Today’s post is singular in its focus on our failure to choose political leaders who will advance what we have long desired. Confidence in government is at an all time low because we continue to expect the same things from a government that, beholden to the 1%, fails to deliver for us. Read on. But, before we get to the feature of today’s post, we offer a few announcements.
Saturday, May 29, 8:30 am: Rethink Conversation on KSFR.101.1 FM or Streaming Live from KSFR.org: Less Is More Part III. In Part III we begin to examine how we can get to a post-capitalism economic and political systems and the shift in policy and culture required to get there. Parts I and II provided a discussion of how capitalism and colonialism evolved and the conditions required for it to continue. This series is well worth your time if you haven’t been able to get your hands on the book.. Click here to watch Part I and II. Each is only 30 minutes.
Tuesday, June 8, 6pm. Less Is More Conversation. This book is packed with insights that need to be explored and policy directions that need to be considered. The discussion will be meaningful for you, regardless of whether you’ve read the book or even listened to the Retake Conversation series (above).. Click here to register. If you’ve already registered, please do so again, as I received notice of a malfunction in the Zoom registration system.
Rethink Huddles: Tuesday evening in our third Rethink Huddle, we facilitated an interesting conversation, as we discussed the variety of ways in which NM could benefit from an expanded role of government and a return to pre neoliberal privatization. Where are our opportunities? Public banking, public utility, a state managed broadband roll out? As we advance, we will have more fleshed out concepts that we will want to share with allies and legislators, delivering concrete proposals for policy or legislative initiatives. One of the attendees wondered if we shouldn’t be advancing strategies that could be implemented by municipalities at a local level and that will be part of the conversation, as we move forward. Indeed, I have an article about precisely this topic on my desk. But if we are to begin to advocate for municipal level reforms, we will need more of you from different parts of the state to be part of the thinking. Click here to read more about Rethink’s emerging strategies. On this page you will find links to a summary of our purpose and scope of work, roles that volunteers can play and more.
Why Do We Choose To Live This Way?
Roxanne gave me a t-shirt a year or so ago with: “If your roommate were as unstable as capitalism, you would have moved out long ago.” At the time, I found the slogan funny, but largely inconsequential–until Tuesday night. During our Rethink Zoom Huddle, one of the participants, Charles Clements, commented that if our families operated on the principles of capitalism, children would not survive.
That comment stuck with me as I had just finished reading Less is More. In the last chapters, Hickel contrasted capitalist and colonialist principles with indigenous principles and values, pointing to how in innumerable indigenous populations across the globe there is very little or no distinction made between plants and animals and humans, with all viewed as having souls and with indigenous populations living in reciprocal relationship with plants, water, air, animals and earth. Yes, they consumed plants and animals, but in a reciprocal, almost reverential manner. They killed plants and animals for food, but didn’t create industries around the practice; they took what they needed to survive, taking care to protect and sustain those animals and plants, not exploit them, as they were kin.
I thought about this more and realized that Charles’ reference to how, if capitalist principles were guiding how a family operated, the strong would exploit the young and extract from them what they could for their own benefit, indifferent to the debilitation visited upon the young, the weak and in a family, the child. This may seem an extreme example, but the more I thought about the recent history of capitalism and colonialism, it appeared more and more apt.
I thought about how I had once asked PNM CEO Pat Collawn, “How can you live with yourself, knowing that your company and its extractive policies were literally destroying the future for your grandchildren?” It is a question I’ve asked myself about any number of industry executives who for decades have pursued profit despite clear evidence of the deleterious impact of their products. There is a history of such leaders in tobacco, pharmaceuticals, food production, mining, gas and oil, baby formula and other industries, where executives pursued and legislators permitted profit from these industries despite clear evidence of the deadly harm they caused. In most all of those instances, it was not the grandchildren of those leaders who were imperiled, more often than not it was the poor, communities of color and very often in the Global South.
But today with the possibility that unchecked industrial growth could bring extinction, the stakes are much higher and the urgency for action clear. How will today’s leaders of industry and government explain to their children and grandchildren how their inaction had narrowed the door on their future?
As I thought about the question, I realized that within capitalism that future, like the woods, the rivers, and the air, are all externalized costs and the business imperative is to exploit those resources and to maximize profit, not protect the weak, the young or the child. All are just resources to be turned into profit. From that perspective capitalism is literally, not metaphorically consuming future generations.
From there, my mind carried me to a quote from a Democracy Collaborative paper where they noted that the decisions in relation to climate action or other justice-related actions are “politically mitigated,” i.e. through our elected representatives, we are literally choosing to risk extinction so that the wealthy can lead extravagant lifestyles. The advance of the climate catastrophe is something we are actually choosing.
Recall, last week, Retake published a post, Pictures Tell a Telling Tale: Charts & Maps Tell the Story of Our Global Climate Future: A Five Minute Must Read, in which we presented a series of charts that illustrated that the top 10% of income earners are directly causing over half of all emissions. So, those people are dining on caviar in a chosen trade-off: my taste for caviar, for my grandchild’s existence.
