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Telling the “Set America Free!” Story 7.29.11

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Telling the “Set America Free!” Story

By Susan C. Strong, Executive Director, The Metaphor Project, http://www.metaphorproject.org

Right now the DC debt ceiling spectacle is disgusting just about everyone in the country, regardless of which side they are on. Even if the ceiling gets raised by August 2, it is clear that our government has become extremely dysfunctional. But as many of us realize, that breakdown arises from a more fundamental place—our economy has stopped working for too many of us. Moreover, the rock bottom assumption on which the current form of capitalism rests has been shown to be false: the belief that a completely self-interested individual or financial professional will always act in a way that benefits the whole economy. Instead, most Americans seem to have become de facto “slaves” of irresponsible corporate entities. So have the politicians who must dance to the corporate tune or face slaughter in the election media wars. But “seem” is a big word—appearances can be deceiving. Behind the scenes and under the radar a very different story is unfolding

As economist Gar Alperovitz has noted in a recent Nation article, people are beginning to feel that “something is profoundly wrong with the economy.”(1) He reports that some of us are already working to create a new economy, one that will help us get free of the corporate oligarchy’s talons. Creating that new economy is starting the way most new things do in complex systems—at the grass roots level. Alperovitz reports that the number of non-profit corporations, social benefit corporations (B corporations), and worker-owned cooperatives is growing rapidly.(2) Moreover, the idea that cooperation is actually a more important socio-economic skill than competition has now received so much research validation that it was just reported in the July/August 2011 Harvard Business Review (“The Unselfish Gene,” by Yochai Benkier).

Even more ambitious work is being done by the New Economy Working Group.(3) They just released a comprehensive policy agenda for healing our poisonous money system. They begin by suggesting that we put our money into local credit unions and create more state banks like the Bank of North Dakota, which has held its own throughout the current economic crisis.(4) The report also calls for breaking up big banks, restructuring the Federal Reserve, and rewriting the rules of international trade. While recommendations like these may ring depressingly hollow in the current national political environment, we do need a blueprint of what would be ideal. Eventually we the people will have the power to create it, but events may coincide to bring these changes into being even sooner.

In the meantime, the most important thing about “new economy” ideas, projects, and policy agendas is the story. The story is that we need a new kind of economy, and that some of us are already starting to create it, at a multitude of local, regional, and state levels. The process is very much like what happens in nature when an ecological system starts to fail and begins destroying its own children—space and motivation open up for millions of creatures to try new things, find new niches, and evolve in surprising new ways, sometimes at a very fast pace. (5)

The best news is that the new economy story is also a big piece of the American story—we are the ones who figure out how to fix what’s not working, we try new things, we “can do” it, whatever it is.(6) The biggest “can do” project in American history was the American experiment itself—the idea that we could throw off being the economic slaves of 18th century Britain and run the country ourselves. Now it’s time to stop being economic slaves again, to go ahead and create a vibrant, ecologically sustainable new economy ourselves. It’s time to set America free, again!
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(1). The Nation, June 13, 2011, pp. 20-24.

(2). B-corporations are legally permitted to subordinate profits to social and environmental goals. Four states have already passed legislation to allow this: Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey and Virginia.

(3). See: http://www.ips-dc.org/reports/how_to_liberate_america_from_wall_street_rule
Or visit the Institute for Policy Studies website and look for “How to Liberate America from Wall Street Rule.

(4). The New Economy Working Group points out that since March 2011, various types of similar state partnership bank legislation have been introduced in 10 states. See p. 28 of the report for details.

(5). For more on this model, see “Our Panarchic Future,” by Thomas Homer Dixon, World Watch Magazine, March/April, Volume 22, #2, 2009 http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6008

(6). Cognitive scientist Anat Shenker-Osorio recommends that when we talk about the economy, we use “car” metaphors, because they suggest everyday language like “we can fix it,” “it’s running badly,” and “let’s get it back on the road.” View a video of her talk at The 2011 Netroots Nation Conference: http://www.netrootsnation.org/node/1868