Yesterday I went to a local, cultural art show designed as a community-building meetup event, hosted by a young, Coloradoan hotshot-millionaire. Can’t remember his name, but I’m rather sure he’ll become a reoccurring character in my Colorado life.
Anyway, there I was, sitting in the audience of a writers panel giving advice, anecdotes, and taking questions, when the atmosphere morphed into a discussion of difficulties and disappointments caused by local and national politics: gentrification, the decline of American media, policing, economic growth and expansion, foreign policy, and even Denver’s pit bull ban surfaced.
It was a medley vocalized in unanimous support, held together by a simple theme: frustration.
But this was a unique frustration, as most often the point of conflict is centered around the problem. However, today, it seemed the room was most annoyed by another unanimous, yet silent agreement: We have no solutions.
For those of you who may know me personally, I live a politically dominated life.
I read for information to use in the economic, human struggle against capitalism; I absorb text to progress the message and dream of Buddha, Jesus, MLK, Gandhi, X, Guevara, and others; I follow media outlets, like DemocracyNow.org, for deep analysis from economic, political, medical, and global pundits so that I can absorb into my own analyses; I’m an environmentalist primarily due to practicality; I’m knee deep in creating a career path that serves my immediate needs as well as long-term economic and environmental needs of the globe; I see the world through holism, recognizing my action is deeply wed to the welfare of all others; I practice permaculture, vermiculture, urban farming, and walk and ride my bike as much as possible; I feel the suffering of others; I grieve at US foreign policy; I shudder at the thought of the decline of reputable media sources; I’m in constant search of sustainable solutions; I get lost in the complexity of homelessness; I struggle with comprehending the level of fear that grips my country…
In many ways, I can no longer separate common habit and action from major political discourse. They are one in the same, now.
Yet what do I do to address these issues?
My leftist companions are either dedicating years to the activist fight: knocking on doors, phone banking, signing petitions, campaigning, begging people to vote for him or her, putting all hope in next years election or they’re stuck calculating their move: gathering all necessary information and resources, discussing options and strategies, just to discover they need more data before they can “make the right step.” These people want to create something new and helpful, but are lost or scared… paralyzed that they’ll make the wrong move.
Personally, I’m somewhere in between. These past couple years I’ve had to come to terms with a hard shortcoming of my own: I hate activism and I’m stuck.
I detest it, as it takes an incredible amount of time, labor, and resources for the most trivial of campaigns, and ultimately, as Citizen’s United and a venal Congress displays, money can dominate the voice and action of millions of people. I’m of the opinion American democracy is no more… well, at least not what we’re told it is.
I used to make the altruist argument to “think of others” to convince people to do what was needed. That is, I locked horns with anyone and everyone that would engage in deep discussion to change their opinions and inspire action, in hope that compassion and empathy would dominate political and personal belief so that the Martin Luther King, Jr. vision of a harmonic, sustainable, utopic future society could be shortly realized.
Seems far fetched… Yet, that’s exactly how a majority of the world is fighting the “good fight,” even if they don’t consciously know it. They follow Marxian principles relying on a sum total levitation of consciousness to save the planet, as nearly all solution-making is predicated on changing the very nature of human from “me” to “us.”
“If we can properly educate, then the world will know there’s a better way,” I can hear myself saying. “All us activists need to do,” we affirmed, “is make better arguments.”
So, let’s pretend we could educate so thoroughly as to effectively demonstrate the immediate need for systemic change. How long do you think this process would take? To not only convince all of humanity that environmental sustainability, for example, is critical but also something worth dramatically changing ones day to day life for?
20, 50, 100 years?
Combine that with the sole urgency of climate change and the sweating starts… One realizes we don’t have that sort of time, even if we could carry forth this plan with complete and steadfast progress.
Nay. We must look elsewhere.
This is why I root incredible value in economics. At its most basic, economics is a social science concerned with human decision-making. In better understanding human sociology and psychology we can then begin to shape and manipulate our economic systems by incentivizing individual behaviors that coincide with communal, national, global goals. We can then begin to actively control our monetary, communal, environmental, social and governmental processes rather than be a victim of them.
We – those fighting for global, sustainable, systemic, empathetic change – must see the alignment of daily labor and struggle with long-term goals of economic and environmental sustainability as our path in creating the necessary change we need.
Can I be reasonably frustrated that the average Chinese chooses to work in an industrial factory that pumps tonnes of pounds of pollutants into the atmosphere when the alternative is the starvation of his family? Can I insert my global environmentalism argument into his life and expect it to resonate so hard that he abandons the immediate security of his children for lofty goals of harmony and sustainability? No, of course not.
To expect the world to positively and massively respond to these altruistic arguments is an act of privilege. Those with the ability to alter their lives in an economic, environmentally sound way should. But they cannot expect that same action of others. The world is too difficult and complicated for such expectations.
So, what can we do? Study economics.
I’m of the opinion that our saving grace is in aligning personal gain with the advancement of the community – using economic incentivization as a tool for positive change rather than an obstacle to traverse. We must use what we know about human sociology and psychology to incentivize behaviors that align with our long-term political, economic, and environmental goals.
Therefore, the advancement of the family advances the community. Because, at the end of the day, we know humans will do whatever it takes to protect their families. So why fight this?
So why are we fighting this?
Worker Self-Directed Enterprises (WSDE’s)
What if we brought the ideals of political democracy to our businesses? What if our workplaces began to operate under the authority of discussion, voting, and communal participation, just like the governments of the world? What if we began to demand government subsidization of businesses that cooperatively shared decision making with their employees? What if we could show the success of these businesses to others? Now we’re talkin’…
Now we’re talkin’.
Many people view business as an evil when in reality it is simply an instrument. So far, we’ve allowed our businesses to be commanded with outdated, hierarchical structures of power that have effectively created instruments of wealth for some and destruction for many. But if we democratize our businesses – creating economic democracy – then that opens a wealth of opportunity for labor.
Because our jobs dominate much our lives, it’s only reasonable that we progress from models of brute hierarchy to models of relational democracy. And because our world is dominated by our businesses, it’s necessary to fundamentally change them to change the world.
A progressive and practical move, simultaneously.
Imagine this: A new technology that will increase river pollution by 10% but also increase efficiency by 15% is up for debate by your company’s board of directors. Most of these board members are beholden to their investors not solely by greed but by legal obligation to increase profitability for their owners when they can. Well, what do you think they will choose? Probably to use the new technology.
But, if this decision was to be made by the entire company, which includes hundreds of people from the community that are drinking water from this river, do you expect they’ll choose profitability over personal health? I don’t.
Now contextualize this issue around “outsourcing” – do you think Detroit automobile workers would have voted to lose their jobs to cheaper labor elsewhere just so shareholders could maintain their profit levels? I don’t think so.
We have now aligned business interests with the interests of the individual and community. From here, we start to see an incredible value in the democratization of the workplace and properly incentivizing our fellow human… and a bright future begins to take shape.
WSDE’s are a practical and idealistic solution: one that agrees with basic, daily human needs and yet crossroads with massive, systemic economic and environmental change. As of now, I see no other solution that so perfectly blends these two previously competitive ideas.
There is no doubt in my mind that proper incentivization is our path forward, but that doesn’t mean WSDE’s are the only way. Discussion on this topic will be ongoing.
Meanwhile, the question remains: What and how to incentivize?