Our situation is grim and depressing and needs to be addressed NOW. Our common wealth is deteriorating and it guarantees our money.
We are losing our natural, cultural, social and economic resources. For most of the last century the US was a prosperous nation and the dollar was a highly respected and relatively stable currency, prized as a reserve and guarantor globally. You can follow this period of prosperity and global respect on the exponential curve of our money supply chart – it is the relatively flat part of the first two thirds of the curve.
Today we are shooting nearly straight up the end of the curve and we have deteriorating infrastructure, declining natural resources, one third of our population popping heavy duty pain killers and anti-depressants, an inability to respond to natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Maria, a corrupt financial system, and a declining respect for our nation in the global community.
Common wealth must be stewarded; it needs care and protection. But our current money system promotes the withering away of our infrastructure. On the one hand, we do not adequately value our natural and human resources, which allows big business to reap more profits. And, then, because the bankers’ bad promises have been increasing, we have been selling off our common wealth to private interests to keep our promise to back up the bankers and the value of our money. This strategy will ultimately destroy the nation.
The exploitation and degradation of natural resources
The air we breathe and the water we drink are the fundamentals of life – our most precious common wealth. Underground aquifers are being depleted at rates well beyond the earth’s capacity to refill them. The Ogallala aquifer, which stretches through eight states from South Dakota to Texas and supplies 30 percent of the nation’s irrigated groundwater, will be used up within 50 years unless current water use is reduced.130 If we don’t make radical changes, within a lifetime we will not have the minimum of water required for basic human needs. A wealthy elite are already training people to accept that water can and should be privatized. Big corporate interests are sucking up water, putting it into bottles and selling this natural resource. Soon, water, and thus living, will be only for those who can afford it.131
In 1980, 21 percent of US land was arable (good for food growing). In 2015, it was down to 17 percent.132 We have nearly 470 million acres of arable land in cultivation today – about 1.6 acres per person. We are losing ONE MILLION acres each year due to urbanization, multiplying transportation networks and industrial expansion. By 2050, only 30 years from now, we will be down to about 1/2 acre per person – not enough to sustain a diverse diet.
Yes, I’ve seen the futuristic stacking, no-earth gardens in imagined cities. Will it be enough and nutritious? It’s a gamble with our children’s lives, because changing the flora, fauna, land and water changes the planet. There is good news. Organizations like American Farmland Trust have been working successfully with state governments to protect farmland. While they report we are still losing 175 acres of farmland every hour, for the past few years, the loss has been slowing a tiny bit.133
We are losing millions of trees to drought, bark beetle, and fire – all caused by hotter temperatures. More than 100 million trees have died in California in the past few years, 62 million in 2016 alone.134 And, that’s not counting the trees we harvest or chop down to accommodate development and other agricultural practices. Trees protect our watersheds and clean our air. When the trees go, so go our freshwater and fresh air systems.
Melting ice has reached a point of no return as the rate of loss escalates faster than scientists expected.135 These changes will have a deadly impact on species acclimated to a specific region and climate. The impact will be exponential. Deaths of little species and habitats at one end of the food chain will pyramid into catastrophic loss.
We are squeezing the life out of the planet. In May, 2007 Ahmed Djoghlaf, head of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, said that _“Extinction rates are rising by a factor of up to 1,000 above natural rates. Every hour, three species disappear. Every day, up to 150 species are lost.” _136 According to a 1998 survey of 400 biologists conducted by New York’s American Museum of Natural History, nearly 70 percent believed that we are currently in the early stages of a human-caused mass extinction event, comparable to the End Cretaceous Extinction that took place 66 million years ago. It already has names – the Holocene, the Sixth, or the Anthropocene Extinction.137
The earth is an astounding complex web of abundant life. Every single species, including humans, relies on a web of life we are only beginning to understand. It is suicidal to destroy what is essential to our lives. But, a system that demands exponential growth must find and exploit new resources and new markets; it cannot ask, “How can we find a healthy equilibrium?”
This is now. Unless we take immediate, strong action, we’re too late. Life as we know it will be gone and humans may be extinct. We may still have a rapidly closing window of time to change our behavior and take remedial action. Prudence and stewardship demand it. If we do not make radical change, all the rest of these consequences are inconsequential.
In 2016, the Union of Concerned Scientists presented evidence that ExxonMobil was aware of the threat posed by man-made climate change as early as 1981. They spent millions to intentionally deceive the public to preserve their fossil fuel profits.138 They used their power of great wealth to compromise life as we know it.
The exploitation and degradation of social and cultural resources
We are blessed. We live in a nation with a Constitution that gives us freedom to make responsible choices in a diverse and vibrant economy. We are a democratic republic; we can participate in making the laws that govern our lives. These are the blessings of Liberty and a significant building block of our common wealth.
An effective democracy requires three important components: citizens who are informed; independent thinkers; and who have diverse worldviews, aptitudes, and knowledge bases. Over the past century, as the money system transferred wealth to the very few, we significantly diminished these attributes (Chapter 6.72).
Jane Mayer, in her book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016) tells us some of the ways this happened. She tells stories of the corruption of our public education, institutions of higher education, our judiciary and our institutions of law-making and oversight by weaponized philanthropy.139 Here are a few.
After the Great Depression, most people were thoroughly disgusted with corporate America’s greed and irresponsibility. Americans wanted curbs on those who valued money over the general welfare. We wanted standards and supervision over our food processors – no more fingers or people falling into the meat grinders in Chicago. Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle (1906) about the meat-packing industry, blew the whistle on that.
