“Think about it this way. We’re killing people in foreign lands in order to extract 200-million-year-old sunlight. Then we burn it . . . in order to boil water to create steam to drive a turbine to generate electricity. We frack our own backyards and pollute our rivers, or we blow up our mountaintops just miles from our nation’s capital for an hour of electricity, when we could just take what’s falling free from the sky.”
– Sungevity founder, Danny Kennedy –
From “The Secret to Solar Power,” (New York Times, August 9, 2012), by Jeff Himmelman
Subconsciously but in good conscience, Danny Kennedy has framed a solar version of the new “Judo Economy” paradigm. In his “Judo Economy” energy framework, massive amounts of naturally incoming energy are reflected and redirected without impacting and hollowing out the earth’s layered crust, breaking up shale formations, absorbing and contaminating fresh water supplies, or inciting earthquake and volcanic instability. Naturally occurring momentum is deployed as a positive force to society’s advantage as opposed to boxing with the inevitable and unmovable, absorbing one crushing body blow after another.
America is at the beginning of a judo-momentum, geo-economic shift comparable to societal tectonic plates shifting under our cultural, political, and economic civic feet. We are at the beginning of understanding why and how transforming virtuous change cycles take “what’s falling free from the sky” or overflowing from the oceans and deploy these forces to net advantages. The goal is achieving higher sustaining living parameters for greater numbers of people reinvesting in local living economies. Instead of boxing through failing and discriminatingly imposed austerity crusades against soaring deficits caused in large part by aging boomer populations incurring ever more expensive healthcare costs, virtuous cycle thinking demonstrates that lessening America’s current indecent income and wealth inequality extremes actually improves healthcare results for a greater number of our fellow citizens, lowering costs and deficits in the bargain.
Similar societal forces are at work to empower hybrid new economy models that break the stranglehold of status quo-defending vertical pyramids and open up more opportunities through a complete cycle of creative destruction matched by creative reconstruction and reinvestment for the people most at risk. This cycle is composed of two connected hybrid models, the growing “localista” economy movement and a “spontaneous combustion” return to America’s founding attraction, broadly-based civic stakeholder ownership culture as the basic foundation of individual and collective freedom.
Already trending and converging, these two nationwide communities of practice deploy metrics-backed momentum coupled with an innate desire for dignity and fulfillment to supersede classic confrontation dynamics. Adherents such as small businesses, community activist organizations, cutting edge innovators, college campuses, progressive unions and cooperatives, B Corporations, socially responsible investors, and employee owned companies are voting with their feet, ballot boxes, supply chain partners, and bank accounts, with workplace and consumer choices aided and abetted by social media liberating technologies.
Surprisingly, this rising new American economy is being welcomed by the professional right intersecting with the divine left to agree on outcomes if not causes. Both sides increasingly unite to warn that “too big to fail and go to jail” constrains America to an uncompetitive productivity penalty box entirely of its own making. Neighborhood economies across the country experience integrated moments of political convergence over economic injustices resulting in stagnant growth from extreme market distortions, undergirded by undisputed severe and growing income inequality statistics without boundaries.
Globally, what’s happening to Cyprus and Ireland mirrors what has devastated the U.S. since 2008 – unprecedented wealth transfers from the working and rising middle classes engineered by predatory institutions comprised of shareholders, not local stakeholders, to the naked benefit of connected and protected global elites positioned first in line for debt repayments. Global arbitraging, whether with labor or financial instruments, becomes the policy weapon of mass destruction that crushes communities, neighborhoods, societies starting with their economies but ending with their cultures.
The “Judo Economy” policy version of the enlightened corporate triple bottom-line (people, planet, profit) requires only greater public sector ingenuity to flourish. But instead, Paul Krugman (“Austerity, Italian Style,” New York Times, Feb. 25,2013) observes that, “…willingness to pursue austerity without limit is what defines respectability in European policy circles.” In American deficit reduction policy circles, adherence to ideology defines respectability. In both instances, respectability and ideological purity, it is back to the future of a Versailles versus ghetto “let them eat cake” moment. Prizing the fully artificial and relative assumptions-driven symmetry of a numerically positive balance sheet, austerity-mongers dilute and short change today’s human potential in favor of tomorrow’s by denying daily bread to the masses in favor of warehousing more seeds for elites to own, invest, and harvest. We’ve seen this movie before: social unrest, revolution, guillotine, and anarchy in the streets, the ideals of martyrs manipulated by the caudillo waiting in the wings.
Domestically, David Stockman’s “State-Wrecked, The Corruption of Capitalism in America” (New York Times, March 31, 2103) paints an apocalyptic prediction that repackages the founding motives and corrective steps taken during the Great Depression, Great Society, and Great Recession into formulas for future failure. Stockman’s observation that “American households lost $5 trillion in the 2000 dot-com bust and more than $7 trillion in the 2008 housing crash” is now personally and painfully understood in recent retrospect by those whose pockets were emptied the most relative to what they started out with. State-assisted, shell game wealth transfers from the wallets, savings accounts, and home equity balances of working and rising middle class populations, from an ever widening Diaspora of renters to concentrated enclaves of uber-owners, self-perpetuate an increasingly insatiable, oligarchic one percent grounded in insane acquisition rather than renewing patriotism, and morally unable or ethically unmotivated to answer the civic question of “how much is enough?”
