Global Reality Check: How Is Our Planet Actually Doing?

California is going up in smoke. Scandinavia, which includes some of the coldest countries on the planet, has been hotter and dryer this summer than ever before. One billion people are living in extreme poverty, while the rest are using up non-renewable resources at an unprecedented rate.

The impression we often get from the mainstream media, and perhaps even more from the progressive media, is that the world is not only in trouble, it’s actually getting worse. But is that truly the real state of the world? Aren’t we doing better than 150 years ago when kids in Dickens’ London worked 12 hour days and lived in squalor?

To find out how we are actually doing as a human society, I consulted an expert fact finder, namely Hans Rosling, the Swedish author of the book Factfulness.

To understand where we are at as a species compared to some decades ago, let’s start off with a quiz taken from Rosling’s book. Write down your answers and compare them to the correct answers below. You may be in for a surprise.

  1. Where does the majority of the world population live?
    1. Low-income countries
    2. Middle-income countries
    3. High-income countries
  2. In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has
    1. Almost doubled
    2. Remained more or less the same
    3. Almost halved
  3. What is the life expectancy of the world today?
    1. 50 years
    2. 60 years
    3. 70 years
  4. There are 2 billion children in the world today, aged 0-15 years old. How many children will there be in the year 2100, according to the United Nations?
    1. 4 billion
    2. 3 billion
    3. 2 billion
  5. How many of the world’s 1-year-old children have been vaccinated against some disease?
    1. 20%
    2. 50%
    3. 80%
  6. How many people in the world have some access to electricity?
    1. 20%
    2. 50%
    3. 80%

(This is just half of the quiz, but it will do just fine for our purposes.)

Ready? Here are the real facts: 1-b, 2-c, 3-c, 4-c, 5-c and 6-c.

If you got more than two correct answers, you should be proud. Most people score worse than if they had made a random guess, which, on average, would have given two correct answers.

Yes, the situation is still bad

Presently humanity faces many problems, including a systemic financial crisis, a rise in inequality, global warming, the rise of neo-fascism, and an increased risk of world war. It would be foolish to disregard these enormous threats and challenges and pretend that things are just good and rosy. Especially with the threat of global warming and climate change, we are facing the risk of destroying life on planet earth as we know it. Have no doubt about it, the human predicament is serious.

But we have made many improvements

We are often so inundated with negative news about global problems that we neglect to recognize the progress made in the past 50 years, not to speak of in the past 100 years.

If we look at history, we’ll realise that if the situation is bad now, life on average was much worse in the past. One reason for this oversight is our tendency to romanticise the past as the “good old days,” but they were often not so good. Maybe our expectations have increased, and this is naturally a good thing. But in order to create a better future, we need to have a more objective understanding of the past and appreciate all the good that already has been achieved.

Here are some undisputable facts: Poverty has decreased; there is far less starvation; more children go to school; fewer people die in natural disasters; and though there has been an explosive population growth, it is already slowing down. From an average of 5 children born per woman in the 1960s, there are today 2.5 births per woman globally. And the trend is going further downward. If this trend continues, the population of the planet will cap at around 11 billion people. This fact seems to be of special interest for people who have followed the writings of P.R. Sarkar, since he predicted this trend decades before it became an obvious fact.

In addition, when it comes to human values, there has also been progress. Slavery, suppression of women, exploitation of children, intolerance and many other terrible things still exist today, but are not as commonplace as in the past. Even more importantly, we openly discuss these human problems and most people denounce them.

Will the improvements continue?

So where does this leave us? Is the future guaranteed to be rosy? Unfortunately not.

Just because things have been improving in the past 100 years, it does not mean that the trend will continue. The earth is reaching the limit of pollution and greenhouse gases it can absorb without a catastrophic rise in temperatures. There are signs of a shifting movement toward intolerance. Fascistic strongmen are rising up in all parts of the world and the risk of conflict and war are also increasing. With the amount of sophisticated weapons at our disposal, a Third World War could kill more people and create more environmental and material destruction than ever before.

Power is also shifting. Corporations, whose main interest is to make money, are often more powerful than nations. Will this trend continue? And with the rise of the extreme right, will Neo-Nazi groups come to power in some countries? The expanded global cooperation that made the many improvements humanity made possible should not be taken for granted.

What about the gains in health care, improved literacy and reduction in poverty? To a large extent these improvements have been made due to increased food production and various scientific innovations, but with climate change looming and global warming a stark fact, the amount of arable land will reduce and our capacity for food production and increased material progress will decrease.

We must therefore realise how fragile our gains are, how global our problems are, and how little it would take to reverse all our gains. Worse, with atomic weapons at our disposal and global warming looming as an unpredictable crisis, we could potentially destroy life on earth as we know it, something which previous generations did not have the capacity for.

What Kind of Future Awaits Us?

It is common knowledge that we must envision the future we want. Gloom and negative projections will certainly not save humanity. We must therefore be confident and positive that a better future awaits us. A world where the gains of the past are safeguarded, and where the Proutist goal of guaranteeing the minimum necessities of life to all can be realised in a sustainable way.

But given the enormity of the problems that face humanity, we must also not be complacent. The right attitude is that if we all join in our efforts and work hand in hand for change, we can build on the past and create a beautiful and just society for all people, and avoid the pitfalls of nuclear destruction, environmental catastrophe, and massive human suffering. But if we take progress for granted and just allow the present course to move on, a bleak future will certainly await us.

The future is indeed in our hands. Which path will we choose?

Global Reality Check: How Is Our Planet Actually Doing?
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Wait No More! Global Warming is here

It is not uncommon to encounter people in the United States believing that ice bears roam the streets of Stockholm. If they actually did, these polar bears would have had an uncomfortable last few months, with summer temperatures exceeding 30° Centigrade and relative humidity reaching 92%. The situation has been so bad that major hospitals have had to cancel operations because the climate was too humid.

These temperatures, in relatively cold Scandinavia, are higher than the average temperature in the hottest month in many tropical countries near the equator. For example, in Lagos, West Africa, the warmest month of the year is February, and the average temperature is “only” 29°. In Manila, Philippines, the hottest month of the year is May, when the average temperature reaches 30°.

As a result of the heat, the forests have been dry. Thus this year, all Swedes will have to be without their popular harvest of wild blueberries, lingonberries and mushrooms.

But it is not only Sweden that has been hot. There has been a heatwave in the whole of Europe, and in many places beyond. In early August temperatures in Spain reached close to 50° C, one of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Europe. In the UK and Australia it has been so hot that asphalted roads have literally melted, turning some roads into sticky black glue.  In many countries, the crops have failed catastrophically, and the number of forest fires globally have dramatically increased in past years.

The hardened global warming deniers argue that this is just part of fluctuating weather patterns and mere anecdotal evidence. They ask for hard statistics. Well, the hard statistics have arrived.

According to a new study released by the American Meteorological Society on August 1, 2018, the years 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 were the four hottest years in recorded history. 2018 is already on course to beat all previous years. Thus the trend continues.

Just as the destruction of the ozone layer was related to chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere, the heating of the earth is caused by increases in CO2 in the atmosphere. The levels have risen by 30% since 1960, and are now the highest the earth has seen in at least 800,000 years.

Proving Theories

Technically speaking, scientific theories can never be proven. Instead scientists try to disprove a theory, and if, after much testing, the theory cannot be disproven, it is assumed to be correct.

In particular, a theory should have predictive value. That is, with the help of a theory we are supposed to be able to predict an event in the future. If the theory consistently makes accurate predictions that cannot be explained in any other way, the theory is considered valid.

If there is any doubt about the theory of global warming, its stellar performance in predicting the future should be enough to convince any rational minded person. Current events—such as higher temperatures, changing weather patterns, melting ice caps, and so on—were all predicted years ago.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity was accepted in 1919 when, contrary to prevailing ideas, it correctly predicted the positions of stars near the sun. Similarly, global warming has also been scientifically accepted, except by the diehard global warming deniers who are using this phenomenon to promote various fringe political or scientific conspiracy theories.

A Hot, Dry Future

So where does this leave us? As P. R. Sarkar predicted, the world is likely to face severe water problems in the coming decades, when water might become scarcer than oil in some areas. The United States, India and China are some of the countries that will be severely affected. Temperatures are bound to keep increasing. It is predicted that North East China, which includes Beijing and is home to some 400 million people, will be so hot by 2070 that it will be practically inhabitable. The heat and humidity will be so severe that only a six hour exposure will be deadly.

Sea levels will rise, making much of low laying areas in risk of being lost to the sea. According to a study by Cornell University, one of five people on the planet (around 2 billion people) could by 2100 be forced to leave their homes, becoming refugees due to rising sea water.

Since much of earth’s arable land is in coastal areas, our ability to feed an ever increasing population will be severely compromised. But even without this loss of land, global warming is creating unpredictable weather patterns—draughts in some places, flooding in others. Agriculture require predictable weather, the right proportion of sun, heat and rain. Without this predictability crops will fail. Given the trend of unstable weather and the impact it will have on food production, we may, within a decade or so, notice shortages of food, even in well stocked supermarkets in rich countries.

A Proutist View

The second principle of Prout states that “there should be maximum utilisation and rational distribution of the crude, subtle and causal resources.” There are obviously many ways we can utilise the resources around us. When nature has been given to us to utilize for free, we can either assist nature to help provide more, or we can leave her alone to do her work. But instead of doing this, we have chosen a path of systematically destroying the free systems nature provides us to sustain life on earth.

In 2005, the United Nation’s Environmental Project published the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment which stated that “human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of the Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystem to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.” With the recent changes in weather patterns, maybe we are getting a first taste of what this implies.

To destroy the ecosystem is the worst possible use of the planet’s resources. We need to change our behaviour and look beyond what is profitable for business in the short term. Instead we must find solutions that can benefit humanity and all life on earth into the distant future. There might still be a chance to do that, but if we wait much longer, the opportunity may have ceased—the heating trend will be become irreversible. We must therefore realise the urgency of global warming and act now.

In retrospect, Donald Trump’s greatest crime against humanity may be his insistence that global warming is a hoax. Due to his idiotic position, he has taken a series of actions that are guaranteed to speed up global warming. Some examples: pulling out of the Paris accord to limit CO2 emissions; promoting the coal industry, which is one of the worst emitters of CO2 gases; attempting to use federal power to prevent California to control vehicle emissions; and the total gutting and destruction of the Environmental Protection Agency, to mention just a few. As a result, hundreds of millions, or maybe billions of people, may suffer and perish. The possibility that he might have colluded with Russia to win the election is, in comparison, a rather trivial issue.

Wait No More! Global Warming is here
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Free Trade, Protectionism and Proutist Trade

James Quilligan
July 1, 2018

Introduction

This narrative suggests how Proutist Trade can be explained in today’s world by comparing and contrasting it with Free Trade and Protectionism. The article describes (1) how global free trade has succeeded and failed during the past seventy years; (2) how the Trump Administration is undermining free trade though protectionism based on nationalist populism; and (3) how PROUT’s vision of trade includes characteristics of both free trade and protectionism, yet transcends them through its emphasis on economic decentralization, localism and democratic decision-making.

Liberal Free Trade

In 1817, the British economist David Ricardo proposed that if two different countries producing different types of commodities were to engage in reciprocal trade, each country would increase its overall consumption. He argued that as each nation produces something cheaply for export to another nation, each of them will export a good for which it has the comparative advantage and import another good which it has less capacity to produce or produces at a higher cost. Thus, when nations sell goods and services to one another using this strategy, free trade is mutually beneficial to all parties.

Several decades after Ricardo’s proposal, the idea of reciprocal trade was applied on an international scale. The earliest bilateral deal of this kind was the Cobden-Chevalier treaty, signed on Jan. 23, 1860 between England and France. Because it generated a higher volume and less costly form of trade, the arrangement was widely imitated during the next seventy years as other nations across the world negotiated hundreds of similar agreements. Through these reciprocal exchanges, two countries would reduce or eliminate import barriers with each other, and in many cases, grant its partner ‘most favored nation’ status. This bilateral practice generated great wealth and prosperity for a growing segment of the world’s population until the 1930s and 40s when the Great Depression and World War II exposed a significant weakness in the free trade convention. Since nations produce mostly for export rather than their own domestic markets, reciprocal trade agreements were entirely vulnerable to the calamitous effects of global depressions and foreign wars.

Some politicians believed that these impairments could be addressed through a global agreement or safety net for ensuring reciprocal trade. In 1948, the United States and other countries institutionalized free trade practices at the international level through a rules-based trading system. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), history’s first multilateral treaty for trade, guided the first half of the postwar period and generated phenomenal economic growth across the free world. But during the 1980s and 90s, as globalization expanded and societies became more and more integrated, the GATT needed upgrading. In 1995, it was replaced by the World Trade Organization (WTO), which now involves over 95% of the commercial trade in 164 nations. The WTO has been praised for its capacity to

  • reduce uncertainty through predictable trade policies
  • make long-term decisions easier for producers and consumers
  • provide legal and credible policies which are clear to both allies and non-allies of a nation

But there are vast problems with the treaty-based global trading system. Everywhere it operates, the monolithic WTO has undermined national legislative authority, independence and sovereignty. Through its influence over national governments, multinational corporations have built up unregulated political power, which they exercise through unequal trade agreements and open financial markets. For these reasons, the negotiating leverage of richer nations has overpowered the interests of poorer nations.

