In times of crisis, when the economic structures that are a part of our daily lives stop operating, lapses in our cognitions arise. We become confused, not being able to understand how the economy works for us. These voids in not knowing are filled with the mendacity of fear, dividing and conquering us. We turn against one another in a fleeting attempt to fill the void of not knowing.
To fill the void we must first bring rationality and credible hope, grounded in astute vision and strategy. We must develop an emerging egalitarian democratic economy to replace our current extractive economy, structured for financial extraction by the elite and the 1%.
Long ago, society democratized government, but the Founders of our country never intended to democratize the economy.
We live under a non-democratic system of laws that pretends to operate as a democratic republic while enshrining and cravenly legaling a hierarchy of the rich. Men who all came from the privileged class met in secret to overturn the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States. They were motivated by their economic self-interest to construct a type of government that would protect their wealth against “an excess of democracy,” as Alexander Hamilton called it. Those wealthy men did not agree with the liberating agenda of the common people who risked their lives to repel the unjust chains of the British Empire.
It was land and property that became the first species of the privileged. The Founders did not try to establish a monarchy but instead made wealth the king. These selfish men altered the triumvirate of enlightenment-era rights, listed as “life, liberty and property,” replacing “property” with “the pursuit of happiness.” The aspirations of we the people were disregarded by the wealthy Federalists who wrote the current U.S. Constitution. They enthroned wealth as the repository of the right to govern.
Today, it is long overdue that we organize an economy that moves us beyond the binary choice of corporate capitalism versus state socialism into new forms of economic vibrancy. A new democratic economy is about finishing the economic work begun by our Founders in the realm of politics.
We must rid ourselves of the capital bias of the extractive economy that has favored finance and the wealth holders of the 1%. This capital bias has been advanced by the political policy of lower taxes on capital gains than on labor income, big-bank bailouts but no bailouts for homeowners, or tax breaks given to monopoly corporations that force locally owned companies out of business.
The amoral designs of the extractive economy is at the root of all our current multiplying problems. The financial elites’ growth mania has brought its wealth to usurp democracy and overpower the planet’s resilience.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act is a needed idea to create economic democracy. It proposes that all corporations with more than $1 billion in revenue be required to obtain new federal corporate charters with expanded fiduciary obligations. Corporations would then be required to adhere to the interests of their workers and communities, as well as stockholders.
The Green New Deal proposed by U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would create a massive new public-works program to move to 100% renewable energy in 10 years and would create millions of jobs and bring about societal policy changes to greatly alleviate inequality and advance shared property as well as sustainability.
These kinds of progressive policies begin to address the basic rot of the current economic culture. They go far beyond the typical tax-and-spend transfer policies, which today are being decimated by tax cuts and austerity. We must go beyond the regulatory structure now being destroyed under the barrage of deregulation, privatization, and evisceration of government. These approaches can bring about a much-needed profound movement away from the cancerous extractive economy due to nearly 40 years of failed supply-side economics to a truly egalitarian democratic economy for all.
The work of employee-owned companies, investing with community impact, public banking, economic development with racial justice, local purchasing by community institutions, and much more are being done all over the world.
Building an economic democracy is about redesigning our companies, investments, economic development, employment, purchasing, and banking so that our economy operates in an altruistic fashion designed to serve the common good for all.
Tim Duff is a writer who lives in Ely and Tonka Bay, Minn. His debut novel, "The Find," is a family saga set on the Iron Range.