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An American Renaissance for the New Millennium

Created: 30 October, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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5 min read

Commentary:

 The financial, economic and environmental crises are alarm signals to the world, and particularly to us in the U.S. Acting on the basis of a fragmented worldview while globalization magnified and quickened that worldview’s effects, we rushed into unsustainable and destructive practices. On the other hand, we now have an opportunity to build the foundation for an American Renaissance. Extrapolating from Peter Senge’s learning organizations, “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire,” the U.S. can shift to a paradigm of a learning global nation.

 Our financial and economic formulas functioned well within the nation-state paradigm for most in developed countries and some in developing countries; the marginalized experienced totally different results, but couldn’t convey their dissatisfaction effectively. Thus, 4 percent of the world’s population could consume a quarter of global resources, enjoy a continuously improving material quality of life and disregard global consequences as externalities because no one of significance seemed to complain. Indeed, many developing nations still think they should enjoy the same increasing affluence with little accountability. Once 17 percent of the world’s population, consuming at the American rate, surpasses 100 percent of global resources, what should the rest do?

 Because it seemed we had devised a flawless machine — the intelligent market — and had reached what Francis Fukuyama termed “the end of history,” the rush to expand use of our unrestrained growth formulas finally boomeranged.

 The crises encompass international relations and the environment. The buffer of delayed effects of our actions and the resilience of humanity and nature allowed us to be indifferent to the impact we were having on each other and the environment. This buffer is no longer capable of shielding us in the smaller world of globalization.

 Yet, we are not letting go of the nation-state mindset and other cherished but less reputable notions, such as the mantras used to manipulate the public — “You can have it all, looking out for No. 1, and winning is the only thing,” which are alive and well. Economist Paul Krugman recently wrote that we are unable to give up the also simplistic “ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good.” Consequently, dilemmas are resurfacing: excessive compensation to executives in bailed-out institutions, new Wall Street grand ideas for securitization, trade protectionism proposals, a militarized wall between the U.S. and its free-trade partner and neighbor, credit cards being used for rent and food at exorbitant rates of interest, and a Yale professor in the Washington Post calling for American corporations to continue striving for “the highest profits in history.”

 The solutions to dilemmas the nation and world face are all around us, but we cannot see them because we retain dysfunctional either/or mindsets. We need to acknowledge their incongruence and shift to a paradigm more in keeping with the reality of globalization — both its powerful forces and its definition of our limitations. We need to see, think and act as global nations instead of nation-states…as citizens of the world instead of exclusively national citizens.

 Secretary of the Treasury Geithner appeared on CNN and repeatedly told interviewer Zakaria that he was glad other nations, particularly China, have accepted the “imperative” of consuming more and saving less. This isn’t a paradigm shift; it’s an expansion of a culture of excessive consumption that the U.S. and others have been following for years and which has been recently identified by a few prestigious and courageous economists as the culprit behind the financial and economic crises.

 Geithner also claimed that our government has implemented a strategy in response to the crises. TARP and the stimulus package do not constitute a strategy; they are tactical corrective measures to regain liquidity and trust. Some economists had delayed judgment so as to not exacerbate the public’s anxiety, expecting that there was an undisclosed strategy behind those measures. Now it appears that a new strategy might not exist. Reactivating the economy with a capital infusion is not dealing with fundamental problems brought to light by the crises; without a long-term and new strategy, it is creating false long-term expectations.

 Only a new paradigm can lead us to a new strategy; yet a new vision does not have to reject our identity. This new paradigm can complement the context of globalization and foundational principles of this nation: educated democratic participation; association and collaboration; accountability; frugality; modesty; honesty; and “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” The latter will help us become a learning global nation, which will allow us to learn from Japan’s and China’s dominant linkage of finance to the real economy, from the banking practices of Canada to better regulate our financial system, from Norway’s medical insurance coverage of its citizens treated in Denmark to expand Medicare coverage to selected Mexican clinics for the million Americans now living in Mexico and the many more who would move there if coverage were available, from the nations who excel in moderation and moral values…

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 Yes, let us continue giving credit to American innovation and individualism. But let us balance them with wisdom and the overarching goal of the common good. We’ve demonstrated capacity to unleash powerful forces; now we need to “see” sufficiently and to learn how to manage these. The complexity and paradoxes of a globalized reality call for a paradigm of complementarity —seeing through this prism, we can create the results we truly desire!

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