We are in the midst of a declining economy, if not fundamental economic downturn.
For too many individuals who’ve been personally experiencing a recession, if not depression, before or since the last economic downtown, conditions may not be all that much worse. Various economic realities for others, however, that have surfaced and merged over the last few months are now being painfully felt in their lives, families and communities.
What are these economic realities? Some are declining while others are rising.
On the declining side are real wages, median family income, labor force participation, worker’s share of the economy, home ownership, the price of commodities, real wealth of the vast majority of people, labor rights, the deterioration of our nation’s infrastructure (which provides the floor for economic development), corporate profits, the stock and bond markets, among many factors. Of course, conditions are relatively worse for people of color and young people than for whites and older people.
On the rising side are the prices of basic things people need (i.e. food and health care), student loans, auto loans, home loans (thanks to the increase in interest rates), federal debt, public pension liabilities at every level of government, automation (which displaces workers), the gap of income and wealth, assaults on unions (i.e. collective bargaining, reduction in unemployment insurance, so-called trade deals like the TPP), trade deficit (due to the strong US dollar), privatization/corporatization of more public services from the local to the national, and the demand for public services (i.e. explosion of food stamps being just one example).
We are facing not simply an economic policy crisis, but an economic systems crisis – one that has (d)evolved into converting nonrenewable resources into stuff and externalizing as many of the costs as possible from corporations onto individuals, governments and the environment. Economy, energy and environment are inextricably connected. So is another “E” word: ethics. We have come to associate human progress largely via one and only one criteria: unending economic growth. But we are reaching limits, which are inevitable on a finite material planet.
It’s clear that our current political and economic leaders at the federal level are stuck in various cars on a rapidly traveling train on a single track that is headed for the edge of a cliff. Their visions of alternatives are limited. Financial and fossil fuel corporations that benefit from the status quo have captured much of the political system.
The current political system knows but one way to address economic problems: grow our way out of them by going into more debt by plundering more nonrenewable resources to produce more stuff to be purchased by more people who themselves are going into more debt to do so with the result that more trash, junk and pollution will be dumped or spewed into the land, sea and air. This is unsustainable. Profoundly unsustainable. Fundamentally unsustainable. Economically, politically, environmentally and ethically unsustainable.
And it won’t change unless we acknowledge another “E” word: empowerment. It is us who must become knowledgeable, skilled, confident, committed and humble to bring fundamental change.
The current economic crisis may not be the one that finally triggers the system collapse. That trigger may be something that happens environmentally, or in energy, or politically, or militarily (i.e. a war). It might be the next economic recession/depression in a few months or years. But it will happen within the next decade or two.
Now is the time to come together, take charge and most importantly look at these crises as opportunities to create, to nurture, to build something new that is just, sustainable, nonviolent and inclusive.
Among the hopeful macro alternatives are enacting a 28th Constitutional Amendment affirming that only human beings, not corporate entities, possess inalienable constitutional rights and that money is no longer defined as “free speech” and can be regulated in elections, a campaign coordinated by the national Move to Amend coalition. Also needed is legislation that democratizes our nation’s money system — with We the People creating money as an asset to meet our society’s human and physical needs instead of banking corporations creating money out of thin air as debt via loans that can only be repaid by creating more debt, which is akin to the belief that one can drink oneself sober.
I’m hopeful that these and other just, peaceful, sustainable, nonviolent and democratic alternative can happen, but the time to begin isn’t when we’re on the cusp of a collapse, but now – when we still have the time.
So let us begin.