The Steady Stater

Steady State Politics: Up for the Challenge?

September 14, 2020 Brian Czech
The Steady Stater
Steady State Politics: Up for the Challenge?
Chapters
The Steady Stater
Steady State Politics: Up for the Challenge?
Sep 14, 2020
Brian Czech

It's time to bring sound science and common sense to the political arena! Advancing the steady state economy not only requires thoughtful debate, public relations campaigns, and personal outreach, but also steady state advocates in local, state, and federal government. That's why we're calling for greater political participation from those who seek to ditch the old pro-growth model and set the course for a smarter, fully sustainable future. After all, what better way to reform policies priorities than by being the ones who create them?

Show Notes Transcript

It's time to bring sound science and common sense to the political arena! Advancing the steady state economy not only requires thoughtful debate, public relations campaigns, and personal outreach, but also steady state advocates in local, state, and federal government. That's why we're calling for greater political participation from those who seek to ditch the old pro-growth model and set the course for a smarter, fully sustainable future. After all, what better way to reform policies priorities than by being the ones who create them?

Richard Tibbetts:

From the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, this is the Steady Stater, a podcast dedicated to discussing limits to growth and the steady state economy.

Brian Czech:

Welcome to the show. I'm your host, Brian Czech. And our topic this week is Steady State Politics: Up for the Challenge? Steady staters find natural allies with certain academic programs, scientific societies, environmental organizations and social justice advocates. What we don't typically find are major political allies, especially in the USA. But then, a lot of us steady staters haven't looked too hard either. If we're going to transition from unsustainable growth to a steady state economy, we better start gearing up for some serious politics. Way back in 1978, I went to my first class at the University of Wisconsin. It was an orientation course for wildlife ecology majors. And I'll never forget what the professor said. He was from that Aldo Leopold lineage at Madison and he said, if you really want to do something for wildlife, get out of here and go into politics. I don't think a single one of us got out of there and went into politics, at least not immediately, but I suspect that sentence has stuck in the minds of my classmates. Obviously, it stuck in mine. Now, 40 years later, wow, I believe I would modify what he said. If I were in the classroom, I'd say, if you really want environmental protection, economic sustainability, and national security, study your ecological economics and then go into politics. So why the studies in ecological economics? Because you're going to be pursuing a very specific goal in the political arena. It's not about politics as a profession or as a passion onto its own. It's not even so much about winning elections and it's definitely not about tilting the country to the right or to the left. Steady state politics is all about replacing the goal, and ultimately, the process of GDP growth, with the goal and process of a steady state economy with stabilized population and per capita consumption, as equitably and humanely as possible. Now, you will need that background in ecological economics because you will be facing intense opposition from the pro-growth establishment. You're going to have to be able to talk shop from the get go about why there are limits to growth, how those limits apply specifically to GDP, one of the biggest political metrics ever, and why we cannot overcome those limits with technological progress. You will have to explain at the drop of a hat why there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and national security, what happens to the stock market in a steady state economy, why a steady state economy doesn't require a communist government etc. Now, you don't have to be a PhD ecological economist to be successful in steady state politics, but you can't just wade into the fray without a reasonable background and expect to hold up against the barrage of pro-growth rhetoric coming from the neoclassical economists, free enterprise think tanks, Wall Street Madison Avenue, chambers of commerce and bureaucrats from the county level to the World Bank. Then we have these scary characters that Jonathan Perkins explained in his book, "Confessions of an Economic Hitman." Unlike the steady staters, these so-called "hitmen" are connected to major political allies and they're super heavily funded by dark money. You may want to read the book "Dark Money," by the way. Well, I hope I didn't scare you off. While steady state politics is not for the faint-hearted, you will have two of the biggest allies you could ever have on

your side:

sound science and common sense. That's right. And that's why it takes a million dollars of perpetual growth propaganda spewed out of those dark money think tanks to defeat a dollars worth of steady state messaging. Put us on a level playing field, like an objectively moderated debate stage, and our message prevails every time. And of course the economic hitmen aren't actually going to break your legs or firebomb your office. You know, when they're operating as progrowth shills for for puppeteer dictators are corrupt central banks, like Perkins book was about, they do ruin lives. But no, you won't have to wear a bulletproof vest. What you will need is a thick skin and a healthy appetite for debate. If you don't mind being the underdog, you'll be alright. And if you thrive on being the underdog, I want to hear from you. Now let's talk about the levels for practicing steady state politics. It makes sense to start at the national level because national policies are the most influential when it comes to economic growth, and of course, political dialogue is supposed to be largely about public policy. When it comes to economic policy, the national scene is especially important because the most potent fiscal policies, the federal budget and the tax code are handled at the national level, especially on Capitol Hill, but with a lot of presidential politics involved as well. Meanwhile, the monetary authority is at the national level with the Federal Reserve System. Trade policy is also a national concern, but the budget, taxes and monetary policy are going to be your primary policy concerns at the national level. Basically, you're going to be a fiscal conservative, a progressive with the tax code, and a real reformer with monetary policy. No one will accuse you of being a party hack, but the politician concerned with public service, steady state public service in this case, has one other major role to play. That's leadership, political, social and cultural leadership. This is why getting elected is not the most important objective. When you run for political office, you have a unique opportunity to raise public awareness about the insanity of pushing for growth in the 21st century. Bernie Sanders is a good example, not of steady state politics per se, but of changing the dialogue as a candidate. While he won't be president, he managed to change the national dialogue on health care, climate change and wealth inequality. We could do the same thing with a presidential candidate raising common sense awareness about limits to growth. Well, now we'll take a short commercial break. Or maybe we should call it a non commercial break for Rick Tibbetts to mention a book that's coming out this month.

