Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy

Towards a New Economy and a New Politics

If America's present system of political economy were performing well, there would be little need to question it or seek fundamental change. But that is not the case. Asked what the key goals of economic life should be, many would reply, "to enhance social well-being while sustaining democratic prospects and environmental quality." Judged by this standard, today's political economy is failing. It is a failure that reaches many spheres of national life-economic, social, political, and environmental. Indeed, America can be said to be in crisis in each of these four areas.

The economic crisis of the Great Recession brought on by Wall Street financial excesses has stripped tens of millions of middle class Americans of their jobs, homes, and retirement assets and plunged many into poverty and despair.

A social crisis of extreme and growing inequality has been unraveling America's social fabric for several decades. A tiny minority has experienced soaring incomes and accumulated grand fortunes, while wages for working people have stagnated despite rising productivity gains and poverty has risen to a near-30-year high. Social mobility has declined, record numbers of people lack health insurance, schools are failing, prison populations are swelling, employment security is a thing of the past, and American workers put in more hours than workers in other high-income countries.

An environmental crisis, driven by excessive human consumption and waste and a spate of terrible technologies, is disrupting Earth's climate, reducing Earth's capacity to support life, and creating large-scale human displacement that further fuels social breakdown.

And a political crisis is reflected in governmental paralysis and a democracy that is weak, shallow, and corrupted-the best democracy that money can buy.

The case for fundamental change is underscored especially by the urgency of environmental conditions.1 Here is one measure of that problem: All that human societies have to do to destroy the planet's climate and biota and leave a ruined world to future generations is to keep doing exactly what is being done today, with no growth in the human population or the world economy. Just continue to release greenhouse gases at current rates, just continue to impoverish ecosystems and release toxic chemicals at current rates, and the world in the latter part of this century won't be fit to live in. But, of course, human activities are not holding at current levels-they are accelerating dramatically. It took all of history to build the $7 trillion world economy of 1950; recently, economic activity has grown by that amount every decade. At typical rates of growth, the world economy will now double in size in less than 20 years. We are thus facing the possibility of an enormous increase in environmental deterioration, just when we need to move strongly in the opposite direction.

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