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Do we have an economic crisis in America – or just a distribution crisis?

Kevin Barrett

Kevin Barrett Reporting Live from the Economic Democracy Conference in Madison, Wisconsin — Day 2

Song: Julie B. Bonnie, “I Don’t Need Money”

Do we have an economic crisis in America – or just a distribution crisis? Where did the concept of “economic democracy” come from – and where is it going? What does it mean when the global derivatives market is ten times as big as the entire global economy? Which makes you happier, buying things for yourself, or giving your money away to other people? Is there no alternative to the current economic order – or is another world possible?

These are some of the questions that are being asked, and answered, here at the Economic Democracy Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.

Let’s recap what some of the speakers here have told us.

Keynote speaker Gar Alperovitz, author of America Beyond Capitalism, says that our current economic system isn’t much different from the feudalism of the Middle Ages. In those days, the feudal lords owned just about everything, and the serfs almost nothing. Today, the “feudal lords” are the super-rich. According to Gar Alperovitz, America’s top feudal lords, the 400 richest people in America, own more than the bottom 150 million people. That’s right: The richest 400 have more wealth than the poorest 150 MILLION people.

Land ownership is even worse. Alperovitz points out that only 5% America’s population owns more than 95% of its privately-owned land. That means that 95% of the population – that’s us, folks – owns only 5% of the land. Forty acres and a mule, anyone?

If this kind of extreme and growing inequality is the problem, people here say, “economic democracy” is the solution.

But what is “economic democracy”?

Jason Schreiner, who teaches Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon, explains that the term “economic democracy” dates to the nineteen-teens and nineteen-twenties. One of the landmarks was CH Douglas’s book Social Credit, published in 1924.

Jason Shreiner says that the mantra of the 1980s and 1990s liberalization and globalization policies was TINA, “There Is No Alternative.” The anti-globalization movement responded with AWIP, “Another World Is Possible.” Today, economic democracy advocates are not just saying that another world IS possible. They’re working on specific ideas to create that other world. Jason Shreiner cited alternative currencies, including the local currencies that are springing up all over the country. He cited movements to finance local economies with local capital. He cited the cooperatives movement. And he cited a program he’s been working with in Eugene, Oregon, called SEED: Solidarity Economy and Ecological Design.

Let’s pick up the end of Jason Shreiner’s talk.

[Shreiner audio]

Another speaker here at the Economic Democracy Conference in Madison, Wisconsin is Laura Dresser. She’s the Associate Director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy. Laura Dresser says America doesn’t have an economic problem – we’re the richest nation on earth! If we divided up the pie equally, every four-person American family would get $192,000 per year! But that level of consumption, she says, is unsustainable. We would need at least six planets, she says, for everyone on earth to consume at US levels. So it isn’t an economic problem, according to Laura Dresser. It’s a very serious POLITICAL problem. And it’s a boundaries problem, and a consumption problem. Let’s listen to Laura Dresser:

[Dresser audio]

Tom Barefoot, from the Gross National Happiness USA Project in the state of Vermont, picked up on the theme that money can’t buy happiness. He cited a psychology study in which undergraduate students were given $150. One group was told to spend the day giving the money away. The second group was told to spend it on themselves. At the end of the day, they did a whole slew of happiness tests, measured their endorphins, their happiness brain waves, the neurons firing in their pleasure centers…the whole nine yards. They found that the people who gave the money away were markedly happier than the people who spent it on themselves.

Why is that? Tom Barefoot explains that brain research has discovered the altruism center in the human brain, and that it’s linked with happiness. Unfortunately, he said, our culture is working overtime to destroy our capacity for altruism – and thus destroy our capacity for happiness. A classic example, he said, are botox parties. These are sort of like tupperware parties or Amway parties, except that instead of selling tupperware or dishsoap, the hostess is selling botox facial injections, which are supposed to make you look younger. The problem, Tom Barefoot explains, is that these botox injections paralyze the so-called mirror neurons in our faces. These mirror neurons automatically fire to put our facial expressions in emotional synch with the facial expressions of the people we’re talking to. They’re a crucial part of the neurology of empathy, compassion, altruism, and happiness. They’re a core part of how we relate with other people. So when people get these botox injections, Tom Barefoot explained, the mirror neurons stop working, wreaking emotional havoc on the individual’s relationship with his or her loved ones. Talking to a person with botox injections is sort of like talking to a person wearing a mask. Actually it’s worse, because we don’t unconsciously expect a mask to mirror our facial expressions of emotion, like we do with an actual human face. As Tom Barefoot put it: Botox creates a blank face without micro-muscle movements – a blank face that is antithetical to empathy and cooperation. Unfortunately, the botox smiley face is pretty much the official face of capitalism.

Let’s listen for a few minutes to Tom Barefoot of the Gross National Happiness Project:

[Tom Barefoot clip]

These are some of the highlights from the action thus far at the Economic Democracy Conference in Madison, Wisconsin happening Thursday through Sunday, October 9th through 13th, 2012. I’m Kevin Barrett for No Lies Radio saying that money can’t buy happiness – but it sure can make you happy if you give it away to a good cause, like NoLiesRadio.org, where we’re bringing you the news that the mainstream media just won’t report.

Song: Julie B. Bonnie, “I Don’t Need Money”

Filed by Kevin Barrett on 10/13/2012 reporting for No Lies Radio News

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