In addition, the WTO allows corporate profits to be maximized at the expense of work safety and environmental protections. Workers’ wages and labor conditions have also stagnated significantly in most nations under the WTO. Except for the period of the Internet rollout from 1995-2000 when market valuations were euphorically overpriced, the WTO has failed to generate economic growth and higher-paying jobs in many regions of the world.

Since 2001, the WTO’s Doha Round of Trade Negotiations has stalled due to policy differences between advanced and emerging economies, mainly over agriculture. For this reason, progressive innovations in global trade have been at a stalemate for nearly two decades. Once celebrated for creating order and stability, the WTO is producing disorder and unrest by sending jobs abroad and hollowing-out vibrant local economies. It’s widely recognized that the WTO has eroded the democratic fabric of the international community.

Citizens have no voice in determining the trade policies which directly affect their lives and livelihoods, creating a deep political void across the world.

Trump’s Protectionism

American President Donald Trump has exploited the rising unpopularity of multilateral trade. Through his aggressive transactional approach to commercial trading, Trump has rejected the rules-based international order in favor of bilateral ‘deals’ between individual nations. He justifies these policies by accusing other nations of stealing America’s intellectual property, engaging in unfair industrial policy and sponging unfairly off the United States for their military protection. Yet Trump seems to have no strategic goal other than creating political disruption for his own personal interests.

Besides threatening to pull the United States out of the WTO and the transatlantic trade agreement with Europe, Trump has refused to join the Trans Pacific Partnership. By imposing real tariffs and raising further threats of tariffs, thereby challenging the predictability of global trade, Trump hopes to gain concessions from US trading partners through chaos and confusion.

His bombast on trade barriers has created deep uncertainty among US friends and foes alike, sending shock waves throughout the WTO member states.

When producers cannot predict the future costs of materials, they have difficulty both in pricing their products and in knowing if their customers will turn to outside suppliers who offer similar products more competitively.

Trump has thus undermined the postwar global system where it is most vulnerable — by exploiting the fact that the WTO operates as a de facto federation without a genuine democratic mandate. The globalist worldview  — Liberal Free — has produced wealth for a broad sector of traders and investors by liberalizing trade, deregulating financial flows and boosting privatization. But the anti-globalization opposition which developed among the political Left from the 1980s – 2000s has been outflanked by a new movement of insurgent populists who want to roll back globalization and the liberal policy of open borders. Their reactionary ideology of protectionism and nationalist entrenchment, which gathered steam since the Great Recession of 2008, has now spread across the US, Europe and elsewhere.

This political and cultural campaign is organized behind the libertine front of mercantilism, which asks: what good are soft borders when they allow jobs to flow out of our nation and entice immigrants to move in?

Rather than reduce the social inequality that Free Trade has created, this raging protectionist movement has made conditions worse. In the long-term, support for these extremist policies is impractical because their economic benefits extend to only a tiny oligarchy of elite traders who manage bilateral trade. The grassroots opposition to open markets and the protectionist claims for market rejuvenation have no roots in economic localism. Yet this factious crusade will continue to suppress local jobs, infrastructure and basic amenities through its zealotry, racism and xenophobia for it expresses a naive, yet not unwarranted, resentment against unequal globalized trade.

How Prout Includes Elements of Free Trade and Protectionism
Although the rejection of the international trading regime has come as a shock to many, it’s not entirely surprising. The demise of the postwar regime does not mean there is no need for a global system. What it does mean is that we have suffered a flawed global system for the past seventy years — one which attempted to create a centralized bureaucracy for trade, finance and monetary policy. It’s quite clear that a new international system must emerge.

But why is this rules-based international order, so enthusiastically created and supported by the United States after World War II, now under attack by the US itself? A prime reason is that America’s moral vision of democratic capitalism — which once rallied the free world to defeat Nazi fascism and Russian communism — has been shattered by the meteoric ascent of China and its instrumentalist brand of autocratic capitalism. In losing their principled confidence in democracy, America and its institutions for liberal internationalism are rapidly losing their reason for being. And if bilateral trade agreements and crushing tariffs become the new norm among nations, the global monetary system will very likely collapse along with the WTO.
What is PROUT’s solution to all this? First, it’s important to recognize that PROUT embraces some elements of Free Trade. For one thing, Proutist free trade would not involve duties on imports or exports because national currencies will be replaced with barter, leaving no financial losses for trading partners in an exchange. This is particularly important when one locality or region overproduces goods that are of benefit to another area which underproduces the same types of goods. Essentially, the goal is to shield community development before engaging in outside exchange. Then, as people’s needs are met through local production and self-governance, free trade is encouraged among trading regions to increase prosperity, equality and cooperation. Thus, Proutist free trade would not be an open door for speculation and profit-taking, but an opportunity for unequal regions to trade their surpluses with the objective of becoming more equal and cooperative.

This is also why PROUT embraces some elements of Protectionism. When local minimum necessities cannot be met and local industries cannot be developed within a community or region, local demand and consumption must be protected against external producers, speculators and investors. This is especially true with regard to the production and consumption of agriculture, raw materials and heavy industry. Only after the basic needs of local people are ensured would a local surplus be exported. Protection is therefore justified in building up local economies and guarding against exploitation from commercial forces which operate outside the region.

Protectionist forms of trade are conducted through barter-driven cooperatives rather than profit-driven markets. Again, capital surpluses and speculation are discouraged and outside investment is divested to benefit the community.

 

How PROUT Transcends Free Trade and Protectionism

PROUT thus shares characteristics with both Free Trade and Protectionism. But it should also be recognized that these two ideologies are based on centralized markets and hierarchical decision-making. Both destroy the vibrancy of local economies. Free Trade creates monopolies which devastate communities by siphoning off their money, while modern Protectionism is largely a rhetorical embrace of grassroots localism without substantial economic plans for addressing community self-reliance and sustainability.

PROUT proposes a different kind of globalism which is based on local and regional sovereignty, rather than national and global sovereignty. Unlike the centralized policies of Free Trade or Protectionism, PROUT is grounded in:

  • basic self-sufficiency
  • economic self-determination
  • social ecology
  • decentralized decision-making
  • economic democracy

Prout attempts to develop local production and jobs for local people to meet their needs. For this to work, each region must secure basic goods and services so that all of its citizens are self-sufficient. Commodities that are not produced locally would not be imported or exchanged on the local market, allowing the local economy to focus on the production of the peoples’ minimum necessities. These basic needs, which are largely dismissed by Free Traders and Protectionists as having little market value, include food, water, clothing, housing, education and healthcare.

After the requirements of local people are met, locally-produced goods may be exported to other regions which lack the potential to produce them. This trade would occur through a secondary, external market, leaving the nation’s internal market to focus on its own sufficiency. Thus, self-sustenance at home and abroad are the goal of Proutist trade. For this reason, PROUT rejects both the speculative profits of the marketplace and the tariffs and quotas created by governments. Cooperatives and social inclusivity must preclude capital markets and social exploitation by embracing cooperative advantage over competitive advantage and keeping economic power in the hands of the people. This is how Proutist trade transcends Free Trade and Protectionism.

Free Trade, Protectionism and Proutist Trade
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The Next Economy (Part I): Understanding the Problem – Economic Democracy Advocates (EDA) Book Study Group

Interview with Roar Bjonnes, co-author of Growing a New Economy

 

George: Hello everyone, this is George Catlin, and this is the first of two conversations I’ll be having with Roar Bjonnes, the coauthor of the book Growing a New Economy. This conversation could be called, “Understanding the Problem.” After one big picture question, I’ll begin with some very basic questions about how our economy works and then move on to a few more about the kinds of problems the system is currently creating for the planet and most of the people who live on it. The second conversation, which we’ll have in January after we’ve finished reading the book, will be about solutions to the situation.
So, welcome Roar. I want to begin by giving you a chance to set the stage. When you pull way back and look at this moment in history and the current economic situation, what do you see? I’m asking for a broad look at the cycle and where the paradigmatic break down, or breakdowns, is or are taking place. Can you just address that very big-picture question to begin with?

Roar: Thank you so much for inviting me on this call. As many of us have noticed, we’re living in a time of great polarization, as well as a time of great economic, political and cultural turmoil. Some economists, such as the German economist Wolfgang Streek, the author of How Will Capitalism End, said that, “The finance sector will very soon implode in a crash.” Incidentally, P. R. Sarkar said something similar–that capitalism would eventually “explode like a firecracker.” When this will happen, is, of course, anybody’s guess. But it could happen soon, or it could happen in a decade, or two. As we all know, the beast of capitalism, is very resilient.
So, as you said, let’s step back and take a brief overview. I want to first start by looking at the four crises we mention in our book: the finance, inequality, resource, and environmental crises. Each one of these crises are quite severe on their own, and they cannot be solved in a piecemeal fashion, by reforms. We opened our book with a quote by Naomi Klein. She wrote that, “We live in a time of overlapping crises, and we need to connect the dots. We need to solve each crisis sequentially. We need a movement that addresses all of them.” And that’s essentially the essence of our book, as well.
We are offering our solutions in the third part of our book. We need solutions. The times for reforms are over. That’s why it’s likely we’re in for a big crash, because the reforms are not working. We’ve been, in a sense, taking a reform pill for decades. The acid reflux of capitalism has turned into heart disease. But the good news is that this capitalist heart disease can be reversed. But only if we throw away the reform pill and change our lifestyle, our way of living, our economy. As we say in the book, we have to restructure the entire economy, step-by-step.
As we have also seen recently, there’s a growing discontent. Both from the right and the left. The right is reacting in many reactionary ways, and sometimes even in ugly ways. But nevertheless, many of the reactions are justified, as many people are frustrated, grasping for answers, for solutions. There is great instability and uncertainty from the growing precariat, a term used recently by James Kurth, when he spoke at the Festival of New Economic Thinking, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Some members of the PROUT movement were there, and one of my friends sent me some notes from that conference, and he said that James Kurth, who used to work for the Council on Foreign Relations, surprisingly sees hope in the restless precariat, the underemployed, and those of us working three jobs to make ends meet.
He also sees hope in the Bernie Sanders movement. And again Sarkar said something similar, that the change would come from the “disgruntled intellectuals”, those with a “revolutionary spirit.” At that same conference, Joseph Stiglitz was speaking as well. The former chief economist of the World Bank, who in many ways has made a complete turnaround, as he is now very skeptical of neoliberal policies, of deregulation, [corporate] free trade, and so on. These are all policies, which he once supported, but now he says, “We need to create a Nordic model of economics everywhere.”
But in Growing a New Economy, we ask: is that going to work? Does the Nordic model hold the solution to our problems? This is an essential issue, I think, because many progressive people, many people who talk about economic democracy, they are seeing great hope in the Nordic model. And the environmentalists sees hope in sustainable capitalism. But are these models good enough? I don’t think so. Instead we need to pose some more fundamental questions. The main question, which E.F. Schumacher also talked about, is the following: what should be the philosophical underpinning of our economy? Then we need to ask what economics is all about? If we go back to the roots, to the Greek word Oikos, economics then literally means to take good care of our Earth household. Oikos is thus the common basis of both economics and ecology. That idea, to combine ecology with economy, needs to be our basic economic philosophy.
So, first, we need to bridge ecology with economics. Then we need to bridge ethics with economics. And we need to bridge science with soul, or with spirituality. These vital links are totally missing in our economic system today. But this is something we need to address. We are not doing that on any big scale. Finally, we need to ask what “progress” means. Capitalism says that progress is equal to material growth, to making profit. Sarkar, on the other hand, says, “That material progress is not real progress because there is always side effects to any kind of material progress. You can never create perfection on the material level.” So he says that “real progress is found in creating a good society and in creating great culture.” In other words, in finding inner meaning, in a society that supports the spiritual growth of humanity. This is fundamental. And again, these are all issues missing in mainstream economics and in capitalism in particular.
There’s a fundamental failure in materialism, because materialism can only give us some physical comforts, but not inner peace and happiness. Fortunately, there are a few economists focusing on this today, which is very heartening. But because of this failure in modern, mainstream economics, the capitalists try, but have failed, to turn economics into a pure science. They are operating in a theoretical vacuum, and Karl Polanyi pointed this out already in the ‘40s, that society and our ethics and our basic philosophy of life, and not some abstract mathematical theory, needs to guide economics. We can’t just assume that economics is some sort of numbers game. And he also pointed out that capitalism tends to commodify everything, to make everything into a commodity. And finance capitalism has made economics into a speculative game. In a sense, I think today’s speculative economy is an outgrowth of this commodification.
Capitalism is also based on the selfish pursuit of greed, the freedom to earn as much as you like. But also on the freedom to exploit, the freedom to have the power to deny other people their fair share. This freedom is totally ignored by conservatives. They simply justify exploitation and great inequality, as if that’s normal. The Marxists criticize this aspect of capitalism, but they haven’t really come up with a real alternative.
Then we have the reform movement, which again points towards the Scandinavian model. Incidentally, I grew up in Norway, and I’m quite familiar with that society as an alternative to the more hard core capitalism of the US. John Maynard Keynes, the economist, with his reform policies, and the European left in general, struggled to soften the blows of capitalism, to redistribute wealth through higher taxes and wages, and so on. And this created a European welfare state, and many economists are today looking towards that as the model of the future. Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and Bernie Sanders, they all love that model, as well as many other economists.
But, I think that this model also has serious flaws. For one, it’s not environmentally sustainable. It also wastes enormous resources on propping up a welfare system that has many flaws. I can go into great detail about that, but in short, I agree with some of the criticism on the right about that model. And again Sarkar has, I think, an answer to that: not to create a welfare model, but rather a full employment model, to utilize people’s inventive spirit and strong work ethic. And again, the EU is a reflection of this flawed welfare model. And in the book, we are quite critical of the EU, mainly because the EU is fundamentally based on a neoliberal economics model with the four freedoms: the free movement of goods, capital, people and services. And I think because of this neoliberal economic foundation of the EU, we’re seeing a crisis in the EU right now. Both a political crisis and an economic crisis.
So, the reform movement, supported by Stiglitz, Sanders, and so on, is in many ways a very positive sign, but it is also a limited vision. Then we have the environmental movement, which again is very important and very positive. But it has certain weaknesses also. And we’re trying to reveal some of those weaknesses in the book. The main weakness is that they haven’t really understood the fundamental flaws of capitalism. We are also seeing that these reform societies are leading us toward increased inequality, and into speculative finance capitalism. Every time I go home to my mother in Norway, I see more rich people, more and more materialism, more and more wealth and inequality, and a general movement away from the decentralized economic system that I grew up with in Norway in the 60s and 70s.
On the other extreme, we have the American model of less regulation, less reform. An extreme neoliberal economic model, which has created a speculative, rentier economy, with large monopoly companies, and so on. Banks controlling the economy and the rest of us, who are, in a sense, economic slaves. Many of us have become part of that precariat, the educated underemployed. And as a fellow PROUT economist said, we’ve created a “casino capitalist economy.” We’ve got increased inequality. We have created an inverse welfare state, welfare for the rich. Or, as Ralph Nader put it, we have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. And, as we have written in the book, we have created a resource crisis, we are on the way to live out our means. As some researchers have pointed out, we are literally using the resources of one and a half planet, and soon we will double that usage.
We’ve created a tremendous global ecological crisis. On top of the debt crisis, and the inequality crisis. And again, the green movement has been a great response to that, but I don’t think it is enough. We don’t need a reform system, or a sustainable capitalist system. We need a new economic structure. And I think that this is emerging, even though hardly anybody knows about PROUT, I think that such an economy is emerging from the underground. I think that people on a massive, global scale are sensing the need for that new society.
So I don’t think the next economy will be the Nordic model, or the EU model, because, as I said earlier, these economies are also based on neoliberal economic values, on deregulation. They are not really about true economic democracy. I also think that it will likely get a lot worse before it gets better. It is possible, and quite soon, that the finance sector will implode in a great crash. So, yeah, as Bob Dylan sings in one of his songs: “Everything is broken.” I think, in many ways, that is true, and on a global scale. At the same time, more and more people, both on the left and even on the right, are realizing these fundamental issues. I was surprised, for example, that the biographer of Margaret Thatcher wrote in Fortune magazine some time ago that he thought that corporations should be turned into worker enterprises. Quite a surprise, and this was printed in Fortune magazine!
Of course, one article like that, is not going to create any revolution by any means. But I think it is important that some people on the right are also waking up to some of these new possibilities and realities. I also think that more and more people are realizing that nationalism is not working, that we need to both protect the local and the global at the same time. This is a very important point, which is also very much emphasized in PROUT. We need to bridge economics and culture. We need to bridge science and spirituality. And we need to solve all of our crises in an integral way. That is very important. We can’t just tinker with the system any more, which a lot of the so-called sustainable capitalist ideas are doing, simply tinkering with a system that really needs to be restructured completely.
The positive thing is that people need to, and will, at some point, rise to the occasion, and hopefully very soon. But before that, it is likely that we will have more economic turmoil, more international turmoil, and so on, on many different levels. Different crises, both economically and environmentally, will take place. But finally, I think that these crises together will give us the critical mass of people, of awakening, which we will need for creating real change.

