Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Producer-Side and Consumer-Side Politics

It is time to rethink the direction that a radical political movement should take in the modern economy.

Traditionally, the left has believed that we need to move from a capitalist economy to a government-directed economy - that government agencies running will be industries will be essentially benevolent.

But we should know by now that big government tends to promote its own growth as surely as big business does. That is the lesson we should have learned from what New Deal and post-war policies did to our cities by building freeways and promoting suburbanization. The government's freeway builders were just as intent on aggrandizing their own function as General Motors was.

The left always used the Tennessee Valley Authority as a key example of benevolent government, but the TVA has become one of the nation's biggest promoter of nuclear power.

Agencies like the TVA made sense at a time when we needed the government to promote economic growth to relieve poverty, but they are not central to dealing with our current problem of reining in growth.

Today we need direct political limits on growth - including growth managed by the private sector and the public sector. We tend to think of ourselves as passive consumers who are dependent on big business and big government to provide us with goods and services, and we need to start thinking of ourselves as citizens who can use the law to limit both big business and big government.

It is not a matter of socialism versus capitalism but of moving beyond the general faith in technology and economic growth that cut across all political parties during the twentieth century.

Through the nineteenth and twentieth century, leftist politics focused on the producer side: it wanted to reorganize the system of production to promote economic growth in a way that benefited most people.

Now, I believe we have to focus on the consumer side: reorganizing the system is not as important as making it possible for people to downshift and consume less.


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