More on Plan C: A Clear, Actionable Platform for Those Who Care About Earth’s Future

progress cartoon

Cartoon by Barry Deutsch of Alas, A Blog fame, in ZMag.

Back in February, I wrote about the frustration of citizens being offered “stimulus” (to restore “growth”) and “austerity” (to reduce debt levels) as the only choices for an economic platform, and why both of these “options” will only accelerate the pace of collapse of our economy and our civilization culture. I concluded the post by proposing a 4-point alternative platform I call “Plan C”:

  1. End the wars: Immediately cease the imperialist and resource wars being waged by affluent nations against struggling nations all over the world, and the ideological and futile wars on “terror” and on drugs and “illegal” immigrants.
  2. End corporate subsidies: Eliminate all agricultural, energy, military and other corporate subsidies, and instead provide incentives for new small business creation and employment.
  3. Replace “free” trade with “fair” trade to reinvigorate domestic work and employment. Cancel globalist trade treaties like NAFTA and those of the WTO. This will provide an enormous boost to local economies, and save valuable energy used in long-distance transportation. And while we’re at it, forgive struggling nations’ debts: These nations will only be able to achieve self-sufficiency and democracy if we give them back the land and resources we’ve stolen from them, and let them make a fresh start.
  4. Radically simplify tax laws and really enforce them: Current tax codes in most countries are so complicated that the rich who can afford to pay for expensive tax evasion schemes end up paying less than the rest of us. A simple tax code that computes your year-end global net worth and the annual change in it, and taxes a certain portion of each, with no deductions or exemptions or loopholes, on a graduated scale, could generate vastly more tax revenue, more fairly, with much less effort by everyone, even if those with income and net worth less than, say, $50k were exempted from tax entirely.

There are some other things governments can do to conserve resources, relocalize administration and services, de-layer bureaucracy, shift health care from treatment to prevention, overhaul and radically scale down the domestic security and prison systems, and deschool our communities, but these are trickier reforms that will need to be done carefully or they’ll just be done badly and make matters worse.

The longer-term answer, I think, is to move towards a radically decentralized, steady-state economy. But I think it’s idealistic to think we’ll ever have the luxury of doing that. The storm ahead will be fierce, and we first have to stop the austerity and stimulus advocates from sinking the economic boat before it even begins to navigate the rocky and narrow strait between collapse through ruinous contraction and collapse through ruinous growth.

What can we, the people, do to create a political movement that has the 4 points above as its core economic platform? While they are radical, they are not at all difficult to do. Of course they will be opposed by the 1%, but why are we so afraid of that, and so cynical that any political group could stand up to the 1%?

Could Occupy and other social activist groups be a vehicle for this? I’m not so sure, simply because I get the sense that many social activists and many in the Occupy movement think the answer to our economic and social woes and injustices is to redistribute wealth and power, and are not at all opposed to the idea of “renewed economic growth” if it were more equitably distributed. Plan C would certainly free up government money for social programs, but much of that saving does need to go to reducing the impossible debt loads we have foisted on future generations, and Plan C will also make many things, including many essential goods, considerably more expensive (without the current subsidies), as they should be — it’s time we started paying the real cost of the desolation we are creating on this planet.

And Plan C wouldn’t offer a panacea solution to government and corporate corruption, money’s influence on the political process, or pursuit of personal and corporate profit over the well-being of all. There is no simple or reliable ‘solution’ to these unintended consequences of size, centralization and globalization. It would be easy, in legal terms, to remove the personhood rights of corporations, and to mandate that profits be subordinated to social and ecological well-being in corporate charters and decision-making. But it would take more decades than civilization has left for the resultant regulations, litigation precedents and standards to evolve before these legal changes would have any significant effect. And that assumes we will have the funds and the political will to enforce them — some of the world’s most polluted and polluting nations have some of the strictest environmental laws now, but these laws are totally ignored.

