Recently I attended an economics conference in Washington DC put on by four progressive groups working collaboratively to explore the United States' economic future. I was greatly looking forward to it as they had numerous interesting speakers scheduled including Paul Krugman. Over 900 people attended this conference and the conference conveners were surprised at the attendance levels. Although, considering our economic and banking systems are in a serious meltdown, I wasn't surprised.
At the end of the conference though, I left rather disconcerted because I came expecting to learn about new solutions for our economic malaise. What I got instead was nothing much more than a lot of highly educated people within the economics fields saying that the "-pendulum has swung' and the 30+ years of the free markets domination was over and that now it was time for the government to be given its rightful place once again in the economic balance. I shook my head in disbelief""this was nothing more than an "-either/or' game. I left disappointed that this was the best that they could come up with at a time when the "-either/or' economics of markets or government has shown that it is ill-prepared to meet the needs of a global population of 7 billion people.
Then on Friday, March 6th, posted on Alternet.org, an article by Barbara Ehreneich and Bill Fletcher, Jr. entitled, " If We Are in the Death Spiral of Capitalism, Can We Start Using the "S" Word?"- essentially saying the same thing. Its either Capitalism or Socialism"- (although she did acknowledge that the Socialism side of the equation had no plan to get us out of this current economic mess that was any better than Capitalism.) What's obvious to me is that Democrat or Republican, Capitalist or Socialist, Government or Free Market---everybody is stuck in the "-either/or' game despite the fact that we can see it is failing miserably. It seems not to have occurred to anyone that there is another option.
The days of "Either/Or"- are over and I'd like to share with you another option that is out there and available. Its neither markets or government, Capitalism or Socialism. Republican or Democrat. Instead, it is all of them and more and it is called a Full Spectrum Economy*. It offers us all an opportunity for a discussion about building something new versus trying to revive a system that does not have the capacity to meet the needs of the changing world of the 21st century.
Right now, we have a 3 sector economy of markets, government and illegal activities that constitute the measurement of economic activities where one can build wealth and make a living. This is what sets up the "-either/or' game. You either work and make a living in the markets or government and for those who can't find a spot there, they fall into the illegal activities. These 3 sectors measure only about half the work activities necessary for us to live life but it is currently the only place to "-make a living' and thus be part of the economy. It is what is reflected in the GDP measurement system and as such, only what's measured in our economic criteria has any "-value' in our economic system.
The problem we're having right now is that in a 3 sector economy, the markets are the sole place for new wealth creation""and this is tied to a 70% consumer economy. We can see when we stop shopping, the economy comes to a halt and that then requires the government to make up the difference. Everyone keeps hoping we'll all start shopping again""but with global warming, resource depletion and a global population about to hit 7 billion returning to the consumer levels of the last 50 years is not possible. Yet, in our either/or economy, its all anyone can see as a possibility to get things going again.
But a Full Spectrum Economy is a 6 sector economy and it makes visible 3 missing sectors of work activities that have always been happening""but which have never been included in our economic measurements before. Without these 3 sectors, the current economy could never have functioned""but neither socialism or capitalism, markets or government have ever included them as legitimate parts of the economic system. That's because the current economic system is based on consumption and production""and the fights between these two was always over who controlled production, consumption and profits. Capitalists want it to be from the market side and Socialists want it to be regulated from the worker/government side but both are stuck in needing the never ending growth cycles of production, consumption and profits to continue forever.
Both are failing to recognize that we are moving past the industrial/consumer economy and into the knowledge/service economy and as a result, this new economy requires a broader range of work activities than we currently measure. It is time to add the Household enterprise, volunteer service and natural environment sectors into our measurements. As we do this, we also discover that we can move the economy past production/consumption and profits and into building an economy that is based on caring for humans and the planet in a way that honors all 6 sectors: markets, government, household enterprise, volunteer service, natural environment and illegal (hopefully this one will shrink considerably""but it would be naïve to assume it would ever completely disappear!)
Neither capitalist or socialist theory recognized what is becoming evident as we move into the post-industrial information economy: that a healthy economy and society require an economic system that supports optimal human development. By contrast, a Full Spectrum Economy recognizes that the development of full human capacity in addition to a healthy ecosystem are the most valuable components of a successful economy. This is the rationale for including the household enterprise, volunteer service (caring) and natural environment sectors into our economic measurements because this is where the work that will enable human capacity development to occur as well as ensuring we have a planet capable of supporting our lives.
It is time to move on"-.. Capitalism and Socialism have served their purpose but it is time to move forwards. A Full Spectrum Economy is an emerging option that will require input and creativity from many of us. It will require us to let go of our attachment to the old either/or traditions. But in doing so, we also enable ourselves to more effectively address the unprecedented global challenges we are faced with today. A Full Spectrum Economy lays the groundwork for this transition and ends the "-either/or' of yesterday!
*A Full Spectrum Economy is based on the work by Riane Eisler, "The Real Wealth of Nations"-creating a caring economics."-