprints. The campaign to shut down coal power plants and the substitution of natural gas for coal are also significant. Coal used to be the source of over half of U.S. electricity, but its share dropped to 43% in the first half of 2011 and is scheduled to drop even further.

As we enter 2012, we should redouble our support of those groups pushing for an economic paradigm shift based on sound governance and the principles of a just democracy. And it’s time to build a broad coalition of such groups to include those working on clean energy, public health, climate stabilization, financial reform, and other pieces of a sustainable economic system. Growing support for these groups and mutual reinforcement among them will provide the necessary spark to ignite the economic shift.

As we push for a just, environmentally sustainable world, we must continue to highlight the unabashed attempts by the richest one percent to continue fleecing the rest of us. December has featured a full array of proposed new financial gimmicks and tax breaks to benefit the very rich. For example, corporations with billions stashed in offshore tax havens are now seeking to bring these funds back to the U.S. with minimal tax under a so-called “Repatriation Act.” They’re angling for a repeat of their lucrative repatriation flim-flam in 2004, a plan that saw 15 corporations bring back $150 billion at a 5 and ¼% tax rate instead of 35%. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that these 15 companies did not add jobs or increase research expenditures, but rather increased spending on executive pay and stock buybacks. Now more companies are petitioning Congress to allow them once again to bring the loot back home with the same tax break.

Although the U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly supports such repatriation, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, with 500,000 dues-paying members, opposes it. The members of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce aren’t benefiting from the offshore tax havens or the repatriation scams.

As 2011 gives way to 2012, outrage is in the air. But that can be useful for uniting and motivating people of conscience across the political spectrum to work for change — to break free of the suicide pact described by Ban Ki-Moon. Mr. Ban has called on governments to supply “visionary recommendations” for the upcoming Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June of 2012. Here are two recommendations that, at this point in history, seem obvious, but would certainly be radical in the business-as-usual economy:

  1. Stop pursuing the ruinous pipe dream of continuous economic growth and work toward a steady state economy.

  2. Take power back from the oligarchy of the 1% to reclaim our democracy.

Best wishes for the new year.

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