From the tragic story of adjunct professor Margaret Mary Vojtko’s death to my own adventures in job insecurity, everything I’ve read and experienced has convinced me that we need a pro-life economy.
Not in the traditional anti-abortion sense (ugh), but in the sense of putting human lives first, and profit second. And since our lives are inextricably tied to the health of our planet, we need to prioritize that too.
We need jobs. Green jobs, well-paid jobs, jobs with benefits (or government systems to provide those benefits).
We need an end to the ideology of infinite growth–which, in a world of finite resources, is quite literally unsustainable–and a focus on human health and happiness.
We need an end to the casual cruelty of corporate capitalism–the callous profit-seeking that allowed an adjunct professor to die penniless, near-homeless, and uninsured while the university’s president received a $700,000 salary.
Bill McKibben succinctly summed up what’s wrong with our economic system in his 2007 book Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future:
Alongside the exhilaration of the flattening earth celebrated by Thomas Friedman, the planet (and our country) in fact contains increasing numbers of flattened people, flattened by the very forces that are making a few others wildly rich.
His observation is even more true now than when he first made it, back in the less-shitty days before the Great Financial Crisis.
McKibben and many others have been calling for a more humane economy for years, and now–as corporate capitalism destroys more and more lives, as climate change veers terrifying close to the point of no return–we need to push for it more than ever.
The great irony, of course, is that the very system that needs changing sucks the energy from those who would change it. It’s hard to revolutionize the economy when you’re working multiple minimum wage part-time jobs, or teaching classes at multiple colleges for even less than minimum wage, or bouncing from temp job to temp job while fruitlessly job-hunting. It’s hard to work on building local, community-based, sustainable systems when you’re in a state of perpetual stress and uncertainty.
It’s really, really fucking hard.
Personally, I haven’t been able to find much energy to plug in to the movement(s) for a just, sustainable economy–I don’t have much left after work, job-hunting, self-care, friends-and-boyfriend time, writing, and what little climate activism I can manage. And ironically enough, there aren’t many jobs in the field of building an economy that has enough jobs for everyone.
But there are so many people doing so many promising things, and that gives me hope.
There are the fast food strikes that have been taking place around the US all summer.
There are people forming co-operative businesses in fields from leatherwork to window-making to health care.
There are local currencies like BerkShares (right here in Massachusetts!), which help build strong, community-based economies.
There are books like Deep Economy, Plentitude: the New Economics of True Wealth, and Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources that lay down blueprints for a better system. And there are books like Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (which I’m reading right now), which are full of inspiration.
There’s the Slow Money movement.
There’s the model of the social business, which is neither a traditional for-profit company nor a traditional, donation-dependent non-profit. Instead, it is financially self-sustaining and invests its profits toward solving a social problem.
There are so many people, and groups of people, working toward an economy that is truly pro-life–and despite my exhaustion, despite my frustration at lacking the energy to get involved, despite my fears that things will never change–I find that incredibly heartening.