We need to build a new economy, one that promotes widespread prosperity while protecting us against ecological disaster. The problem is that the current economy has been structured explicitly to extract wealth from the global commons and accumulate it in the coffers of an extremely powerful elite. And it is standing in our way.
I say let the U.S. economy collapse. It’s not serving us anyway. Now before you go off and think I’m just a heretic who hates this country, please hear me out.
The current economy is designed to:
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- Encourage widespread home ownership, which straps people to a lifetime of mortgage debt;
- Mandate that health care only be provided through employers, which enslaves people to meaningless jobs they don’t like;
- Grow perpetually, which means that natural resources must be depleted to keep the gears turning;
- Accumulate wealth in the hands of those who control capital, which drives a wedge between the haves and the have-nots;
- Drive the creation of sweat shops all over the world that enslave billions in a cycle of perpetual poverty;
- Allow corporations to co-opt our democracy, by granting them the rights of legal personhood and defining money as speech;
- Ultimately destroy the foundations of human well-being, thus spiraling deregulated markets out of control.
As a result, we are seeing massive growth of public debt while a small portion of the population becomes more wealthy than the monarchs of past ages. These billionaires then build incredibly sophisticated propaganda machines to convince everyday citizens to support their exploitative system.
I would be perfectly happy to let this economy collapse if a better one were to replace it. Luckily, the collapse is about to be accelerated. We’re about to see the federal political system become even more dysfunctional. And the life supports for our economy — the vital infrastructure funded by public dollars — is about to be cut even further to extract wealth for the super rich. Tea Party supporters have ensured that the next few years will further corrode the existing economy through the attack of a thousand cuts.
We can take comfort in the knowledge that the global economy of the late 20th Century is in the process of collapsing. It wasn’t serving us anyway.
Now is the time for social entrepreneurs to mobilize and begin the creative process of building the foundational institutions of the 21st Century economy. Look around and you will see that this effort is already underway. Micro-credit lending institutions are revolutionizing the world of finance (see Kiva and Grameen Bank). Social media platforms are replacing the elite communication systems set up to broadcast information from a central source to the masses. Legal hackers are creating benefit corporations that merge the social missions of non-profits with the economic power of publicly traded corporations. And urban designers are creating cityscapes that mimic natural ecosystems.
So let’s begin the work of building 21st Century political and economic systems. The need is clear and the time is right. Many bottlenecks to progress are about to be removed de facto as state governments grapple with bankruptcy and corporations expand their stranglehold on our judicial and legislative systems. The weakening of our economic foundations will bring with it a loosening of control that these powerhouses have on economic development.
Rough times lie ahead, no doubt about it. But we can take heart in the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people and the considerable economic power of our major cities. A truism that we must all take to heart is that, while the 20th Century was dominated by nations, the 21st Century will be shaped primarily by cities. If you don’t believe me, look at the rapid urbanization of China and India and ask yourself how many of the remaining resources will be sucked up by the unprecedented growth of buildings, regional transit systems, and commerce in the developing world.
Many Americans are going to be caught off guard when the carpet is pulled out from under their feet. Others will be relieved that we can finally begin to catch up with the rest of the world, presuming of course that our own cities aren’t entirely decimated by the hording of wealth by short-sighted elites. We currently house most of the world’s best research labs and continue to attract global intellectual talent to our shores. (Of course, this may change if the xenophobic tenor of our immigration debate doesn’t catch up with the times.) And we have several awe-inspiring regional economies like the San Francisco Bay Area, Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, and a number of hubs in New England.
So all you social innovators out there, now is the time to heed the call. Focus your efforts on the new business models, disruptive technologies, collaborative finance systems, and politic organizing platforms. We’re going to need you.
The time to build the new economy is upon us.