Who here can predict a paradigm shift? Anybody, reliably? If any time is a safe time to bet on a big change coming, I bet it’s now.
However, the transformation could go either way. The forces for fascism appear formidable. The momentum for more of what we once knew seems equally strong. A third way—the willingness to start over—is hard to assess, as you won’t find it on the radar of the major media. Yet these conditions—failed fascism and failed familiarity—is precisely when fundamental reform stands a decent chance of prevailing.
Basic change won’t just happen. It will take the concerted efforts of a movement. How does a smart strategist take advantage of this opening? S/he employs the findings of the science of social change.
Ironically, wannabe agents of change do anything but. Instead, they empower their media-made opponent. They use all their mental and emotional energy paying attention to their opponent. Thereby they:
* make their opponent a focal point, elevate him, and give him their power;
* waste their resources, leaving themselves none for learning how to win;
* not paying attention to others—people they need to succeed—they never learn their desires; and …
* not exercising their own power with others of like mind, they create a vacuum that their opponent fills.
Rather than simply react in such knee-jerk fashion, one could do what’s known to work.
After a lifetime as a professional activist, I’ve never met another wannabe reformer who takes seriously the principles of social change. But since you’re here, pat yourself on the back. You’re about to read a rational way out of the morass, to the high plateau of universal justice, via addressing people’s emotional needs.
In America today, those who were turned out of power (Democratic Party) want back in. They don’t ask why they lost. They focus on who won and what’s awful about him. They don’t ask why he won. They dismiss his frustrated followers—all scores millions of them—as “fringe”. An amusing mis-labeling on the critics’ part.
No matter which side they’re on (only two in America), political people explain their opponents as being evil. And by extension, themselves as moral. Ironically, even though one side dismisses religion, while the other side dismisses “turn one’s cheek” and “love one’s enemies”, they both pass judgment. Condemning and self-righteousness work OK for regressives, less so for progressives.
The logical approach to advocacy—appealing to the left brain—gets you only so far. People do not trust arguments. We humans resort to reason on rare occasions. Even worse … the backfire effect—facts merely harden your listener’s ingrained opposition.
Wannabe reformers want others to think outside the box (as they themselves already did). Big problems need big solutions, rarely found inside the box. Yet if thinking outside the box were easy, there’d be no box. Everybody would be thinking broadly.
Reformers carry baggage into battle—their ideology. When an uninitiated contradicts another’s belief, ideologues rebut in a deprecating tone, “you believe that?” Ideologues prove themselves right at the cost of victory.
Finding empathy is work while people prefer to play. Limiting one’s politics to blame and belief is fun. Thus the opinionated turn the pain of the world into pleasure for themselves. That self-indulgence is a major flaw in otherwise good people.
While changing minds is not easy, some can do it.
* Coaches persuade athletes to practice, say, meditation.
* Teachers get students to accept, say, quantum mechanics.
* Salespeople get customers to part with their money.
They move minds from no to yes without arguing; likewise popular belief can be guided.
The key is to communicate. Rather than say what you want to say, say what your audience wants to hear. Make your points but in their language. Don’t push their wrong buttons, instead resonate with them. Find out where their core values overlap with yours. Turn to focus groups and surveys to figure out how to put novel proposals into convincing prose.
Like the Chinese general said, see the field from your enemy’s POV. Then you’d see, for example, corporate welfare; e.g., government turns a blind eye to environmental degradation. Doing that makes fossil fuels profitable and clean alternatives much less competitive. The government’s leniency and largesse makes opponents of reform even more powerful. CEOs know that, their critics don’t, suffering a blindspot.
These favors and expenditures benefit the recipients exclusively, not the public at large. It’s a waste, while normal people are tickled by saving money. Yet wannabe reformers skip over this made-to-order issue that should be a cause célèbre. Follow the money, either to cause or, if redirected, to desired consequence.
The brain is a lot more comfortable yielding to emotion, and to the familiar, its comfort zone. So a smart place to start is where people are at—with what they identify.
Americans identify horizontally, not vertically. They identify with place, from hometown to nation, not with class. Of course that makes it easy for the ruling class to manipulate everyone else living in the region, which pretty much sums up the entirety of history.
Focusing on geography, the right wins. Focusing on hierarchy, the left loses. Wannabe reformers need to turn pride in place to their advantage. A bragging point can be how desirable is their shared region, how valuable it is, how much people want to live there.
That opens the door to understanding that it’s the simple presence of society that creates the value of where society takes root; that is, land value is socially generated. Since location value is socially generated, society has the right to recover its own value and share it. Society has the power to do so via its agent—government.
It’s not all instinct. Part of the brain is delighted by things that make sense. The policy of public recovery of site value has always worked wherever tried, out there in the external, objective reality we all share. Proponents have proof. Hearing that good news intrigues some brains, and makes most rational people cautious.
While residents would receive a share of recovered rents, landowners and homeowners would still have to pay the land dues. Some won’t do the math to see that they’d come out ahead, that the dues owed by average owners would be much less than the dividends received, thanks largely to the steep site values in downtowns, where average people do not own. Nevertheless, to make land dues even more palatable, they could be coupled with tax cuts.
Conventional taxes are counterproductive:
* Taxes on buildings discourage owners from making improvements.
* Taxes on sales create black markets and entice some businesses to keep the collected tax.
* Taxes on wages price out hiring new workers by small businesses.
All those taxes could be abolished.
Cutting taxes is less a favor for the mighty; capital and land already have tax breaks. For the meek, it’s a different story. Not enjoying tax breaks, axing taxes on income does help them: the wage earners and labor-intensive firms like solar companies, organic farms, recyclers, etc.
No longer taxing whatever moves, government could make up the loss of revenue by trimming waste. Plus, people would be enjoying such prosperity with a fat dividend check that they’d not need much in the way of government services. Government could cut beneficial budget items, too.
While location value is the biggest portion of social surplus, we have more available. The annual rental value of natural resources fuels Alaska’s oil dividend. Further, localities dish out utility franchises. States grant corporate charters. The federal government gives out patents, copyrights, banking charters, etc. Were government to charge not a mere filing fee but full-market value for those little pieces of paper—as would a private enterprise—it’d recover more trillions. Our monthly Citizens Dividend would be several thousands, simple arithmetic shows.
It’d be a whole new ballgame. Everyone getting some instead of a few getting most would topple hierarchy. No longer would the battle be seen as labor vs capital or white vs black or consumers vs environment. Plus, the rent share would liberate the garage-tinkerers where many major breakthroughs come from, the history of engineering shows. Economic justice is that powerful.
In physics, work is not work unless it moves something, unless the effort is effective. Engaging in the emotionally rewarding is play. Switching to the rationally effective, utilizing the precepts of sociology, performing these do’s and don’ts, that’s working.
The Quakers say, if you cite a problem, you take on the responsibility to solve it. A serious reformer would wean oneself from the religious in favor of the pragmatic. That’s been my journey, from working on symptoms with bandaids to working on systems via public revenue reform. Join us. There won’t be another chance like this in our lifetimes. And it’d be an awesome legacy to leave our spawn.
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JEFFERY J. SMITH published The Geonomist, which won a California GreenLight Award, has appeared in both the popular press (e.g.,TruthOut) and academic journals (e.g., USC's “Planning and Markets”), been interviewed on radio and TV, lobbied officials, testified before the Russian Duma, conducted research (e.g., for Portland's mass transit agency), and recruited activists and academics to Progress.org. A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in Mexico. Jeffery formerly was Chief Editor at Progress.org.