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July 16, 2009

Future Headlines

-- by Dave Johnson

Update -- Take a look at Headline 2020.

This post originally appeared at Open Left

Yesterday I wrote about ideas. Today I'd like to write about dreams.

At the recent America’s Future Now conference put on by Campaign for America’s Future, I attended a session led by Commonweal Institute’s Executive Director Barry Kendall called "Collaborating on Ideas for the Long-Term." Barry is also Co-Chair of the Progressive Ideas Network (PIN), an alliance of progressive think tanks. (Note - PIN recently published a book, THINKING BIG, Progressive Ideas for a New Era.)

Barry has been working with this group of think tanks to encourage long-term thinking, and was talking to the people attending the session about PIN's model for creating and supporting collective projects on big ideas.

To introduce the idea of long-term idea work, Barry used a concept that he calls "Progressive Victories, circa 2020," based on an idea from Joe Brewer at Cognitive Policy Works. His idea is to think about headlines that we would like to see at some point in the near or even distant future. Barry asked the group to imagine the headlines they would see in newspapers in the year 2020, if progressives are able to build true governing power and enact their agenda.

Here are just a few of the 2020 headlines offered by the group:

Rail Passengers Outnumber Auto Passengers 2 To 1
UN Global Governance Task Force Reels In Corporate Anarchy
Annual Citizen Dividend Raised to $20,000 - (mine)
World Population Growth Stabilized
Steady-State Economy Realized
10 Global Corporations Have Their Federal Charters Revoked For Criminal Activity
Citizen Representatives Now Hold Majorities on Corporate Boards
US Manufacturing Reaches New Peak
OMB Enacts Full-Cost Accounting on All Policy Proposals
Planet Temperature Stabilizes
These are great.

An exercise like this helps get us past the current habit many of us seem to have of reacting mostly to today’s events and battles, and thinking instead about where we might be able to take our society in the future. It was difficult to dream about the future when we were plagued by George W. Bush and the far right in office But we have some room now to try. Of course, some of the headlines presented (which I didn't include here) dreamed of a progressive resolution to current events, but the exercise is an attempt to move us past reaction and into proaction.

Thinking about possible futures brings with it the question of how to get there. I'll write about that tomorrow.

I am hoping that readers can leave comments with headlines they hope to see in 5, 10 and 20 years. My own headline from above, in the form that would be useful in a comment here, would be "May 2020, Annual Citizen Dividend Raised to $20,000". The opening paragraph of the accompanying story would be something like,

"The annual citizen dividend has been increased to $20,000. This is the dividend paid to all citizens as their share of the fees collected from businesses that put pollutants into the atmosphere up to their allowed cap, for oil and other extracted resources, and other recovery of externalized costs. A similar amount is added to the National Income Trust to increase future payouts. In similar news, because of increasing productivity the maximum workweek has been reduced to 15 hours and the minimum wage has reached $50 per hour."

Yes, I imagine an economy in which every person has a guaranteed income (before working) of $20,000, people only work 15 hours and the minimum wage is $50. Why not? With computers, robots and machines doing more and more of the work for us, why not? The economic paradigm we operate under today sure isn't working for most of us, so why not imagine something better for all of us?

We all feel the pressure of so many people competing for jobs. But imagine that instead of competing for scarce jobs, everyone just works fewer hours. Last March, in A Stimulus for Working Fewer Hours, economist Dean Baker wrote,

An alternative would be to have everyone share in the adjustment to excess supply by reducing work hours. Fewer work hours would mean roughly proportionate reductions in pay, but there would be the offsetting benefit of more leisure time. Workers would have more time to spend with their families or in nonwork activities. This would bring us more in line with the rest of the world, where the standard workweek and year is considerably shorter.

So what is your vision for a progressive future? Let’s come up with some headlines you would like to see in five, ten and twenty years. Give it a try. Tomorrow we can work on how to get there.

Posted by Dave Johnson at July 16, 2009 8:24 AM


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