George: Thank you, Roar. Great, great introduction. And that’s exactly what I was hoping for, that kind of big picture take on what you see and how you see it. I appreciate so many references that you made going along, and I’d love to pick up on lots of them. But I’m going to try to stay with a discipline, at least at the beginning of the call here, and go over some of the questions that are pretty real for those of us who are obviously way less informed than you are. I’ve got a series of 4 questions here, which are all just about the here and now of capitalism as we experience it. They are mundane, but they still matter to me, and I think that they matter to most of us on this call. So I want to just walk you through these things and just get your response to some issues. Where I want to begin is going over the distinction that comes up repeatedly in the first chapters of the book between the real economy and the financial sector.
The real economy is the easier part for me to understand. I think of it as old, basic capitalism from maybe 40, 50, 60 years ago. And in that system, someone has some money which they put into building a factory, buying machines, purchasing raw material, and hiring workers. All of that goes into producing something that is presumably sold at a profit. The workers get their salaries. And, the original investor, the capitalist, gets whatever additional profit there is. And the basic idea is that now this wealthier person will then use some of his new wealth to buy more machines and hire more workers. In this way, his profit keeps getting turned back into the real economy, helping it grow in a way that benefits everyone. Is that an essentially accurate description? Anything you would add or subtract from that?

Roar: Yeah, I think that your analysis is basically correct. I think the real economy is, in a sense, economic activity that adds to the amount of wealth in the world. So, yeah, I essentially agree with that description of how the system works, which also more or less corresponds to Marx’s MCM formula: money, commodity, money. In other words, money is invested to produce commodities and then sold for profit. In this system, as you said, the capitalist ends up with more money than what he had when he started. And then at the same time, he is producing something with that money. Prior to that system of capitalism, in the more feudal system, they used what Marx would term the CMC model: commodity, money, commodity. In other words, a farmer had land, and that’s a commodity, and he produced something from that land, and he sold it, and then made money, and then with that money he purchased more commodities, another horse, or some more cows. So that’s a very simple model of economics.
So in this style of capitalism, where there’s profit, that profit can be used for good, by investing it back into the real economy. Or it can be used for speculation, in what we call a Rentier economy, or the Rentier system. And this is very much what is happening today. This Rentier economy, this speculative economy has grown tremendously. But essentially, the way that you describe it, is basically right. That is how “good capitalism” functions. And in the PROUT context, this would be the small-scale capitalist in the private enterprise system, where the profit margins are not allowed to become huge. And where inequality is not allowed to expand to an unhealthy level. So, PROUT is saying that rather than taming the beast of capitalism with taxes and so on, it’s better to keep capitalism on a small scale. And when capitalist firms become bigger, then we turn them into cooperatives. So that’s how PROUT would deal with this issue.

George: I think I remember that Sarkar suggested once a business had expanded to a certain number of employees, that that’s when it would need to become a cooperative. But, we’re not in that world yet. So let’s switch now into the world that we are in, and let’s pretend that the capitalists that I just described in the first piece there has a fairly substantial manufacturing industry. And let’s pretend he’s made a million dollars that he now has. And in this new financial sector, what are his options? What are the kinds of things he might do with that money that don’t actually create anything in the real economy?

Roar: Yes, so he can invest that money in the stock market, into what we call the speculation economy. He can become a casino capitalist, if you will. If he is lucky, he can turn that $1 million into 10 million, even more. You know, many people have, for example, invested in the bitcoin market, 10 years ago, or whenever it started, and they are now multimillionaires. So this is happening more and more. This part of the economy, ironically, is now the largest part of our economy.
We can also lose all of that money in the stock market, in a stock market crash, which I’ve also seen. I studied agronomy, and I was very inspired by John Robbins’ book Diet for a New America in the 1980s, a book on factory farming. And then I learned recently that he became quite rich, after he first gave up his fortune as an heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream company. He made quite a lot of money writing books and having speaking engagements. He became an environmental activist. And then he lost most of that money in the financial crash of 2008. So this can happen to people like him, who basically gave up a financial fortune for ethical reasons, as he was a vegan and wanted to have nothing to do with his father’s company, and then he made his way up again. So these kinds of restless, economic crashes, these kinds of boom and bust cycles are very much a part of the American system. And we see it more and more, how the financial economy has taken over.
So in a sense, this system, or this economy, isn’t producing much tangible wealth. Yes, you may make a lot of money, and you may build five houses. So there is some spill over into the real economy, but very little. You may start another business, and so on. Yes, some tangible wealth is created, but most of that money is just sitting there somewhere and doing nothing for the real economy. So, in a better economic system, or a more ideal society, the wealth would be the oil in the machinery of the economy to produce more real wealth. We need financing. We need some debt to create more money, to produce something, to create some profit. But this financial system has become so pervasive, so powerful, that it literally controls the whole system that it was designed to serve.

George: Right. Let me ask you a follow-up question on that. You mentioned that my hypothetical millionaire could invest in the stock market, and go the speculative route there. And the question I have now is this: Would everyone agree that that’s not a really productive, useful way of investing, or of using that money? You mentioned that obviously there is a need for financing and using that to make capital available for people to do things. This may not be exactly fair, but I’d still love to try it anyway. So, if we brought in a center-right businessman at this point, what would he say about investing in the stock market and all of this kind of financial sector? Would he argue that that’s actually good for the world? Or would he pretty much say, “No, no, this is really just money trying to expand, and it doesn’t have much of an effect in the real world?”

Roar: Yeah, I think so.

George: Okay.

Roar: I think that this is very much what is happening now. In that way, the conservatives, the right, has done a fantastic job of explaining away the exploitation of capitalism. And we have all become caught up in it, more than ever. Yes, they will explain that away. This is what we hear from Trump. This is what we hear from the Republican Party. Even to some extent from the Democrats, we hear this, that more wealth creates more jobs, and so on. But it isn’t necessarily so. The financial system is necessary for the real economy to exist, because it enables human beings to cooperate in complex ways, and so on. It increases productivity. So the problem isn’t necessarily with the financial system, but due to the fact that this system has taken over the control of the real economy. That it’s siphoning off too big a portion of the profits, which could have been reinvested into the real economy instead. So today, the rentier economy has become very pervasive, and it is a system of economics which we are all caught up in.
Tom Goodwin wrote in an article recently that Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, basically doesn’t own any taxis. Facebook, the world’s most popular owner of media, doesn’t create their own content, like a newspaper does. We create the content. And the same thing with Airb&b, the world’s largest provider of accommodation, they don’t own hotels. We own those accommodations. And so we have this strange new economy that creates tremendous amounts of wealth, but most of that wealth is going to the top. And this has been illustrated by the recent research by Oxfam. When we first began researching the book, some 359 people had as much wealth as half of the world’s population. Today that same number, of extremely rich people, has dwindled to only eight people. To me, that is really astounding. That is incredible.
Similarly, Thomas Piketty, the French economist who wrote the bestseller Capital in the 21st Century about inequality, pointed to the fact that inequality is increasing. When we study his statistics, we understand that this is happening on a massive scale. But at the same time, as I said, the capitalist system is cleverly bringing us all into this very same system. We are all on Facebook. We are all buying from Amazon. We are all part of it. And I think this cleverness is part of the reason why we are all asleep at the wheel and not standing up and saying: “Enough is enough!” So this is a very odd realization, I think, but an important one. And I’m heartened by seeing that more and more people are waking up to these insights, and speaking the truth.

George: Yes, I agree with you. It’s disheartening on the one hand that all of us are increasingly used to these giant corporations, from Airb&b, to Uber, to Facebook, to Amazon. And they are increasingly part of our lives. And they seem to serve us well. I completely experience that. I use them all actually. And yet, we are primarily producing massive amounts of wealth for those at the top. And so in a way, we’re integrating them into our normal. The new normal is more of us are more connected to more services, which do in fact serve us somewhat. But they also are creating this incredible wealth for a very, very few people. And what those people do with that wealth, of course, will create our world going forward.
And that leads me to the next question I’d like to ask, because of the picture I’m getting when I think about the way our world’s going – particularly the picture I get when I think about the 2007, 2008 crash, that started with the speculative real estate market here in the US. What I see is that our entire life is so entirely based on the economy, that all of us, from individual citizens to the government itself, are now essentially slaves of the economy.
It’s not like the economy is working for us. Rather, we’re working for the economy at this point. And so we pretty much have to do whatever the bankers tell us has to be done to keep the whole system going. And, this was dramatically evident after that crash, because the bankers said, “Oh, what you need to do is to bail us out.” And the government said, “Okay, we’ll create a huge amount of money for you.” And so, the bankers got to dictate the solution to that problem, which they had in fact created. And their solution made them even stronger. Anyway, so that’s what I’m seeing, the tail that’s wagging the dog. But I’m not sure it is the tail anymore. It’s beginning to feel more and more, like it’s the brain, or some demonic part of the brain that’s telling us all what we have to do. Would you comment on that?

