Occupy Movement Needs to “Think Big” About a New Economy

New Dream board member Gus Speth urges participants in the Occupy movement to think big.

In addition to including an agenda of actions that are immediately needed, he says, protesters in the anti-Wall Street rallies should point the way to a new economy and a new politics.

“We'll never deal successfully with the many challenges our country now faces if we merely seek what’s possible within the framework of today's system of political economy,” notes Speth. “Our challenges require moving beyond incremental reform to systemic change that addresses the root causes of our current distress.”

To that end, Speth offers the following draft language for the movement's charter:

Towards a New Economy and a New Politics

Preamble. The new economy seeks to realize a future where the pursuit of happiness is sought not in more getting and spending but in the growth of human solidarity, real democracy, and devotion to the public good; where the average citizen is empowered to achieve his and her human potential; where the benefits of economic activity are widely and equitably shared; where the environment is sustained for current and future generations; and where the virtues of simple living, community self-reliance, good fellowship, and respect for nature predominate.

1. Progress. The reigning priorities of economic life shall be human and ecological well-being, not profits and GDP growth. Sustaining families, communities, and jobs while providing widely shared prosperity and protecting the integrity, resilience, and beauty of the natural world shall be the measures of the economy’s performance. 

2. Democracy. The governance of economic life shall be of the people, by the people, and for the people, with investment and other economic decisions guided by a vital and inclusive democracy at all levels of national life. All economic institutions, including corporations, shall be governed by, and held accountable to, all those affected by their activities.

3. Regulation. Regulation of the economy, rooted in transparency and inclusiveness, shall enhance long-term human well-being, social equity, and ecological stewardship. Democratically determined regulatory initiatives shall guide market activity in socially and environmentally beneficial directions, ensure that prices are honest and reflect all real costs of production, and prevent predation and commercialization of public assets and the commons, the wealth of valuable assets that properly belong to everyone.

4. Subsidiarity. Economic policy and regulation shall foster activity at the most localized level consistent with democracy, equity, and efficiency. Higher level regional, national, and global governance and regulation shall be exercised where human and ecological well-being will be strengthened by so doing.

5. Environment. The economy shall be managed so that releases to the environment do not exceed assimilative capacities, renewable resources are used at rates that allow natural replenishment and recovery, and income from the exploitation of non-renewable resources is used to develop timely renewable substitutes, with the overall objective of preserving and restoring natural capital for future generations.

6. Equity. Income and wealth shall be equitably distributed in society, with programs maintained to provide economic security in retirement, between jobs, and in illness and incapacity. Taxes shall be genuinely progressive.

7. Work. All individuals shall be provided with opportunities for decent work, living wages, and continuing self-improvement, as well as opportunities for contributing to the shared prosperity of their communities. Working hours shall allow employees ample time for families, friends, and non-work activities of many types. The rights of workers to organize, bargain collectively, and participate in the management of enterprises shall be guaranteed.

8. Corporations. Corporations shall be under effective public control, and new patterns of governance, ownership, and operational management involving workers, communities, and stakeholders generally shall be the norm. Chartering shall be at the level of corporate operations and periodically reviewed in the public interest. The line between corporations and government shall be carefully drawn and respected, prohibiting direct or indirect financial influence on elections and limiting undue corporate influence on legislative outcomes and other government decisions.

9. Consumerism. Public policy, including regulation of advertising, shall move society in the direction of work and spend less, create and connect more. Consumerism, where people find meaning and acceptance through what they consume, shall give way to the search for abundance in things that truly matter and that bring happiness and joy—family, friends, the natural world, and meaningful work. Overconsumption will be replaced by new investment in civic culture, natural amenities and ecological restoration, education, and community development.

10. Money and finance. The system of money and finance shall be operated as an essential public utility for the benefit of society as a whole. Financial institutions shall channel resources to areas of high social and environmental returns even if short-term financial gains are less. Finance shall shift away from institutions that are large, driven to excess by the search for profits and personal financial gain, opaque and cloaked in secrecy, and remotely owned and managed (i.e., Wall Street) to institutions that are small enough not only to fail but also to be held accountable by the communities in which they operate, locally rooted and community focused, bringing prosperity to the real economy of goods and services, transparent in their operations, and managed by people who have to live with the consequences of their decisions (i.e., Main Street).

James Gustave Speth is an environmental lawyer, advocate, and author, most recently of The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. From 1999 to 2008, he was dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. From 1993 to 1999, he served as administrator of the UN Development Programme and chair of the UN Development Group. Prior to his service at the UN, he was founder and president of the World Resources Institute; professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality; and senior attorney and cofounder of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for a New American Dream.

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