Revolution of the Middle...

and The Pursuit of Happiness


An  audio book


John Ikerd

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A Revolution of the Middle...  and the Pursuit of Happiness

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Foreword and Introduction - A Revolution of the Middle



    The current recession is not an ordinary economic correction; it’s a symptom of the end of an era. All economic value comes from nature or society and we are rapidly depleting the productivity of both. Depletion of fossil energy and growing social inequity are but symptoms of an unsustainable economy. Continual economic growth is not sustainable. The sooner we face this reality, the sooner we can return to the true purpose of life – to the pursuit of happiness.

    The transition to a new era of prosperity without growth will require a revolution, hopefully a peaceful revolution, but if not peaceful, then violent. The few who benefit from economic extraction and exploitation are both economically and politically powerful. They will not surrender their power without a fight; it must be taken from them. Fortunately, we still have the means of restoring power to We the People; we still have our democratic form of government. We have the power to restore government to its legitimate purpose – to ensuring the rights of the governed. First, however, we must restore the just power of government; we must restore the consent of the governed.

    The new revolution ultimately will require that we change virtually every aspect of our lives. To transform our society and economy, we must transform ourselves. We must strive to use our individual gifts, aptitude, and abilities to realize our highest potentials. To do so, we must respect the basic truths of ecological, social, and economic reality. Living in harmony with the world around us is not only the key to creating a better world; it is the key to finding purpose and meaning in life, our key to the pursuit of happiness. 

Chapter 1. A Crisis of Confidence?


The Great Recession is not simply the consequence of a crisis of confidence; we are facing a crisis of sustainability. We simply can’t continue doing what we have been doing. We can’t sustain economic growth rates of the past 200-year. Those growth rates were only possible because of cheap fossil energy and the days of cheap oil, natural gas, and coal are over. In addition we haven’t made the investments in research and education necessary to sustain the productivity of our workforce. Our economy no longer functions for the good of the American people. It serves the interests of corporate managers and investors instead. We have the power restore sustainability to the U.S. economy, but we won’t do it until more people understand that we have lost control of their society. American economy is not suffering from a lack of confidence but instead a lack of sustainability.

Chapter 2. A Society Held Hostage


The current U.S. economy is not really capitalist. In many respects, it’s a betrayal of capitalism. The so called competitive free markets of today are not the capitalist markets envisioned by classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo. The current U.S. government is not democratic, as least not democratic in the sense envisioned in our founding documents. It does not ensure equal access to those things to which we all have equal rights. It is preoccupied with the pursuit wealth for the few rather than the pursuit of happiness for the many. To regain and sustain our economy and our society, we must return to the classical roots of capitalism and democracy. A capitalist economy must function within physical limits of nature and the social bounds of equity and justice, if it is to function sustainably.

Chapter 3. Keeping the American Promise


As the founding documents of the United States clearly state the purpose of government is to ensure the unalienable rights of all, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Capitalism is about the pursuit of wealth. Democracy is about the pursuit of happiness. Nothing is more fundamental to democracy than equity and justice for all, and a capitalist economy will ensure neither. Economic incentives are inadequate to ensure the long run investments in nature and society necessary for sustainability. Government is the only means of restraining economic extraction and exploitation of nature and society. However, the only just power of the government to ensure sustainability must be derived from a consensus of the governed.

Chapter 4. A New Way of Thinking


Sustainability is the defining question of the 21st century. How can we meet the needs of the present without compromising the future? To answer this question we must see the world differently; we must develop a new worldview. We must see the world as a dynamic, self-renewing, regenerative living system, of which we humans are but a part. Once we change our understanding of how the world works and our place within it, it will change virtually every aspect of our lives. Our personal relationships within families and communities and our impersonal relationships within nations and global society will all be different. The trends of the past will be reversed. Both our society and economy will become more diverse, dispersed, and decentralized.  A sustainable economy must function in harmony with nature and society.

Chapter 5. A New Way of Life


The change we need will not come easy. The status quo will be defended by powerful economic and political interests. First, we must find the courage to change our way of life. We must abandon the relentless quest for economic growth and return to the pursuit of happiness. Beyond some modest level of income or wealth, happiness is determined much more by the quality of our relationships and our sense of purpose and meaning in life than by any amount of additional income or wealth. We must reclaim the American Dream. The American Dream was never meant to be about the pursuit of wealth, but instead the pursuit of happiness. We must be willing to challenge the conventional wisdom of today’s scientific thinking that denies the existence of purpose in life. When we live out our unique purpose in life, we make the greatest contribution we possibly can make and receive the greatest possible rewards; we will find happiness.

