Should the United States rule the world through economic and military might? Or should we lead by creating a new economic and social model where true equality and democracy exist alongside justice and environmental stability?
Legitimacy as the self-appointed administrator of our global economic empire is flagging badly these days. Austere, free market economic policies and neoliberal political ideology that punishes society’s victims are old-fashioned and oppressive. Meanwhile, Europe is beginning to respond to the realities of the 21st century. Switzerland, among others, is providing a new model of leadership in several areas.
Pay for corporate CEOs is under fire in Switzerland, for example. Last year Swiss voters gave corporate shareholders broader powers to limit executive pay. They’re also harnessing public anger at income inequality through a ballot initiative proposing to pay every adult citizen the equivalent of $2800 per month as a basic income. Swiss workers already enjoy benefits, such as 14 weeks of maternity or paternity leave, affordable, high-quality education, widely available public transportation and healthcare paid for through state revenues.
How can they do this? The Swiss decided long ago not to engage in war, and now they’re determined not to redistribute the nation’s wealth upward. They’ve seen how it creates a class of aristocratic billionaires.
Switzerland has an even more diverse population than the United States due to less stringent immigration rules. We in the U.S. cannot seem to achieve a social safety net for everyone because our diversity is coupled with racism. The Swiss, to the contrary, are creating new social models focusing more on the good of society than on who should be discriminated against.
Think what the United States could accomplish if it gave up its penchant for power. We wouldn’t have a global empire, but neither would we have the boom-and-bust cycles long associated with runaway capitalism or the wars fostered by a psychology of control. Think what could happen if we gave up the exclusivity and self-reliance of individualism and worked on developing new models of community and inclusiveness.
What we need is a new way of thinking and working together with other peoples: collaborating and cooperating, using more horizontal patterns of building institutions, and re-creating social norms of nonviolence and popular democracy.
Think about education, for instance. Let’s re-purpose the money now used for wars that punish our “enemies,” and use it to provide a college education for every citizen, plus affordable graduate school afterwards. It would no longer be necessary to mire our students down in debt for the rest of their lives, making the bankers incredibly rich.
Think how new breakthroughs in scientific research could be funded and supervised by a peoples’ government rather than corporate enterprise. Innovations could be used to benefit everyone on the planet instead of enriching only the privileged elites through exclusive patents purchased with corporate campaign contributions.
Think how we could revitalize our sagging economy and adapt it to 21st century realities if we gave up old-fashioned notions about markets that are driving the U.S. economic racecar over the cliff of climate change. New policies of slow or moderate growth, coupled with domestic policies that provide real social justice and redistribute income downward, would do away with the inequality that now prevents our economic recovery.
Let’s work to move our country in a peaceful and prosperous direction. It would be a refreshing change and it’s just a matter of revising our spending priorities. Let’s get out of the business of being “king of the hill” and try peace and prosperity instead.
As a nation, we know how to achieve that, if we only had the political will. A growing number of people are making that decision these days. A revolution is coming, fueled by citizen belief that “globalization” can mean co-existence and cooperation.