Steve Chase, a professor at Antioch, initiated this morning’s discussion by exploring the importance of transitioning to a more equitable economic system and being creatively maladjusted to injustice.

‘There are some things in our society we should never adjust to. We should never adjust to racism, to the madness of militarism or to economic conditions that give up the necessities of the many for the luxuries of the few,” said Chase.

Chuck Collins, author of “99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is a Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It,” explored growing inequality as an impediment to a new economy. Collins notes that, while wages have been stagnant for most individuals, wealth has skyrocketed for the top 1% of wage earners.

“We have been seeing the middle class standard of living implode… A growing number of people feel they are stuck in poverty without a pathway forward,” said Collins

Adamant that he is not anti-business, Collins draws a distinction between small main street businesses and “built to loot” businesses–companies that only value the bottom line at the expense of shedding jobs and causing environmental degradation.

‘There are enterprises that create wealth and jobs in a community but there is a sector in the business of destroying jobs and wealth, destroying the environment, avoiding taxes and sending jobs overseas,” Collins said.

Collins sees bold interventions as key to transitioning to a new economy. Leveling the playing field, limiting campaign contributions “legalized bribery” as he called it, redistribution through higher taxes on top income brackets, a financial transaction tax to slow down speculation and “taxing the bad”,  all serve central roles.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith, director of global community initiatives for the city of Montpelier, Vt., spoke about the use of complementary currencies as a means towards creating sustainable wealth.

Hallsmith defined sustainable wealth as, “Development which meets needs today without denying future generation the ability to meet their needs.”

Hallsmith argues that our current monetary system facilitates the destruction of natural capital including resilient forests, clean water and healthy air. She posits complimentary currencies as a way of stabilizing community and environmental capital without channeling resources to the wealthy few. These complimentary currencies include carbon, water, and ecological credits as well as time and care banks.

David Korten, founder of The Living Economies Forum, argued that our current environment and inequality concerns are not accidental but rather endemic to the system.

“The current economic system designed to concentrate extreme wealth in the hands of a few is incompatible with democracy, environmental sustainability and peace,” says Korten. “The monetization of life gives enormous power to those who control the allocation of money and make themselves extremely wealthy while eschewing social responsibility. He claims that the the idea that society is becoming better off through growth is a myth.”

According to Korten we are, “creating phantom wealth through the destruction of real wealth.”

He questioned the psychology and value of a society which values creation of wealth over serving people. He offered Bhutan, which measured Gross National Happiness rather than GDP, as an alternative. It is a place where time is life rather than money.

The panel ended with a discussion about whether the divide between the 99% and 1% is productive or if we should instead focus on the 100% by trying to inspire a movement among the very wealthy, middle class and poor alike to think about the social and environmental impact of their lives and economic choices.

 

Stephen Courage