It is good to be reminded that the plutocrats have not succeeded in subduing us into poverty and servitude everywhere. For this reminder I am indebted to the article Fantasy Economics, by Andrew Simms, The Guardian, UK, 16 February 2013, and a few other places such as the Real World Economics Review Blog and Yes! magazine that reports good news when it occurs. Simms points out that there is no single place where all of these beneficial advances exist at the same time, but they do exist, and make life better for the people.
There is no single place where
all of these beneficial advances
exist at the same time.
Begin with Uruguayan president José Mujica, who lives on $680 a month, which is the average income in Uruguay. He has a guard of two policemen and a three-legged dog, and drives a 1987 VW Beetle. He reminds me of California governor Jerry Brown, who, in he 1970s, lived in a two-bedroom apartment and drove a ten-year-old car. These may be extreme cases, but conspicuous consumption is unseemly in political leaders, and we have far too much of it. Voluntary simplicity accomplishes nothing substantial, but powerfully demonstrates support for the people.
After the 2008 market crash, the Icelandic “Pots and Pans Revolution” let the foolhardy banks go screw themselves, and didn’t bail them out. Then, half the population got involved in making a new constitution. Here at home Congress devotes most of its attention to keeping its owner-benefactors and their lobbyists happy.
After the 2008 market crash,
the Icelandic “Pots and Pans Revolution”
let the foolhardy banks go screw themselves.
Germany did better than most in the 2008 crash because 70% of its banks are community based small banks. Half of the banks’ mandate is to be useful, rather than just make profit. Quite a contrast with the US, where banks’ only purpose is profit. Wall Street and the Big Banks’ unregulated and amoral greed nearly succeeded in destroying the economy of the entire world, yet not one bankster has served time, and all the abuses continue as before.
The Mondragón Corporation in Spain, the Publix Supermarkets in the US, and the John Lewis Partnership in the UK, demonstrate that large worker-owned companies are possible and profitable. Worker-owned companies are the single most effective way to thwart the inherent faults of the capitalist system, and to foster a decent economic deal for workers. Such arrangements enrich the country as well as the worker-owners.
are the single most effective way
to thwart the inherent faults
of the capitalist system.
Alternative ways to evaluate wellbeing include Bhutan’s famous Gross National Happiness index, which assesses 151 factors. An index more closely associated with financial wellbeing in the US is the Genuine Progress Indicator, which deducts destructive, harmful spending from the GDP, and demonstrates that, in contrast to what GDP tells us, our wellbeing has actually fallen.
Ecuador’s “National Plan for Good Living” guides the country away from market judgments and toward goals that actually make people better off. It is part of a movement in Latin America that has rejected US hegemony and its neoliberal demands. President Rafael Correa has stabilized the economy, reversed the punitive 85:15 ratio of oil company profit in order to benefit the people, and brought significant improvements to the lives of the citizens, with better education and health care in particular. There are also a more progressive tax system, improved collection of taxes, free healthcare and education, improvement of wages, the end of abusive loan arrangements, and seizure of bankrupt businesses for sale to the workers.
The beneficial effect of higher taxes in Scandinavia
directly contradicts dire warnings
from American conservatives.
Higher taxes in Scandinavia have led to increased investment, education, and R&D, while at the same time providing free health care and education, help for seniors, and assistance with childcare. This directly contradicts dire warnings from American conservatives that higher taxes (we have quite low taxes) will always be detrimental to economic health.
The takeaway lesson from all this is that government can take actions that not only improve the lives of ordinary citizens, but also improve the general economic condition of the whole country. The uncontrolled market economy we see and worship in the United States does the opposite, which is why we have record inequality today.
To be sure, these processes do not occur without controversy, and some changes have been heavy-handed, but the most vociferous of those who object are mostly the very rich, who have succeeded in making life sweet for themselves at the expense of everyone else.
The uncontrolled market economy we worship
in the United States is an anti-democratic force
that is creating an abusive plutocracy.
These examples provide demonstrations of what is possible, bringing obvious improvements to the lives of most citizens. For this we need for government to seize its proper role in bringing equality and the blessings of democracy to all citizens, and quit working only to satisfy the very rich.