Roar: Yes, I agree very much with what you’re saying. The Norwegians and the Swedes, they are practical people in many ways, even though, as I said earlier, they have become part of this speculation economy as well. We saw that with Iceland also. Iceland became a hotspot of investing, prior to the economic crash. We write a little bit about this in the book. However, when the stuff hit the fan, so to speak, then Iceland did something that other countries should emulate: they let the banks fail.
Some economists, such as Eric S. Reinert, the Norwegian economist, which we quote quite a lot in the book, he said: “Let the banks fail. Let them go down and take the ship down with them, because they created this problem.” And that’s essentially what Iceland did. They let the banks fail. They didn’t allow the taxpayers to bail out the banks, which is what happened, as you so wonderfully stated, in America. Here, we let the taxpayers pay for the massive failures of the banks. We paid the people who created the big mess. On top of that, they themselves cleverly created a new financial speculation system, which gave them even more money. Sometimes more money than they previously earned. This is an outrageous system of economics, and we need to stop it.
At the same time, as I said in my introduction, I think that it is a system that will eventually implode because it is so unhealthy. It is so unbalanced. And I think that this quote by Sarkar that “Capitalism will explode like a firecracker” implies something about this. I think there are many economists and PROUT activists that have wondered, what does he mean by that? And I think that it relates to this part of the economy, because it is so an unhealthy. It represents the essence of capitalist greed. And again, this system of rewarding greed is the essence of the problem of capitalism. And we cannot just keep reforming this system, keep propping it up. We are seeing the elephant in the room, but we are not really talking about the elephant in the room. What we need to do, is to start talking about that elephant in the room. We need to do something about it.

George: That leads me to exactly the next question that I want to ask you. There’s a wonderful line in the book that says, “Capitalism has, in a sense, a self-destructive gene in its DNA.” Oh, and before I go any farther with this question, I want to remind everyone to ask questions, or send in comments, or do something just to bring a few more voices into this conversation. We’re not seeing any questions showing up to Annida yet. But Annida, if you are there, I would love it if you would just come on one more time, and remind people how to send in a question or a comment to you so that it can become part of this conversation.

Annida: If you have a question or comment, you can send it to my personal email address, which is xxxx@yahoo.com. That’s my name, @yahoo.com.

George: Great, and so it would be wonderful. If anything comes to mind, it doesn’t have to be on exactly what Roar and I have been talking about. It can be anything that you’d love to hear him address. You know just type that up, send it off to Annida, and we’ll get it into the conversation. So, now I’ll go back to where I was. I was just saying that there’s this great idea in the book that capitalism has a self-destructive gene in its DNA. Would you talk about that for a little bit?

Roar: Yeah, as I said earlier, I grew up in Norway, and I was part of the leftist movement in Norway. My father was a communist actually. And I was part of the Communist Youth Movement for a short period. And I remember my father, he said that, “People’s consciousness is tied to their pocketbooks.” He said that, “People need to understand that the essence of capitalist economics is profit.” Even though he didn’t understand all of the context of Sarkar’s ideas, who also came from a deeply spiritual tradition. He didn’t understand the spiritual side of Sarkar’s ideas, but he understood his economics. Because Sarkar said the same thing, that the problem with capitalism is that it is based on “the profit motive.” Capitalism is based on Adam Smith’s idea that selfishness is good. The idea that, because selfishness breeds inventiveness and creativity, ultimately there will be enough profit created, enough good for everyone. But Sarkar said, in essence, that this gene is the real and essential problem with capitalism, this profit motive.
So this selfish gene is also capitalism’s own self-destructive tendency. And this tendency needs to be curbed. We have tried to curb it, through tax reforms, and so on. But over and over, we see that these reforms have not been enough, as I said in my introduction. And this is now being reflected by two very essential problems. One is the environmental problem, and the other one is the inequality problem. In a sense, we’ve created two planets, one rich, and one poor. And inequality is not decreasing, even though we, ourselves, may have better material lives than our parents had, and so on. But essentially this system keeps going. It keeps going on and on. So this is what we mean by the selfish gene. It’s an essential issue.
Capitalism is very complex. If we speak within an Indian context and use Ayurveda, the health system of yoga, as a metaphor, which is also very complex, but at the same time also very simple. Capitalism is also very complex, but also very simple. And economics, the essence of economics, is also very simple. But we have let mathematicians and economists get away with making it seem very complicated. They have been getting away with murder, in a way. And this needs to stop.
And so the very system of capitalism needs to be balanced by cooperation. Capitalism says selfishness is good, it is inventive, it is creative; it creates positive things; and it’s based on this idea of the survival of the fittest, as its social outlook. PROUT, on the other hand, is saying that we have two tendencies as humans. Yes, have this selfish tendency. But we also have something that Sarkar calls the gene of cooperation. The gene of helping others, of altruism. And this is the gene that needs to balance the gene of selfishness. And the way to do that is through creating economic democracy.
That’s why in PROUT, private enterprise will be allowed only on a small scale. If it is not, the capitalists will always want more profit, more domination, more control. And eventually, no matter how many reforms we have, we will eventually end up with the system we more or less have today. And because of this gene, the whole capitalist system is geared towards increasing concentration of wealth, of making some people super-rich and the general population poor. So that’s basically what that gene perpetuates. And instead we need to create more balance.
Because of this gene, on the environmental level, capitalism also tends to deplete natural resources, to destroy the environment, to take nature for granted, see it as a free lunch. And that is something that the environmental movement and the environmental economists have been very good at pointing out. They have documented this problem very well, and I think that this is something that more and more people are waking up to, this insight, and this wisdom.
So, what we are suggesting in the long-term solutions section of the book, is that we need to redesign the system itself. Not simply to reform the system, but rather to restructure the entire economy. So that the economy and the ecology are part of the same system of economics, and thus to remove the inherent weaknesses of capitalism altogether. And this is what I believe Sarkar has done in developing his new economic model.

George: I see that we keep gravitating towards solutions, which is exactly where obviously we’re all want to go, and where the end of the book actually does go. And we have gotten a question which refers to how you see the transition happening. But before we get to that, I want to ask you about the last time I think that capitalism was really challenged. It was back when Marx was writing, and then the eventual Communist Revolution. At that time there was none of the kinds of financial excess which characterizes capitalism today, right? I mean there were bad things. There were no unions; there was a lot of child labor, and there was an obvious divide between the rich and the poor. But it wasn’t as bizarre as it is now. So Marx wrote, accurately it turns out, that workers would not stand for the system as it was operating then. And so what I’m wondering about is if you have any insight into why are we so tolerant of the system now? I mean why aren’t we rallying in some way?

Roar: As I said earlier, I think it’s Facebook’s fault. It’s Mark Zuckerberg’s cleverness that got us all, made us lazy and complacent. I’m saying this as a joke, but as my math teacher used to say, “There’s always something serious in every joke.” So, I think that the capitalist system has been very, very clever in covering up its tracks. And that has been achieved in so many different ways. At a conference in Norway a few years back, a friend of mine, a historian and also a member of the PROUT movement, was invited to speak. It was a conference of leftist leaders who wanted to start a new movement, because they felt that the leftist parties didn’t have any solutions any more. And so they had basically left various progressive parties in Norway. There are seven or eight parties in Norway, and about four of them are on the left, even to the left of Bernie Sanders. So they had all come together to start a new movement, and he started to talk about PROUT. And after his talk, they said, “Wow, this is what we’ve been looking for. We have run out of ideas, and we like these new PROUT ideas.”
The system of capitalism has become so clever in designing a system that makes us all into slaves. We have all become invested in this system. We have all become its sleeping slaves. During the housing crisis in the early 2000, I had friends who “flipped” houses. They bought a house in February and sold it in April, and they made $50,000. You know, I was tempted to do it also, because I saw the potential for making money. But then I thought, this is just crazy, this will crash very soon. And that’s exactly what happened. Yes, more money is good, but at the same time, it did not seem right making money that way.
The capitalist system has developed a very clever, very robust, very resilient system, and it’s very good at covering up its own problems, and in making us believe, it’s okay. You know, if we vote for Obama, everything will be okay. Or, if we can get Trump out of office we’llhave a better world, and so on. But, it isn’t that simple. Therefore, I am heartened by movements such as yours, by people that you have in your group who are asking the tough questions, looking for deeper answers. This is what we need more and more of now. And I think so many of the answers are there already. And I think the next thing is that we need to create that movement which says, “Enough is enough.” And I think that that movement is coming.
Paul Hawken is, in a sense, a green capitalist. And even though he has many good ideas, I basically disagree with his reform policies. But he said something important a few years back. He said that there’s a growing movement throughout the world, of millions of people, a grassroots movement, which is never covered by the mass media. And that movement is quietly working on all of these issues, asking the right questions. And at the same time, building an alternative economy, an alternative environmental movement. Ecologists, local economy movements, and so on. They are discussing the commons, and they are using the resources properly. So that movement is there. And I think when the right time comes, when there is a deeper and more fundamental crack in the system; then I think we will see a massive change.

George: Wonderful, I’m going to pause there. Thank you for that one. And Anita I’m going to just ask you to come on with any question, that looks like a good one. We’ve now gotten quite a few questions in, and many thanks to everyone who is writing them. Annida, can you pick one from the pile, and read it to Roar, and see where he goes?

Anita: Sure, I have a question from Janet, and this is on the theme of the changes that are coming. And specifically, she’s asking, “How you see the change to the capitalist system coming, and what can we as interested parties do to help bring about change?” And speaking to that, I think when there’s a crack in the system, there’s an opportunity for change to happen. If you could speak to that and anything now that we can help bring it about.

Roar: You know, Leonard Cohen has this beautiful line, where he says, “There’s a crack in everything, and that’s where the light comes in.” And I think that is what is happening, that the light is coming in through the crack. What can we do, and what is being done? I think that on a personal level, it is very important that we walk our talk. If we speak up about saving the environment, then we need to also live according to those values as much as we can. So on a personal level, I think that it is very important, that we shop at the farmers market, and support the local economy in a very direct and complete way. And that we boycott companies that we think are not healthy and not sustainable, and so on. So on a personal level, it’s very important that we live our values. I also think that it’s very important that we join groups, such as your group, Economic Democracy Advocacy (EDA). I also think it is important that we educate ourselves; that we become activists; that we start to speak out.
At the same time, as we are doing right now, it is important to study alternative ideas, to study PROUT, to study alternative economics. But the major change will come through some form of crisis. Unfortunately, that is often how change happens. However, it is very difficult to say when, and how it will happen. You know, Karl Marx thought that the communist revolution would happen in England, or some industrial country in Europe, but it actually happened in Russia. And so, again, it is difficult to say how and when the next economy will be created.
Some people in the PROUT movement think that Scandinavia is very ripe for this change. And I think that there is a lot of truth in that. And so when Stiglitz says, “Let’s look towards Scandinavia,” there may be something deeper in that message. That it is likely countries such as Norway and Sweden, who in many ways are halfway there in creating a PROUT economy, will be the countries who convert first. This is very likely. But I don’t think it will happen without some kind of crisis. On the individual level, sometimes we need a crisis to make change. We may have become complacent, or we have suppressed something, or we deny something. And, in a sense, we have been living in a great political and economic denial, and we need to wake up. And when enough people wake up, then real change will come.

George: Thank you. Annida, I want to just keep going, with what you’re seeing on your screen there. Do you have another question that would be good for Roar to address?

Annida: Sure, I’ve got a couple of questions that are really about who we are as human beings and our values. One of the questions here is can we change the economic system to economic democracy without first changing people’s values from separation and selfishness, to unity? And in that same theme, someone else is asking, “In the new economy, how much more do you think we will need to focus on the essential basics? For example, do we have each other’s backs on economics for how we take care of each other, or how we don’t? Who are we, and what is our relationship to each other?” So really questions about how we relate to each other as human beings, and can we really transform our economy, without first looking at that or somehow integrating that into the conversation?

