Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 7 No. 4 | Winter 1985 (Seattle) /// Issue 14 of 24 /// Master# 62 of 73

income, but $130,000. Beyond that there may well be even more. One consequence of increasing affluence is the growing alienation not only of the poor, but of important segments among the upper middle class. Today we see “yuppies,” but only a few years ago seemingly upwardly mobile people were radical activists. Numerous studies have shown that affluence in general has brought with it more materialism, but also an increasing percentage of society that is “post-materialist”—people who recognize they have suffered from the psychological and spiritual consequences ,of living without community and the affirmation of deep values. Such people in Europe, many of them religious, are at the heart of new social movements. And there is powerful evidence of a steady change in attitudes here as well: The modern women’s movement, peace movement, environmental movement- all are part and parcel of the shift. As time goes on, as the pain, inequity, danger, and discrimination of our decaying system continue, as traditional politics fails to achieve traditional values, I believe there will be a deepening crisis of conscience. More and more people will be forced to ask deeper questions and think about more fundamental politics. The current blockages in politics are already beginning to force a reassessment by preventing the realization of underlying values. In the context of a society in which an increasing percentage of the population values values, there is the possibility, indeed the inevitability, of a massive rethinking. I point to this development for two reasons. First, this trend is very important and has been largely ignored. Second, most of us tend to focus on others—the poor, minorities, workers—in seeking sources of potential change. These people will do their work. But we need also to focus on people like many of us—middleclass people who no longer can tolerate the disregard of important values we see all around us. To the degree that we are self-conscious about our own role, our own effectiveness and seriousness will be enhanced. The time of change is not yet here, although I think it is coming. But our society is unique in that we are generating post-affluent people in greater numbers and proportions than any previous industrial society. Any serious challenge to the power of the corporate-dominated economy involves long-term change through periods of time in which the cohorts of people of conscience are likely to expand. The growth of the populist movement, the progressive movement, the abolitionist movement, and other great movements in U.S. history were measured in decades, not weeks, months, and years. Affluence also permits very different patterns of social behavior. In a society where income is so high on the average, a man and woman can choose to work less and maintain a more modest, but still adequate, standard of living and thereby have more time to give of themselves to the community and to politics. They are not bound by necessity. The longer trend here too is one that could allow very great and expanding domains of activism—an unprecedented phenomenon in human history, so great is our wealth. Moreover, there are likely to be rising tensions caused by increasing violations of deep values. Although the relative distribution of income and wealth does not shift much, as overall production increases the absolute gap between rich and poor grows each day. The gap also is more apparent as BMW cars, VCRs, and jet vacations in Europe are the day-to- day stuff of television. The crisis of conscience is likely to deepen as the reality of expanding real differences in life experience and condition grow with each decade. Nor do I believe we shall escape violence at home and abroad, and these too are likely to radicalize American culture. We seem to be able to prevent interventions abroad after major wars like the Korean and Vietnam Wars, but only for a while. It is highly likely that we shall intervene elsewhere, whether in Central America or, as in the 1950s and ‘60s, in Asia, probably the Philippines. And that this too will lead to protest and deeper probings of the system is, I think, a realistic prospect. When the violence at home occurs (I do not think, given the indifference we are exhibiting to minorities, it is a matter of “if”), this will also force a shift in understanding. Our nation is the only Western industrial nation that is fundamentally, not marginally, divided along racial lines. The coming violence will bring the coming repression, which will bring the coming painful rethinkings, too. We are talking about the new century, not the coming week. These speculations are offered simply to suggest that as the ongoing difficulties and inequities of the deeply deadlocked .system continue, the least likely possibility is “politics as usual.” VVith faith in traditional liberalism fading and various groups experiencing economic pain, with doubt that major change can occur without shifts in the power and role of the giant corporation, and with the crisis of conBehind the unchangingfacts of the basic economic “outcomes” is a rigid system ofpolitical deadlock that governs what can be approved (or even legitimately proposed) no matter who is in office as president. A major source of this deadlock is the deep racism of the nation. science that affluence is generating likely to explode, it is only a matter of time before new theories and strategies, a new consciousness, and then a new politics grow too. Whether that politics will be effective is one of the most important challenges we face. Longer-term Goals ■ he people perish when there is no vision” (Proverbs 29:18). We all know this, but rarely do we take it seriously in economic terms. That is understandable. If there is ever to be fundamental change, clearly it is not imminent. At the current moment, we are at the end on one century and the beginning of another. It is difficult to think thoughts of ultimate change without subjecting ourselves and our associates to criticism. The word “utopian” has gotten a bad name just when we need the help that serious utopian thought could give us. Nevertheless, it is important to think about long-term goals; first, to be clear about what we want, and