Prosperity stories deal with the nature of prosperity and how it is achieved. The prosperity story of what global investor George Soros calls “Market Fundamentalism” has become our modern religion. Those who challenge its basic premises are dismissed with much the same fury as dissenter from religious orthodoxy were dismissed as heretics in an earlier time. The circumstances of our time make it imperative for the voices of heresy to challenge the voices of fundamentalist economic ideologies of both right and left.
The following are Empire and Earth Community versions of key elements of contrasting Prosperity Stories.
MONEY AND WEALTH
EMPIRE STORY: Money is wealth, a medium of exchange, a storehouse of value, and a measure of value. When free from government interference, markets fairly and accurately allocate money as a reward to those who create wealth in equal measure to the value of their contribution to increasing the total wealth of society. Financial return is thus an appropriate arbiter of human choices and relationships. Only the jealous or mean spirited would begrudge the wealthy their due for their contribution to the prosperity of all.
EARTH COMMUNITY STORY: Money is created out of nothing when a bank lends it into existence. It is a useful, indeed essential, medium of exchange, but it is only an accounting chit of no intrinsic value and no existence outside the human mind. Because it is so central to daily life in modern society, money is also a system of power readily abused by those who hold the power to create money and decide who gets it. To our peril we often confuse money with the real wealth for which it can be exchanged—our labor, ideas, land, gold, health care, food, and all the other things of value in their own right—and treat it as if it were wealth in its own right. The more our exchanges with one another are mediated by money, the greater the risk of abuse.
Many financial fortunes are the result of financial speculation, fraud, government subsidies, the sale of drugs and other harmful products, and the abuse of monopoly power. For the real story see “Money as Debt” a 47 minute Flash Video by Paul Grignon. See “The Money Masters” for a 3.5 hour historical documentary. The true measure of a society’s wealth is the health of its human capital of creative minds, its social capital of caring relationships, and its natural capital of healthy ecosystems.
PATH TO PROSPERITY AND HAPPINESS
EMPIRE STORY: Economic growth as measured by Gross Domestic Product creates wealth to create material abundance for all, increase human happiness, end poverty and heal the environment. The more we each consume the faster the economy grows and the greater the happiness and well-being of people and planet. Economic growth brings up the bottom by lifting all boats. To eliminate poverty grow the economy and eliminate the welfare programs that strip the poor of motivation to become productive members of society willing to work hard at the jobs the market offers
EARTH COMMUNITY STORY: GDP measures the rate at which money is circulating in the economy generating financial profits for those who already have money. It is actually a high accurate proxy measure of the rate at which the rich are expropriating the land, water, and biological resources the majority of the world’s people depend on for their modest livelihoods in order to generate profits by converting them into products and services quickly converted into toxic garbage. Beyond basic sufficiency, increased material consumption contributes more to creating poverty and environmental destruction than it contributes to happiness. For the inside story of how it really works, see “The Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard.
We increase prosperity be investing in living human, social and natural capital. The best guides to true prosperity and happiness and truly productive investment are indicators of the health of our children, families, and communities, and living systems. Economic growth as presently measured lifts the yachts and swamps the canoes and naked swimmers as it depletes the living human, social, and natural capital on which our survival, health, and happiness depend. In a finite and crowded world, we can heal the environment only through citizen action to create a New Economy that brings consumption into line with life’s regenerative capacity and maintains an equitable distribution of income and ownership.
EMPIRE STORY: “Free” markets unburdened by rules and trade restrictions direct investment to its most beneficial use to offer consumers the lowest prices and maximize the well-being and happiness of the society.
EARTH COMMUNITY STORY: The term “free market” is a code word for an unregulated market that frees the rich to consume and monopolize resources for personal gain free from accountability for the broader social and environmental consequences. It rewards financial rogues and speculators who profit from governmental, social, and environmental subsidies, speculation, the abuse of monopoly power, and financial fraud, creating an open and often irresistible invitation to externalize costs and grow inequality.
EMPIRE STORY: Trade agreements are spreading prosperity and democracy throughout the world by eliminating restrictions on the power of free and open markets to create jobs, increase consumer choice, create the wealth needed to end poverty, heal the environment, and bring peace and democracy to all the world. The communities that prosper in the new economy are those that compete most aggressively for the favor of global corporations by providing financial incentives to build local plants and retail outlets through tax breaks, subsidies, and exemptions from regulation.
EARTH COMMUNITY STORY: Trade agreements promoted by global corporations are designed to extend their power beyond the reach of public accountability so that they can act with impunity to concentrate wealth, undermine democracy; pit people, communities, and nations in a race to the bottom competition for corporate favor; and strip people and nature of essential legal protections. As localities lose control of their economies, they also lose their sense of community and connection to place. Markets and trade are essential and beneficial human institutions. Like all institutions, however, they require rules that assure fair and honest dealing and protect the health and well-being of children, family, community, democracy, and nature. Strong local economies comprised of locally owned independent businesses committed and largely self-reliant in food, energy, and other basic needs are essential and enduring foundations of healthy societies and a just, prosperous, and sustainable global system.
EMPIRE STORY: Economic growth, which is the path to happiness and prosperity for all, depends on a wealthy class with the financial means to invest in creating and growing productive enterprises. Celebrate the good fortune of the wealthy and free them from the taxes and regulations that inhibit their ability and incentive to accumulate and thereby to invest.
EARTH COMMUNITY STORY: The greater the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a privileged class, the more certain that extravagant material consumption will be the norm, democracy will be weak, resources wars will be common, and environmental resources will be depleted in the struggle for survival and dominance. The social ideal and the key to prosperity, happiness, democracy, and a healthy environment is a strong and universal middle class society in which every person is both a worker and an owner, there is a clear distinction between investment and speculation, and there are no extremes of wealth or poverty.
THE COMMON GOOD
EMPIRE STORY: There is no common or collective economic and social interest beyond the aggregation of individual interests. Everyone does better when we each pursue our individual advantage without governmental interference. Sacrificing personal gain for some supposed higher community good is actually detrimental to the whole and therefore immoral. The pursuit of individualistic greed is a moral value an essential foundation of individual prosperity and liberty. The alternative to the individualism of unfettered free market capitalism is the proven failure of Communism’s extreme collectivism, deprivation and tyranny.
EARTH COMMUNITY STORY: The ideologues of imperial privilege dismiss the concept of a public good, which is well-established in legitimate economic science, and promote a perverse morality directly at odds with the moral teachings common to the world’s great religions. The morality preached by the market fundamentalists is the moral philosophy of the sociopath and the consequences, as any thoughtful observer can plainly see, are devastating for society.
Economic science, as contrasted to market fundamentalist ideology, recognizes the need for public investment in public goods essential to the well-being of all, but beyond the capacity of the market to provide. Spiritual teachers down through the ages have taught the importance of living with regard for the well-being of others as a moral imperative. The new biology teaches us that by the very nature of how life manages energy in its constant struggle against the dissipative forces of entropy, living organisms exist only in cooperative relationship with other organisms—in community. Each healthy organism instinctively acts with regard for the well-being of both self and the larger organism or bio-system of which it is a part. Extreme individualism and extreme collectivism are both detrimental to the health of a living system.