Roar: Wonderful question. It contains an important issue, which so far has been missing in the leftist movement, or the progressive movement. It is addressed to some extent in the environmental movement, the idea that we need to live our values. And, we could say, to some extent in the spiritual movement. However, in each of these movements, there are some missing links, some loopholes. In the spiritual movement, there’s a tendency to think that, it if we all become spiritual, then everything will change. In the environmental movement, there is the idea that if we all become environmentalists, there will be change. I think it is very important and fundamental that we walk our talk as much as we can. And so this integration of our own values, the value of corporation, the value of caring for the environment, taking care of our neighbors, and all of those community values—these are all fundamentally important. And at the same time, we need to practice deeper spiritual values, finding peace within so that we don’t blame others, don’t scapegoat others, and so on. All of those values and practices are very important.
So yes, I do think that real change will come. Sarkar spoke to this very clearly. He had a Sanskrit term, since he came from India, for a personality type he called a Sadvipra –and this personality, Sarkar said, is an integral personality, a leader type, who has integrated all of the different qualities of being human. It is a person that is spiritual, but who also understands the real world, who lives in the world, who is a warrior, and who understands injustice, economics, and social change, but who also deeply values spirituality and ethics. This type of a person, hes said, will be the leader who will bring us the new economy, who will inspire us into the new world.
And this idea deeply resonates with me. I became very frustrated with the leftist and progressive movement in Norway, because I didn’t see these values in that movement. And I left it in frustration, and became an anarchist, and thus went to another extreme. Then I got involved in more spiritual thinking, I went to India. And that’s how I met Sarkar and got involved in his work. So, yes, I think that, as the questioner pointed out, there is an essential need in integrating the personal and the economic. The internal with the external, the subjective with the objective, I think this is key. But I don’t think that we necessarily need half the world to convert, or to become a Sadvipra-type leader, because change generally happens through small numbers of people, those who are the vanguards, the pioneers. So when we have enough of these pioneers, these integrated personalities, then the change will come.

George: Fascinating approach and I get it. I think that many of the people on the call are pretty involved in their own value-based living. And I think on lots of refrigerators that we have in our homes there is the quote from Gandhi saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I suspect Gandhi had in mind another sentence that would come after that: “Be the change you want to see in the world, and then go out and make it happen.” Which is what he obviously did so wonderfully. So Annida I think we’ve got probably time for one more question, and then there’s a final one I want to ask Roar. So do you have another one that you’re seeing there that would be good for Roar to address now?

Annida: Yes actually I see there are a couple of them here. So I’m just looking through to pick one. There’s another question here: “You state that capitalism is clever at disguising its problems. Do you think this is a concerted effort on purpose? Does Mark Zuckerberg really know what he’s doing long-term to the economy? And are these people, perhaps asleep slaves, as we are, just with more money?”

Roar: Wow, great question. Yes, I think that there are some capitalists, that are very devious, very aware of the exploitation and the damage that they are doing, because this, we have seen throughout history. We saw it in the early industrial era, when we moved from the mercantile economy into the industrial capitalist economy. The way that factory owners would treat their workers, you know child laborers, and so on. And this is in many ways still happening today, in many corners of the world. There are capitalists that are basically criminals. And so you have people like that, who are in a sense demons in human form. Yes, there are capitalists like that, but I don’t think that Mark Zuckerberg is one of them. I don’t think so. I think that many of the people in Silicon Valley, and in this new creative bubble, they are, in many ways, well-meaning. But at the same time, as the questioner mentioned, unconscious about their own reality, about what they are creating. There is an unconsciousness about what they create, and there is denial.
Take Amazon, for example. There is a new book which just came out called Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century. It’s about people in their 60s, who travel in motor homes. A kind of underclass of people, who move from town to town. They work three, four months here and there, in an Amazon facility. And they live paycheck to paycheck. And so these kinds of workers are part of the economy which Amazon has created. The bosses of Amazon may not think very deeply about that. But at the same time, we know that they are not really concerned about it either. So there is a conscious awareness of the problems they are creating, but it may not be as demonic as the actions of a capitalist engaged in child slave labor. So I think that capitalism can express itself in demonic and terrible ways, but it can also be unconscious, just part of an unhealthy system. As I said earlier, we have all become part of this unhealthy system.
And we need to speak to that, to that fact, that we have become slaves of the system. And Sarkar also spoke about that. He said that, in many ways, the capitalists are also slaves of their own system. And we need to reform them both—to restructure the system and also to reform the capitalists themselves.

George: Thank you once again, great answer. With apologies to many people, who I know have written in good questions we’re not going to get to, I’m going to turn to the last question I want to ask Roar because it has to do with the particular piece of EDA which the education group is responsible for. And I want to make sure Roar has enough time to answer this.
Roar, if you could magically educate the American people on just three points… and I’m asking this because I really think that’s about the number of points we might be able to get through over the next decade. So if there were three essential messages, which you really wanted the American people to get at it deep conceptual lived level, what would they be? So I’m really asking you to think about if you were the education wing of Economic Democracy Advocates, and we want you to take on three messages here, what three do you think are the most three places to direct energy?

Roar: Do you mean in terms of how you would want to educate the public?

George: Yes. It’s how you would want to educate the public really? If you could get the American people to know three things, that they don’t presently know, that might help this whole process along, what three things would they be? What three things might motivate action, might change how they see things, might change their behavior? It’s whatever three things you’d love them to suddenly know. Can you think of three in that area? It doesn’t have to be three, maybe two or four, but something like that number.

Roar: Okay, I haven’t thought it through completely yet. But let me try. There is one issue that comes up clearly for me. And I hope you’ll be happy I came up with that idea. It’s about economic democracy. I think it is essential for people in America to understand that the power of people, lies more in economic democracy rather than in political democracy. And this is not just for Americans, this is for people all over the world. And again, I think that this is one of the beautiful insights of Sarkar. This understanding that, on the local level, we engage in economics more than in politics, on a day-to-day basis. If we want to take the power back, we need to emphasize that the real power lies in economic democracy.
So that’s the number one thing. To say it another way, in order to balance the often futile endeavors of political democracy—and we see this in America again and again. How futile it is to think that the next president is going to create a better America. It is not that easy, of course. And so to emphasize this need for economic democracy, and to educate people about that, this is very important. To let people know that the real power lies in creating economic democracy. This is the way that we can take back the power from the corporations, and from the politicians that are paid and bought by these same corporations.
Secondly, and this is part of economic democracy also, this idea that we need to create a vibrant local economy. We cannot have economic democracy if we don’t have a vibrant local economy. And that means that we need to emphasize the importance of a decentralized economy. That people in the local areas take back economics into their own hand and develop the infrastructure from the bottom up, on the local level. That means producing food locally. That means having industries in rural areas, and so on.
So for example, in the Southern Appalachia area where I live, there is a lot of poverty. Still, this area has tremendous potential. There is labor potential. There is vast amounts of land available, and so on. But it is largely unutilized. If this area had been anywhere in Europe, it would’ve been a flourishing agricultural area. So there’s tremendous potential in America. But so much is wasted on this belief that if I work hard enough, I will become as rich as whoever. This myth of individualism is so ingrained in people. I think that this is something that is very difficult for many Americans to grasp and to speak to.
So, maybe that’s the third point, to emphasize the need for a more communitarian culture in America, for values that are community-oriented, rather than individualist. This rugged individualist, this myth is so strong in America, and it needs to change. This is perhaps the biggest challenge in America, to change that myth of the rugged individualist, because it is part of the culture. And I think that is perhaps why in Scandinavia people are more community-oriented. For example in Denmark, if you would ask someone if we should have a single-payer healthcare system, they wouldn’t think it’s even a question. They would just take it for granted that this is how it should be. That everybody should have healthcare, and everybody should have free education, and so on.
These issues are, in the PROUT system, fundamental. In PROUT, we say that all the basic needs, such as housing, education, medical care, etc., should be guaranteed for everybody. Not through welfare handouts, but through guaranteed employment and collective shared wealth. So perhaps those are the three main issues: economic democracy, the importance of a decentralized economy, and changing the American cultural mythos from individualism to a more communitarian spirit.

George: Perfect, and that last point you addressed connects to the last question that came in that we didn’t get to. I’m not going to ask you to go into fully, but it was about the role of government. Just this question of, okay so we’ve got these governments, and what are they supposed to be doing for us? Because your first two points didn’t have much to do with the government’s role. But, you’re so right that obviously government has responsibility for whether or not there are basic rights within a country, like housing, education, medicine. And at the very beginning, you mentioned full employment also, which is one that I think is so doable and would make such a difference. Do you have any comments on any of that? And then will just wrap it up.

Roar: Yeah, on the function of the government?

George: Yes.

Roar: Okay. Yes the role of the government is very important. Again this is another problem in America, that there is so much suspicion about the role of government. As someone said in the Michael Moore movie, Capitalism: A Love Story, “In Europe, the government is afraid of the people. In America, the people are afraid of the government.” So, I think it is very important to understand that the government has a very good and important function.
And again, speaking in PROUT terms, when we talk about the government, we are not just talking about the federal government in Washington. But rather on the state and local level, as well, even down to the city level. So again, government needs decentralized politics as well. So the government’s role is to set policies, good policies for the country. Good policies regarding the environment, regarding economics, regarding healthcare, and so on and so forth. So that is the role of government. And at the same time, it is important that the government sets rules for the economy, but also stays out of the economy, out of meddling with things on the local economic level, so that there is a clear separation there.
Sarkar also thinks it is better to have a party-less democracy than a party democracy. He thinks that it would be better if politicians were not affiliated with parties, but rather affiliated with policies. In other words, that they stand for policies, and not necessarily any certain political party. And this is something that many, such as Václav Havel in the Czech Republic, also talked about. But that’s for the future, a party-less democracy.
But yes the role of government is very, very important. If we look at the Scandinavian model, we see a very different attitude towards the government, because people there feel that the government is doing good things for them. And even the right-wing party, the party that is equal to the Republican Party in the United States would never think of ever saying that we should take away universal healthcare from the people; that people should just fend for themselves, and find the best healthcare deal on the market. The right wing party of, let’s say Norway, would never suggest that as public policy. So, with a change in consciousness, we will also see a change in understanding the proper relationship between government and economics and good policy. And by giving people the freedom to implement good economic policies on the local level, then I think that there will be a shift towards the possibility of good government.

George: That would be a welcome shift in this country. It just amazes me, when you think about the change from my parents’ generation to the current time. We really kind of trusted and respected our government not so many years ago. I mean, maybe 50. And boy, has it ever changed. It’s really remarkable.
But, with that, Roar, I think that we really do need to wrap up. We’ve used every minute our time. So I know if we could unmute now, we would hear everyone saying thank you. And truly everyone has hung in for the whole length of the call because you’ve been giving us really useful insights and thoughts. On behalf of everyone, I want to thank you for that. And I also want to thank everyone who showed up for the call, for giving time and attention to these hard and challenging thoughts, which have everything to do with what EDA is trying to understand and pursue. Thanks to all. And Roar if there is any last thing that you want to say, just go ahead.

Roar: Well I, I want to thank you so much for inviting me to this. I enjoyed it. I was very stimulated by the questions, and I learned a lot by rethinking the work on the book and delving deeper into many of these issues. So I really appreciate it and thank you so much for inviting me.

George: It’s been our pleasure. The thing that’s unsaid here, which I hope you really understand, is that all of us thank you for writing the book. It’s a wonderful book, and everyone who is reading it agrees that it’s a wonderful book. I’m sure that lots of us are going to be giving it to friends and relations through the holiday season and just saying this is a good book. So thank you for doing the work of putting that together.

The Next Economy (Part I): Understanding the Problem – Economic Democracy Advocates (EDA) Book Study Group
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The Next Economy (Part II): The Solutions – Economic Democracy Advocates Study Circle

Interview with Roar Bjonnes, Author of Growing a New Economy

January 11, 2018

George:           So Roar, I’m really glad that you’re here again and thank you so much for being willing to do this with us once more.

Roar:               Oh, thank you. Thank you, George.

George:           In the first interview, we went over the nature of the problem posed by the current neoliberal, capitalist economic structure, and in this interview, we want to concentrate on the solutions to those problems that are suggested in the book. But before we get into those solutions, it seems to me that it would be a good thing to just review the essence of the problem that we’re trying to solve. So my first question would be, in a nutshell, what’s wrong with capitalism?

Roar:               Okay. That’s a good question and also a big question, but I think that in the framework of PROUT, I think it is important to acknowledge the difference between PROUT and capitalism. I think a major difference is that PROUT acknowledges two broad human sentiments. One is the sentiment of selfishness, of selfish pleasure, and the other is the sentiment of sharing and cooperation. PROUT economics is based on those two sentiments, we could say. Capitalism, on the other hand, is based on the first sentiment primarily and not the second. In fact, Adam Smith, the so-called Father of Capitalism, he said in so many words that if the individual makes profit, we will all profit. We will all benefit. In other words, capitalism is based on this idea that we have a selfish gene so to speak and this selfish gene is the main driver of economics, of inventions and of productivity and in capitalism in general. And as we all know, capitalism is what we think of as economics in many ways. So if the individual is successful, according to capitalism, then the group will also be successful, but as we also know, this is not always the case. In fact, it’s often not the case. In economic terms, the selfish human gene leads to profit, yes, but that is also the problem according to PROUT with capitalism because this profit motive, when that is the main driver of economics, then that is the sole focus.

