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Peaceful Revolution: Real Economic Change That's Logical, Not Pathological

09/25/2008 02:44 pm 14:44:23 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Our economic system needs a major overhaul. What we're seeing
today is how inefficient unregulated markets really are, just as
we've seen that, rather than raining prosperity down on us,
"trickle down economics" were a disaster. On the other hand,
what's needed is not shifting to socialism. Ironically, the same
administration that screamed about creeping socialism at the mere
mention of business regulations took over Freddie Mac and Fannie
Mac. These huge enterprises are now state owned. If that's not
socialism, what is?

This crisis could have been avoided if the rules of the economic
game were not slanted to protect uncaring and irresponsible
business practices. Beyond the necessary government regulations
dismantled by Republicans, who stubbornly refused to apply
virtually any controls to granting credit and allowing credit
trading by banks, are the basic rules driving our economic system
which continue to promote rather than prevent uncaring and
irresponsible behaviors. This again is behind the Bush
Administration's proposed 700 billion dollar bailout - in still
another nationalizing of failing enterprises with taxpayers' funds
that should go to promote human welfare and environmental
sustainability instead.

Insanity has been defined as continuing to do things that don't
make sense, that don't achieve their stated goals, that cause
misery and unhappiness.

So where do we go from here? First, let's not let the government
use failed economic measures of corporate welfare to put its
finger in the bursting economic dike. We must urge Congress to
instead enact measures that offer better protection from loss to
people's bank accounts, from foreclosures, and
shores up small investments.

Then let's forget the old bromides about capitalism vs. socialism,
and use this crisis to envision and implement economic systems
that really work for people and the planet.

The first step is examining the flawed assumptions behind current
economic measurements, practices, and policies. Otherwise, we will
continue to generate painful economic crises, and be unable to
effectively address our growing social and environmental challenges.

We've been spending billions on weapons, war, and now corporate
bailouts, yet we're told there's no money for children's health
and education. The way Gross National Product (GNP) is calculated
is equally insane. This indicator of economic health puts
activities that harm life, such as making cigarettes along with
the medical and funeral costs from smoking, on the plus side as
"productive work." But it fails to ascribe any economic value to
life-sustaining activities such as the work of parents caring for
children - even though the quality of child-care profoundly
affects human capacity development, which is critical for the
"high quality human capital" necessary for a post-industrial
knowledge economy. Just as insane is that we pay plumbers some
five times what we pay childcare workers, even though if you ask
most people, they'll of course say they value their children more
than their pipes.

These economic valuations aren't logical, they're pathological.
They reflect a skewed system in which caring is devalued - whether
in women or men. And as long as caring is off the economic scale,
it's not realistic to expect more caring government and business
policies.

Let's overhaul our economic system so it no longer rewards
uncaring practices but instead rewards caring for people and our
natural habitat. That's what economics should do. After all, the
real wealth of a nation consists of the contributions of people
and of nature. We need what we have not had: economic indicators,
policies, and practices that promote the shift to what I call a
"caring economics."

Other nations have moved toward a caring economics - with
excellent outcomes. Nations like Sweden, Norway, and Finland were
so poor at the beginning of the 20th century that thousands fled
famines. Today they're on the top ranks of both the United Nations
Human Development Reports and the World Economic Forum's Global
Competitiveness Reports. The reason is they changed their policies
to invest in high quality human capital through universal health
care, high quality child care and early childhood education,
generous paid parental leave, good education, and even stipends
and social security credit for the first seven years of caring for
a child. These are not perfect nations, but they have a high
quality of life for all, more egalitarian families, a higher
status of women (who are 40 percent of national legislators), low
crime rates, kids that score high on international tests,
generally sound environmental policies, and successful economies
that are a mix of free enterprise and central planning.

These nations don't call themselves socialist - and they are not
socialist. The term they often use to describe themselves is
"caring societies."

Our nation, on the other hand, has been moving in the opposite
direction because of uncaring policies marketed to us as
"efficient" and "sound." Our workforce's functional illiteracy
rates are disproportionately high; our health care system ranks
low in satisfaction comparisons with other industrialized nations,
is more costly, and leaves millions without coverage. The gap
between rich and poor is widening, the middle class is shrinking,
and our child mortality rates are higher than every other
industrialized nation, even than much poorer nations, such as
Andorra and Cuba.

It's time for real change. Creating a care-based, human-centered
economic system means thinking outside the old box of both
capitalism and socialism. It requires enlightened leaders like
Barack Obama who have the vision and intelligence to understand,
as Einstein said, that we can't solve problems with the same
thinking that created them.

Surely we in this wonderful nation of ours can muster the will to
use our creativity and initiative to create a caring economics, a
system that works in the long run, that works for us all, that
works for generations still to come.

A Peaceful Revolution is a blog about innovative ideas to strengthen America's families through public policies, business practices, and cultural change. Done in collaboration with MomsRising.org, read a new post here each week.