Living Democracy

A healthy society balances individual liberty with a mutual accountability that nurtures Earth Balance and Fair Share. We in the United States have generally stressed the individual liberty side and consequently reduced democracy to a competition between narrowly defined short-term private interests. This has led to rule by a global financial market that recognizes only the short-term financial interests of the very wealthy and actively disrupts the relationships of mutual caring essential to social health.

Human well-being and survival depend on learning to think and act as a radically democratic living Earth Community in which we share our resources to balance the interests and well-being of the self with the interests and well-being of the whole. Vandana Shiva and Frances Moore Lappé call it living democracy. We create living democracy by rebuilding the relationship of strong, caring communities and advancing supportive institutional reforms such as the following.

Crucial Steps

Human well-being and survival depend on learning to think and act as a radically democratic living Earth Community

Crucial steps toward living democracy include:

Living Indicators: It is odd that we choose to measure our collective well-being and progress by financial indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) or a favored stock index rather than by living indicators of the health and happiness of our children, families, communities, and nature — measures of true well-being. As ecological economist Joshua Farley notes, GDP is actually a measure of the financial cost of maintaining a given level of health and happiness. Seeking to maximize GDP makes no more sense than trying to maximize health care costs. A rising stock index is a measure of the rate at which the wealthy few are increasing their exclusionary claims against the real wealth on which all our lives depend, hardly something to celebrate in a world in desperate need of greater equity.

Democratic Elections: An open, fair, and honest electoral system is essential to any form of meaningful democracy. An electoral system that depends on corporate money and turns third party candidates into spoilers creates an appearance of democracy at the expense of real democracy. Public financing of elections, a secure right of every person to vote and have their vote counted, assured media access, instant runoff voting, proportional representation, elimination of the electoral college, and barring corporations from seeking to influence elections and legislation are all basic democratic reforms essential to bringing democracy to the United States.

Accountable Corporations: Corporate forms of organization that aggregate resources under coherent management are essential to any modern society. At the same time, without built-in safeguards of public accountability, the resulting concentration of power is subject to abuse by the unprincipled. Guided by a false ideological premise that the single-minded pursuit of individual profit maximizes the well-being of the whole, we have created corporate forms with no such safeguards. The only reason for government to grant a corporate charter allowing a unified aggregation of power and resources is to serve a public purpose. An Earth Community corporate charter would specify the public purpose for which it is granted and provide for revoking the charter of any corporation that that fails to fulfill its public purpose or abuses its powers.

Public Service Media: The broadcast spectrum is a public commons properly used to serve the public interest. Allowing a few private media corporations to monopolize it to promote narrow private interests and create a culture of individualism, greed, violence, and material excess does not serve the public interest. Independent public and community radio and TV stations representing a diverse range of perspective should receive a substantial preference in allocating the broadcast spectrum over absentee corporate owners.

Advertising: The proper role of business in Earth Community is to provide Earth friendly products and services in response to human needs, not to create artificial wants. Advertising beyond informing the public of the availability and features of available products and services has no legitimate place and is not a legitimate business expense. Simply banning advertising would raise complex Constitutional free speech issues. There is no Constitutional barrier, however, to requiring that the costs of advertising beyond providing basic information on product availability and specifications be paid from after tax revenues, the same as other forms of speech.

The existing debt-money system is history's most successful con game.

Local Stakeholder Ownership: Absentee ownership mediated by global financial markets strips decision-making of all but short-term financial values and exclusive private interests. Eliminating absentee ownership, broadening ownership participation, and breaking up unaccountable concentrations of corporate power are foundational to living democracy. A progressive tax on assets combined with tax breaks for firms owned and managed on a cooperative model by their employees, customers, and those who live in the communities where they are located would provide appropriate market incentives. Making absentee owners personally liable for harms caused by the corporations in which they hold shares would also create a powerful incentive for such restructuring.

Honest Money. The existing debt-money system is history's most successful con game. Run by private bankers devoted to the financial interests of themselves and their wealthiest clients, it gives banks the power to create money out of nothing by lending it into existence. As demonstrated by the recent mortgage lending meltdown, banks find it highly profitable to use this power to finance financial speculation and fraud that reward and enrich social and environmental predators. See "The ABCs of Finance Capitalism."

An honest money system creates money in return for the creation of public value when government spends it into existence for public goods like infrastructure and education. It distributes money equitably to facilitate life-serving exchange and enriches society by creating a capacity to finance public goods without taxes or borrowing.

Replacing debt-money with honest-money is one of the most important elements of an Earth Community agenda. It is also one of the most difficult to implement, because debt-money serves powerful interests and its ability to scam the public is invisible to most of its billions of victims.