By Roy Morrison* – Wall Street
Failure to build a democratic ecological future
will be catastrophic
Globally, democracy is
under attack and in retreat. Economic crisis, global pandemic, climate disaster
raise questions about the efficacy of democracy and democratic values as guide
for political and economic life.
There are increasing
global disparities of wealth between rich and poor in democratic and nominally
democratic states and a growing lack of social mobility. The catastrophic
effects of the global covid pandemic on health, economy, and social solidarity
are another global fact of life. The worsening effects of climate change driven
floods, drought, crop failure raise questions about value of democracy.
Recently, I was asked
by a friend in China what is my concept of an ideal democracy? She had read my
March 1, 2021 article The Future of American Democracy in the Wall
Street International Magazine.
That question led to
there a path for democracy in the 21st century that can
deal with the economic, social and ecological challenges we face globally?
can democracy thrive globally without political parties, the dreaded factions
that endanger democracy governance as discussed by Madison in the Federalist Papers, and instead have
the demos once
again rule in much more direct and less mediated fashion?
can democracy transcend 18th and early 19th century
political economy and successfully guide ecological and just global markets in
the 21st century and beyond?
The January 6 Capitol
insurrection attempting to keep Donald Trump in power was a once unthinkable
outrage become for many Republicans an expression of patriotic duty.
India, the world’s
largest democracy under Narendra Modi has increasingly embraced Hiduvata, an
uncompromising expression of Hindu cultural nationalism, a singular Indic
absolutism challenging India’s stability as an ethnically and religiously
Putin’s Russia has
become a model for kleptocracy with demonstration elections with severe and
sometimes fatal government interference. Right-wing nationalist and populist
parties are on the rise in Europe, generally animated by anti-immigrant
sentiment and Islamaphobia.
These parties are
often significant political players. European populist ruling parties now
include Victor Orban’s Fidesz-Christin Democratic People’s Party in Hungry,
Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski’s Law and Justice Party in Poland, and the Swiss People’s
Party. This does not mean populist government leads automatically to an end of
democracy, for example, the 2020 defeat of Vmro-Dpmne populists in North
Macedonia by the Social Democratic SDSM.
And, of course, the
recent bloody military coup in Myanmar follows the familiar model of sudden
assertion of self-interested military rule to dispense with democracy.
First, as Darwin
pointed out, social cooperation is an evolutionarily selected survival trait.
Richerson and Boyd hypothesize that increasing global temperature swings during
the mid-Pleistocene, a million years ago, drove and selected the ability of
early hominins to learn from one another. This was humanity’s path toward
global species dominance as stone artifacts began appearing 700,000 years ago.
“Cultural adaptation is much more rapid than genetic adaptation,” they note.
In terms of game
theory, democracy encourages the pursuit of maximum collective benefit through
intelligent compromise. The deeper the democracy, the greater cooperation and
expression of the altruism that Kropotkin found to be superior to social
Darwinism’s doctrine of war of all against all.
democracies have a long record of never going to war against one another and
resolving sometimes difficult political and economic disputes by negotiation
and compromise. A democratic world will be a peaceful world, able like Costa
Rica to dispense with armies and rely on national police and international
peacekeeping. The economic and social benefits are enormous. Money spent on
weapons can become money invested in education, public health, stopping climate
Third, democracy gives
us the opportunity to pursue self-management, based on one person one vote, as
opposed to one dollar one vote. Democracy can balance and mediate the ongoing
needs for both freedom and community, expressed as a balance between rights and
responsibilities. Without community, freedom becomes destructive license.
Without freedom, community becomes dictatorship. Democracy is the ongoing
method of equilibration. Democracy, by its nature, is participatory and acts as
an exercise in self-management and responsibility, a balance or rights and
responsibilities. At its core democracy represents the self-conscious
participation of humanity in the fundamental co-evolutionary process of
sustainability manifest in a healing response to ecological excess.
gives us the ability to address directly local issues, and in larger groups
adopt representational forums. This permits and empowers the principle of
subsidiarity giving the most power to those most directly affected within the
context of overarching principles. For example, a national mandate may be to plant
a billion trees. How this is done is left largely to the local democratic
decision-makers. Democracy can open the door to creativity and social
entrepreneurship and ecological economic growth.
A 21st century
model for shaping global democracy
We face common and
unavoidable global challenges. These are toxic brew driven by worsening climate
change that will lead not just to natural disasters but to crop failure,
epidemics, mass migration of the desperate, failed states, and resources wars.
