We, in the United States and elsewhere, are very much in need of a new economic model. One that supports and maintains healthy individuals and healthy communities. If the United States is/was a great experiment, in terms of establishing an economy which is both sustainable and supports a healthy, thriving nation, it is failing. I’m sure some statisticians and/or economists can produce numbers on GNP and/or corporate profits and say that calling the U.S. a failed experiment economically is false. However, lets face it, statistics and corporate profit figures, numbers on paper, don’t give the millions of real people who make up our nation the financial well-being, the stability we need.
We should not be living to work, but working to live. Our lives can and should be truly satisfying lives, ones that afford sufficient time with family, reasonable recreational possibilities, the time and ability to engage in personal development. For this to be a reality we very much need freedom from the fear that bankruptcy is just one hospitalization, or a layoff away.
What has gone wrong? That’s really not so hard to figure out, too many people have allowed narrowly defined personal interest to all but eradicate societal considerations. Social responsibility has become a concept as likely as not to evoke derision. This is true not only in the financial realm but others as well. For a society to stay healthy, freedom requires responsibility. And not infrequently responsibility may require restraint. With far too many individuals both responsibility and restraint, especially when it comes to societal consideration around material acquisition, have been discarded. These attributes, essential to healthy communities, have been replaced by a rabid pursuit of wealth regardless of the costs to our communities and the world at large. This acceptance of a culturally suicidal value, greed, has gotten so pervasive within our culture and with our collective psyche that often those most successful at expressing it, at accumulating inordinate wealth, are seen as role models.
We throw millions upon millions of dollars, billions, at pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, tech. giants, even athletes whose only contribution to our culture is being able to throw, catch, hit or run with a ball on a small court or field. Think about it. And then there are the billions that go to arms merchants, drug dealers (other than big pharma), big pharma, the porn industry, big-name entertainers, and the gambling industry. Judging from our cultural spending habits we more closely resemble drunken adolescents, impulsively craving toys and sensation, than anything remotely resembling responsible adults trying to genuinely manage a household. And while most (all?) of these aforementioned industries have, to a greater or lesser degree, some genuine benefit for us; we are spending vastly inordinate amounts of money on these industries to the detriment of far too many other essential life-sustaining industries and endeavors!
What we’re lacking are financial practices that reflect a culture, a people, who genuinely, soberly, recognize both our individual and collective needs and give due diligence to how we’re going to meet them. If the parents in a family spend inordinately on entertainment, computers, sports, drugs, and guns, and the family loses their house because they didn’t pay their mortgage, no surprise, very understandable. Yet, as a nation we seem to think that something similar can’t happen to a nation that spends inordinately on similar items. A household is a household whether it is a household of 1 or of 1 billion. Without viable prioritization on spending, a person or group which depend upon the resources involved are going to suffer for their lack of wisdom and/or due diligence.
So who gets to decide what we need and don’t need, how much we’re going to funnel to the various industries and endeavors that exist? One thing is certain, for the “household” to remain whole and stable, decisions need to be made with the well-being of the entire household in mind. Otherwise the household is going to be divided against itself and, ultimately, a house divided against itself cannot stand. We need people with sobriety, with the knowledge and wisdom to take the long view and a broad, inclusive perspective on our needs and wants. People who act impulsively or with too narrow interests are not going to budget wisely. And the latter is what we’re suffering under in the U.S. at this time.
Just as an actual house, an economic system, in order to serve and protect those dependent upon it, needs both a floor and a ceiling. The dangers of having no “floor” are pretty self-evident: poverty and the problems that go with it. However, the dangers of having no ceiling are often either ignored or distorted. Without a “ceiling” it is too easy for people and/or organizations to begin accruing inordinate amounts of capital. Then, and what we’re seeing around the world, is that they use that capital to create systems of laws and policies; financial mechanisms, with which to suck even greater amounts of the currency and material wealth into their control. Along with this aspect of their endeavors, they also work and spend to see that laws are produced to protect their acquisitions from taxation. So, too much capital enables individuals and groups to take more of the fruits from our collective efforts and simultaneously give back less.
We live in a finite world with finite resources. If we pay attention, utilize birth control, and structure our societal systems in a way to create and maintain a much more equitable economic reality for everyone; we can create an environment in which people not only survive but thrive: intellectually, physically, and spiritually. But if we continue to not only tolerate but extol greed and narrow self interest, we, as a species, are going to be continually plagued with the physical, psychological, cultural and spiritual maladies that accompany a fiercely competitive culture. These include excessive fear, anxiety, wars, poverty, diseases, and a general stunting of human potential.
The hard part is that a genuinely functional, harmonious culture cannot be achieved by primarily utilizing force and compulsion. We’ve seen that fail time and time again. (It is also true that “free enterprise” cannot ultimately be sustained by those methods.) It is going to take people waking up to our holistic reality. We need more widespread understanding of what we truly are and what we need to live as whole, healthy human beings. Then we need to work to achieve it. Working together is the only way it’s going to happen.