We can’t continue to grow indefinitely. The planet has said no. Growth creates too much waste and too much pollution. For capitalism to succeed, it requires growth and profit. If that is not sustainable, what then? This post begins a journey, a deep exploration into the need for a no-growth, sustainable economy and what might be next.
- What would life be like for the family at left?
- What if they each worked only part-time jobs but earned enough to live comfortably, so they could devote time to develop themselves, cultivate their relationship, contribute to their community, and not race to 2 jobs each just to pay rent?
- What if they benefited from family planning services, delayed starting a family for two years while one of them became a certified solar installer, and then when the decision to start a family was made, what if they benefited from high-quality prenatal care that was free, accessible, and culturally appropriate?
- What if both parents were connected to a high-quality early childhood education system that initiated its work before their baby was born and prepared them to be the best parents and the best teachers of their child? What if because of this, their child entered K-12 as ready to learn as his/her classmates?
- What if they lived in a neighborhood with an active community center that was a social, recreational, educational hub for their neighborhood, and where neighbors developed community priorities together, priorities that drove how cities prioritized use of resources?
- What if this kind of system were supported financially by a completely different tax system, one that taxed high-income individuals at 80% (as in 1950)? What if an iron-clad wealth tax ensured that the first $2 million of accumulated wealth could be transferred to heirs tax-free and the remaining was taxed at 95%? What if our transportation, education, banking, and health systems were all public, profit-free and designed to benefit all of us?
- How would this kind of society differ from today’s in terms of how we treat immigrants? Seniors? Those who are ill? Those with chronic conditions? Those with addictions or criminal backgrounds?
What if? Utopian? Naive? Maybe not.
Until two years ago, I had felt that it was quixotic to even think about this kind of world. But two things have happened to make this seem more realistic. Indeed, I would offer that achieving the above is the only chance our planet has to survive.
First, in just two years so many socialist-like policies have gone from being considered unthinkable to being part of the public discourse, thanks in large part to the Sanders campaign. What could lead to an even further leap to the left? Toward humanism? Toward collectivism? That brings me to #2.
Second, we are inching closer and closer to a fixed deadline and the entirely likely reality that shocking climate catastrophes are inevitable. Naomi Klein has a theory called the “shock doctrine.” Most of Klein’s theory has been focused upon how the GOP and the 1% have used things like 9-11 and Katrina to introduce policies and programs that would have been unthinkable until a crisis made them seem inevitable.
I recommend Klein’s new book, No Is Not Enough, to understand how the shock doctrine has played out in innumerable contexts. It is short, easy read and a critically important book for our time. Her premise is that the GOP devoted much time and effort to laying the groundwork, developing the neoliberal policies of which they dreamed, and then they were ready when the shock came.
The right has always been ready to take advantage of shock. In 2008, the bank collapse provided an enormous shock and a new, inspiring President had just been elected. But the left was not ready to take advantage of this. There was a moment when the private banking system could have been dissolved and a national public bank created. While previously an unthinkable option, with the nation in shock a public bank could have been achieved. We were not ready; the left had not carefully formulated a radical departure from the norm, and instead used band-aids to hold together neoliberalism. We can’t afford to make that mistake again.
The left needs to learn from the GOP and construct a platform that may seem unthinkable today, but could appear absolutely necessary soon, and then when climate change or some other neoliberal failure provides the rude shock, we’ll be ready. In that moment there will be an opportunity: to move to a new economy and a new way of life, and that shift will either be to the extreme dystopian right or a quantum shift to the left, toward humanism, collectivism, and sustainability. The right will no doubt be ready with its militaristic, repressive solution; we need to be ready with our alternative.
And so, over the coming months, sprinkled among posts focused on other more practical, immediate concerns (e.g., Ranked Choice Voting), we will continue this line of thought. Retake may well form a group to discuss this together and flesh out the human details of what a sustainable, just future could look like. If we can’t see it; we will never get it. And no sense tinkering with band-aids. I think we are all tired of band-aids being applied to a dying system. If you are interested in being part of this conversation, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.