An address I hope President Obama will deliver | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: June 22, 2024

What he needs to say and do to create an economy that serves human rather than financial values

David Korten | March 2009 issue

Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. presidency on a promise of change. Before his inauguration, indeed before his election, I drafted the following as my dream for the economic address he might deliver during his administration in fulfillment of the economic aspect of that promise. This speech presents the missing option—the program that a U.S. president must one day be able to announce and implement if there’s to be any hope for our economic, social and environmental future.
Fellow Citizens,
My administration came to office with a mandate for bold action at a time when our most powerful economic institutions had clearly failed us. They crippled our economy; burdened our federal, state and local governments with debilitating debts; divided us between the profligate and the desperate; corrupted our political institutions; and threatened the destruction of the natural environment on which our very lives depend.
The failure can be traced directly to an ideology that says if government favors the financial interests of the rich, disregarding all else, everyone will benefit and the nation will prosper. A 30-year experiment with trickle-down economics that favored the interests of Wall Street speculators over the hard-working people and businesses of Main Street proved not to work. We now live with the devastating consequences.
Corrective action begins with recognition that our economic crisis is, at its core, a moral crisis. Our economic institutions and rules, even the indicators by which we measure economic performance, consistently place financial values ahead of life values. We have no more time or resources to devote to fixing a system based on false values and a discredited ideology. We must now come together to create the institutions of a new economy founded on a values-based pragmatism that recognizes a simple truth: If the world is to work for any of us, it must work for all of us.
Let us henceforth measure economic performance by the indicators of what we really want: the health and well-being of our children, families, communities and natural environments. We’ll henceforth strive to grow the things we really want, while seeking to reduce the cost in money and natural resources:

  • We’ll strive for food independence by rebuilding our local food systems based on family farms and eco-friendly farming methods that revitalize the soil, maximize yields per acre, minimize the use of toxic chemicals and create opportunities for the many young people who are returning to the land.
  • We’ll strive for energy independence by supporting local entrepreneurs who are creating and growing local businesses to retrofit our buildings and develop and apply renewable energy technologies.
  • We’ll rebuild our infrastructure around a model of walkable, bicycle-friendly communities with efficient public transportation to conserve energy, nurture the relationships of community and recover our farms and forest lands.
  • We’ll seek to create a true ownership society in which all people have the opportunity to own their own homes and have an ownership stake in the enterprises on which their livelihoods depend. Our economic policies will favor responsible local ownership of local enterprises by people who have a stake in the health of their local communities and economies.

There will be no more government bailouts of failed corporations during my administration. Any private corporation that’s too big to fail is too big to exist. We’ll institute vigorous antitrust enforcement to break up excessive concentrations of economic power and restore market discipline.
There’s no place in a life-serving 21st-century economy for financial speculation, predatory lending or institutions that exist primarily to engage in these illegitimate practices. We’ll act to render Wall Street’s casino-like operations unprofitable. The brainpower and computing capacity now devoted to trading electronic documents in speculative financial markets will be put to work solving real social and environmental problems and financing life-serving Main Street enterprises that create green living-wage jobs.
By recommitting ourselves to the founding ideals of this great nation, focusing on our possibilities and liberating ourselves from failed ideas and institutions, together we can create a stronger, better nation that secures a fulfilling life for every person and honors the premise of the Declaration of Independence that every individual is endowed with an unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
David C. Korten is the author of When Corporations Rule the World
and The Post Corporate World: Life After Capitalism, among other books. This is an edited excerpt from Agenda for a New Economy, published by Berrett-Koehler.

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