To Fix America: Re-Define Progress

To Fix America: Re-Define Progress


I’d like to share a few broad strokes about my vision of how this country needs to rethink, from top to bottom, our entire approach to work, time and money. Additionally, I’d like to convey some thoughts about Policy and a more Simple Life.

In the 1990's I was part of a group of writers who established The Simplicity Forum. What we had in common is that we all embraced the deeply American tradition of Simple Living, which, of course, was also embraced by the great wisdom-sources, from Jesus and Epicurus, to Quaker theorist John Woolman, to Thoreau and Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who taught:

When men bow down and worship at the shrine of money they are being deprived of their most precious endowment—the possibility of living life in its fullness and its endless beauty. MLK

In the 90's a great deal was being written about downshifting and having a richer life with more time and less money. And those in the Forum wrote some outstanding books, such as Voluntary Simplicity, Your Money or Your Life, and Affluenza. The general perspective was that we needed a revolution of consciousness, and while I agreed with much of this, it seemed to me that certain central truths had been missed, and that the central problem was not about our beliefs and values, but in our economic structures. As a result, my friends' books were in the self-help section of the bookstore, while my book, Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of Simple Living, was in the public policy section.

My basic thesis was the America is an astonishingly inefficient society when viewed in terms of the proper metric: how many weeks, at a standard job, does a person with an average wage, have to work in order to meet legitimate economic and social needs. Short answer: Too many. This led to a fundamental conclusion: Most Americans feel they don't have enough income because their basic needs are not being met, and because they see higher income as the answer. And from this I articulated, not a goal of more and more income growth, but a redefined purpose for social and economic policy: To have a society that is "user friendly" for those seeking to live more simply, what I call, the Alternative American Dream:

A modest, but secure income, adequate for meeting legitimate needs, with substantial leisure, so that we can do those things in life that matter most.

This is what the thrust of my campaign has been about (other than giving rid of Cardin because, after 50 years of neglect, he must be held accountable for Baltimore's inner-city, because he is a Bibi-clone who supported war with Iran, and because, at every opportunity, he makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worse).

The great discovery, of this campaign, was the realization that achieving this objective of a secure, decent life with high leisure, will also transform our work-life, solve the job problem, and will allow our schools to return to the core purposes of education, whether it be as Plato saw it, "The purpose of education is to teach us to love beauty" or as Alexander Pope said "The proper study of Mankind, is Man" (corrected for gender narrowness), or as John Dewey wrote, "The conception of education as a social process and function has no definite meaning until we define the kind of society we have in mind."

The first goal is attaining a society in which core needs can be fully and securely met without high levels of income but with more leisure to do what we value most. The second goal is to have work-lives of purpose and meaning, work that bring us to life, work through which we express our values, our commitments, and our creative talents.

My realization was that if we attain the first goal, market forces will shift us towards the attainment of the second. With our needs securely met, job seekers will shift away from meaningless work; "job creators" will have to pay more to lure workers to such jobs. They will not only have to offer higher pay, but also more benefits and shorter hours. And many will stop going to the "job creators" at all -- they will create their own jobs, for instance, becoming a one-person non-profit, and providing service to society, where they see unmet need, and for which they are best equipped. And we can use policy, even tax policy, to speed this along, for instance, doubling the tax deduction for contributions to such non-profits, or adding refundable partial tax-credits so that low income people can help channel such non-profits towards those areas of un-met need that those at the bottom feel most intensely.

In truth, I believe, such a world is not in the far, far, distant future. It is near at hand. First, we Democrats have to throw out the Trump gang, and win back the House and Senate, but with a largely New Congress, and without Ben Cardin.