Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Re-configuring our Economic Imaginations

So much of what blocks our progress toward the deep, systemic economic transformation needed so badly--in this hour of crisis--to save our democracy and planet, has to do with a tired, worn out, calcified view of "money" as being the mystified province of financial elites, understandable only to those who studied business or who can read Barron's without falling asleep.

     In reality, the confusing, obfuscating model of money functions to replicate the prevailing system of inequality by excluding the masses of people from the economic conversation.  When folks feel that they're too "stupid" to understand the pronouncements of so-called serious economists and business "muckety mucks," they're apt to keep quiet when talk turns to money.  I know because I used to be that person.

     When I used to visit my beloved grandfather (the first millionaire I ever knew, and a conservative Republican), I was amazed, mystified, and confused whenever he "talked stocks" with my uncle Carl.  I was just as perplexed when we drove in the car together and he listened to the "money talk" radio shows.  The fact that such language and concepts were beyond my comprehension contributed to an inferiority complex that, in fact, I might still be recovering from.  Having stated this, I hope this column will have a cathartic and healing effect, both for me and for others.   Which brings me to the psychological aspect of money.  Might one cause of our rigid, stuck in place, deeply dysfunctional economy--that benefits 1% of the population at the expense of human and planetary well being--have to do with the cognitive difficulty on the part of the 99% to imagine what a healthy, flourishing, holistic economy and money system might look like; having felt psychologically excluded from the "money club" for so many years?

     Moving toward repair, filmmaker Michael Moore gifted us with the remarkable image of his mock, yellow tape "citizens arrest" of Wall Street execs in Capitalism a Love Story (2009); along with the amazing conversation he had, also in that film, with a former hedge fund guy who literally could not explain what a derivative is!  When it gets to the point that even the people who work in finance can't articulate what the hell they're doing, the rest of us should breath a liberating sigh of relief (ahhh!) that no, we're not stupid, the system is stupid and must be transformed radically in time to save our planet.  To go back to psychology, in the 2003 Canadian film The Corporation, a psychologist compared our modern day corporations to "psychotics" because of their lack of human empathy.  It's high time that we evolve beyond an economic system that is psychotic.  We can, and must, do better.

    Releasing my imagination, to heck with the cynics, I'll close this column with some suggestions for a humane and caring economy that might be.  Let's pass a law that forces corporations to be ethical by law or else lose their charters.  Let's create a new "triple p" bottom-line, one that values people, planet, and profits--not just profits.  Let's end our dependance on fossil fuels (no more toxic fracking and dangerous pipelines) and put millions to work on Jill Stein's "green new deal."  For those of you who don't know, perhaps because you weren't informed by our mainstream corporate media, Dr. Jill Stein was the 2012 Green Party candidate for president of the United States.  Finally, and just as important, let's hope the artists will create bold new films, plays, novels, poems, and songs (a la John Lennon's timeless 1971 classic "Imagine") that will enrich our social and political imaginations with visions of a new economy that works for all.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Toward a New Economics of Peace, Love & Caring

This column is dedicated to nurturing an historic paradigm shift in American business.  In an age of dwindling resources, human exhaustion, and ecological crisis, we need to evolve beyond the selfish, “empty suit,” Wolf-of-Wall St. economic model–stuck in place over the past 3 decades like barnacles to the side of a boat–and forge a bold, new, holistic bottom-line: one that cares as much about the health and well being of people and our planet as it does about profits.
     Though a seemingly herculean effort, I’m happy to report that baby steps forward are being made on various fronts.  This past week, for example, a handful of big American corporations–including Apple, Marriott, and Delta Airlines–voiced their heroic opposition to a retrograde anti-gay law that came frighteningly close to passing in Arizona.  Beyond the immediate political victory these brave corporate chieftains helped to achieve (the bill happily didn’t pass), this opens a golden door for other progressive business people to be less shy about their deeper political convictions.
    Actually, when it comes to putting their “money where their mouth is,” liberal business folk are still playing a game of catch up with the Right.  Way back in 1934, in fact, during the depths of the Great Depression, while most American were grateful for FDR’s New Deal reforms, a small group of radical conservatives (led by the Du Ponts) founded the American Liberty League to rail against unions, social security, and any tinkering with the holy “free market.”  Dozens more right-wing think tanks soon came into existence, and today, groups like the Business Roundtable and Heritage Foundation continue to spout the lie that what’s good for the 1% is good for everyone.
     Luckily, progressives in the corporate world have begun to fight back.  Warren Buffet is just one famous example of a rich person with a social conscience who’s willing to take a financial hit (go ahead, raise my taxes!) for the common good.  But did you also know there’s a group called “Patriotic Millionaire’s for Fiscal Strength” that, following Buffet’s lead, also believes the rich need to pitch in more to make a better world for all?  Perhaps they read Ralph Nader’s boldly imaginative novel Only the Super Rich can Save Us (2009), which posits a less selfish, more altruistic “possible future” where the titans of industry pool their resources to solve the current planetary problems (poverty, war, disease, global warming) that plague us.  Naturally, this doesn't preclude that a massive, organized, "bottom up" movement for social change--involving the middle class, working class, and poor--also needs to occur in tandem with the support of the "liberal latte" crowd.
    As a progressive business activist, and real estate agent in NYC, my own contributions to the struggle for a better world are an organization I started called the Ethical Business Society, a radio show called New Bottom Line, and this column.  I also pledge to donate 5% of all my future profits to political, cultural, spiritual, media, and educational organizations working to strengthen our democracy and save our planet from ecological destruction.  If you have any ideas about how business people can also be agents of progressive transformation in the world, please let me know.  Perhaps I can give you a shout out in a future column.
John Bredin