The Path to Real Prosperity

A new jobs plan is thinking too small. What we need is a new economy.

Like most white middle class Americans of my generation, I grew up believing that our strong market economy and democratic political institutions make us the world's greatest and most prosperous nation. The America of my youth was the product of a strong social contract that said we are all in this together--at least the white folks--and we all do best when we all do well. That contract made America the envy of the world. With the civil rights movement, many of us hoped we could expand the contract to truly include everyone.

Then Wall Street got greedy, abandoned the contract, and created a winner-take-all economy controlled by an oligarchy dedicated to growing its personal financial assets. Contrary to what Wall Street propagandists would have us believe, Wall Street is a job killer, not a job creator. It prospers by depressing wages, eliminating and outsourcing American jobs, and extracting usurious interest rates from Americans forced to borrow to put food on the table or to maintain a middle class lifestyle. The result is an America in decline and out of work.

Wall Street flies the American flag when it is convenient. It relates to America, however, as an alien occupier, much like the British prior to the American Revolution. Tax breaks and deregulation for Wall Street will only strengthen the role of the occupier and destroy more jobs than they create. An effective jobs program will increase taxes on Wall Street corporations and billionaires and regulatory restraints on their destructive practices.

As I witness the devastation wrought by the Old Economy, my greatest source of sadness comes from an awareness of the profound gap between our human reality and our human possibility.

Main Street is the job creator. We rebuild America's productive capacity through programs and institutions that support and invest in Main Street businesses, farms, and infrastructure owned by people who have a stake in being responsible citizens in their communities. These programs and institutions are properly funded, at least in part, by taxing the financial wealth expropriated by Wall Street corporations and billionaires through deception and unproductive financial manipulation.

To build a prosperous 21st century America we must declare our national independence from Wall Street and build a New Economy adapted to the realities of a finite planet and an interconnected 21st century world.

The underlying institutional structure of this New Economy will look a good deal like the Main Street economies of human-scale, locally rooted businesses that produced the American middle class, made America the world leader in industry and technology, and fulfilled the American Dream for millions of Americans. This economy was the product of rules put in place in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s to limit Wall Street power and hold it democratically accountable to Main Street needs and interests.

Shifting economic and political power from a predatory Wall Street economy to a generative Main Street economy is the common theme of most every initiative documented or recommended in my book, Agenda for a New Economy and this blog series.

Unlike the American economy either before or after the Wall Street takeover, America's new 21st century economy will:

  • Bring America's material consumption into balance with our ecological resources.
  • Secure for every American--irrespective of race or gender--the opportunity to achieve an adequate and dignified living.
  • Take a bold new step toward true democracy by creating a nation of owners who have a strong stake in the health and vitality of their local communities and natural environments.

We humans are a species of many possibilities. Wall Street has proven our ability to create a culture and institutions that cultivate, celebrate, and reward the pathologies of our lesser evolved reptilian capacities for ruthless individualism, greed, and violence. We can, if we choose, create a culture and institutions that nurture, celebrate, and reward the higher order capacities for creativity, sharing, and cooperation that make us distinctively human.

We can turn as a species from an economic system devoted to perfecting our capacity for violent exclusionary competition to one devoted to perfecting our capacity for caring, inclusive cooperation. We can turn from economic institutions that draw down Earth's nonrenewable reserves of fossil energy to oppose, dominate, and mine Earth's biosphere to institutions that work in integral partnership with the extraordinary generative capacity of Earth's self-organizing living systems.

As I witness the devastation wrought by the Old Economy, my greatest source of sadness comes from an awareness of the profound gap between our human reality and our human possibility. My greatest source of joy and hope is my awareness of the vitality of the human spirit as demonstrated by the millions of people who are working to realize their shared vision of a just and sustainable world that works for all. My greatest source of motivation is the knowledge that it is within our collective means to unleash the positive creative potential of the human consciousness and make that vision a reality.

We are privileged to live at the most exciting moment of creative opportunity in the whole of the human experience. Now is the hour. We have the power to turn this world around for the sake of ourselves and our children for generations to come. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

This article was written for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.