Culture Change
Search
23 June 2018
Home arrow Petro-addiction arrow Erasing/Seizing Wealth of "The 1%" Cannot Create Viable Middle Class or Solve Sustainability Crisis
Erasing/Seizing Wealth of "The 1%" Cannot Create Viable Middle Class or Solve Sustainability Crisis PDF Print E-mail
User Rating: / 23
PoorBest 
by Jan Lundberg   
23 November 2011
ImageThere may well be a revolution, peaceful or otherwise, based on the outrageous income disparity perpetrated by greedy, non-civic minded capitalists. However, even if their vast monetary wealth were turned over to "the 99%," divided equally and put to good uses for future generations, the problem is that today's wealth is almost entirely artificial. It has become digital and is little else.

Of useful, lasting value is the land that can grow food, retain water, and withstand climate chaos on the rise. One can only hope that the Occupy movement will hit upon this and recognize that whether reforms or a revolution upset the apple cart -- allowing the common people to get their share of apples -- today's astronomical sums of funny money is not edible. Today it can buy a lot, true, but there is no future for a financially based economy propped up by inflated home values, loans, debts, and deficit spending. The cheap oil that built everything physical is now past its halfway depletion point globally, and oil's high price is hugely subsidized.

Think of it this way: if there are 100 people in a community, and one person owns several times as much wealth as the average person among the other 99 based on the industrial, material and financial system, what happens if the community is faced with a permanent cessation of key resources and most output? Before the cessation there could be redistribution, but an unsustainable economy based on endless growth -- when resource constraint has terminated growth -- will sustain no middle class splendor for the other 99 (or 72 or 35, what have you). You can picture the wealth running out for everyone -- even if it were not the digital, inflated money that formed Wall Street fortunes based on "financial instruments" that compounded and multiplied bundles of debt down to the local and individual level.

So the timing of the Occupy revolution -- whatever it becomes, if it succeeds somehow in redistributing today's material and digital wealth -- happens to come not only when income disparity is at an all time extreme, but when population size is at an all time high, and the unusustainable economy is teetering. It is not teetering because "the 1%" took more than their share (although the greed aggravated symptoms of unsustainability), but rather because the natural wealth of healthy land, clean water, stable climate, rich biodiversity, have been severely depleted.

Global greenhouse gas emissions are unabated, and climate scientists are now saying that turning the warming trend around is probably not possible. So, how can redistributing the pie of consumption solve anything, unless an accompanying lifestyle change and massive tree planting take over?

The New York City greater metropolitan area has over 25 million people. Their ecological footprint is about 19 times the area of the land they occupy. So where are the resources, such as food, energy, materials, water and air coming from? Answer: from healthier land far removed. The idea of a transition to a sustainable, steady state economy is beautiful and sensible. But with such high numbers, and almost no effort happening on a large scale to conserve or restore nature for local food production, for example, even a wildly successful Occupy movement or Transition Town program cannot care for 25 million people depending on a huge footprint. Today only 5 out of 6 people in the U.S. are not going hungry, but it is accomplished through expensive and subsidized petroleum, dwindling clean water, and food imported from afar. Money from the super rich would not change the big picture long into the future.

Given all of the above, one must conclude that the Occupy movement should recognize that economic and ecological collapse are in the pipeline, and that redistribution of land is more important than stripping the super rich of most of their money. Because, that money won't do much to sustain people in today's damaged, overpopulated and depleted world. Even if "the 1%" let go of most of their wealth voluntarily, and saw to it that there was even redistribution, today's modern world cannot keep up the massive consumption going on and on with no end in sight.

One could crunch numbers to arrive at various levels of sharing or redistributing wealth in order to bolster or refute the thesis that shutting down greed will not change much. If wealth redistribution were to happen before petrocollapse and climate collapse, the redistribution itself could bring on socioeconomic collapse or financial chaos. Regardless, there is no disputing that the consumer economy and our population size are unsustainable. No matter how you slice it, the vast wealth today generated for the enjoyment of the few, even if re-routed, is not going to allow for a happy, enlarged middle class who could be indefinitely satisfied with one nice car, one spacious or comfortable home, etc. An apt comparison is that Western Europeans consume half the energy that North Americans do, per capita -- that's admirable and superior, but also unsustainable.

