Sunday, March 7, 2010

Visions of Economic Justice: For Blind Eyes

Thirty Years From Today: Visions of Economic Justice
Dollars & Sense Nov/Dec 2004

In plenty of ways, the aims of the U.S. and global economic justice movements appear to be receding today, not drawing closer. Still, it is important to keep those aims in mind. On this 30th anniversary, Dollars & Sense asked a number of thinkers and activists to describe their vision of a more economically just world 30 years hence, and to outline what they consider the most important steps to take today to move toward that vision.

I would like to see a completely gender equitable world 30 years from now—an equal proportion of men and women working for pay and earning the same amount on average, regardless of which jobs they are in. Similarly, I would like to see the elimination of race and ethnicity-based differences in economics and politics; a more gender-and race-integrated work force in which most jobs are not sex and race typed as they are now; men and women sharing equally in the care of children, elders, and other family members or friends in need; everyone able to choose the partners and family compositions that suit them best, including living alone or living communally; and all groups represented in governments according to their share in the population. In other words, the complete elimination of all discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Such a change would eliminate a large share of poverty. Paying women comparably with similarly qualified men, for example, would eliminate an estimated half of all poverty in families with working women in them. Nine of ten long-term low earners (those earning less than $15,000 per year across 15 years) are women. The low-wage labor market is very largely a female labor market, with women often working in jobs that pay less because women hold them. While many more changes would be necessary to bring about a more democratic economy in which the average person has more control over her or his economic fate, I would like to see us start by achieving equal pay for comparable work in the labor market as well as an equitable distribution of family care at home. —Heidi Hartmann

We build the ark and call assembly. We float like butterflies and sting like bees. We use our little mice teeth to chew the insulation off the mainstream media. We use our little mole claws to burrow under the walls of orthodoxy. We send our multicolored warblers to harmonize into the skies. We gum up the circular machineries of might-makes-right just so and their humvee elephant treads tear up the very superhighways that they travel on. We stand on principle, reroute the power, and redesign the system. We share our code. We secede from empire and weave our economic bill of rights into the center of the world-wide web. We give everyone a stake in our collective enterprise, for which they pay with work and taxes, if they can. We defend the commons, dancing, demand democracy, and inch toward global economic care. —Nancy Folbre

Where the United States has declared an end to military intervention, has eliminated its intelligence agencies, has dismantled its overseas military bases, has reduced its armed forces to a small peace-keeping contingent ready to heed the call of the U.N. General Assembly for emergencies, and where the resultant saving of half a trillion dollars is then added to another half trillion dollars that comes from a wealth tax and a truly progressive income tax, the trillion dollars then to be used in the following ways:

• To establish a program of Health Security, with free medical care and prescription drugs for every person, citizen or not, with the government footing the bill.
• To guarantee public employment (on environmental projects, arts projects, etc.) to people unable to get work in the private sector at a fair wage.
• To guarantee free education up through the university level.
• To guarantee decent housing—through rent subsidies or lowinterest home loans—for any family not able to afford market prices for good housing.

How to achieve this? Organize a new national movement around this agenda, which will then engage in a variety of nonviolent tactics: strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, marches, occupations, to insist that this program be enacted. —Howard Zinn

Whether in 30 years there will be a more economically just world depends on several factors, including the ability of progressive social movements to advance beyond resistance and articulate a program for power. If we succeed, we will have to address the potential environmental catastrophe facing this planet; the need for global wealth redistribution; the provision of education and health care. But we will also have to rethink the role of people in controlling their own destinies. Democracy must be more than multi-party elections; it must concern the ability of regular people to engage in a process of transformation of their societies. We must develop a vision and organizational form to pull together diverse political forces, rejecting the postmodern notions of struggling only along identity lines, and advance a program for social transformation. We must build a compelling social vision that, while recognizing the deep fissures that divide us, unites our struggles. —Bill Fletcher

In the short run, any changes that improve the bargaining power and economic conditions of workers versus owners and what we might call the coordinator class (managers, lawyers, doctors, etc.)—as well as of poorer developing economies versus dominant first-world economies—will be highly progressive. So too will be a shift in investment spending from war and maintaining the advantages of the rich to addressing the needs of the majority. Eliminating the World Bank, IMF, and WTO and replacing them with new institutions meant to bend the rules and dynamics of international exchange so that most of the benefits of trade accrue to the poor and weak rather than overwhelmingly to the rich and powerful would also be very positive.

But accomplishing all that depends, in some considerable part, on people believing that these changes would lead in time to a new world with different economic and social logics—not just to old institutions later reimposing and reintensifying old hierarchies against our innovations. In the economic sphere, for me, that means replacing private ownership of productive assets, corporate divisions of labor, remuneration for property, power, or even output, authoritarian decision making, and either markets or central planning, and thus class rule, with, instead, workers’ and consumers’ councils, balanced job complexes, remuneration for duration, intensity, and harshness of work, self-managed decision making, and participatory planning, and thus classlessness—which is to say, replacing capitalism with participatory economics.

As an initial focus, I am partial to fighting for a dramatically shorter workday and work week, then augmenting this change with redistribution, training, and the like. Fighting for reforms that can better people’s lives in the present expands aspirations, builds organizations, and strengthens the commitment to win further gains. But at the same time I think it’s particularly important to develop a shared postcapitalist vision. Economic activists must be able to rebut Margaret Thatcher’s claim that “There Is No Alternative” by describing and making a convincing case for that alternative. —Michael Albert

Possibly the most important task for the next 30 years is to ensure that we understand the history of the past fifty. That is true in the strategic and political sphere, where much about the Cold War and our deep politics remains half-hidden. But it is also true in economics. Here deeply flawed and sometimes fraudulent doctrines—such as “natural rate” theories of unemployment and interest, phobias about deficits, and misguided notions about debt corrupt thought and confuse policy. Only in such a climate can an otherwise sensible public get whipped up over invented problems of Social Security 40 years hence, while little is done about nuclear risks and nothing is done about our precarious dependence on oil. Outrage and activism are necessary but not sufficient. Thirty years from now the problems of peace, full employment prosperity, economic justice, nuclear security, and environmental sustainability will be much the same as today. If we understand them a little better, we may do a better job of getting them right from time to time. In particular, if by the centenary of Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in 2036 the world has a decent community of people who’ve read it, that would be progress indeed. —James K. Galbraith

Heidi Hartmann heads the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Howard Zinn is a historian and activist, professor emeritus of political science at Boston University, and the author of many books including A People’s History of the United States. Nancy Folbre teaches economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is a staff economist with the Center for Popular Economics. Bill Fletcher is president of TransAfrica Forum and former education director of the AFL-CIO. James K. Galbraith teaches economics at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. Michael Albert is a founder and staff member of Z Magazine and ZNet; he is the author of many books including Parecon: Life After Capitalism.

DOLLARS & SENSE home page
Thirty Years from Today: A Vision of Economic Justice web page
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2004 download issue (pdf)


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