But most of us have not signed on for that trade-off and likely the vast majority of Americans do not even have a glimmer of understanding that this trade-off is happening or that they chose it. Indeed, as recent Pew research demonstrates, if you poll Americans you will find that they favor government playing a very large role in maintaining clean air and water, ensuring high quality education, providing healthcare and ensuring an adequate standard of living by large margins.
What’s more, if you segment responses by political party, you find that the margins are startlingly larger when examining responses of Democrats or Democrat leaning respondents.
In both of the charts above, Americans polled voiced strong support for an expanded role for government despite confidence in government being at an all time low. It hasn’t always been this way, as the poll below reveals.
Note that in the 1960 and 70s, 80% of the public viewed government as a trusted steward, both Republicans and Democrats. What happened for it to fall into such disregard in 2021? Fifty years of media manipulation in support of privatization and the systematic undermining of the capacity of government to protect us, to serve us, and to regulate business. We have lost confidence in government because we continue to look to it for the things we desire, but government, strangled of resources from decades of tax cuts largely benefiting the rich, is no longer able to deliver on our aspirations. They are no longer beholden to our wishes but to the interests of industry and the 1%.
Where does that leave us?
For a very long time, Democrats advocating for policies supporting goals that are valued among voters, but resisted by industry, are branded as extremist in the media and even by Democratic leadership. We have lost confidence in government because it has ceased to work in our interests.
While mulling this over, I came a cross an email from The Democracy Collaborative (TDC) describing how the Labour Party in the UK had suffered a devastating defeat in local elections this spring, losing over 300 councilor seats and losing control of many historically strongly pro labor municipalities. But rather than this defeat offering evidence that there is no appetite among voters for progressive, pro-labor policy, TDC’s conclusion was just the opposite. In most of these local elections, the Labour Party offered tepid, almost apologetic campaigns. However, in a segment of these local races, Labour ran on strong platforms that incorporated strident commitments to policies that foster community wealth building and democratizing the local economies. From the TDC newsletter:
“In Preston, where 10 of Labour’s 30-seat majority were up for reelection, Matthew Brown’s team held every one—the only council in Lancashire on which Labour did not lose seats. Paul Dennett, the ‘sensible socialist’ mayor of Salford who is a strong proponent of CWB-type strategies, was resoundingly reelected. Mayor Steve Rotheram was reelected in the Liverpool City Region. In nearby Wirral, where leader Jan Williamson has been pursuing CWB and was at risk of losing control of the council, Labour lost only one seat and held on to power against the national tide. Mayor Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester won every single area in a reelection landslide—he has been dubbed ‘King of the North’ and has pursued CWB-adjacent strategies such as reasserting public control of the buses as well as explicitly proposing aspects of CWB in a recent Greater Manchester Independent Inequalities Commission report. In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford won 30 of the 60 seats for Labour in the Senedd (the Welsh Parliament)—an amazing achievement.”The Democracy Collaborative: “May 2021 Newsletter”
Apparently, we candidates advance bold policy that is responsive to long held public priorities, they win. In,”Preston is a lesson for Labour: show communities you can deliver change.”.The Guardian focused on the extraordinary degree to which policy in Preston is visionary, bold and decidedly people-centric…Preston is one of those communities in which Labour had done very well, holding on to every council seat. Preston policies are designed to build community wealth by not soliciting location of big outside businesses in their community, but building from within. From The Guardian:
“A central part of our approach is encouraging big institutions such as hospitals and universities to join this movement for economic and social progress. These “anchor institutions” are unlike conventional businesses: they’re publicly owned, won’t get up and leave, spend billions annually and employ thousands of people in the area. In Preston, the council has encouraged them to pay the real living wage and to buy much more from local businesses rather than remote corporate giants. We’ve also ensured the council and public pension fund invests locally, and we’ve used the planning system to support local employment in large commercial developments.”The Guardian: “Preston is a lesson for Labour: show communities you can deliver change”.
Where does all this flow of thinking land?
We are choosing to lead unsustainable lives by electing and re-electing people who will not seek to secure a sustainable future. We are choosing to be the chattel for a corporate machine that will trade the future of our and their grandchildren for a nifty profit, private jet, and extravagant travel. And because of this, community wealth building, keeping it in the ground, universal healthcare, rural broadband, and the Green New Deal are considered fringe policies with unrealistic goals. Survival has become an unrealistic goal because it might impede growth. How did we get to such a perverse crossroad?
But bold policies will continue to be viewed this way until a movement emerges that rethinks our priorities and educates a broad constituency that will demand substantive change, that will care more for the future of our grandchildren than the profit and wealth accumulation of the 1%.
Rethink Our Democracy wants to be part of that effort and you are invited to be part of it. We all must take responsibility; we all must become fully educated about realistic alternatives to the current political and economic systems and we all must then commit time and energy to changing minds, one neighbor, colleague and nephew at a time. Click here to find out more about Rethink Our Democracy.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne