Saturday, July 3, 2010

Declaration Of Interdependence

Steve McCallion has a great little read up at Fast Company, and has issued a challenge. He writes:
America has mortgaged its future to maintain the symbols of personal freedom (the house, the car, the big screen TV) at the expense of real freedom. We owe China almost one trillion dollars; our public education system is approaching collapse; and, we rank number one globally for our obesity rate, with more than a third of our adult population being technically obese. America’s current understanding of freedom is unsustainable and raises the question, “Are we really free?”

McCallion says what's needed is a new vision to move America forward, one that can be summarzied in a "Declaration of Interdependence." And he challenges us to articulate this vision and develop a movement to promote it, one which he writes will “awaken a new collective spirit.”

I agree with McCallion completely, and have written many times about our need not just for "reform" but a complete and total reinvention of how we do things and how we look at things. With this in mind I stumbled upon Gus Speth’s excellent piece from the May issue of Solutions, "Towards a New Economy and a New Politics.” It’s long and maybe a little wonky but it picks up where McCallion leaves off. There are some great ideas here, articulated clearly. In particular I like this:

Before it is too late, America should begin to move to a post-growth society where working life, the natural environment, our communities, and the public sector are no longer sacrificed for the sake of mere GDP growth; where the illusory promises of continuous growth no longer provide an excuse for neglecting to deal generously with compelling social needs; and where citizen democracy is no longer held hostage to the growth imperative.

That’s a great Declaration of Interdependence if I’ve ever heard one. I’ve written about this before (notably here and here) but it bears repeating: what ails the nation and indeed the entire world is that all of our metrics, institutions and barometers of success no longer serve us. This has become abundantly clear as one institution after another has failed and we stand powerless in the face of enormous challenges. The world is a different place now, bearing 7 billion humans, all of whom are more interdependent than ever. The conventional wisdom, the generally accepted modus operandi, our entire structure must change. We need a complete transformation at our deepest levels.

This is great news, because Americans are really good at reinventing themselves. However, it’s bad news because there are established institutions with a very powerful interest in maintaining the status quo.

Speth outlines some very clear policies that are required to bring about this reinvention, many of them we’ve discussed here: policies like making the things we buy reflect their true cost. He also recognizes a need for political reforms (campaign finance, regulating lobbyists, etc.). It’s a great read and I urge everyone to head over to Solutions to give it a look.

As it relates to the McCallion piece, I think Speth actually articulates a great vision for the future:

Americans now face a great imperative to build a new economy—a sustaining economy. Sustaining people, communities, and nature must henceforth be seen as the core goals of economic activity, not hoped-for byproducts of market success, growth for its own sake, and modest regulation. The watchword of the sustaining economy is caring: caring for each other, for the natural world, and for the future.

I’m sure this will sound like typical liberal unicorns and lollipops to the craven Glenn Beck types but I think it’s important to remember that these voices are simply the amplified protests of the established interests trying to protect their turf. The reality is, the status quo no longer works for the majority of people. Something has to change, and we can either be thoughtful and deliberate about that change now or we can see it take shape inside the maelstrom and chaos that is civil unrest. Because what we have now is unsustainable and change will happen.