 

It leads to inequality and exploitation of humans and nature. That single focus of the profit motive or the selfish gene is really the main problem of capitalism as I see it. The need to accumulate and create and innovate leads to competition, which to some extent is healthy, but only up to a point. When competition is the main driver of economic trade, it eventually leads to inequality because some will get very rich and some not so rich. A stark example in our economy in the United States is that the average fast food worker makes about $19,000 [which is barely enough to survive] a year while the average fast food CEO makes about $23 million in annual salary, so that’s a huge difference, some 1200 times difference between the lowest pay and the highest pay, so an incredible inequality. And as we have seen during the growth of capitalism, unfortunately, the inequality has risen, has grown, rather than shrunk. It has not, as Adam Smith envisioned, benefitted the masses, at least not in the global sense. Even in the United States, we know that there’s a lot of inequality and a lot of issues regarding this. So that is the reason PROUT says that we need to limit capitalism to small enterprises because if capitalism is allowed to fulfill its basic philosophy then it grows too big and turns into monopoly capitalism. We end up with a few people controlling the economy to the detriment of the masses. So because we don’t have unlimited resources, though we may have unlimited needs, or unlimited wants, there are not enough resources or money to fulfill those unlimited wants. The book and the film The Secret says that if you have the right spiritual intention, then there’s unlimited amount of everything for everybody, but in reality that’s not the case. So that point needs to be part of the equation in economics, as the basics of economics, but it is not part of capitalism. It hasn’t been recognized by capitalism. And so in a sense, capitalism is based on a myth and we are trying to demonstrate in the book that this myth has been explained away by economists using mathematics to try to justify this myth. That’s one major problem. So that reality is not built into the capitalist economy, but that is the main problem to take into account, that we have limited resources on the physical level. Private enterprises need to have a ceiling on growth and on expansion. That is one of the points in PROUT, and that basic issue is not accounted for in capitalism. Reformed capitalism, of course, has tried to deal with this through taxation, by taxing the rich, taxing corporations and so on. In some decades in the ’50s, ’60s, we did quite well doing that. Corporations were taxed heavily. The rich were taxed heavily and the wealth was spread around in many different ways in a much more just way than we see today, but since the ’70s, that has again changed with trickle-down economics, neoliberalism, and so on. This has again changed and we see this now with Trump. The tax package that Trump presented is doing the same thing, basically giving incentives to the rich to become richer.

 

This has also benefitted of course the speculative economy as we talked about last time. The speculative economy is now the largest portion of the economy. In other words, speculation produces more money than the real economy, much more money. Private accumulation of wealth needs to be limited. Otherwise, we won’t create a healthy economy. It’s as if someone is overeating. We become unhealthy, and all of our accumulation is unhealthy for the system. It creates a few winners and many losers. The second problem with capitalism is that it views nature as a free commodity, something to be exploited, that nature only has value if it is turned into a commodity. Again, using Adam Smith as an example. He imagined nature as a field, as a fallow field, and it is of no use to the economy until you start plowing and cultivating that field. According to PROUT again, nature has both value as a commodity and it also has an existential value. It has value in itself. It has life and that life has value and the right to exist. So for human beings, we could say that nature has a value for the economy as a resource, but it also has value in the form of recreation and peace, a place to meditate, to enjoy. It has value as an ecological system and that ecology is again the source from which all life and economics comes from. Without nature, there wouldn’t be any economy at all. So this is a vital, important aspect that is not acknowledged by capitalism. However, again, we see that green capitalism is taking this into account and is trying to reform capitalism. That’s a good sign, but still the profit problem with capitalism is not dealt with by green capitalism, and that is why I think we need a new system. We need to restructure the economy and not just keep reforming it. So if we focus on these two main problems with capitalism, the selfish gene which leads to accumulation of profit and the fact that nature is seen as a free commodity, then we get the kind of world we have today, one with material inequality on the one hand and environmental destruction on the other. Some other problems with capitalism are the dynamics between centralization and decentralization of the economy. Capitalism tends to centralize economics, again because of the profit motive. It leads to a centralized economy, a more monopolistic economy, with large corporations, since it does not put proper value on decentralization or the local economy. We could use American agriculture as an example, which has killed small farming over the last few decades. Although it is coming back through the environmental movement, with an increase in small, organic farms and farmers markets, but on the whole, that is a drop in the bucket. The big agribusiness farmers have competed with small farmers, the family farmers. They’re no longer able to compete with the big agribusinesses and now these agribusinesses are competing with China. An example of that is that China has become the major garlic producer for American garlic lovers. Honey from China is more common in the US than American honey, so these are just some simple examples of the problems with capitalism when we don’t take care of the local economy.

 

The Chinese now also own large interests in American food giants and food companies making food production into a global business and a global competitive market. Capitalism, due to the sole emphasis on the selfish profit motive, leads to destructive competition and therefore to increased inequality and increased environmental degradation. The shallow view it has on nature as a free commodity leads to the destructive exploitation of the environment. So those two issues I think are the main problems with capitalism.

George:           It’s fascinating to me to hear this, Roar, and when I think about it, I realize that it also partially explains why capitalism has had such a good run for 150 years or so because these problems really just emerged with time. It’s almost like early stage capitalism was relatively benign, but now in its more mature stage, we really run into the problem of this single motivation of profit, profit, profit. It’s created these tremendously rich, self-centered people who are controlling more than they really should be and who are apparently not very concerned about the rest of the world. Is that an evaluation or a way of looking at it that you would agree with?

Roar:               In some ways, that is true. On the other hand, if we look at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution when capitalism really took off, we would see factories with child laborers and adult laborers working 12 to 14 hours a day. They didn’t have holidays. They were working on Saturdays and sometimes on Sundays, so there was tremendous exploitation I think from the very beginning of capitalism. However, on a global scale, we didn’t see the problems at that time. It started in England with the industrial revolution, and then it spread throughout Europe and then to the United States. What we’re seeing now is that the economy on a global scale, in the form of global warming, is one issue. You were just mentioning the floods and the fires, so we’re seeing these effects that global capitalism has on the environment. We’re seeing it in terms of the inequality on the planet where we have the north relatively rich and the south relatively poor and tremendous economic exploitation in so many ways. So I think that capitalism has been a mixed bag since the beginning, but it has been justified by a philosophy that was embedded in the system itself and held up by, for example, the justification of social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest. That is really, we could say, the source of the philosophy behind capitalism. And so it was justified that this is how nature works: you have to be strong, you have to be tough; thus discounting the fact that nature is also very cooperative. I think it was Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarchist, actually, and also a biologist, who was one of the first to point out that nature is also very cooperative. But again, the philosophers, the spokespeople for capitalism, has not taken that into account. They focused on the competitiveness in nature. In sum, I think yes, you’re right in many ways that it has become worse, but as I said earlier, the systemic defects of capitalism have been there since the beginning.

George:           That makes really good sense to me, and I’m convinced by that argument that right from the beginning there was a flaw in capitalism.  And part of me wants to think that that’s a flaw that has to do with human nature, that there is this kind of greedy aspect of every one of us, the selfish piece of ourselves that’s worried about our own survival first and foremost. And then once that part starts getting oriented toward taking care of me first, it never knows when it’s done enough of that and just keeps going.

[0:20:02]

And then there’s this other voice in all of us, that’s relatively quiet in many, but nevertheless cares about the good of the whole and is interested in some kind of cooperative model where everyone does in fact benefit from what we do. I guess I’m hoping that the reality is that humanity is evolving to the state now where that second voice is gaining strength. And though it may not seem that way when we just look at the United States right now, maybe in reality that voice is in fact getting stronger and more and more people throughout the world are coming more and more to an awareness that yeah, we don’t just want to be singly myopically focused on taking care of ourselves. We need to be thinking about taking care of everybody and taking care of nature as well. Is that something you’d agree with? Do you see a kind of gradual evolution of consciousness toward a kind of state wherein we’re more willing to bring in the second aspect of PROUT around the sharing principle?

Roar:               Yes, I think that that is well put. I do think that there is an evolution, and I think that is our hope. I think that we’re seeing a groundswell of consciousness rising around these issues. At the same time, as I said earlier, it is also getting worse in so many ways. We are in a very interesting situation now where, yes, the consciousness and the awareness, the need to share the wealth and to share the habitation and utilization of this planet with our friends, animals and plants, that consciousness is on the rise, for sure. At the same time, we see also a backlash of a degenerative consciousness of nationalism, me first, and a tremendous growth of the corporations as well. But I’m very hopeful that the cooperative consciousness of sharing, that that awareness will win out in the long run.

George:           Yes, I’d say everything depends on that at this point. It’s perfectly clear around the globe that we can’t just keep competing and competing because we’re going to end up where everyone is going to lose ultimately at that game. Let me ask you a more practical question around education. Economic Democracy Advocates is ultimately an advocacy organization, so ultimately we’re going to be advocating for specific changes in laws and practices at national state and local levels. But before we get to those specific changes, it seems to me anyway, that a great deal has to be done to introduce people to all the ideas that you’ve been discussing tonight and all the ideas that would stand behind economic democracy. So I’m thinking of a kind of two-step or at least two-tiered process that we’re going to have to pursue: one being a major educational effort and another being the advocacy effort. Is that a breakdown that makes sense to you?

Roar:               Yeah, absolutely. I think that education is so important. Creating an awareness, a change of consciousness, I think that is absolutely important. So yes, I would think that that’s the right way to do it, to educate, to study, to learn and spread the awareness about these issues. That is very important, because when you do advocacy then you can explain the reasons behind the advocacy so much better. And it is also very important to study the situation on the ground. Let’s say for example if you’re working in a local area and you want to improve the local economy, it is very important to study and learn and to be educated about what’s going on in the local economy. What are the resources, for example, here in Western North Carolina where I live? What are these resources in terms of water, in terms of land, in terms of agricultural sources, and so on? So yes, this kind of education is very, very important. And then when you go out and do advocacy work, activist work, you’re so much better equipped to convince policymakers about what you’re about, and also the voting populous, so yes, I would agree with that way to do it.

George:           What you’ve said actually also brings in the third leg of Economic Democracy Advocates, which has been developing, which is our research wing. And you’re so right that there’s a lot of research that goes into good education and then goes into good advocacy. And there are plenty of things which needs to be known and understood which aren’t yet obvious to anybody, so we’re hoping that our research effort will provide some insight there.

Roar:               Yes, research is very, very important.

George:           Good. I’m going to change a little bit now and digress for a minute into a different line of talk for a minute. And as I do this, I just want to remind everybody who’s listening to raise your hand if you have questions that you want to be asking, and we’ll get to you probably right after this question.

George:           Roar, what I want to do next is to digress for a minute into the work of George Lakoff, who’s a cognitive scientist at Berkeley who addresses the importance of framing conversations in a way that supports one’s core values. The thing I like most about Lakoff is that I think he’s got a really good insight into the models of life that separate conservatives and liberals in our country now. This is a question I’ve been scratching my head about pretty consistently over the last year. I just want to run his model by you and see if it makes any sense to you and then, if it does, what does that have to do with all the things we’re talking about. So, in his model, Lakoff says that what conservatives really seem to endorse is a model with a strong male leader and it’s a model of family and of life in general. So their model is based on a strong, dominant male who knows what is right and what is wrong, and it’s his job to direct the rest of the family. Children are seen as inherently pleasure-oriented and need to be disciplined into a moral and productive approach to life. And with this view, morality and productivity go together. In fact, producing a lot, being prosperous, is seen as the highest form of morality. And it’s believed that if everyone maximizes their own personal gain, just like what Adam Smith said, that will create the optimal society.

 

You can see how this model would strongly oppose all entitlement programs to

those who have not earned their benefits by being producti. It

would also foster a view of international relations in which the most prosperous

and powerful country — that would be us — is expected to impose its superior

moral vision on the rest of the world. And so Lakoff is saying that conservatives in general basically come from this mindset, and that’s how the world and

family should be ordered. And then he says that liberals, on the other hand, favor

what he calls a nurturing parent model of the family and life in general. And

within this view, children are good and need to be supported in developing their

unique capabilities. Underprivileged populations are seen to be deserving of

whatever support they need to have a fair chance in life, and the aspirations of

the so-called developing nations needs to be understood and supported by the

wealthy states. This conceptualization makes a lot of sense to me, and I think it

explains a good deal about the inability of liberals and conservatives to respect

one another in this country right now. I’m thinking that whatever progress

is going to be made in our country going forward is best coming out of an

informed awareness of this possible underlying difference in world views. So I’m

wondering if you have any thoughts about that way of thinking about things and

how it might fit into your model.

Roar:               Yeah. Well, I do think that it makes a lot of sense, what Lakoff was saying, that there definitely are these two ways of looking at the world. Certainly here in America, I think that these worldviews are very, very strong. I think that if I’m not mistaken, Paul Ray, who developed the idea of cultural creatives had a similar idea and he was saying that it is the cultural creatives, the liberals that will bring about the change and that’s where the change is going to come from.