second, to help redefine objectives and strategy here and now. There is no possibility of serious ing and expanding inspiration that transcends old political categories. The most important point to grasp is that our technology permits radical shifts in the use of time. Time is the real freedom of modern society, and in a rich system it is ours for the choosing. The availability of time, far more than legal and constitutional restrictions or protections, defines whether one can really participate in public affairs. And our technology allows for more and more free time, if we so choose, with or without more modest standards of copsumption. Project this fact forward through the new century and you have a fundamental answer to the traditional conservative complaint that government reduces freedom. Perhaps it does, or rather can, if people don’t participate. But if they are motivated, and if they have time, they have their freedom and their democracy in their own hands. Years ago Paul and Percival Goodman in their marvelous book Communitas sketched the implications. They showed what forms of community and neighborhood life might really be possible if we took advantage of the time offered by our technology. At this point in history, the possibilities are far greater. If we are ever to take such questions seriously, we will have to develop institutions that nurture people in radically new ways. The alternative to the materialism that now drives so many people is a community of support and meaning. If the central question of the economy is political will, then a central issue is whether the institutions of the economy sustain and protect, or limit and destroy, the most basic values needed to build and maintain that will. Again, we are at the end of one era and the possible starting point of another. Still we already are beginning to form new cooperative, neighborhood, worker-owned, ecologically sound experiments that suggest what might be possible in the future. Over the longer term, in a context of ever greater technological possibility, we could imagine a steady expansion of these experiments to help create and affirm a different culture, one which in its inner workings gave meaning to cooperation, respect for the environment, participation, and community. Without such values and the institutions that sustain them, the dominant values of the system and the corporation tend inevitable to wash over into and dominate politics. I do not believe, however, as some do, that the idea of simply building upon and extending the many current experimental institutional efforts is adequate. Indeed, to focus only on such institutions is to ignore and deflect thought from more difficult matters—matters that can be left aside only at our peril. We are dealing with a complex mechanism when we deal with the overall political-economy. Unless we are interested only in problems at the margin, we need to face the fact that it is a system: What happens in one area affects what happens elsewhere. There cannot be a healthy local or national community unless we make a decision that this is a priority and then orient public institutionsand practices accordingly. The various overarching functions of any economy must be managed. This requires that the major decisions—those that govern the overall level of jobs, those that govern whether national resources go into, for example, energy conservation or military construction, those that govern the level of interest rates—must be decided in accord with chosen values. This ultimately entails a plan, a process of planning and institutions that can administer a coordinated set of decisions at the level of large-order economic problems. None of these questions is dealt with easily; nor do most people want to face them. Butthey will not go away. Moreover, if the inevitable planning that we do is to be done through a process of citizen participation, it is impossible to imagine this at the scale of a continent of 230 million people. This I believe is the toughest issue of long-term economic concern. Accordingly, we must begin to define a longer-term vision of our nation as restructured into smaller, semi-autonomous units capable’of making important economic decisions. The term for a geographic unit of scale smaller than a nation yet larger than a state is a “region.” If “big government” is truly too big, then ultimately it will have to be scaled down. If the corporation is too powerful in its political as well as its economic influence, then ultimately we must devise a new mix for the mixed economy. This must include cooperatives, worker-owned firms, and regional public corporations to manage larger-scale economic activities currently managed by private, for-profit corporations. A serious debate about how to structure our political-economy in the future would do well to return to the very early days of the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) when considerable thought was given to the idea of grassroots participation in a public institution capable of actually accomplishing economic management, and doing so at the scale of the region. But in the coming period, such a discussion will have to go much deeper. It will have to consider, for instance, how it is that a nation like Austria, the equivalent of a small “region," functions so well on the basis of its own self-management, even though it floats in the larger sea of the European economy. A Visionfor the Future ■ he first requirement of a new J L politics of the economy is recognition that traditional politics can now accomplish very little toward the fulfillment of values of equity, peace, true democratic participation, and ecological sanity, to say nothing of altering the culture so as to encourage a less materialistic approach to life or a sense of community. Traditional politics and programs can help prevent the worst; they cannot fulfill. Hence they can no longer inspire. The second requirement is a certain perspective on the present. Social movements take time; they are not for people interested only in instant-gratification politics. The present is a period of transition. Its difficulties are the difficulties of the end of an age—a time when old ideas are worn out, but the new are not yet ready. To discuss this openly, to grasp change without a new source of sustain34 Clinton St. Quarterly