Chapter 6. Returning to Truth


There are no formulas or recipes for sustainability. The living world doesn’t function by precise laws. However, living things do function by basic principles that are just as true as any law of physics or chemistry. The principles of natural ecosystems include holism, diversity, and interdependence. A healthy natural ecosystem is something more than the sum of its diverse parts. The principles of human relationship are just as valid as any other law of nature. Healthy relationships must be built upon a foundation of trust and kindness. To sustain positive relationships in families, communities, and societies we must find the courage to be trusting and kind. The principles of economic are the basic principles of individual behavior. We matter as individuals as well as members of society. We must respect the economic principles of scarcity, efficiency, and sovereignty if we are to meet our individual needs.

Chapter 7. Reestablishing Integrity


A sustainable economy and society must be built on a foundation of ecological, social, and economic integrity. Integrity is a matter of wholeness, completeness, and internal consistency. To ensure sustainability, the ecological principles of holism, diversity, and interdependence must also permeate our society and economy. The social principles of trust, kindness, and courage must be reflected in our economic relationships and our relationships with nature. We must respect the economic principles of scarcity, efficiency, and sovereignty in formulating and implementing social and ecological policies. Finally, sustainability ultimately is a matter of ethics and morality. What are our responsibilities for the well-being of other people or for the future of humanity? The answers to these questions can be found only in the most basic of all principles – in faith, hope, and love.

Chapter 8. Reclaiming Democracy


It will take a revolution for the American people to reclaim their society and our economy. Like the American Revolution of 1776, this revolution will be won only people who willing to commit their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause. The political process must move beyond the art of compromise to reestablish a consensus among the governed. Government must return to its most basic function of ensuring equal access to those things to which we all have equal rights. This will result in government that is much smaller than today but a government with very different priorities than today’s government. It will require a new consensus regarding what we should expect from our government and what we should do for ourselves. The new revolution will not come from the political Left or Right. It must be a Revolution of the Middle.

Chapter 9. Restoring Consent


Restoring the new consensus among Americans will not be easy, but it certainly doable. The U.S. Constitution was written with the expectation that it would periodically be changed or amended.  Our failure to amend the Constitution to address emerging issues has led to many questionable interpretations of the Constitution by the Supreme Court. None of these is more threatening to the sustainability of our society and economy than the Court rulings granting of personhood to corporations. To find the consensus necessary to respond to concerns from both the political Left and Right, we will need to break free of previous Court rulings and return to our founding documents. Among the rights necessary to ensure sustainability are the right to economic sovereignty, the right to a healthy environment, and the rights of future generations equal the rights of those today.

Chapter 10. Renewing Prosperity


The economic growth rates of industrial era are not sustainable. However, we can have continuing prosperity without unsustainable economic growth. The earth provides more than enough renewable solar energy to meet the basic needs of global society both today and in the future. Once the basic causes of overpopulation are addressed, global population can be stabilized as sustainable levels. There will be enough for all to be prosperous in terms of overall quality of life, just not enough for everyone to have everything they might want.  There will be no limit to human progress if we can find the wisdom to abandon our unsustainable pursuit of ever greater wealth and return to the pursuit of happiness. And best of all, we don’t have to wait for the rest of the world to change to find contentment and happiness in our own lives. When we live with purpose, we are doing our part, which is all we can do and need to do, to help make the world a better place. Having done all we can do, we can just let go, and be happy.

Postscript - Rethinking Reality


This book reflects my truth. I call it my truth because I believe what I have written in this book in internally consistent. We can never be certain that we have found the truth, but we know truth can never be in conflict with truth. What I have written also reflects a concept of reality that is consistent with what we see in the world around us. I believe reality exists as potentials. The same reality has the potential to be seen quite differently by different people. Our individual experiences of reality are unique, but the different experiences of reality among individuals are always consistent with same set of potentials – the same reality. By sharing our various perspectives, we gain greater insights into true nature of reality. That is what I have attempted to do in this book by sharing my truth.

    Whatever wisdom you find in this book is drawn from forty-years of study, experiences, and observations as an economist in four major state universities and in communities all across North America and around the world. I spent the first half of my career as an advocate of conservative, free-market economic thinking before concluding that the neoclassical concept of capitalism is simply not sustainable. I know where the dominant economic thinking of today is coming from; I have been there. This book is my latest effort to help people understand what we must do, individually and collectively, not only to create a sustainable economy but also to sustain society and humanity.