If social activists and the Occupy movement wouldn’t support Plan C, would others? My sense is that those who would support this plan would have to answer ‘yes’ to all five of these questions:

  1. Fair Prices: Are you prepared to pay more for goods and services now — a “fair” price — in order that government subsidies, predatory trade agreements, bailouts and debt levels that hurt the environment, kill domestic employment, redistribute vast wealth from the poor to the rich, and impose staggering burdens on future generations, can be eliminated?
  2. Pacifism: Do you agree that wars and acts of foreign aggression — such as assassinations, military support for foreign regimes, and drone attacks — are almost never justifiable (the exception being a direct full-scale foreign military invasion of your country or its close ally), and that foreign aid and peacekeeping are inherently better “investments” in defense than military actions?
  3. Social Responsibility: Do you see paying a fair amount in income and wealth taxes — an amount that increases as income and wealth increases — as an essential obligation and responsibility in order to provide everyone in your country with a reasonable and equitable level of health, education and social services, without incurring debts that will burden future generations?
  4. Living Sufficiently & Sustainably: Do you accept that in order to provide a reasonable quality of life for future generations we have an immediate responsibility to produce and consume only what we absolutely need for a healthy and sufficient life, and to reduce waste, pollution and emissions to sustainable levels, no matter the cost?
  5. Building Community & De-institutionalization: Do you believe it would be a healthy and essential development for us to shift the focus of our education system from institutionalized teaching to self-directed learning, the focus of our health system from institutional treatment to personal preventive care and self-management, the focus of our livelihoods and food security from dependence on large global corporations to local sustainable enterprises, and the focus of our political systems from centralized “representative” governments to community-based, consensus decision-making?

I think in principle most people who call themselves small-l “liberal” or “progressive” or “green”, and probably most citizens in countries with high rates of literacy and learning, believe in paying fair prices, in pacifism, in social responsibility, in living sufficiently and sustainably, and in community and the need for de-institutionalizing our society. The problem is that in many countries they don’t believe most others would be willing to do the same. They think others will cheat to avoid paying fair prices, will exploit pacifism, will shirk their personal responsibility (cheat the system, jump the cue), will take more than their share (hoard, buy under the table, cheat on their taxes), and will pollute or waste with impunity (ignore regulations, bribe authorities, pay someone poor to take their waste). You can hardly blame them, when so many political and corporate ‘leaders’ exhibit such behaviour. And while they may acknowledge that self-directed learning, self-managed personal health and self-employment are good ideals, they are understandably unsure whether they could achieve any of these things themselves — our world has become so dependent on centralized, dysfunctional systems and organizations to provide us with these things.

To say ‘yes’ to the five questions above, and to support a political/social/economic movement that would institute Plan C, requires a double leap of faith: Faith that enough people will not cheat the system if it is made fair, even if it is not economically possible to catch and punish the cheaters; and faith in ourselves, that we can wean ourselves off our terrible dependence on the dysfunctional, crumbling systems we’ve come to rely on.

My sense is that the people of most affluent nations North of the 45th parallel (Canada, UK, Northern Europe), plus Australia and NZ, are prepared for such a leap of faith. Most of them, from what I can see, are increasingly disgruntled with both conservative and quasi-liberal governments, and historically have been culturally and philosophically trusting of their fellow citizens.

That puts them on a collision course with other nations, including the US and countries of Southern Europe, where corruption and distrust of fellow citizens have historically been higher, and cheating the system more a matter of indifference or even pride. Even in these countries the four points of Plan C could be huge levers towards equity, sustainability and financial stability (and these are the countries where these are most desperately needed). But I can’t see the political will for such a plan ever emerging in these countries — there is just too much cynicism and inertia.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue Plan C in the northernmost and southernmost nations. It won’t save the world, but it would break the globalist/corporatist hegemony and provide a model of more responsible, more sustainable nationhood, so that the rest of the world could at least see there is another, better way.

It’s not really “progressive”; it’s more “beyond progress”. It’s more than “green”. It’s the political arm of the movement of people who care about this planet and its future, and are prepared to take whatever actions are necessary and helpful now to show it.

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10 Responses to More on Plan C: A Clear, Actionable Platform for Those Who Care About Earth’s Future

  1. Brian says:

    I have always thought that a patent system that only protects products produced domestically could help relocalize. If Apple wants to make Ipads only in China then fine, but then they would lose their patent rights in every country except China and anyone in the world could compete to sell the product in their particular domestic market.