 

In many ways, I would agree with that. On the other hand, it may be a little more complex and I would like to throw in a different model coming from India and from Sarkar, which are four different types of psychologies. One is the warrior, one is the intellectual, one is the merchant, and one is the worker. Sarkar said that society is often controlled by either one of them or at least either one of the three. The worker rarely controls society, but the warrior often does, the intellectual and the merchant, and now we are in this merchant era, the capitalist era. So this is of course a different way to look at it, but I think it is important to acknowledge that there are different archetypes and I think that what is important for liberals to acknowledge is perhaps that this patriarchal — we could maybe call that the warrior, is an archetype that is real and that we need to acknowledge and that it has a role, but the problem becomes, Sarkar says, when the patriarch or the warrior becomes an exploiter or becomes the only leader in town. That’s the problem. The same thing if you have an intellectual leadership and we see that — for example, Sarkar talks about the evolution of society. From the worker society, which was the society that Karl Marx actually studied and became in many ways the inspiration to his idea of communism. In other words, early societies were living together in large families, in large tribes, sharing everything together. And as we know, Karl Marx also studied American Indians and learned from them about the idea of sharing and what he envisioned as the perfect communist society without the state and all that. So yes, I do think that the cultural creatives or the liberal mindset is very, very important. At the same time, family values are important. Morality is important. Working hard is important.

 

So rather than pitting one against the other, I think that we need to try to see the positive aspects in the different models and find ways to collaborate and to appreciate each other’s strengths and of course also acknowledge some of the weaknesses. For example, I live in a part of the country where the conservatives are maybe not in the majority, but there are plenty of them around here and many of them are my neighbors. I have to deal with them, and so I face these issues on a daily level and I think it’s very important for America to build bridges. And so going back to trying to put all of this together, what Sarkar was saying that the future of humanity belongs to the person that has an integral personality that embodies the warrior, the intellectual, the merchant and the worker, but who is not embedded in either one of them fully. In other words, it’s a kind of wise person, a kind of detached person that knows how to fight if that’s necessary, knows how to stand up for his rights, knows how to study and knows how to create a business and knows how to work hard.

[0:35:04]

So I would hope that the future of humanity and the future of America is more of a hybrid personality, or you could say — Sarkar called this person  a “sadvipra”, which is a Sanskrit term, but it basically means a person that has an integrated personality. Actually, Ken Wilber has — I don’t know if you’re familiar with Ken Wilber, but he had a similar concept of the integral leader. So I think that rather than pitting the liberal and the conservative against each other, I think we need to think about where is a common ground. However, when it comes to the uses of economics and what we talked about earlier regarding selfishness and all that, I would say that the conservatives have definitely something to learn and some issues to overcome. That is for sure, and that is one of the challenges in America. For example, in Norway where I come from, the people living in the countryside and the people living in the city have a much closer relationship. They’re not so much pitted against each other. Their values are much more similar, so I see that this kind of an integration is possible, and I think that that is the future.

George:           Nice. That makes a lot of sense, and we certainly hope to move in that direction. Before I go on, I want to check in with Annida. Annida, do we have anyone who wants to ask a question now?

Annida:           We do. John’s hand is raised, so I’ll go ahead, John, and unmute you, and you have the microphone.

Participant:     Thank you, Roar, and thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

Roar:               You’re welcome.

Participant:     I’ve heard a lot of people that share what’s happening with capitalism in terms of what you’ve talked about in your book. There are a lot of people who want to do something. So I really have two questions. One, how do we reach all these people, and secondly, what can we have them do? They all want to do something, but they don’t know what to do to bring about this change, and I don’t either. We talk about it, but what do we do? What do we tell this mass of people that are getting onboard slowly, how can they be involved and how they can make a difference?

Roar:               Yeah. These are important questions and also very big questions. I ask myself the same question. What do I do? What can I do? You could say that I’ve written two books about this, and I’m trying to reach people that way. So each person, each individual will have to ask themselves, “What can I do? How can I reach people?” so that’s one important thing, I think. For example, if you are a writer, you can write letters to the editor of the newspaper. If you are more of a hands-on person that likes to do activities, you could do activities — let’s say, for example, if you are into growing things, you can maybe form a farm community or do something in a local community around that. So I think the first question to ask is what can I do and how can I contribute? Now, on the larger level, I think that what you are doing at the EDA, I think is important. You’re into education and advocacy, so every organization starts with something, has a goal, has a certain set of values that they want to follow and so on. So education and study is very, very important. I think that’s the first step. And then find some way of being an advocate, and you’ve already started that by forming a website. You’re studying. You’ve been studying my book. And then the next step will be to create some kind of advocacy or some kind of movement.

 

Taking an issue for example in the local area, if there are certain issues that are pressing in your local area then take up that issue and form a committee and a movement around that. That is one way to go. And then the next phase would be to involve politicians, local politicians, to see if policies can be changed and so on. So I think a step by step way of doing things is important and to accept that failures will be made, mistakes will be made, and at the same time, accept that small incremental changes may be as important as the big changes, because the big change is going to come from the small incremental changes. And lastly, what is really important, I think, is that we walk our talk as much as we can. So if we are into local food, organic food and we are able to grow something — like for example here where I live, we have some land, so we grow a lot of our own vegetables. Those are small activities that we can do, but we can also be advocates and be writers and be spokespeople for the bigger vision and the bigger activities as well, so acknowledging the importance of making small changes that can lead to bigger changes and work with that in as many ways and as creatively as possible.

George:           I’d like to step in here, Roar, and point to a few of the specific things that are advocated in your book and through PROUT that, when I really think about it, create partially an answer to John’s question.  I’m just going to name two of them now and allow you to comment on them if you want. One is that it seems to me one of the foundations of PROUT which really comes right out of its philosophy is this idea to try to get cooperatives to be the most common business structure, worker-owned cooperatives. It’s amazing to me actually how many of them there are now in the United States. Someone recently sent me an article about two women who are so sold on the idea of cooperatives that they’ve left very good corporate jobs to just push, push, push the development of cooperatives. That’s something that we can be looking for ways to implement in our own lives, and we can certainly be thinking about what are the kind of legislative changes that would be necessary to make it more possible for cooperatives to thrive. The other one that really jumps out at me when I think about PROUT is this idea of full employment. I think that that is really an achievable, important ideal: that there’ll be full employment at a living wage. These two strike me as very concrete steps in that direction which speaks to the value of PROUT.

Roar:               Right, yeah, exactly. As I mentioned earlier, if we want to change capitalism, if we want to change the economy, we need to restructure the economy. And so as we mentioned in the book, PROUT has a three-tier structure, which is in many ways the best of capitalism and the best of socialism. So there is the state, from Washington down to the local level, that controls certain key industries such as electricity, water and so on, to make sure that these vitally important features of the economy are available for everyone. And then the largest part of the economy will be, as you said, George, cooperatives. In other words, the corporations will be turning into cooperatives and then capitalism will be on a small scale, so that’s the three-tiered structure of the PROUT economy. And part of that, as you also mentioned, is guaranteed employment at a living wage. That is very, very important. For example, here in Asheville, North Carolina where I live, we have in the city a living wage campaign, so for example, there is an Asian restaurant that doesn’t accept tips because they’re paying their workers well.

 

And so you can go there and eat at a reasonable rate and you also know that the workers there are paid well. So many initiatives like that are taking place throughout the country, so yes, I would agree with that. Also, cooperatives, there are quite a few cooperatives in this area as well. And as a matter of fact, on the land that I live — I live in a small eco village, and we are now working on starting a farm cooperative. Prama, where I work, is itself a kind of a cooperative, so yeah, I think that those two issues are very, very important. Developing a cooperative spirit in business is very, very important. And then there’s the second issue of a living wage, because everybody should have the right to earn enough money to have the basic necessities. That is also a foundational issue in PROUT.

George:           It’s such a different view. I’m really glad you began this whole interview by talking about the additional piece that PROUT brings to the capitalist view, capitalism being just focused on profit and that PROUT is saying, that no, there’s this other motive, which is the sharing motive—that making-it-work-for everyone motive. It could be called the cooperative sphere of society. That’s why we’d want a living wage, because we care about everyone having a chance.

Roar:               Exactly.

George:           I myself, I keep thinking about whether there’s some phrase which the liberals could latch onto which we could use as our catchphrase, sort of the equivalent of the flag-waving part that’s used by the right wing. It occurred to me that there’s  a thing called The Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, which you may not be familiar with, but all of us probably had to say it with our hands over our hearts as school children, and it ends with an amazing line. It ends with the line “with liberty and justice for all,” and I’ve recently thought that’s actually what we’re all about. We’re about liberty and justice for all. We want real freedom, the kind of freedom which you can only have if you have enough money to support yourself. And we want justice for all, real justice, not just a kind of punitive and legalistic justice, but the sort of justice where everyone’s getting a fair shot. So I see that language is right there within our system, and maybe we just need to bring it to the fore and make it actually happen somewhere.

Roar:               Yes, exactly. I think that that’s very, very important to point towards those issues in the American society and the American mythology that represents these values. I think that is very, very important and the best way to bring people together. Yeah, that’s a wonderful point.

George:           Let me ask you another big question, which has to do with strategies going forward. You’ve advocated these incremental changes in the last half hour here, and there’s also a thought that I think exists to a certain degree in PROUT, and it also exists in the minds of many people, which is that there is some big crisis coming and that during a post-crisis is when people are really going to be open to systemic change. Do you have any comment on that?

Roar:               You mean whether change will happen through crisis? Is that your question?

George:           Yes, or incrementally. Lots of us feel like this capitalist system must crash at some point. It can’t just keep going the way it is. Maybe it’ll take the form of a major economic crash or a currency failure or something like that, and then people are going to be ready to look at different models. I guess it doesn’t have to be an either/or. It could be both/and, but I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about that dichotomy.

Roar:               Right. Yeah. I think that it is very likely that we’ll have some kind of a crash, because of the way that capitalism is structured and is inherently dysfunctional. And often when we are in a dysfunctional state, we need some kind of a crash in order to get out of it, and so I think that that is very relevant to the economy as well. However, if we’re just sitting around hoping that the crash will come and then everything will be hunky-dory after the crash; that is a false way of looking at it.

 

That’s why I think it is so important that we study, that we educate ourselves about the issues, and most importantly, that we become active. We must advocate for these same issues and these same values, but even more importantly, we must try to walk our talk, engage ourselves in starting cooperatives or working cooperatively. For example, in your own organization, looking at those issues, are you working cooperatively, how much do you value the values that we talk about and how much do you actualize them in your work, and so on. So I think both are important and that’s why I think that examples are important. Let me give one example. Last year when I was in Denmark at a PROUT convention there, we had invited some people from the global permaculture organization. As you know, they work with land use and how to bring a small scale farmers together in developing permaculture farms. In other words, creating or recreating a farm the way it used to be, when you had chicken and pigs and cows and corn and vegetables all growing together, and also utilizing the forest for harvesting and so on. So the people active in permaculture are very good at doing that, but when we came together, we both realized that well, we in PROUT, we are not so good at developing permaculture farms or permaculture villages, but we’re really good at seeing the big picture. We had some very interesting meetings and interactions, so I think that it is important that we see the big picture; that we study the issues; that we do the research, but at the same time, that we also engage with people that are active on the ground. So both of those things are important, because then we are creating examples of thriving economies, cooperative economies, and hopefully also enable people to earn a living wage through these economies, so that when there is a crash, we already have good examples of what is about to come.

 

Another way of explaining this is in an evolutionary sense, and going back to what we talked about earlier, I believe that what we are seeing is the evolution towards a more cooperative economy. This is something that is in our genes and it is an inevitable result of the global breakdown that we’re facing. It is going to be the way that we will save ourselves, so the growth of cooperatives is already happening. All the systems that Sarkar talks about — and that’s why I believe that more than Marx, who was very good at pointing out the defects of capitalism, that the strength of Sarkar is that he also pointed towards an alternative vision. And when we look at it, when we take it apart, for example, the three-tiered economy, it already exists. It is not something that Sarkar invented in the attic when he had a bright day, but rather he’s putting the pieces of the puzzle together, the pieces of the puzzle that are already existing as an outgrowth of human evolution. So that, when I look at that, when I see that, when I contemplate those issues, it gives me tremendous hope and tremendous inspiration to move along, because I know even if it doesn’t happen in my lifetime, it is bound to happen at some point because this is the way that we need to move in terms of human evolution.

George:           Perfect.

Betsy:              My question has to do with some of the examples that you were talking about as far as economies where things are being effectively done along Sarkar’s lines. In Norway, for instance, is the agriculture more like local family farms or more like American agribusiness? Let’s start there. From the agricultural standpoint, is that an example of what we could point to?