So it is too late for mass exuberance, as Overshoot author William Catton termed our modern lifestyle and economy. To demand, as some Occupiers do, "our economy back" or to criticize the banksters for "wrecking our economy" is to cling to the American Dream, as if it were obtainable by everyone forever. Similarly, to imagine that the U.S. corporate state was a democracy working just fine until perhaps 1980 or 2001, the basis of the nation's power structure is forgotten or never learned. These delusions merely glorify the prior decades up to now that were unacceptable then, too, and assuredly were leading to the more aggravated class distinction we see today.

A non-exuberant lifestyle and a common set of realistic, nature-loving, cooperative aspirations need to take the place of the dominant paradigm that has been faulty and unfair from the start. Expansion was able to take care of much potential discontent for many decades, and with no more expansion or bona fide "recovery" it's no wonder that discontent is rising now in the streets when the curtain has come down on growth.

* * * * *

"Occupy the Land" goes into the issues of global land reform and the chances for the Occupy movement's evolution: How The Occupy Movement May Be Off-Base, and How It Can Evolve

Catton, William R., 1980, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. Urbana: University of Illinois Press

Greenhouse gases soar; scientists see little chance of arresting global warming this century - The Washington Post

Level of Heat-Trapping CO2 Reaches New High, Growth Rate Speeds Up, Methane Levels Are Rising Again - ThinkProgress

Prior articles by Jan Lundberg on the Occupy movement:

Update from DC: Occupy, pepperspray, peak oil, sail power, Congress Nov. 23, 2011

The Occupiers' dream: an easy revolution?
Also in this report on the global Occupy movement:
- Community-healing
- What is the goal of Occupy, given the root problems?
Oct. 16, 2011

What's up with the Occupy protests - for a sustainable culture? Oct. 5, 2011

Dollar-sign-with-wings image is courtesy Beet Maker
Comments (8)Add Comment
I just want to say hi. I love reading the articles here. There are many well-informed points made here on a regular basis. I learn a great deal by reading the words posted on this electronic weblog.

Unfortunately, I don't think humanity will manifest the necessary solutions in time to save itself from decimation and ultimate doom. I wish this were not the case, but I have simply lost faith in humanity.

Cheers,
Shawn Gillick
http://www.gillickwebdesign.com
Shawn Gillick
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +3
Once again you "nailed it". Keep up the good work.
craig moodie
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +1
Hi Jan, Thank you for spelling out the realistic prospects for our civilization and our species once again. I appreciate your arguments and your reasonable tone in this post. I was quite impressed with the proposed vision and goals for OWS that were posted on Michael Moore's site yesterday. However, as you point out, humans need to literally come down to earth and relate with the depleted state of the planet if we are to survive. And, even if some of us do that, it is very unlikely that the number of humans that can survive will be more than a fraction of those living now. Thanks for the reminder, Jan.

Suzanne Duarte
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
hi Jan, i don't think it is only the 1% that are wrecking the economy and causing all these problems, just look the thousands and thousands of people that spent the night waiting for the stores to open their doors for Black Friday savings. Are these people part of the 99% ? i don't think so.
What is wrong with this picture? On one hand, we are asking for "economic justice" for all, on the other hand, we keep consuming as if there is no tomorrow and by doing this, we allow the big corporations making more profits (and those corporations are the same ones we don't like, right?)
Am i missing some points here?
i think it is not only the 1% that need to change, we all need to downsize our footprint, we all need to understand we are in the same boat and when it sinks we will sink together.
And we need to understand that, regardless how "difficult" is the situation for some people --here in Canada and the USA, we live in very rich, "overdeveloped" countries. Maybe we could say that we are part of the 1% of the contries.
We are living in a delusional world. Maybe it is time to think about #OCCUPYTHEREALWORLD ?

and please, don't go shopping this weekend !
norberto rodriguez
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +8
Jan,

I agree with you, that redistributing wealth cannot solve the crisis. But there are some factors you didn't explore.

The fact that "today's wealth is almost entirely artificial", which I agree with, isn't the whole story. We have 10 million people out of work. The system is still set up so offering those people some of the wealth in return for labor would get them all doing something. And for me, that's brings up a problem that is often overlooked.

The 1% have a perspective on life that has driven the world into the crisis we are in. They were the "robber barons", the plantation slave owners, the mill owners and sweatshop operators. They are not able to think broadly about the world, or care what happens to it. Because they control the wealth and the government, they are able to cause the catastrophe we are witnessing. This is my primary reason for agreeing they must be stopped.

