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By Robin Lehman
I don't think we should be surprised at the economic chaos going on today. It's been a hallmark of capitalism for hundreds of years. Capitalism's ideals have been uncontrolled growth and greed. Capitalism seemed to work when there were lands and resources to be taken from the people of Africa and the Americas. The price was the enslavement of the Africans and the near genocide of the American natives. And a certain segment of European-Americans became rich beyond imagination.
Now, because of population growth and technology, the world is much
smaller and capitalism can no longer work. The 20th century was one
long resource war and now our weapons are so terrible as to make
acquisition of resources through war untenable. We can no longer
mistreat the earth, air and water. It is time to change the way we
think about meeting our needs. As citizens we have to take
responsibility for how our natural resources will be exploited,
developed and distributed. We need to democratize our economic system.
We need to take the control of resources out of the hands of the
ultra-rich and be responsible ourselves. The CEOs of huge business and
their counterparts in government have shown, time and again, that it's
impossible for so few to manage a system this big.
But I know that many of us feel we aren't good enough to take care of this complex economy. The reason for this is that we have all been part of a social system that says the rich and powerful are rich and powerful because they deserve it; because they are smarter or savvier or all the other weird unrealistic reasons that we citizens can't control our own destiny. This is simply not true. I've known a lot of rich people and, if they didn't inherit their wealth, the only things they have in common are that they are competitive, they are "type A" personalities, and they love to make lots of money. Otherwise they are the same as the rest of us. We have to grow up and demand a voice in economic affairs.
To start we need a new set of ideals to guide us. Uncontrolled growth and greed are unsustainable and inhumane. I've heard two that I like:
1.) Give what you can, take only what you need.
2.) Humanity comes before systems.
The first ideal takes us away from the old ideals of uncontrolled growth and greed, which promote violence, injustice and the destruction of the earth. The new ideal promotes a global prosperity -- prosperity, not in the sense of riches but in the sense that we all are in this time and place together, and that for it to last beyond today we have to conserve and share. The idea that there are those of us with six mansions while there are those of us who are homeless in the same community is appalling. Instead of looking at the ultra-rich with respect, we should look at them with suspicion until they can justify that sort of waste and consumption.
The second ideal is akin to President Obama's pragmatism. We need to do whatever will work to make society better for humanity. Socio-economic systems are tools we use to help us better our conditions, not ends in themselves. If a system is not helping us better ourselves we should try something else. So socialism and capitalism aren't the point so much as what systems work to create a more just, equitable and humane world. The present form of capitalism isn't working. We have to change it, and it will take all of us to do it.
Knowing that this is a somewhat large undertaking, changing the world, I suggest two small steps to demand of our representatives now.
1.) Rebuild the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next three years. It's much lower than it was in our most prosperous years in the 1950s and 1960s. It should then be indexed to inflation.
2.) Provide universal, free at point of service, health care for all. It's being done successfully all over the world. Surely we can do it for ourselves too.
This will begin the process of making our socio-economic system more humane and just while helping to bring us out of the mess the ultra-rich have gotten us into.
Finally, it seems to me that a person who works a full-time job and follows the laws has a right to dignity and prosperity. That person should not be at the mercy of another's charity. Society needs to support that individual as he or she supports our society. We have to work and control our society together.
Lehman lives in Warren.