In the last issue of Learning Curves, an article, which I wrote The new, new economy, described how citizens around the world are transforming their societies little by little by working for the environment, for social justice, for a truly democratic society and a society where people feel part of their community. Members of the New Economy Coalition (NEC) consider all four goals inseparable and the achieving of them essential to the new economy because these are the areas that have been most damaged by our current economic system.
Most people don’t question our economic system, which we call capitalism. Many seem to think that it is sacrosanct. But it was created by human beings about 200 years ago and can be modified or abandoned by other human beings. In the past, citizens have successfully challenged the status quo. There is no reason to believe that they cannot do so again if they are convinced that change is necessary.
In many ways, capitalism has served us well. It has fostered innovation and efficiency. The profit motive has encouraged people to work hard; capitalism promotes growth. Our standard of living is a result of capitalism. But as an economic system, it is on the wrong side in the new economy for several reasons. Built into capitalism is social and economic inequality. It cannot deal with climate change; though it creates jobs, it has ravaged the environment and exploited workers. For the future, NEC and other like-minded organizations either reject capitalism entirely or envision a greatly modified form of capitalism complemented by elements of socialism.
Rescuing the environment seems finally to be on the public’s agenda. All over the world individuals and corporations are embracing and creating green technologies. The Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement is booming; individuals alone have pledged to divest over $2.5 billion in assets. The recent United Nations climate conference was the first not to be declared a failure. Of course, the agreement between China and the United States is a momentous development as well.
There are still many challenges. However, some experts, for example, former American Vice President, Al Gore, are confident that climate change will not spell the end of our planet after all. NEC is working towards the time when there are enough people wanting to create systemic change to a sustainable world order. For the problems of the environment, change seems underway.
Regarding Social Justice, there are not many optimistic signs. The most serious symptom of our failure to achieve social justice is the increasing gap between the rich and the poor around the world and our seeming inability to do anything about it. The social safety net that Canadians built after the depression of the thirties diminished the worst outcomes of capitalism. However, the values held by the people who created the safety net have been eroded by the “values” of the free market—capitalist ideology.
In the last three decades, corporations (true blue capitalists) have tried to return society to the days of the robber barons and unfettered capitalism; to duplicate this primitive world, they have tried and often succeeded in influencing the political process with the result that the safety net has been greatly damaged, and regulations to protect the ordinary person have been done away with or made voluntary. Labour laws have been watered down. Unions have lost their membership as their bosses assure workers that a union is not necessary today. The result has been an unprecedented increase in poverty in Canada and the United States (and elsewhere) and an obscene increase in the wealth of the already wealthy. For ordinary people, jobs are scarce and insecure.
- The following statistics indicate how we have failed to care for one another. There are about 2.2 billion children in the world; one billion live in poverty.
- To Canada’s shame there are about 1.3 million Canadian children living in poverty.
- The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income.
- The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.
Democracy in Canada and the United States is broken or at least badly wounded. The citizens of both countries have been poorly served over the last few decades by their federal representatives. In Canada the leader of a majority government has the power of a dictator. In the United States, partisan gridlock has brought government to a standstill. Citizens are not engaged because of these problems. For both countries reform is necessary. NEC wants a revitalized democracy because: “Today, the majority of people are deprived of a voice in political and economic life. Fundamental flaws in the political economic system permit the concentration of resources and power, exacerbating inequality and destroying ecosystems. The beneficiaries of this system obstruct efforts to restore communities and livelihoods” (from NEC’s website).
Human beings are social animals and naturally form communities because they have a need to belong in a meaningful way. Many people living in big cities and surrounded by strangers have no sense that they belong anywhere. Rarely are they called upon to get involved in their community. NEC envisions a time when community will matter. There will be built-in structures that encourage involvement in the community such as working in community gardens, cooking and participating in communal meals, running enterprises as co-operatives etc. Communities will also have rights and responsibilities to participate democratically in decision-making about issues that affect them.
Those of us lucky enough to have been born in industrialized countries enjoy the highest standard of living in human history. In fact, the serious problems we face are largely due to our success. However, the systems and values that gave us this standard of living will be the death of us if we do not forsake them.