I think the hidden assumption of the Occupy Wall Street people is that, the 99%, who are closer to the misery of life, would be more sensitive to what is happening in the environment. Unfortunately, THAT may be wishful thinking. All humans share a number of psychological faults due to our evolutionary path. (see A3society.org - 7 deadly sins) But that's one of the assumptions.

Therefore, the argument goes, take $100 billion or so from the elite and redirect it to uses the 1% are ignoring, like the environment. That money, artificial or not, still has the ability to mobilize armies of workers, that would otherwise be sitting around watching TV. Jan,
I agree with you, that redistributing wealth cannot solve the crisis. But there are some factors you didn't explore.

The fact that "today's wealth is almost entirely artificial", which I agree with, isn't the whole story. We have 10 million people out of work. The system is still set up so offering those people some of the wealth in return for labor would get them all doing something. And for me, that's brings up a problem that is often overlooked.

The 1% have a perspective on life that has driven the world into the crisis we are in. They were the "robber barons", the plantation slave owners, the mill owners and sweatshop operators. They are not able to think broadly about the world, or care what happens to it. Because they control the wealth and the government, they are able to cause the catastrophe we are witnessing. This is my primary reason for agreeing they must be stopped.

I think the hidden assumption of the Occupy Wall Street people is that, the 99%, who are closer to the misery of life, would be more sensitive to what is happening in the environment. Unfortunately, THAT may be wishful thinking. All humans share a number of psychological faults due to our evolutionary path. (see A3society.org - 7 deadly sins) But that's one of the assumptions.

Therefore, the argument goes, take $100 billion or so from the elite and redirect it to uses the 1% are ignoring, like the environment. That money, artificial or not, still has the ability to mobilize armies of workers, that would otherwise be sitting around watching TV.
Nanook
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
Jan,
You remain a beacon of insight and common sense. If only I had started reading your stuff years ago---I could have taken a short-cut to the truth without stumbling over so many distractions.

"Democracy is not a panacea" http://candobetter.net/node/2666

Tim Murray
Tim Murray
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
Please explain to me (and us, "Te People") exactly how the repeating cycle of Great Depre$$ions will be ended without abolishing the parasitic "Federal Reserve System" AND the PRIVATE, GLOBAL "Central Bank" cartel: http://www.abovetopsecret.com/...554741/pg1
Les Ego
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0
According to Derrick Jensen, civilization is a way of life characterized by the growth of cities. Cities, as Jan points out with the example of New York and its ecological footprint, are an inherent drain on the Earth's resources and hence antithetical to sustainable living.

Unfortunately, this way of life characterized by cities is also the only way industrial capitalism can function, and therefore is necessary for the continued existence of a 1% ruling class. These are the rich and powerful maintaining a stranglehold on the destinies of the humans and nonhumans making up an underclass to be exploited. The rich and powerful will not give up this stranglehold willingly, as is shown by the waves of recent repression coming down on a movement that has yet to accomplish much outside of mobilization and a slight shift in the popular discourse.

Essentially this way of life is necessary for the powerful to continue their reign of terror. And they will not give it up without a fight. As Frederick Douglass famously stated, "Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will." So what kind of demands actually stand a chance at altering the course of this monstrosity? In short, only those demands that have a material impact on the 1% could conceivable bring us back from the brink of complete collapse. Anything less than direct confrontation with the material structures of power will leave those structures intact, and thus able to continue towards their destructive ends.

In the end, if we hope to have a chance at a sustainable, just future we must escalate the struggle. Deep Green Resistance is a movement that is growing amidst the ranks of activists who see the futility of many current efforts. Industrial civilization must be confronted as the machine of death that it truly is. The Occupy Movement has the makings of a revolutionary struggle, but it will only succeed if we can properly align our actions with an honest assessment of the predicament we face. Deep Green Resistance has a strategy for anyone ready to fight for the planet, and win... Now this ware has two sides. Learn more about groups that are forming near you, or just learn more about how you can play a part in the struggle for life:

deepgreenresistance.org
Deep Green Resistance
report abuse
vote down
vote up

Votes: +0

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 
< Prev   Next >

Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387, Santa Cruz, California, 95063, USA, Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax).
Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.
Some articles are published under Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. See Fair Use Notice for more information.