Yesterday I had the opportunity to see Jeff Sach’s speak on the New Progressive Movement in Toronto. The room was surprisingly small for such a distinguished speaker.
The last time I saw Sachs speak was at Deepak’s Alliance for a New Humanity conference in Puerto Rico. He was on stage debating Satish Kumar from the Schumacher College and it was one of the most amazing debates I’ve ever seen. Jeff was putting forth a model to bring a person out of poverty in Africa (bed nets, etc) – he would posit that $70 – was all that was needed and that he was proving the model in his Millennium Villages. Satish declared that “poverty is good business” and that there was no way economics nor an economic model was going to get us out of poverty. It’s a spiritual issue, not an economic one. When we decide that we cannot let other humans live on this planet in hunger, in poverty while others live with so much, then poverty will end. But the current state of the world and the game most people have agreed to play will keep poverty where it is. I’m not doing his argument justice but read Satish’s Resurgence for a taste of his gift to this planet.
Sachs started his discussion talking about the complete disappearance of US leadership in the world. Drought, climate change, genocide, disease, pick the issue, there is a total absence of US leadership in all of this. He
He thinks that the great economists that are cited continuously by the right in the US, Adam Smith, Frederick Hayek and Milton Friedman all believed that government needed to fund education, climate change, and that they recognized the externalities to the market. But today’s politicians are reading only a part of these economists. They aren’t seeing the whole picture.
He asked, How did we get on a long term decline we are in? He thinks it’s through a miserable diagnosis and went back to find where the problem began. When was the last time we took on big challenges? He said there was no chance of a national ambition today. He joked that it would be focused grouped to death and would never get off the ground.
He thinks the fateful moment was 1981. Reagan said on Jan 20,1981, Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem. This was the crazy diagnosis that got us on this path.
Top tax rates were cut. Greed was considered good. Unions were broken. The finance system was deregulated. And it all ended in calamity.
The puzzle for us isn’t that Reagan got it wrong but why hasn’t it changed for 30 years.
The bottom line, says Sachs, our politics are just corrupt. It’s legalized corruption. $4B a year is spent on lobbying. $7B will be spent in 2012 in the US election. Politicians are on the take and it’s a legalized game. (See 60Minutes episode from November13th)
We are a society turned into a game for the rich.
The median male worker has not seen a rise in real income since 1973. Government is half shutdown in the US with non-discretionary spending; transportation, education, NASA, environmental protection, energy, etc gutted to 2% of GDP. The dismantling of government will not get us where we want to go. We need to figure out what we want government to do and then pay for it.
The Occupy movement is about a system of impunity and corruption at the top and it’s just getting started according to Sachs – see his post in the NY Times stating that we are at the beginning of a New Progressive Movement.