Build Economy from Bottom Up

Robert Borosage’s excellent article “Take on the New Robber Barons” in the 8/1/12 issue correctly calls for creating a progressive movement. But it has two weaknesses. One is the degree of polarization in his discussion. This clouds the reality he notes that both parties are beholden to big money. The other is the lack of a longer-term strategy for building such a movement.

David Korten, in his Agenda for a New Economy (second edition), provides help with a strategy. His focus is on building a new economy that includes opportunities for all, protects the earth, supports strong communities and allocates resources fairly. Our present economy fails on all counts. He proposes that we can achieve a new economy through three approaches. Each is essential for change and reinforces the other. We have space only for the barest of sketches here.

One approach is to change the dominant cultural stories that led to the creation of our economic institutions. These institutions are at the root of so many of our troubles, including the control of our government. The simplest example of this approach is a conversation with friends or family. I have found that sharing my favorite one word description of Wall Street as a “cancer” opens up a conversation about Wall St’s role in our lives. Korten calls for a broader understanding of how our present economy really works. This will help the public see the distortions contained in so many stories we hear from corporate sources. Many activities like reading, showing films, study groups, and public programs are involved in this approach.

A second approach is building the new economy from the bottom up. A few of the many possible activities include moving our money to local financial institutions, shopping at locally owned businesses, simple living, conservation and community building.

The third approach is to change the rules to support the new emerging economy. Sample activities include support for overturning the Citizens United decision, election and lobbying reforms, boycotts, organizations working for greater citizen participation and candidates who represent our values.

Korten proposes that as we change our cultural stories (approach 1) and build businesses not tied to Wall Street (approach 2), we will begin to gain the political traction necessary for the third approach, changing the rules. Since big money is so successful in blocking needed changes, Korten’s focus on building a new economy, rather than just focusing on political changes, gives us a better chance for change in the long run. There is always a need for short-term political actions. They are likely to have more impact if they are fitted into a longer-term strategy such as Korten suggests. Our difficulties in creating change often stem more from a lack of vision than of resources.

Bob Rundle
Knoxville, Tenn.



Everyone wants privacy. In the vernacular, “I don’t want nobody to know my business.” Surprisingly privacy is not listed as an inalienable right in the US Constitution. In fact it may not be listed as a right in any national manifesto. But everyone wants it. Why?

There are two aspects of privacy. Like sin, it can be mortal or venial. One aspect of privacy does not harm society. Picking one’s nose when no one is looking may offend social codes but does not harm the group if it remains secret. On the other hand there are private acts that do harm the group. Pedophilia, for example, can cause great harm to individuals within the group. Society does not shield offenders in the name of privacy.

If it has been determined that there is “good” privacy and “bad” privacy, we must decide which acts fall into which category. Traditionally, financial matters have almost always been considered “good” privacy. But privacy in financial matters has often allowed thieves, both corporate and individual, to conceal thefts.

An effective tool for helping to uncover these thefts would be the requirement that all income tax returns be made open to the public. Public exposure of tax avoidance schemes and loopholes for wealthy “Job Creators,” like transferring income to tax-free offshore phantom companies might change people’s opinions of some of these patriots. People might even discover that some of their richer neighbors claim exotic vacations, expensive lunches and a luxury car as business expenses while Joe Six-Pack cannot deduct the cost of his lunch-box sandwich or of driving his 10-year old clunker to work. With a vastly increased likelihood of exposure, tax returns might become more honest. The increase in revenue would probably permit the reduction in rates so dear to fiscal conservatives.

Wow! How could we allow such a departure from established behavior? But it really isn’t much of a departure for many people. The salaries of virtually all public employees is public knowledge. If you know the grade level and years of service you know that person’s salary. Does this cause a problem? If it did you would find people racing to leave the military, civil service, and some private employers who are unionized or social experimenters.

What we have is a trade-off. Sure you may not want your neighbor to know how much (or how little) you earn. But by agreeing to release this information about yourself you promote the exposure of cheats and hypocrites. A con artist can operate only if people don’t know he is a con. Sunlight ruins his game.

Is it worth it? You bet it is.

Arthur Robbins
San Diego, Calif.

Sleight of Hand

Stacy Mitchell’s condemnation of Walmart (“50 Years of Gutting America’s Middle Class,” 8/1/12 TPP) was very accurate. She mentions the drastic increase in Walmart’s imports from China, but did not address how this came to be. When Walmart first expanded into a nation-wide discount retailer they promoted “Made in America” — it was seen as patriotic to shop at Walmart, while destroying Main Street. This marketing program died along with Sam Walton and was replaced with “buy cheap stuff from China.” Walmart shamelessly pulled off this “sleight of hand” act in broad daylight, and altered our country in many ways. Now other retailers, small and large, are trying to compete with this model and assume every customer is looking for something cheap, low quality, and disposable. It has become increasingly difficult to find high-quality and durable products Made in the USA — even if you are willing to pay a premium price for something which will be useful for many years. We must fight back and make Made in the USA meaningful once again.

Jeff Gitlin
Nonesuch, Ky.


Cheer for Chris Hedges

In a recent issue of The Progressive Populist (8/15/12), Ted Rall (“Occupy Wall Street: What Comes Next?”) writes of Chris Hedges, “As far as I’ve heard, the squishy former New York Times journo’s role at Occupy has been limited to book-shilling.” What kind of writer uses hearsay to falsely denigrate another human being? Not a credible one, for sure. Chris Hedges has been, and is, an active, strong, and passionate supporter of Occupy Wall Street. At an Occupy demonstration in front of Goldman Sachs, he gave a speech taking Goldman Sachs to task for its criminal activities. He put his body on the line. In an act of civil disobedience he was arrested. He also brought a lawsuit against the Obama administration challenging the legality of the National Defense Authorization Act. Why doesn’t Mr. Rall know these things? And if he does, why is he ignoring them? Chris Hedges is a deeply moral human being, one of our best. It is Mr. Rall who lacks integrity.