    Keep writing. I love your work.

  2. Pingback: Dave Pollard: A Clear, Actionable Platform for Those Who Care About Earth’s Future « UKIAH BLOG

  3. norberto rodriguez says:

    When one is at the edge of a cliff, with no signs of a bridge, “progress” means taking a step backwards or going sideways. Unfortunatelly, this is a concept that the Harper government (and many other governments) will never understand, nor even consider. Even worse, i am afraid many Canadians will also keep marching on at the drumbeat of going forward…

  4. Pat Murphy says: location of Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change

  5. “Plan C” is perfectly sensible, although it’s hardly new – people like Ralph Nader have been calling for all of the four points you’ve enumerated for years. Yet nothing has happened.

    The problem with your proposal is that you assume both (1) a functioning, democratic political system and (2) a large enough group of people who support these proposals to put pressure on said system. As a result of these assumptions, your plan of action has the format of a series of national policies to be enacted by government institutions.

    Unfortunately, neither of your assumptions are based in reality.

    (1) The political system in the United States is largely a sham, with elections being little more than an expensive reality show engaged in every four years. Some minor policies related social liberties (i.e. gay marriage) may change, but the core issues of economics, foreign policy, energy policy, etc, remain largely the same. The system as it currently stands does not allow the average citizen much of a voice. We can “vote”, but this is not really participation in power. It is the “1%” which controls the political system.

    (2) Secondly, as you point out, there are simply not that many people who are seriously committed to the points you’ve raised. This is evident from the fact that none of these issues have ever seriously been brought to the table. Partially this is due to the fact that the political system – and thus the terms and framing of political debate – is already bought and paid for, but partially it’s just due to the temperament of a majority of Americans. There’s a reason why Ralph Nader and the Green Party’s other candidates have never managed to get above 3% in an national election, and it’s not all due to ballot-obstructionist laws. There is some truth to the saying that people have the rulers they deserve.

    Given all of the above, I am quite confused as to who this policy proposal is directed to. Certainly nobody in any position of government that has the ability to enact this policy, or propose legislation, has any intention of listening to these ideas.

    Outside of the US, one might argue that such a platform may have more traction, but it doesn’t look like “disgruntlement” has really translated into a mass rejection of neo-liberal capitalism on the scale that would be required for a political party who adopted your platform to be elected. The closest thing might be if SYRIZA becomes elected in Greece, although it remains to be seen if they can take power, and if so what they will be willing and able to do. Your assessment of the affluent North strikes me as wildly optimistic, to put it mildly.

    Thus Plan C appears to have no value, except as a piece of fantasy or whimsy about could be. To turn it into a truly “actionable platform” for ordinary people, you’d have to ditch assumptions (1) and (2). This would also necessitate that Plan C would no longer take the form of a set of national policy agendas, and would instead focus on how individuals and communities should proceed, independent of political institutions which clearly do not serve them.

  6. Norberto, when you are the edge of a cliff, you can also tie on a rope and lower yourself down or strap on a parachute and take a leap…

  7. Sandwichman says:

    I like drifting cloud’s point about steering clear of national policy agendas and focusing instead about what people can do not as individuals but independently of the unresponsive political structure. One important dimension of this is management of the commons by local communities, as stressed by the late Elinor Ostrom.

  8. Martin says:

    Dave, though I like your ideas and agree with them ,generally, I agree with the comments made by drifting cloud and Sandwichman; it’s far too late to have any impact on a national level with such a plan, but it might be a viable approach on a more local level – at least it’d be worth a shot.

  9. Annie says:

    You had me till you lumped Southern Europe in with the USA as more corrupt and distrustful than Northern Europe. I think the situation in Europe is a tad more complicated than that, and southern Europeans are being unfairly labelled. I would also say that while those of us in Canada who are horrified by the Harper government think it is acting out of step with the majority of Canadians, I am not so sure that that is the true state of affairs here. Distrust and corruption are alive and well in our fair land, we are no closer to Plan C than Spain or Greece, IMNSHO.

  10. momma crow says:

    The powers that run the world will never allow your awesome plans to work. I agree with you but i am sure that people like me who agree with you are also poor and can not monetarily help you but would love to.

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