This is combined with deepening inequality as the rich get ever richer. This is
a central feature of 21st century capitalism where labor is systematically
devalued in the world of high technology production and trading in information.
democratic measures may work well in Scandinavia, but even there they are
challenged by the underlying global social, economic, and ecological imperative
giving rise to anti-democratic and anti-immigrant populism. The challenge is to
find ways to share the social product fairly and justly among all in a
political economy with a multitude increasingly of casual and insecure workers
ruled by a handful of billionaire owners. This is a global challenge not simply
for wealthy social democracies. The challenge to Democracy is global and must
entail global convergence on sustainable ecological and just norms for all.
The world cannot meet
the primary ecological challenge in a world half sustainable and half polluted
and impoverished. For us to survive and prosper, an ecological civilization
must be global and rooted in social and ecological justice for all. The rich
cannot succeed in creating a sustainable future in the midst of global misery.
As Lincoln wrote: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This
expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this to the extent of the
difference, is no democracy.”
transition to revitalizing democracy globally is not a one size fits all menu.
It is meant to apply variously to older and emerging democracies as well as to
states like China that scorns the liberal democratic multiparty model. China’s
official policy is to build an ecological civilization. Can democracy play an
important and necessary role in the pursuit of the China Dream under the leadership
of the Communist Party?
Globally, democracy in
the 21st century needs to stand upon a firm foundation addressing a number
of fundamental problems and challenges as the basis for any durable democratic
First, is the
principle that all economic activity, for-profit and non-for-profit, must
result in ecological improvement in the living world, the restoration of
natural capital, not ecological damage. And such activity must be conducted
within the context of the pursuit of ecological and social justice.
This is the essential
principle or constitutional mandate for a 21st century
democracy. Global civilization can not survive if we continue to damage and
destroy the living world, pump ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere
and oceans, destroy habit, drain aquifers, impoverish and poison soil, water,
atmosphere. This is scientific reality as well as a philosophical and spiritual
imperative. This is applicable to both market and planned social systems.
Implementation is not
through a master post office manual book of rules. Rather, there needs to be in
all market systems a legal redefinition of fiduciary responsibility. This will
bind all fiduciaries to pursue making economic growth mean ecological
improvement within the context of ecological and social justice. A paradigmatic
example is replacing globally fossil fuels and nukes with renewable energy
resources and to do so guided by the support of fairness and justice. This
means measures to meaningfully make all energy users energy owners while
retraining the fossil fuel and nuke workers for the renewable energy economy.
A corollary to the
sustainable fiduciary rule is adopting new market rules, regulation and law
that makes the markets send clear price signals for sustainability. This makes
sustainable goods and services cheaper, gain market share, and become more
profitable. Clear economic signals drive investment, production and
consumption. A global market system can be a vital part of ecological
Available tools to
make the price system work ecologically are, for example, taxes on all energy
resources at production with higher taxes on polluting forms, and low to no
taxes on renewable energy. A broader tool is an ecological VAT phased in and
imposing higher taxes on unsustainable goods and services. The long-term
outcome of such a practice will be a likely convergence on sustainable goods
with a flat tax rate since overtime higher taxes on the unsustainable would
allow investors, consumers and producers to choose the sustainable path.
A further and a
crucial corollary is something new–to value in the market ecological
improvement as the new gold, the real basis for all wealth. An example is the
concept of Sustainability Credits (SCs) based on the value of displacing one
metric ton of Carbon dioxide by renewable generation. This has been valued at
$100 per metric ton by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
SCs will be monetized
on the books of banks from investment banks to credit unions, to community
development financial authorities (CDFIs) as paid in capital and as cash.
Financial institutions must use this money as loans to help finance more
renewable energy. And since banks can loan ten dollars for every dollar on
their books, $1 million dollars in SCs can become $10 million in more renewable
Globally there are
currently about 33 gigatons (billion tons) of carbon dioxide emissions. This
potential of $330 billion means $3.3 trillion a year in SCs to become $33
trillion a year in productive loans.
The reality of SCs
program can mean that the $50 trillion investment for global renewable
transformation and beyond can be substantially financed through SC investment
based on yearly SC creation. This is real wealth, the funds managed as part of
the currency by the Federal Reserve and other central banks using normal tools
to control the money supply to control inflation.