Ron Ruhnke
St. Joseph, Mo.


Hal Called It Last Year

I cannot thank you enough for publishing the brilliant and hilarious article by Hal Crowther: “Ayn Rand: The Right’s Weirdest Idol of All” (8/1/11 TPP, available online at www.populist.com/11.13.crowther.html).

I am an American expat living in Australia due to precisely the realities that the author describes: “When Tea-stained legislators gut environmental laws to protect corporate profits, when they sneer at climate change while America bakes in its bedrock like a big green casserole — when Republican educational reform means classrooms with fewer teachers and more guns — there’s a temptation for reasonable Americans to throw up their hands and succumb to despair.”

Ultimately it was Obama’s (reluctant) signing, of the National Defense Authorization Act that made me pick up the phone and book my one-way ticket to Oz.

At the risk of sounding like one of the nutbags Mr. Crowther describes in his article, I was fearful that I would end up in one of the new detention centers that are supposedly being built around the country with Homeland Security funding as a result of my “dissenting opinion.” I am very afraid it is going to come to that level of oppression, and soon, regardless of which puppet is elected in November.

I cannot help but think that the repressive sense in the states these days instilled by the ubiquitous “See something? Say something !” [Department of Homeland Security] posters everywhere is eerily reminiscent of the pall cast by the Third Reich in the early days of its rise.

Bravo to Mr. Crowther for refusing to be silent. He sees something, and he is saying something. Bravo.

Kim Louth
Sydney, Australia


Winning Gold Tokens

Joel Joseph’s “Olympics Uniforms” essay (8/15/12 TPP) offers just the kind of solution to a major problem which best serves its creators.

Yes, our Olympic uniforms were made in China, but as a manufacturer of hot air balloons, I can offer three good reasons why this should continue so, having 25 years of experience in the textile and sewing industries.

Reason #3: 25 years ago, most Asian textiles were half the price and half the quality of US manufacturers. Today, they’re half the price and twice the quality. They’ve blown by us, plain and simple.

Reason #2: Sure there are still a few US manufacturers who can sew jerseys and tights. But in China, Ralph Lauren can hire the best of the best in the sewing industry, yet pay his workers less than a buck an hour.

Reason #1 renders #2 and #3 essentially moot, being that none of this has anything really to do with fabric or needle.

This entire issue is all about a phony, candy-ass national zeitgeist which, quite obviously, can even find a place in the politics of global events like the Olympics.

For the past 25 years, I have personally witnessed the demise of our textile and sewing industries at the hands of the American government. That’s right, Democrats and Republicans, alike and equally, have off-shored almost all of these jobs. What’s left? Symbolism and tokenism!

As a token of respect to a dead industry, in a shallow act of concern, our masters in Washington would like to arouse us with the last vestiges of “Made In America.”

No thanks, I think I’ll keep my Chinese shirt on.

Ron DiGiovanni
Easton, Pa.


Climate Change Facts

Re: “Climate Change Heating Up,” Letters, 8/15/12 TPP: The concerns in this letter are spot-on, but two of the included “facts” are not. I believe that it is important that we liberal/progressives get our facts straight.

1) Human-generated heat-trapping emissions (carbon dioxide) have not been breaking down the ozone layer. This was caused mainly by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used for years in air conditioning. And the reduced ozone layer did (and does) not raise global temperature. A worldwide treaty has greatly reduced, if not eliminated, further production of CFCs. It is mainly the production of CO2 that is heating the earth. Burning things (oil, gas, wood, whatever) makes CO2.

2) The results of ocean acidification will probably not be the die-off of the whole ocean ecosystem. Yes, reefs are already being hurt … but the ocean is more than reefs. Different things react differently.

I agree that catastrophic change is likely, and sooner rather than later.

You can get way more information than you want about these things with Google: 1) Atmospheric ozone hole causes, 2) predicted results of ocean acidification.

Amalie C.S. Callahan
Rock Island, Ill.


Too Big To Be Stupid

In the July 31 Chicago Tribune, Sandy Weill, former chief executive of Citibank, spoke out about the advisability of breaking up “Too Big To Fail” banks. Apparently few, if any, current investment bank executives thought his thinking was on target. Apparently the disagreeing bankers think the country can afford to risk another bank induced failure. Is this what happens when bankers get bailed out and use the bailout money to give themselves gigantic bonuses? They didn’t suffer and can’t understand what others are complaining about. When they were protected from the disastrous consequences of their own hubris and stupidity they must have thought that Main Street and the rest of us were also being protected; that we were having a walk in the park; that personal mortgages weren’t underwater; that bankruptcies weren’t occurring; that jobs weren’t being eliminated; that educations weren’t being put on hold; that lives weren’t being ruined.

Do we really need Jamie Dimon and his ilk to set banking policy for the country? His bank recently made some not-so-good commodity bets and lost some two to seven billion dollars, who knows how much? Does it sound like JP Morgan Chase has learned anything about risk analysis since 2008? Do these bank executives really think the country should listen to their bumbling ideas? If they continue to make stupid decisions and lose money, may be they should be put out and forced to work for a living? Main Street businesses and homeowners have not recovered in five years. Stock values as well as mortgages for ordinary folks are still under water. Is this the way to grow the economy? Seniors approaching retirement have shockingly little saved up; they lost it all in 2008 and have not recovered. Apparently these bankers still think they have the answer, in spite of what they have done.

Don Sutherland
Glen Ellyn, Ill.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2012



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