Toward a Creative Prosperity Agenda

creative prosperity is sustainable prosperity

To build a future of vibrant open democracy and robust and sustainable economic prosperity, it is necessary to privilege creative activities and constructive solutions to the challenges we face. Addressing major challenges in constructive, innovative ways, is the single most significant driver, historically, of sustained economic booms. In short, we need to move deliberately and swiftly toward a creative prosperity agenda.

The first consideration, then, is to examine how the creative prosperity agenda would differ from what we are doing now. At present, we are wrestling with the complex fabric of consequence related to long-running economic distortions, most of which we have not yet corrected. Healthcare reform and financial regulatory reform were comprehensive in scope, but moderate in impact, cautious and rooted in the prevailing model; energy reform needs to move forward rapidly and do more to prioritize innovation.

We are facing a major, civilization-wide transition from one way of conceptualizing political and economic power to another. We stand at the dawn of what should be the global solidification of open democracy as the standard for elevating and defending human dignity and freedom of thought. But we need to build creative prosperity into that future, and this will require a fundamental shift in the dominant view which holds that power is more effective when concentrated in fewer hands.

That view comes from ancient times—from prehistoric times, in fact—when the governing principle of human life was the need to survive in competition with forces far more powerful than any one individual, family or band. Power, then, was a combination of accumulated resources and raw force. In that light, power is a destructive force, requiring intense concentration of resources and the ability to draw a line between the inside and the outside of the power circle.

the feudal (concentration) model

Economically, the fact of human society was that there was not enough technology, enough resources, enough liberty, to deliver real comfort to most or all people. In fact, there was only the material wealth to deliver substantial comfort to about 1 in every 100 people. The model of concentration allowed those in that 1 percent to cling to comfort and fight off would-be attackers.

The only way into the circle in which power, means and comfort were concentrated was to pay the toll for access. That might be done by force of arms, or by handing over significant sums of wealth. Paying the toll perpetuated the model, and won significant privileges for those who helped to make sure that system remained viable.

This developed eventually into authoritarian empires and the medieval elevation of aristocracy. The logic of the model of concentration held: those inside the circle must remain there, and the society must be organized to keep them there. They were, it was presumed, worth more than other people, and so they were able to treat their privilege as if it were part of a life of service—maintaining law and order—to those with less.

the democracy (decentralization) model

Modern democracy posits an entirely different model: the model of decentralization. Modern democracy, according to the ideals of the American revolution and the French revolution, requires a comprehensive departure from the status quo of feudal dominance. It requires the engineering of a model for economic and political activity whereby power cannot be concentrated, and where excessive concentration of power brings disadvantage.

A creative prosperity agenda for public policy and economic renewal would put aside the bias of the old model, once and for all, asking enterprises large and small to join together in a fabric of imaginative competition, prioritizing localization, innovation and service value to the marketplace. It would help to recapture the energy of modern democracy, wherein monopolies and juggernauts sputter and trudge, slowed by their weight, and individuals and small businesses are better able to take the field, to effect positive change, to feed a generalized economic expansion.

The key to that model is the vibrancy of an expanding and upwardly mobile middle class. Achieving that means doing what the United States did so effectively in the 1950s and 1960s, decentralizing the levers for creating wealth, allowing more free people to participate not only as citizens but as leaders and entrepreneurs.

losing our former focus on creative (decentralized) prosperity

A period of intensive deregulation in key industries has led the United States’ economy into a period of prolonged slow growth, because it has led to the hyper-concentration of wealth and of access to the levers of wealth-creation generally. Average household income has dropped by about $2,500 since 2000, even as the gap between average pay and the earnings of the wealthiest has expanded to historic highs.

There is a problematic knock-on effect of this, which is that innovation is no longer a priority, as major conglomerates seek first of all to secure their position. Upstarts like Apple are not emerging at the rate they were during previous periods of economic expansion, and the most powerful, most concentrated interests—Apple now among them—are controlling the field of play.

recapturing momentum: how to build a creative prosperity agenda

There are a couple of key changes that need to take place to move toward a creative prosperity agenda:

  1. Move from a bias favoring large conglomerates to one against them;
  2. Move away from subsidies for high-polluting, low-yield fossil fuels;
  3. Move toward clean energy technologies that favor rapid innovation, brainy startups, more robust job creation, and local economies;
  4. Revive national commitment, public and private, to infrastructure redevelopment;
  5. Provide direct tax credits for real job creation (payable on a per-job basis);
  6. Establish sustainability incentives for municipalities (ref: Sustainable Jersey), states and businesses;
  7. Establish an aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard;
  8. Prioritize higher education spending, including post-graduate studies incentives for businesses looking to sponsor their employees;
  9. Introduce critical thinking, macroeconomic studies, engineering basics and public policy debate, to public high schools—judge these as more valuable than test scores;
  10. Make sure tax reforms are not regressive; make sure they prioritize family and community-level “thriving”, i.e. asset-building, quality of life and spending power;
  11. Tax derivative financial instruments at a higher rate than direct capital investments in enterprise, innovation and hiring;
  12. Apply national policy to correct market distortions relating to fossil fuel costs.

The outcome of this process of reform would be:

  • accelerated, more widespread innovation;
  • entree for creative small business models;
  • unprecedented opportunities for sustained hiring;
  • more vibrant, resilient local economies;
  • a consumer-centered smart electricity grid;
  • cleaner air and water;
  • a sustainable economy where growth is not tied to the promotion of vast negative externalities;
  • more robust civic engagement from citizens, communities and creative thinkers…

The United States is perfectly capable of achieving this kind of virtuous cycle between democratization, decentralization, creative thinking, entrepreneurship and the expansion of the middle class. But substantive policy changes need to be made—to remove the incentive for corrosive activities that favor the unhealthy concentration of wealth and productive capacity and motivate the revival of generative activities that favor the healthy decentralization of assets and productive capacity.

A vibrant middle class—where the best ideas can come to the fore and be implemented and the dignity and worth of citizens and communities takes priority over the naked pursuit of profit—is better suited to fostering creative, sustainable prosperity. The first step is to recognize where we favor profit over people, and then work to change the prevailing model and free human creative talent to achieve that goal.

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