My Wish List for Main Street
The people of America, at long last, have had enough of unfairness. From Wall Street to Main Street, they have taken to the streets. Teachers, soldiers, postal workers – all those in the core traditional jobs of American public sector – are suffering huge layoffs and now ready to join the millions of people now out of work and living without health insurance or the likely prospect of another job.
What started largely as a ragtag union protest called Occupy Wall Street - after announcements that seven hundred school workers were being laid off from New York City’s public schools alone - is gathering force across America, growing into a national movement, with ‘Occupies’ now in major cities across America. Although the majority of those in the streets are liberal, a number are also Republicans. As a retired New York architecture professor put it, ‘It’s more a social movement than a political movement.’
In fact, it is a social movement about the fact that America is no longer a society in any sense of the word.
Several months ago, I predicted on these pages that America was ripe for revolution like the Arab Spring because it had become of the most unfair societies in the West. As I write in The Bond, fairness is so fundamental to the human experience, so much a part of our hardwiring that when situations are manifestly unfair, as they are right now in America, everyone loses, rich and poor. And things will only get worse, unless the whole of American society begins to reframe itself and make a contract to work together for the common good.
Thus far, the Occupy Wall Street and other area protests have been waged as a negative campaign – against the us vs them financial disparity – without much recommendation for positive action. For half my life I’ve lived outside of America, looking in, which has given me a wider perspective about my native country than I had when I first moved to the UK. Here is my wish list of positive suggestions for the street warriors to rally behind in order to recover the soul of America.
- Demand a month-long hiatus from Republican-Democratic politicking in Congress. Every last second that our elected representatives spend in a cat-fight results in greater national debt, more poverty, increased unemployment and more casualties abroad. Insist that for at least that period of time, Democrats and Republicans declare a moratorium on name-calling, demonizing, and president-bashing, and instead spend their time learning to speak and listen deeply from the heart, with the kind of ideals that compelled them to enter politics in the first place. At the end of the month, the whole of Congress must agree on at least one large goal that will help each and every American and act as a rallying cry to unify our polarized population. The evidence shows that working for a larger ‘we’re all in this together’ goal is a highly successful way to end prejudice and bring people together.
- Take the high road and meet with the American Tea Party. Both the Occupies and the Tea Party agree that America is going to the dogs; they simply disagree on the solutions. Again, both sides must agree to suspend name-calling and demonizing, and re-direct all that wasted effort on sharing together their own hopes and dreams for themselves and their children. Citizens of different persuasions agree on more than they realize. In a recent study carried out by Harvard Business School, when asked to design their ideal society for wealth distribution, both Republicans and Democrats came up with a markedly similar picture for a just society, much like that of Sweden, where there is far less division between rich and poor than there is in America. Although we may be polarized in many areas, all of us — rich, poor, Democrat, Republican — broadly agree on what is fair. Out of what both groups dream in common, again fashion one goal to work on together. It will unite us in common purpose.
- Learn to be more politically sophisticated in your thinking and stop thinking in black and white/either-or dichotomies. Societies aren’t either free-rein capitalism or full-on communism. There are endless shades of grey in between. Stop applying the term ‘socialism’ to any kind of initiative that attempts to provide basic rights to society. Working together as a community and providing for the community is not socialism. It does not require redistribution of income or across-the-board sameness.
- Don’t confuse liberty with exclusive self-interest or freedom from responsibility to the whole. Do you really want to live in a place resembling the post-apocalyptic America of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – where it is you and your gun against the world? Or would you rather have a place where your neighbor and their neighbors are watching your back, too? If so, we need to band together as a society, with aspects that are good for the whole, not simply good for number 1, on every front. That may require some individual sacrifice in time and money, but not your life’s savings. And you’ll reap the benefits, too.
- Fully understand our founding principles. Actually read The Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Gettysburg address, and other iconic statements of American principles. From there you will learn that America was founded on a platform of fairness, not simply liberty. We severed British sovereignty over the American colonies because we believed that we were victim of a litany of unfair laws and practices. Our rationale for this insurrection, as we announced in the Declaration of Independence, was the ‘self-evident’ truth of the most fundamental type of fairness. Much is made of our individual inalienable right to equal ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ but the real point of the argument is the need for justice and equality. Our founding fathers mainly envisioned a fair society of responsibility ¬¬– one to the other.
- Stop creating external bogeymen. We storm around the world acting like global policemen when our own house is not in order. Most of the time, we – with our blinkered vision about what’s best for everyone else and our sense of entitlement to the world’s resources - are the problem. A good deal of the world can’t stand us. Ask why. It’s not jealousy, believe me.
- Begin a huge re-think of our emphasis on profits over social responsibility. Have you listened to an American-made rock song or watched a rock video lately? Most are pornographically explicit, and being continuously played to young children and teenagers, with no monitoring whatsoever on content. Just who is this serving besides the shareholders? Ditto on pharmaceutical company advertising, to cite just two examples.
- Only read or watch a media free from corporate influence. As we learned from the Murdoch phone hacking scandal, the media is largely the puppet of corporate America right now. Stick with online alternatives. There are still a few left.
- Don’t wait for the people in charge to ‘fix’ things. Get your neighbors together. Look together around your neighborhood and community. How are your schools? Your hospitals? What needs doing? How can you make use of the unemployed around you to fix what needs fixing?
- Vow that change will start with you first. Scientific studies shows that in any society, if a culture of turn-taking falls apart with too many taking too much, all it requires is a small group of individuals committed to strong reciprocity to ‘invade’ a population of self-interested individuals and re-establish fairness and generosity. Download my Fairness Campaign and Fairness Principles by clicking here:http://www.thebond.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=81&Itemid=114 Your acts of fairness and generosity will create a ripple effect that will be heard around the world.
As for fixing the economy, here are a few of the financial ideas I’d start with:
• Insist on sweeping financial reform of Wall Street and corporations with absurdly outsize financial reward and bonuses. Ban giant banker’s bonuses – period. If bankers threaten to leave for Hong Kong and the like, let them go. It’s not exactly brain surgery. Replace them with some of the people who are out of work. Use the banking surplus now paid on bonuses to fix the country’s infrastructure and employ those out of work to do so.
• Junk the hopelessly byzantine tax laws and institute a straight percentage income tax or fixed sales tax. Re-employ all the accountants and IRS agents who will be out of work to help clean up corporations or, in a pinch, to carry out all the roadwork above.
• Create a new stock market that rewards overall societal contribution, not profit, and punishes practices that harm individuals or classes of people.
• Outlaw lobbying. The lobbying system has corrupted the entire political system. It has to go.
Now let me know your wish list in reclaiming America.