The ecological wealth
produced by SCs increases exponentially as SC funds are invested in building
more carbon dioxide displacing renewables. And SCs of course can be applied to
efficiency and natural carbon sequestration through soil and biomass on land
and sea. An ecological civilization can be built and financed through the
creation of trillions of real ecological wealth and health.
Valuing and monetizing
ecology on books of banks and corporations where trillions of dollars in
investment means economic growth becomes the instrument for both profit and
ecological improvement and social justice. Productive investment in rebuilding
an ecological economy in all its aspects is non-inflationary and job-creating,
a central tool for stability and wealth of a global 21st century
democratic order. This is the basis for transformative and global democratic
Subsidiarity, democracy and justice
Subsidiarity is a
basic feature for vital democracy in the 21st century.
Subsidiarity means that those closest and with most at stake from decisions
have important input within the context of broad democratic, ecological, fair
and just principles.
This means, for
example, that a mandate for community plans reducing carbon emissions to a
sustainable 3 tons per person per year (current U.S. emissions are around 16
tons per person) developed by local decisions in the context of available resources
with local, state, national, and international support. This is a participatory
and democratic community model based on ecological goals.
Strong democracy in
the 21st century must pursue broad local participation and ownership in a
wide range of community institutions building a significant economic sector
based on cooperatives, associations, mutual ownership. This means not just
business, but schools, housing, banks, farms.
Local groups can
partner on a community and regional level for mutual cooperation and support.
The Mondragon Cooperatives in the Basque Region of Spain is the leading example
for the success of entrepreneurial high technology industrial cooperatives,
with their own cooperative bank, the Caja Laboral Popular, and cooperative
housing, research and education from pre-school to university.
Mondragon has a long
history of surviving periodic downturns and limiting job loss, and avoiding
investment in speculative and self-destructive financial instruments.
means building strong, vital, and adaptive communities rooted in direct
democracy, fairness and justice.
Adapting ecological democracy to different systems
associative institutions and local governments can function on the basis of one
person one vote without the growth of political parties. Disputes on a local
level can be resolved by discussion, mediation, and finally, binding
arbitration with recourse to courts only to enforce binding arbitration in the
context of ecological and justice imperative.
For democracies with
political parties national and state or provincial elections can proceed as
normal. For nations like China without political parties, the Communist Party
can continue to operate within the central ecological and justice precepts with
democratic participation from below with representatives for the National
Peoples Congress (NPC) chosen by democratic vote from below who would then
choose members of the Politburo.
Democracy in the 21st century
must succeed in the pursuit of sustainability and ecological democracy. Success
means a global system based on peace, justice and fairness. This clearly is a
hybrid system of 21st century global democracy based on markets
embracing ecological limits through new market rules, regulation and law
functioning to make economic growth mean improvement in the context of social
and ecological justice.
Such a democracy be
called a radical reform in the terms of Andre Gorz. But it is also consistent
with the entrepreneurial ideas of Josef Schumpeter for creative destruction,
employed for ecological and social ends mediated by social and ecological
Failure to build a
democratic ecological future is likely to be catastrophic not just for
democracy but to our civilization and the ecosphere.
We live in interesting
times. Crucial is taking aggressive steps toward building an ecological
democracy that will shape the nature of a just and sustainable future.
The Collected Works of
Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P.
Basler, Volume II, (August 1, 1858?), p. 532.
Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson, 2009. Culture and the evolution of human cooperation,
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci.2009 Nov 12; 364(1533): 3281–3288.
G. Philip Rightmire, 2009. “Middle and later Pleistocene hominins in Africa and
Southwest Asia.” PNAS, September 22, 2009 106 (38) 16046-16050.
Charles Darwin, The
Descent of Man, 1871, p. 155.
Peter Kropotkin, Mutual
Aid: A Factor of Evolution,1902.
Roy Morrison, Climate change and inequality A new market solution. Wall Street International Magazine. Nov. 1,
* Roy Morrison is a solar energy developer,
Managing Partner of Renewable Sun
Partners, author, social theorist, and activist,
with more than 40 years of diverse
energy experience. This includes energy efficiency work and technical
assistance for businesses, institutions, and government. He was Founding
Director of Office for Sustainability at SNHU and wrote the first law in the
nation for municipal aggregation under retail electric competition. He also
founded the NH Consumers Utility Cooperative, the first seller of competitive
electricity in NH, and was founding staff member of the UNH Energy Office. He
was a safe energy activist with the Clamshell Alliance in the 1970s and 1980s,
co-founder of the American Peace Test, and staff for the Nuclear Freeze
Campaign in the 1980s.