Roar:               Okay, good question. Yes, I think that compared to the United States, Norway has done a much better job of taking care of its farmers because Norway is a mountainous country. It’s interesting because now that we are developing this farm co-op here on our land, we ended up buying some equipment that –I actually studied agriculture in Norway and worked in agriculture in my younger years, and those machineries have been used on small farms in Norway for the last 50 years probably. These are small, two-wheel tractors that are very good at working at steep hills because it’s very dangerous to drive a regular tractor on steep hills. So it just dawned on me that one of the reasons why Appalachia is poor is because they don’t have that kind of equipment here. They’re not used to using these kinds of tractors. But if they did, you can actually grow a lot of different things here. The climate is relatively warm, much warmer than the Norwegian climate. So yes, I would say that Norway has done a much better job than the US in terms of taking care of its small farms, but because it is a capitalist economy, it’s not good enough and that’s very frustrating because when I studied the economy in the mid-’70s in Norway, I could already then see the change for the worse, and I wrote some articles in some of the national newspapers at that time about this. I was seeing the writing on the wall of what was coming to happen, coming to be. So yes, Norway has also had those changes, but not to the same extent as the US has. Another example of a PROUT economy and probably the best in terms of a cooperative economy is the Mondragon economy in the vast region of Spain where you have 80,000 people engaged in several hundred cooperatives and I think that is probably the best example of a functioning, very effective and very successful cooperative economy. As I understand, nobody has been laid off since the 1950s. What they do is, they retrain people and they basically bring the worker from one co-op into another co-op whenever there is a problem with labor, so these are some examples. In Denmark, you have a strong cooperative housing movement where people live together cooperatively. For example, they may share a meal once a week, the rents are lower, they may have a kindergarten in their housing complex and so on and so forth, so that’s a very strong movement in Denmark. These are some examples.

Betsy:              Great! Thank you.

Roar:               You’re welcome.

Annida:           Next I’m going to move on to Greg’s’s question. You’re now live. You have the microphone.

Greg:               Hi! One of my big fears is when we get some form of collapse, a vacuum, that this country has a tendency for violence. Is there sort of a formula, but can you see a best path for us during, say, a heavy transition phase from capitalism to where we want to go – making the transition the least violent? I know we need to educate in terms of what we need, and people to understand education systems, but there’s also the psychological aspect of how we’re going to behave in the middle of a transition when people don’t get their needs met. I haven’t really read much on this. Do you have any kind of opinion on the best way to keep violence to a minimum?

Roar:               Yeah. Well, that’s an issue that I’ve thought a lot about, but I’m not sure I have a very good answer. I think that the United States is in a very unique situation, that here is this potential for violence. In the rural areas here where I live, everybody has a gun and there is a tremendous fear of the government, and many of the people that are my neighbors, they say they have guns because they’re afraid of the government. Of course, in a situation where there is a collapse of the economy, where the infrastructure falls apart and so on, there will unfortunately be a tendency towards violence of safeguarding one’s own resources, and then other people who don’t have them will want to steal and so on. A kind of civil war might develop. That is very possible in the United States, unfortunately because of the history of the country and also because of this love affair with  guns, and so on, and also due to the lack of infrastructure. I think that something like that would be less likely in Canada or in Scandinavia where there is a better collective economy, and a sense that the government is not such an evil empire and so on. How to avoid that? I think again, we need more education. Sarkar said that the more intellectual a country is, the more aware and the more educated they are, the less violence there will be in a crisis situation, when there is a collapse. So again, I think that what you guys are doing, raising people’s awareness, educating people, doing advocacy is a part of that solution. I think it is important to educate people and to do outreach in the community. For example, here where we are, we are kind of strange people, yogis, meditators who moved into the mountains, and so we do as much outreach as we can, mixing with the local population, going to concerts and activities, farmers markets and so on, so that we can make friends with the local people here. That kind of outreach is very, very important.

John:               Thank you. I have a quick question. It’s kind of the central issue of capitalism. How do you bring capital into a co-op? For example, I want to build an inn and it’s going to cost $1 million. Now, how do I bring capital in and still create a co-op?

Roar:               Okay. Capital, we talked about this a little bit the last time. Capital is important. There needs to be a banking system. We can also have a cooperative bank. For example in the Mondragon system, they have a cooperative banking system. So yes, we need banks, we need capital in order to create businesses. Cooperatives also needs capital. So in that sense, it is not that different from we could say a simple capitalist system in which you’d borrow money from the bank to develop your business, so that will also be part of a cooperative economy. You borrow the money, but the percentages can be lowered because the need for profit is less, so there may be better terms in terms of the loans and so on. Also, the profit again will not be used for speculation as in the capitalist economy, but in many ways, the system of loans to raise capital for a business would not be that different.

John:               Okay, but most banks require some equity like if I did a project for $1 million, it would require $300,000 of equity, which I have to get from some investor. How does that investor get pulled in in a cooperative venture?

Roar:               Well, the investor will have to see if this is a viable business? Is this cooperative going to turn a profit? Because an investor will not invest in something that is not going to be profitable and successful, so again, you have the basic — the same rules will apply for an investor as well.

George:           I think the problem, Roar, here is one that really has to do with the nature of the hotel industry, which is that what we hope for are worker-owned cooperatives obviously, and most of the people who work in hotels are people who are changing beds and aren’t going to have any money to actually invest in terms of becoming owners of the hotel itself. I actually have heard of some businesses that allow their workers to gradually, gradually earn shares in the business, which seems like a good model to me. Is that something Sarkar addressed at all?

Roar:               Yeah. That’s another model where, as you say, the workers in the business, as they stay in the business let’s say after five years, they can have a certain share in the business. Yeah, that’s one model, but if you’re starting a business from scratch, the money will have to come from somewhere. John was creating one specific scenario, but another scenario could be that ten people have $10,000 each and they put that into a pot and they start a cooperative with $100,000 as capital, so that’s another way of doing it where the workers bring in the capital, so that can be the starting capital. And then because the business plan makes sense, then they could loan the rest from a bank, for example, so there are many ways that this could happen.

George:           Right. It’s such a great example, John, and thank you for raising it because it so points to the inherent psychology of American business because I am willing to bet there’s not a single hotel owner of a hotel of any size who actually works in their hotel in any practical, normal way, certainly not changing the beds and probably not even staffing the front desk. It is probably the model most of us hold and pretty unconsciously take for granted: Someone who has all the money is going to own this thing and then there are a bunch of other people who are actually going to do the work to make it happen. And we see those as two completely different sets of people with two completely different roles in life. That’s just what capitalism has given us. There’s nothing fair or just about it.

Roar:               Right.

George:           And that leads to a question I’d really like to get you to address regarding the very first principle of PROUT, which is this idea of putting limits on individual wealth, or at least the idea that no one would be allowed to accumulate a lot of wealth without the consent of the collective. Can you address that a little bit? Why is that the first principle, and could or would that ever happen?

Roar:               Well, I think it’s already happening in different ways. Earlier, we talked about taxes. Taxation is one way of limiting wealth. And so a progressive tax system, which we had in the United States in the ’50s, ’60s and then it started to go away in the late ’70s, when Friedman became the main economist or inspiration for modern American capitalism. Then Reagan brought his ideas into his trickle-down philosophy, reducing taxes for the rich. But progressive taxation is not a foreign concept, even to capitalism. The idea behind it is that when the purchasing capacity of the middle class is strong, then you have a more balanced and a more thriving economy. This we have seen. This we know is what is happening when we tax the rich. So one of the reasons why we have a weak and unstable economy now is because the purchasing capacity of the middle class is falling, and that’s why we have all these speculation bubbles. Everybody wants to get in on the race, and then we have a crash, and then we never learn and then we start over again. But to limit wealth creation, and thus to minimize speculation, I don’t think is a foreign concept. For example, if we look at the example I made earlier, that the average fast food worker makes about $19,000 a year while the average fast food CEO makes $23 million a year in salary, that’s about 1200 times difference in income. Let’s say we don’t create a complete economic revolution, but we make a moderate change and reduce that difference in income to 500 times. I’m just using that as an example. But if we compare Norway to the United States, for example, I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but as far as I remember, the difference between the average middle class person in Norway and the top CEO in Norway is not more than 25 to 30 times. It’s much, much less than in the United States. The average CEO in Norway makes maybe a couple of million dollars and then the worker in that business may make $70,000 to $80,000 or whatever it is. I’m not sure about the math. In other words, who decided that? Well, the Norwegian society decided that, the collective decided that. And similarly, PROUT is saying that that’s a fundamental principle that needs to be part of the economy.

 

We need to talk openly about what the richest person should have and what the poorest person should have. That needs to be on the table because both are eating from the same table. We’re all sitting around the same table. We are a society. We are not a group of individuals trying to compete with each other. And because there are limited resources on this planet, in every society, there’s a limited amount of land, there’s a limited amount of water and so on, that’s why we need to share it all. That is, I think, one of the genius aspects of the PROUT system, to acknowledge the scarcity of resources and the fact that we need to share them all. That we need to have a discussion about how to share the pie.

George:           Right. It makes good sense. When I try to think about why is it that in the United States we’ve allowed our CEOs to get paid $20 million to $30 million and then in Norway, they’re around $2 million, I think it gets back to the American notion of freedom. I believe this country has a very specific notion of freedom, which is “I’m free to do anything I want and no one is going to interfere with me.” It comes from the frontier mentality. I actually have a friend who is a fellow therapist here in California who wants to move to New Hampshire, and I asked him, “Why New Hampshire?” and it comes down to the fact that he basically likes their license plates, which says, “Live free or die”. And New Hampshire backs that up a little bit with their taxation system. But my point is that Americans, at a deep, deep level, really want to be left alone to do whatever they want whereas Europeans seem to be more willing to regulate their sense of freedom to incorporate the common good. Do you have any insight into what to do about that? How are we going to get Americans to be more willing to embrace a different notion of freedom?

Roar:               Yeah, you nailed it. Well, the historical difference is that Europe had a long-term socialist evolution. The workers were fighting for their rights in Europe at a much higher rate than in the United States, so socialism came in to balance capitalism to a much larger extent than in America, and that is the main difference historically. For this to change in the United States, we need to have a similar evolution, or maybe even a revolution, for that to change. And that’s why again, talking about these issues, educating and advocating for these issues is so important. The United States needs to have a similar evolutionary development. And in that sense, Lakoff is right on. That is something that the conservatives need to be educated about, need to learn. But that is, as we know, not so easy. But when we think about the fact that Bernie Sanders became so popular and may run again, and maybe other candidates are coming onboard with similar values, then there is hope. Bernie Sanders talked about Scandinavia as being the model that he was aspiring to, so I see changes happening in the United States. Most of the people living here in the mountains where I am, they’re mostly democrats. And so I don’t see that it is impossible to change them. I think that part of the problem in America is the value system, the Christian values and the lack of the Democrats to speak to those values and support those values, and at the same time, speaking about an economic value system that is really to the benefit of the people. Many Christians have turned their backs on Democrats simply because they’re not seeing any cultural value in their programs. They feel the Democrats don’t really support them anymore. That they don’t stand for their needs.

 

Also there is the perception that Democrats and liberals don’t believe in God, and so I think that that’s been a huge problem in the United States. We need a party or a group of politicians that can really stand up for the middle class and the poor and to speak their needs and to support their needs. That has been missing in the United States, but it existed in Europe for a long, long time. It is fading and that’s why we see these strange situations with Brexit and the return to conservative, anti-immigrant values and so on. That is a backlash and it’s an unfortunate backlash and the reason is because of neoliberalism in the EU taking over the economy and the value system.

 

George:           It’s a pivotal moment. It seems so clear to everyone now that the world is imbalanced. Obviously we need to do everything we can to shift the balance in the direction of a system that works for everybody. That’s my final thought. It looks like we’re close to a wrap-up point. Do you have anything you want to say, Roar? Is there any last point you’d like to make about your book or about EDA or anything else that’s on your mind?

Roar:               Well, I’m very thankful that you invited me into this conversation. I really enjoyed it and I feel very honored to be part of your work. I wanted to mention that and at the same time, I want to emphasize that I’m very hopeful, very inspired by the fact that thinkers like Sarkar has presented ideas like PROUT. I’m inspired by all the activists throughout the world that are standing up for change. They may never have heard of a system like PROUT, which I think is going to rise up from the ashes, so to speak, because it makes sense, and because I think it is the direction that humanity is moving in. But those people that are working on the ground, these activists are truly inspirational and an important part of the change that we need to see. And so intellectuals and activists, positive warriors and active workers need to come together and create a better, healthier and a more balanced society, and I see it happening in spite of all the negative things going on. I see great hope. And as I mentioned just a few minutes ago with the Bernie Sanders movement, I see great hope for America as well. In many ways, my heart is more Norwegian than American, but I am in many ways inspired by America. I’m inspired by people like you guys. I’m inspired by all the alternative people here in Asheville that are into organic farming and community living and so on and so forth. There’s a lot of positive energy in America, and so I have great hopes for the future. I think that the good will overcome the bad, and I think we will do well in the end.

George:           Thank you so much for that, Roar, and thank you for writing the book. It’s become kind of our textbook for EDA. As you may know, we’re actually going to run a second book study on it for people who want to do it again and there’s a fair number of people in that category. We’re hoping to attract a whole new group to join with them, so the second time through, we’ll get into it a little bit deeper.

Roar:               That’s great.

George:           Yeah, it really is great and it really has helped us as an organization tremendously, I think. So thank you again for this evening and the book.

Roar:               Thank you so much. Thank you. That’s really nice to hear.

 

The Next Economy (Part II): The Solutions – Economic Democracy Advocates Study Circle
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