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Economic Democracy – Economic Populism

August 22, 2011


This post is a reprint of a Diary that first appeared on the Daily Kos blog site.

Why would anyone be morally bound or wish to be morally bound to a civil society that does not share the goal that it’s citizens deserve a fair distribution of wealth, income and power? If the civil society is not dedicated to that end what else could it possibly be dedicated to? What is freedom, to those without wealth, income or power?

Trenz Pruca.


I have written several Diaries here at Daily Kos and on my own blog discussing Economic Democracy. My interest and commitment to Economic Populism extends back to my involvement in the Fred Harris Campaign for President during the 1976 campaign. About a year ago I rediscovered a long-lost copy of the Fred Harris’ Campaign Handbook for California that I helped draft. Several of my Diaries here at Daily Kos and on my own blog are based, in part, on some of what Fred espoused in that Handbook.

Recently some of my Diaries and Posts have focused on the impending economic and social impacts of the looming climate crisis. Although there may be a greater or lesser determinism in the impact of climate crisis and what can be done about it, I believe, that how we approach the crisis and the mechanisms we use to resolve it and the world we inherit should we be successful, very much will be affected by how we organize ourselves and what political, economic and social systems we ultimately acquire.

To me, Economic Democracy and Economic Populism are more or less synonymous. True, any search of the internet can turn up examples of attempts to describe Economic Democracy in more or less technical terms. A similar search on Economic Populism will turn up a host of examples of movements that cover the political spectrum.

For my purposes here, let’s just say, that Economic Populism is the political manifestation of Economic Democracy.

To me, Economic Democracy is simply and essentially the reasonable implementation of the emotion expressed in the quote with which I began this diary and that I believe needs repeating here:

Why would anyone be morally bound or wish to be morally bound to a civil society that does not share the goal that it’s citizens deserve a fair distribution of wealth, income and power? If the civil society is not dedicated to that end what else could it possibly be dedicated to? What is freedom, to those without wealth, income or power?


As Fred Harris put it way back in 1976:


A fair distribution of wealth and income and power ought to be an explicit goal of government.

In a previous Diary and blog post, I listed some of the initiatives that could get us back on the road to Economic Democracy. I direct you to them and will not repeat them here. I believe that Economic Democracy should be among the primary objectives of liberal and progressive politics, if not the primary objective. I believe that certainly in this day and age, it is from an economically fair and just society that most other liberties flow.

The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights created a Political Democracy (or more accurately Republic). it was focused on the organizational remedy to the entrenched political power of a hereditary minority.

Because resources were plentiful even if the technology to exploit them was in its infancy, it was presumed a fair and just society would emerge if arbitrary hereditary power were controlled or eliminated. Both Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson, however presciently warned that without economic democracy there could be no political democracy.

Nevertheless, it was assumed that the political mechanisms enshrined in the Constitution and political ethos of liberal democracies could and would be sufficient to ensure some semblance of economic opportunity for many if not all.  As the world’s resources were capitalized on, liberal democracies flourished in part because a rough expansion of economic success spread to greater portions of the population and not gobbled up in a political and economic system designed to benefit the few.

Today we see liberal democracy under assault from both within and without as the resources of the earth, whether through exhaustion or misuse, peak or diminish.  I think that most of us believe that we are at a crossroad like none other in human history. We are faced with the environmental-climate-population emergency threatening our very survival as a species.

After all, what is the current so-called global financial debt crisis any more than the recognition that the 3% or so economic growth rate upon which international debt transactions were based upon is no longer sustainable in many countries and the lenders sooner or later will have to take a bath? But until then, in a mass panic they, the lenders, will devour everyone else and ultimately each other in a mad scramble to preserve their expected gains.

These gains, by the way, were granted to them by the government. At the urging of the large private financial institutions gullible governments were persuaded that instead of dealing with long-term debt by use of the monetary printing press and risk the economic panics that threatened the public order, they should instead borrow from private entrepreneurs to pay for needed governmental services or for follies like wars.  Public financial policy thereafter needs only concern itself with arcane fiscal issues that could be hidden from public view such as how do we make sure the lenders get paid.

We are also confronted with the dilemma of whether the means to address the crisis and how we are to live should we survive are fair and just or Orwellian. My fear is that the nature of the danger is so dire that we will inevitably choose Orwell. The choice between centralized and decentralized responses to climate change will be dictated by the panic that will ensue when world-wide awareness is coupled with impacts that leaves the individual bereft of choices to maintain his survival with dignity. Then we may very well grasp at pharaonic solutions and social organizations and democracy as we know it will wither.

Unhappily, for over a year now, I (I am sure others) have become increasingly distressed to read in the Daily Kos and other progressive publications fierce disagreements and even despair among progressives that their particular issue of overwhelming personal importance is not getting the attention that they believe it deserves from Democratic and liberal elected officials. On that, I have two comments. The first from my own experience.

Over 30 years ago, I actively was involved in the emerging environmental protection movement. Among my priorities at that time was the protection and salvage of coastal wetlands. I believed that their preservation and restoration was essential if we were to have a hope or stemming the relentless march of development that threatened to destroy our natural resources and heritage. I believed that with an almost religious fervor.

Nevertheless, as my participation in Fred Harris campaign demonstrates, to paraphrase Lincoln, if to secure true fairness and justice required the filling in of wetlands, then I would have filled in wetlands,  knowing that in a fair and just society the chances of securing the rebirth of the wetlands would be immeasurably improved than under a system of economic privilege.

My second comment is to recall the story that when Franklin Roosevelt was urged to aggressively support the establishment of the Social Security program he was famously reported to have said, “Make me.”

It is time for us to realize it is not the job of elected officials to deliver on what they promise in their campaign, but our job to make them. All elected officials respond more or less to a diverse constituency. To a true believer that may make him or her appear wishy-washy at best. But it is our job to give him a backbone. If we cannot say to the politician, our support brings you the election, we rarely have much to say to him at all.

Now, what about the politics of Economic Populism? A good politics sweeps along with it a number of interests and ideologies. A poor politics leaves those interests exposed, subject to attack and misuse as wedge issues.

Good politics, even before one gets down to the technical specifics of voters, public opinions and election districts, begins with the strength of the message in its briefest and most concise form. Economic Democracy not only is the right thing, but it is also good politics.

A few days ago in a blog sponsored by Time, the writer penned the following:

Here’s what LBJ knew that ­McGovern didn’t: There are few or no historical instances in which saying clearly what you are for and what you are against makes Americans less divided. But there is plenty of evidence that attacking the wealthy has not made them more divided. After all, the man who said of his own day’s plutocrats, “I welcome their hatred,” also assembled the most enduring political coalition in U.S. history.

Progressive candidates and the liberals and progressives must focus on the fair and just society and not fear to call out who the culprits are that stand in the way. To quote the entire comment of Franklin Roosevelt mentioned above as an example of a liberal politician that did not mince words:

    “Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.
For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936

Or, as someone recently wrote in speaking of the corporate and their economist ideologues, “They haven’t won a battle of ideas; they are simply the ones who have been handed the microphone.”

It is time to take back the microphone..

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