We wanted to put everyone to work who wanted to work and created the Works Progress Administration. It gave over 8.5 million Americans jobs and built heritage assets in national parks, schools and hospitals. It reinvigorated civic centers and the economy. But no Big Money interests skimmed off a profit, so these jobs and many aspects of the New Deal were not welcome by the very wealthy few. They needed a way to shift social and economic thinking away from taking care of us all to increasing their private wealth. And, they succeeded.
In the early 20th century a small group of very wealthy people came up with the idea of the Family Foundation tax dodge – put a billion in a foundation, spend the income for 20 years on philanthropy, and then take ownership of the principle tax free. These foundations did some public good. Some of the income they were required to spend built libraries, university buildings, and art museums. But by mid-century, they began using this income to turn our schools, universities, judiciary, media, and churches into propaganda arms for policies that increase their wealth.
Our educational and research institutions
Since the 1980s, reduced taxes on the ultra-rich meant less tax revenue. As public funding for education shrunk, schools became dependent on the largesse of family foundations. For decades, family foundations have paid for programs in our universities that promote their economic and social agenda. They pay for the promotion of ideas like cutting taxes on the rich, eliminating estate taxes, taxing capital gains at a lower rate than wage income. Research and papers produced by the programs they fund find justification for policies that benefit the very wealthy at everyone else’s expense.
Academic research and writing are now deeply corrupted by the agenda of the money power. Most law schools have family foundation funded programs that promote free-from-regulation business law. Many major universities have economics departments funded to promote an ideology that supports the wealthy – deregulate, it’s OK to kill employees or customers if it makes you money, lower taxes on the rich, and privatize public services.
Big Pharma dictates medical research, assuring drug sales are the treatment of choice taught in our medical schools; if it makes you healthy, but doesn’t make anyone money, then it’s not worth studying and funding will be hard to secure.
The recommendations for the food we eat are tainted, corrupted by the interests of Big Ag and Big Food. For example, Tufts University has one of the largest nutrition programs in the nation. With industry partners (donors) their nutrition center promoted a Smart Choices food labeling program to inform family food buyers with a check mark on product packaging. The board making the decisions about what is a smart choice is mostly food industry insiders. They gave good food choice checks to foods heavily laden with sugars and salts, including Froot Loops for kids’ breakfasts.140 Labeling Froot Loops a good breakfast choice renders the University’s activities suspect. One wonders if all its research findings are equally corrupt and directed by the interests of their donors.
Can our institutions of research and learning look for the truth, or are they limited to looking for results the people who control their funding want them to produce?
Jane Mayer also exposes how the ultra-rich have used their family foundation money to change the curriculum in our law schools to reflect ideas and policies that protect and enlarge their wealth. In addition to funding departments and chairs in our law schools that promote their view, they focus on changing the thinking of the sitting judiciary. Today over 40 percent of sitting judges have been on two-week intensive training and relaxation junkets at luxury resorts, where the principles of leave-them-be-to-make-profits-any-way-they- can capitalism are mainlined into jurisprudence. Mayer describes these junkets as a combination of Soviet re-education camp and Club Med – a free two weeks of morning seminars at luxury resorts that promote a legal perspective favorable to the money power, and afternoons by the pool. It’s hard to disagree with benefactors.
Kevin M. Kruse in his book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (2016) tells the history of how corporate America invested in conflating laissez-faire capitalism with Christianity, co-opting and corrupting the message of Christ. Wealthy owners of big corporations deliberately and successfully worked to convince churches that the social gospel was communism; a good Christian should equate gospel with free enterprise, laissez- faire economics, deregulation, and the Republican Party. With many churches, they succeeded.141
Beginning back in the 1930s, wealthy family foundations and associations of big corporate owners gave cash rewards to ministers who wrote sermons promoting free enterprise and an unregulated marketplace. They compiled prize winning sermons and broadcast them to churches. They subsidized ministers who were effective in preaching what some call Libertarian Christianity. Over decades from the 1930s to the present, a substantial number of American Christian churches shifted from the Social Gospel – help others, to the Prosperity Gospel – help yourself first, a conflation of Libertarian laissez-faire economics, Ayn Rand selfishness, and Christianity. Instead of preaching to improve the nation’s spiritual life, some ministers began to preach free enterprise, capitalism, deregulation, the desirable and God-blessed accumulation of wealth, and the rich as blessed by God to lead. They began to disparage the poor and downtrodden.
It’s a sad day when those who would lead us to higher spirituality, promote free-from-regulation capitalism and an idolatry of money that is destroying our lives and our planet. It is a profound corruption at our core: the anti-Christ with a 17,000 square foot home wearing an Armani suit in the pulpit and preaching a love of Big Money.
Sadly, the end game of all this loss of our common wealth will benefit neither the bankers nor the country.
I lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for almost twenty years and was fascinated by the extraordinary power of its volcano. I was lucky to see a red lava river up close and it is truly awe inspiring. In the early days of 2018’s devastating eruption, I watched a news clip of a woman who had just lost her home. Her home was built on a 1966 lava flow - a destructive event within her lifetime. Lava was fountaining nearby, she had been forced to evacuate by civil defense. Yet, she said, “I never expected to lose my home; I didn’t take out my belongings because I thought I would be going back.” It is utterly human to be blind to extraordinary events. We all do it. But, with awareness of this tendency, we can stretch to pay attention. We must do this now.
A declining common wealth is compromising the authority and trustworthiness of our money.