Stockman calls this “Keynesianism — for the wealthy;” graduating college students understand this as crushing debt that puts off home and car purchases for a decade at least, or as hiring freezes resulting in substandard temporary contracts often through unsatisfying careers less from choice than necessity. Small businesses feel this as a complete absence of working capital when most needed from publicly bailed out banks causing even more unnecessary lay-offs despite signed orders in portfolios. Society’s drop-outs, the statistically structurally unemployed, live this bitter “chicken and egg” real-time do-loop of not being qualified to obtain the experience they need but can’t get because austerity politics advocated by elites cut retraining, retrofitting, and rehabilitation platform resources in the coldest career winter of greatest need.
Antidotes to prescribed class theft, organized “take-back” movements (coupled with industry internal claw-back jihads), increasingly demonstrate sustained determination and impact. The 350.org divestment campaign explicitly aims at reducing carbon footprints for college & university presidents and their boards holding nearly $400 billion in assets, as well as targeting large religious institutions and pension funds. One of the key objectives, the global fossil fuel industry with $20 trillion in energy reserve assets, is now linked to a complimentary campaign to transfer retail accounts from predatory financial institutions to those practicing worker-friendly responsible investing.
Todd Larson of Green America reports that, “the idea of moving 1% of endowments into sustainable investments comes from a campaign that Green America ran with the U.S. Social Investment Forum from 2000 to 2005 called ‘1% in Community’ where we encouraged all social investors (including mutual funds, institutional investors, and advisers) to direct 1% of the money they managed into community investing vehicles (e.g. community development credit unions, banks, or loan funds). The campaign moved more than $3 billion into this sector.” Today, similar ideas and campaigns proliferate as thousands of investors vote with their savings and asset choices to break up with mega-predatory banks and shift the people’s money to local living community projects and causes where the rights of stakeholders at least equal those of shareholders and where optimally both classes can find and till common ground.
Darla Cameron’s piece, “Tax burden for the Dow 30 drops” (Washington Post, March 26, 2013) lists an impressive number of U.S. multinational companies whose U.S. tax payments are a shadow of their former selves. As multinationals have become increasingly talented at arbitraging national tax standards and regulatory policies, in addition to treating labor as a global commodity, it’s become apparent that both big government and big business cannot be counted on to provide sustaining local employment. How can anyone in the name of “leadership by example” be expected to trust austerity politics when U.S.-based corporations and wealthy individual citizens annually deprive the U.S. treasury of $90 billion and $140 billion respectively in lost revenues due to overseas financial and tax code manipulations?
The counter arguments that competitive markets offer the best allocation of capital, that the U.S. suffers from a non-competitively higher corporate tax rate, and that these labor and capital arbitraging global companies are really widely owned by pension funds and shareholders mean little to local stakeholders, usually card-carrying members of the ninety-nine percent, with no decision-making seats or inputs at these tables. Even more pernicious, arbitrarily opaque corporate governing practices seed transparency-free board rooms and executive suites with built-in environmental, employment, fiscal, and ethical conflicts of interest that end up discriminating against both domestic stakeholder and shareholder rights as well as the rights of hosting nations. In this toxic climate, pursuing unfair and unequal competitive advantages quickly morphs into monopolies rigging markets to mutate infinite varieties of crony-capitalism and corporate welfare diseases that leech off the body politic until there is nothing left, apparent in the abandoned industrial hulks like slain and discarded Jurassic Park monsters in the morning mist and evening twilight along the Ohio river, or in any gasping rust-belt city center.
During his second inaugural speech earlier this year, President Obama declared that, “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” So, it turns out, does our free market-based economy. Today, vertical boxing policy orthodoxies absorb blow after blow from a climate-changing Mother Nature, sanction inherently criminal global financial institutions on a weekly basis with no happy ending in sight, purchase elections to prolong partisan politics on steroids that sacrifice here and now societal good for ideological purity, and frame the “maker versus taker” false choice head-on collision to advocate austerity policies that tithe the ninety-nine percent out of functioning existence.
Tomorrow, new “Judo Economy” adherents and practitioners will stop boxing against the natural environment, punching hard against the face of humankind in a world demonstrating more and more that harnessing and then redirecting momentum produces better results than trading blows between relatively immoveable objects. Instead, sustainable profit-seeking enterprises, thought leader movements and liberating political campaigns will emphasize creating new economic platforms focused on giving back as a means of taking in and on workplace structures that are judged by how much wealth they push downwards rather than upwards using the impetus of more people generating more economic activity to engender more virtuous cycle results. Inequality, it turns out, is both bad business and bad for business. Why settle for so much less when we can seize incoming momentum and turn it to both our individual and collective advantages with such compelling transformational metrics?