By Donella Meadows
–October 24, 1996–
Every day in this crazy cartoon campaign the politicians tell us what the American people want. A 15 percent tax cut. Welfare reform. Education. Whatever.
They pay fortunes for polls, these politicians, so you’d think they know what we want. But have you ever been polled? Did you notice what a cramped set of choices you were offered?
“Do you want a tax cut?” they ask. Who would say no? But what I really want is not so much lower taxes as fairer taxes. I don’t mind paying my share if everyone else does. And if the money is spent wisely for real public benefit. And if I don’t have to spend hours figuring out how much I owe.
They don’t seem to be asking or talking about tax fairness, tax simplicity or taxes spent as frugally in the Pentagon as in the welfare system.
So I assume that neither the pols or polls have any idea what we want. They haven’t seriously asked, and we haven’t told them. I think we should tell them, each of us, loud and clear, what we want from the government we vote and pay for. Here’s my list. I’d be glad to see yours, or better yet, send it to your nearest and dearest political candidate.
I want the budget to balance, but only after the accounting distinguishes long-term investments (such as roads or education) from normal operations (such as the White House electric bill or Congressional salaries). It’s OK with me to borrow for investment, but not for upkeep. Every business and household runs that way — why shouldn’t the government?
I would like to see taxes shifted from goods to bads, from income, for example, to pollution. I’d like to tax every wastepipe, smokestack, cut-down tree and ton of coal. I want the tax raised steadily until enough money comes in to do away first with the payroll tax, then the income tax, then the capital gains tax. (That order relieves the taxes of the poor first and the rich last.) The “brown taxes” would reward people and businesses for efficiency and cleanliness and cease to punish them for earning, hiring and investing. It’s impeccable economics. Why does no candidate mention it, not even Al Gore?
Unlike Jack Kemp, I don’t care whether the economy doubles in 15 years. I don’t see much point in it growing at all, unless I know what’s growing. (The number of cars? Schools? Lawsuits? Cases of cancer?) Undefined growth is a senseless goal. We can’t eat it; we can’t spend it; it eats into nature; and I don’t believe it creates jobs. After 200 years of phenomenal growth, most of us still don’t have secure, well-paid jobs that use our full capacity to provide goods and services that people actually need. How can we go on believing that more growth will do it? How much more growth can the planet support?
I want my nation to be secure and to earn that security not so much from big weapons as from world-respected integrity, generosity, morality. When I go abroad, I don’t want to be treated as a citizen of a bully nation. I want us to stop bashing the United Nations and to do our utmost to make it work (starting with paying our dues). If weapons are needed, and they probably always will be, I’d like to see them used against cruel leaders, not innocent citizens.
I want much stricter environmental laws, more simply but more firmly enforced.
I don’t want demeaning, costly handouts for the poor — and I don’t want the poor to be cast out into the cold. I want our leaders to strive for a sympathetic understanding of the private and public failures that cause poverty to persist in this rich land, and I want those failures fixed.
I want advertising kept in its place, which does not include schools, public conveyances, sports arenas, or private telephones. I want the nation’s resources managed for long term productivity, not sold to political cronies at below-market prices. I want large areas of land and water left alone so other creatures can thrive and so we can rejoice in and learn from places we don’t “manage.” I don’t want to log the few remaining ancient forests.
The only “bridge to the 21st century” I’m looking for is an energy policy that rewards efficiency, stops subsidizing nuclear and fossil fuels, and releases a burst of creativity in tapping ever-renewed solar sources.
I want men in government to get over their fear of women in government. I want public relations and private money out of politics. I want campaigns to be short, sharp, and publicly financed, so every candidate has equal and honest exposure. I want many political parties.
I could continue this list (it’s fun; try it!), but it’s already clear. that the people who want my vote are, almost every one of them, of any party, not talking about my kinds of wants at all.
Well, yes, that could be because my wants are weird. Maybe no one else in America shares them, except the weirdos I hang out with. Maybe most people really do want, as many of our leaders seem to assume, subsidized cows on public lands, oil drilling in wildlife preserves, fewer civil rights, further enrichment of the rich, bigger conglomerations of companies, a million children thrown into poverty, expensive and unusable weapons, and globalized trade so our sneakers can be made by Indonesian women working under slave conditions.
Maybe. But I don’t think so.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1996