It has become a reflexive habit, among progressives in this country, to let Paul Krugman do their economic thinking for them. In contrast to the Socialists, Progressives, and Communists of the 1920s and 1930s, the leftists of the 2010s in the United States do not advance a context for interpretation of recent economic developments beyond the axiom that peace and prosperity are unalloyed goods.
Not the Greens.
Analysis of the economic situation from the standpoint which privileges sustainable economic activity diverges in fundamental ways from “peace & prosperity — good” perspectives and prescriptions. Basically, Krugman urges a humane approach to public policy: unemployment is undoubtedly pernicious, maximal per capita income unquestionably beneficial, and technological improvement benign.
The viewpoint not only of the Green political party but also of the Green movement as a whole, while sharing Krugman’s humane orientation, rejects at a basic level the unquestioned assumption that more of what worked in the past will work in the future. The rejection encompasses not only economic thinking and conclusions but also political methods and aims: we seek a paradigm shift toward a broad empowerment of all levels of society and a consensus model of decision-making as well as a halt to the drive to wrest ever-increasing amounts of wealth out of the natural world.
Greens, while willing to endorse policy prescriptions which move the society and country in the right direction, do not believe that policy choices encompass the changes that present economic and social reality require — on the contrary. That’s exactly why we urge recycling, organic farming, and changes in consumption that superficially do not appear optimally efficient at first glance. We are looking at a much bigger picture than that of the liberal economists. We insist, not only that the Permanent War must be at the top of our agenda for change — which already distinguishes us from the liberals — but also that change must include our ideas of a well-lived life, of a functional social environment, of our status with in the natural world.
Greens are, as our state Party’s website proclaims, neither Right nor Left.
From the time of the 1660s and the establishment of the Royal Society of London and the Paris Academy of Sciences the public intellectuals of the economically developed nations have held up a vision, a vision which fueled the American and French Revolutions of the eighteenth century, of unlimited progress by means of the application of reason in human affairs. The Enlightenment of that century, despite its name, had no place for the transcendent mystical experience of the Buddhists — “enlightenment,” for the Francophone philosophes, consisted of the banishment of any such remnants of a dark and depressing past, freighted with tradition and religion. Everyone could point to the successes of Newtonian physics and the accomplishments of the Industrial Revolution. Unlimited progress beckoned.
I’ve already provided a documented account in a previous incarnation of this blog of the painful lack of awareness, by as prominent a spokesman for rational public policy as former Vice-president Al Gore, of what the excesses of those three revolutions wrought: the Anti-Elightenment, the Counter-Enlightenment, or, if you like, the Romantic movement: the name is not universally settled, but the reaction against and rejection of the doctrine of unlimited progress is. A large segment of the leading thinkers of the following two centuries, and of our contemporary world, characterized and continue to characterize the idea of unlimited progress as a lurch toward meaninglessness and a catastrophic failure in practice. That said, the Counter-Enlightenment itself has had its own excesses, among them the doctrines of Nazism, with its embrace of occultism, its glorification of violence, and its terrible simplification of the drawbacks of 20th-century breakdowns in capitalist economic doctrines. An unforgettable vignette of the Anti-Enlightenment is the motto placed above the gate leading to the Auschwitz Death Camp: “Arbeit Macht Frei.” The Nazis made a sardonic joke out of the conscientious industry taught to the inheritors of the Enlightenment — go ahead, believe that hard work will bring you salvation, while we proceed to slaughter you and your entire race.
The underlying distinction between the world views of the Enlightenment and that of the Anti-Enlightenment is the question of the centrality of our spiritual lives. For the latter, but not the former, ethical choices emerge from the spirituality common to all humanity.