9 March

Change is in the air. From protests in the Middle East and Africa, to several mid-Western states here in America, from China through North Korea and Burma, oppressed people are voicing their intolerance of hunger, demanding meaningful work, and dreaming of a better future. Can we seize this moment in history and imagine a radical transformation? Can we fashion a society that respects each and every soul, both human and not, and that honors Nature for supporting our very existence?

What might this new paradigm look like? Here are a few examples:

  • A major reason this economy is so dysfunctional is its emphasis upon the individual at the expense of the group. When owning property or rights or ideas is glorified and exalted, those parts of life that can’t be owned are denigrated and eventually destroyed. No one can own the air, so who is there to protect it? No one owns the rain (though today businesses, in the ultimate privatization, are trying to make rainwater collection a crime), so who is there to keep it available for our use? We marvel at the emergence and creativity of a group mind, yet we fail to teach our children how to tap into this phenomena in their daily life. We insist that they get ahead in life through their own individual efforts, and focus on competition instead of cooperation. We inherently understand that we live on a finite planet, with limited resources, and we engage in a constant game of musical chairs. We fear that we will suffer from scarcity, and so hoard as much as we can, and take as much from others as is possible, to guard against that day when we are among the poor who have nothing. We can, however, begin to look for our commonalities: we can work to ensure our food, water and air are clean and healthful. We can offer meaningful work to all who choose it, cleaning and building and caring for others. We can honor and reward those who educate our young and care for the sick and disabled and elderly. We can begin to harvest the benefits of automation to allow ourselves to work less, to have more time to create and converse and bond with our fellow humans. We can spend the bulk of our time connecting with Nature, and growing tasty food, rather than working to consume yet another electronic appliance, another pair of shoes, or another processed food product.
  • We use our tax system to engineer our society. Examples abound, including offering home buyers tax free income to pay for their mortgage with the mortgage interest deduction, to the earned income tax credit which puts money in the hands of the poor. So let’s decide what we want to support, and eliminate the tax on that income. We want people to work, so no tax on wages or unemployment benefits. We want people to save and to invest, so no tax on interest, dividends or Social Security payments. Want every family to have a meaningful, livable income? Then raise the earned income credit so that every family’s income exceeds the poverty level. Where will tax revenue come from then? From activities that we want to discourage: we will tax polluters, foreign currency exchange traders and financial institutions involved in credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations (all at a mere fraction of a cent per trade), and speculators who buy and sell assets in less than 6 months.
  • When I was young, buying a home was an investment in the future precisely because after many years, the mortgage would be paid off and I could live in the home the rest of my life for “free”. We developed a banking relationship with the institution that would fund our loan, and saved for a down payment. Costs for taking out the loan were minimal; banks made their money by collecting the interest over time. Over decades, though, our national sense of home ownership has evolved. Today, people see their homes as savings accounts: refinance every few years and take out equity for other purposes. The problem is, this masks the decrease in earnings due to inflation and overseas competition, and we reset the clock for our mortgage to another 30 years with every new loan. We will never pay off the mortgage, in other words. The whole rationale behind buying is shattered on the door step of consumption. Banks likewise have changed their participation in the process; they collect their profit from the deal through fees and points and by selling the loan to third-party servicers. They don’t care to have a relationship with borrowers; it would be a short term one at best anyway. The new paradigm asks, “Why buy a home?” We question the very idea that buying is necessary. What if we tax land that is not being used for productive purposes? In that case, letting someone live in the building that occupies the land would save you tax money, and that could replace the “rent” you would charge by enclosing a public space for private gain. Land that is unused would either be taxed, or returned to the public trust.

 

We have much in common with our neighbors, if we but look. Let’s focus on what we need from society, the safety and security found in groups, and what we have to give in return. Let’s look to sharing, not hoarding or thieving. Let’s learn from Nature and from each other, and craft a world that works for every being.

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