Richard Tibbetts:

Hi there, we hope you're enjoying the show. I just wanted to take this short intermission to suggest a book that I think you would love. The book is called Uncommon Sense shortcomings of the human mind for handling big picture long-term challenges. The author is Peter Seidel, one of the elder statesman of sustainable studies. Seidel's unique contribution is an exploration of human nature, of the human brain, and why humans are so severely challenged to deal with limits to growth. I highly recommend this book and you can preorder a copy at www.steadystate.org. Just pan over to the Discover menu, and then click on the "Steady State Press" item and you'll find it there. Now, back to the show.

Brian Czech:

Now, let's take a brief look at European steady state politics. In Europe, it's better known as the quote unquote "degrowth" movement. It's the same as steady state politics in emphasizing the disastrous consequences of our obsession with GDP growth. However, the degrowth movement tends to take on a lot of additional social justice issues. And they veer toward a Marxist model of political economy. Many degrowthers don't find much room at all for the market, even for rival and excludable goods. I wonder sometimes how they would allocate things like shoes and loaves of bread. On the other hand, they are in a totally different cultural scenario, living in a much longer history of political economy than the USA and we can learn a lot from them. They're exploring new frontiers of limits to growth politics, so I'm excited about their progress. Now, returning to the matter of level or the particular polity operate in, we've noted the relevance of the national level and the national government. For many steady staters, it would be easiest and most accessible, though, to venture into politics at a more local level. At the local level, the relative importance of public policy might be a little less than at the national level, while the emphasis on social leadership would be greater. Much of our cultural identity is established in local settings, including, maybe especially, our consumption behavior. And that's really important because theoretically, at least, a steady state economy could occur without a single public policy. We could do it, in other words, entirely from the demand side. Let's say the average couple had two children, you know, with many having one and many having three or four, but with an average of two. Well, that's a huge head start toward a steady state economy. Then, if we put a halt to the notion of constantly increasing consumption, SUVs instead of sedans, luxury SUVs instead of regular ones, hummers instead of SUVs, if we can stop the cultural craziness of constantly rising consumption and stabilize population, guess what? We're at a steady state economy. Yes, there are some big ticket items in the shopping cart of public spending too, like the military and social security and medicare, but assuming we as citizens and taxpayers don't allow those to run off the rails, we can pretty much establish the steady state economy from the private sector demand side. 72% of American GDP comes from personal consumption expenditures. Personally, I sense an American public that's just about ready to say "enough is enough" with the constantly increasing sizes and amounts and expense of stuff. These days, for most families, one car is probably better than two. A car that's easier to park is probably better than the big box. Hey, why not ride the bike for the little trips? I don't think these kinds of cultural adjustments are too tough to sell. In local politics, especially, I really don't. Many of the older folks would rather go back to a simpler, less cluttered time, while the younger ones already ridicule the big box lifestyle of the boomers. Our challenge in steady state politics is to connect this cultural awakening to a

macroeconomic vision:

the steady state economy. Now, going in the other direction from the national level, we have to realize that a number of countries have been mired in abject poverty for seemingly forever. Nigeria, Pakistan, Guyana, Bangladesh, Congo. These are some of the countries on the planet that still need, literally need, economic growth. They need more GDP per capita especially, and of course, they also need population stabilization to allow for some recovery. The point I'm making here is that we need steady state principles in international diplomacy too. We can call it steady statesmanship. The biggest, fattest countries need to slim down a bit, lessen their ecological footprint, and leave some room for the smallest, slimmest countries. In fact, we should assist them with some reasonable level of economic growth. We need to curb our appetites a bit so they can have a bite to eat. Now, in the past, the political response to poverty was "a rising tide lifts all boats." We just keep the American and global economies growing and the wealth would emanate outward. Well, that was nonsense. We've seen the opposite as the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Furthermore, there's no more water for rising the tide, no more room for boats. Even if there was, we're out of the proverbial boat building material over large swaths of the planet now. What we desperately need now, for the sake of international stability, is some contraction and convergence. Rich countries need to invest not in more GDP but in the well being of poor countries. Give them a break with the terms of trade, help them out with some fiscal and technical assistance and let them come up in the world, so to speak. It's the right thing to do. And in any event, it's the only hope for alleviating the pressures of mass emigration and for soothing the simmering regional conflicts that boil over into catastrophic wars. Now that we have a sense of what's at stake, at home and abroad, don't we almost have to get political? Not every steady stater has to run for office, but some should. Others should help them campaign. We should be writing letters to editors, asking questions at the town hall, weighing in on the county comprehensive plan, meeting with our congressional representatives and gradually getting our steady state principles into the legislative machinery at state and federal levels. And hey, it wouldn't hurt to join CASSE. We're not beholden to any political party. We're the only nonprofit organization in the world explicitly focused on advancing the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative to growth. And we know a thing or two about the policies required for transitioning from stupid growth to a sustainable steady state. Ask us some time about the Full and Sustainable Employment Act, for starters. Well, that about wraps her up, folks. I hope you've enjoyed the show and I hope you're ready to get political at some level. Steady state politics is not for the faint-hearted, nor for the ill-prepared, but as a political steady stater, you will know you're on the right side of sound science and common sense. Those are big allies and you can hold your head up high in any political venue. I'm Brian Czech with the Steady Stater podcast. See you next time.