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Rob Kall Headshot

Time to Turn the American Economic Model Upside Down? Consider Alternatives to Consumption and Growth

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Is more buying, more consuming what the U.S. needs to recover from the economic straits we're in? Maybe it's time to turn the economy upside down, to create a totally new way of measuring success or positive outcomes.

The basic underlying theory of the conservatives is that taxes discourage spending that leads to growth. But they are supporting big corporations, multinational corporations -- the kinds that pay few or any taxes. What if there was an economic model that measured national economic success by different parameters and standards -- ones that focused on jobs, stability, sustainability, gross national happiness... rather than numbers that don't really help the nation and the people?

For decades, the heads of the U.S. in government, business, commerce, economics have all sought to make the economy healthier through growth by increasing consumption.

Since this idea began being wired into the brains of the captains of America in the 1920s, things have changed. Bill Clinton signed WTO and NAFTA. Bush and Obama have continued to sign international trade agreements that have made industry after U.S. industry extinct, putting tens of millions of U.S. workers either out of work or out of good paying jobs.

Outsourcing of services has made it more and more attractive for U.S. companies to hire Internet connected outsourced workers in India, Pakistan, Phillipines, Russia, Poland, etc.

To have a safe job today, you need to do something that can't be outsourced -- chef, auto-mechanic, shift manager (I imagine even that could be outsourced), landscaper, waitress, emergency room doctor doing stitches and intubations (because even diagnoses, with video and a nurses aide assist might cover some aspects of the job) live musicians, road crew workers, teachers (oops, they could be done on-line or with video teachers), camerapersons operating cameras, construction workers (oops, construction's way down). You get the idea, sort of.

The U.S. is no longer an economy that consumes things. Oh sure, we consume things, but the economy that the U.S. depends upon being healthy does not derive much benefit from selling things made in China or Korea or Japan or Malaysia or Pakistan -- like iPhones and clothing and shoes and TVs and computers.

When consumption of imported goods goes up, it helps the big box stores -- Walmart, Target, Bestbuy, Lowes, Home Depot, except MAYBE the wood and plants in the big box "hardware" stores.

Consuming phone service doesn't help much. The big companies don't pay much taxes, if any.

It's time we re-evaluate the kind of economy we have. Do we still want and need an economy based on consumption and growth? If we're going to consider that possibility, we need to think about the alternate options, if any.

I like to look to indigenous tribal culture to find alternative ways of doing things that we do today. This approach worked for about 30,000 years before civilization reared its head about 8,000 years ago.

There's no consumption-growth cycle with tribal culture. There's stability and balance based on sustainable living.

Sustainability. That's what we've been talking about for energy use -- transportation, for starters.

Perhaps what we need to look at is a domestic model that supports sustainability.

Perhaps we need to totally reassess where we find funds to pay for government, infrastructure and the assets and maintenance of the commons.

Or perhaps, we should reassess where we generate revenues. I love the web and make my living depending upon it. But maybe we should consider taxes on different uses of the web.

I buy something from Amazon and to do it I'm using bandwidth licensed from the U.S., a power grid that is supported by national infrastructure, oversight and planning, as well as state and local assets and resources. Maybe it's time to tax the use of the web.

Or maybe, we need to think about building -- building infrastructure, for new technologies, for easier travel and more energy efficient transportation -- rail systems, broadband for all. Building roads and facilities in national parks. Tourism is a major source of U.S. revenues. Maybe we need to invest more to make the U.S. even more attractive -- new national parks, new museums. Then there's education. The U.S. has been very attractive as a place to go for education. I guess some of that can be outsourced. Universities can offer courses over the web. Maybe we need to set laws that require to get a U.S. university degree, at least three years of the education must be acquired IN the physical United states.

Maybe we need to look at new ways to measure success in the U.S. Instead of looking growth in sales or production, look at growth in new, robust infrastructure, growth in businesses that create jobs -- not just growth in sales or gross receipts.

Maybe we need to tax companies based on the jobs they create -- give them breaks if they create jobs, tax them at higher rates if they generate profits without jobs.

We have to start thinking out of the box. It seems that the box we've been operating in is not even cardboard, and it's very fragile and shredding and no longer able to do the job it was conceived to do. That means we also need to find people to manage the economy who get that the old container is no longer working.

Any ideas? It seems the experts are all stuck in the box. It's going to take a bottom up, people's upwelling of ideas to get us out of this mess.