Ethicist Peter Singer read the UN’s Millenium Development Plan, which calls for an additional fifty to seventy-five billion dollars a year in order to halve world poverty and hunger and offer an education to every child in the world, among other things. This plan has been stalled out for lack of funding—the US finds it’s more important to take that kind of money and burn it in Iraq, just for openers. We could end world poverty, but we’re too busy fighting the poor. We could end our dependence on fossil fuels, but we’re too busy making sure we’ve got all the fossil fuels we can glom. But, I digress…. Dr. Singer did a little math, and found that raising the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans so that they paid the same ten to thirty-five percent of gross that the rest of us have to give up —leaving them ninety to sixty-five percent of their breathtakingly high annual income–would generate…over four hundred billion dollars a year. Enough to fund the UN anti-poverty program about seven times over. Noblesse oblige, anyone?
Such a change would do more to end terrorism in the world than burning money and bodies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it doesn’t even propose cutting off money to the military/industrial blackmail complex. We could pay those people to sit around and do nothing and we’d all be better off. My old friend and teacher Stephen Gaskin has been saying since the seventies that “there’s plenty to go around,” but nobody believed him. Kudos to Mr. Singer for actually doing the math. Now all it’s gonna take is some political will.
Somebody in the DOE did some math and figured out that there’s enough off-peak power going unused in the US electric grid to substitute plug-in electric vehicles for about eighty-five percent of the gas burners on our highways today. That’s a good news/bad news situation all by itself—it means that our current, disgusting level of urban sprawl just might be sustainable—but the air would be cleaner, especially as more electricity comes from the sun and the wind. Meanwhile, it would encourage the continued strip mine rape of the central Appalachians and encourage the ghouls who are pushing nuclear power. This old curmudgeon would like to see America radically restructured, not just staying the course in electric cars.
I think that one of the most peculiar assumptions of our society is the assumption that everyone who wants full economic citizenship must own a car. Think about that, especially as real wages continue to fall (raising the minimum wage is unlikely to do much for the rest of us) and the “American dream” becomes ever more unattainable for ever more of us, for ever more.
But, just in case you think we’ve got it bad over here, consider the Chinese occupation of Tibet, which continues its genocidal course. The railway into Lhasa is now open, bringing thousands of tourists (and potentially thousands of troops), although it will take much more than passenger fares for the line to show a profit; current projections are that the tracks will sink into Tibet’s melting permafrost before the line pays for itself. Meanwhile, the Chinese are forcing Tibetans to demolish their homesteads and move into Chinese-designed dwellings that do not incorporate room for the livestock that are a necessary component of Tibetan household economies, impoverishing the Tibetans and forcing them into the unsustainable, import-everything, Chinese mode of dwelling on the Tibetan plateau. These are the people we’re trusting with our manufacturing capacity, although they are devious and amoral enough to make all but the most hard-hearted US corporations seem like the very picture of benevolence. What does this bode for how they will treat us when it comes time to call in our massive, mounting debt to them?
The Chinese have adopted our western religion of economics and turned it on us. Cheap is everything, graceful is nothing, and they are better at being ruthless than we are.
I think that one of the things we can do about the macro-economic quicksand we are trapped in, i.e., our declining purchasing power, is to spend our money very carefully, and give as little of it as we can to the vampiric multinational corporations that have gotten so very good at sucking our blood. Buy gasoline, if you must, from Citgo and give your money to Hugo Chavez, not Exxon-Mobil. Buy “consumer goods” from friendly neighborhood yard sales (and get to know your neighbors) and from thrift stores—and if you can’t find it locally, there’s all those virtual yard sales on the internet: eBay, Craig’s list, free- and cheap-cycle. More and more of us taking these steps (hell, our financial circumstances are forcing us, so we might as well!) will begin to starve the Walmarts of the world and their Chinese vampire cohorts. Do you really need cable TV? Haven’t you got something better to do with your time? Tell Comcast to get lost! Learn to work in metal or wood or clay, learn to spin and weave and sew. Learn to garden and cook, for chrissake! Learn to play an instrument and sing and tell stories! Learn to listen to other peoples’ stories! Creating post-consumerist, post-oil, post-corporate, post-industrial culture is a collective enterprise that is being created by you and you and you and me and the network of people we see every day. Let’s get to work and enjoy ourselves!