Changing the US, a new opportunity for the whole world

Occupy Wall Street marks a new
trend in US society. (Photo:
David Shankbone/Good Magazine
/Flickr/Creative Commons)

A growing number of US citizens raise their voices “demanding a new social contract” as the multiple world crises are increasing “poverty and income inequality at historic levels.” This unprecedented movement nurtures hope in a change of policies and behaviors “geared toward the well-being of Americans and the rest of the human race,” according to the US national contribution to the Social Watch Report 2012, launched last week.

The national report suggests that Occupy Wall Street and other grassroots campaigns should lead to “the consensus that current economic priorities and unsustainable consumption patterns […] compromise the human rights and well-being of future generations” on the national and global level.

That would be a remarkable transition, since “the United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, yet it consumes 25% of the world’s energy and is responsible for 22 % of the world’s industrial carbon dioxide emissions, a leading cause of global warming.”

“Changing American consumption patterns is the key to achieve sustainable development and addressing the devastating impacts of climate change,” says the report.

“As long as citizens continue to demand and take their rightful place in the democratic and policy processes, America’s best years can still be ahead of her,” concludes the study, co-authored by Tanya Dawkins (of the Global-Local Links Project), Aldo Caliari, Julia Wartenberg (both of the Center of Concern), Karen Hansen-Kuhn and Alexandra Spieldoch (of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy).

The US national report says that Occupy Wall Street, as well as the Arab Spring and other citizens’ movements around the world, “demands human rights, real democracy, dignity and a just economic order.”

“The human and community impacts of the 2008 crisis and its predicating economic policies are intensifying as accesses to the basic necessities of life exceed the grasp of more and more Americans,” adds the study. “The number of people in deep poverty rose to 20.4 percent in 2010, up 25 percent or 4 million since 2007.”

US Congress has focused the debate on the solutions “around preserving the Bush-era tax cuts and dramatically cutting social spending,” a policy “that an unprecedented 84% of Americans disapprove.”

“The United States can and must move beyond the current shortsighted debate about so-called entitlement spending to embrace the reality that investing in children, communities, eldercare and healthcare are fundamental features of a modern democracy and strong, resilient economy,” warns the study. “A recent International Labor Organization’s (ILO) report noted that ensuring basic social protections can be a powerful tool for ensuring sustainable growth, addressing poverty and mitigating the impact of the economic crisis. The report goes on to frame social protection as both a human right and a human need. These rights’ based approaches to economic development are likely to find resonance in the current environment.”

“The time has long since passed for questioning whether the United States and the world can afford the continuation of approaches that have profit maximization as their prime directive,” adds the report. Simultaneously, “interest in solidarity economy and responsible business movements, worker owned companies and cooperatives that bring high quality economically and ecologically sustainable living wage jobs to their communities is increasing.”

Some cities “are exploring the benefits of community food security initiatives, community-owned banks and participatory budgeting. Fiscal and monetary policy measures that encourage these trends are needed in order to bring these efforts to scale,” wrote the authors of the national report.

“The United States has a unique responsibility and opportunity to make aggressive and affirmative efforts to pursue domestic and international policies that are geared toward the well-being of Americans and the rest of the human race,” they noted.

“The task of building and re-imagining a new economy is urgent and will not be achieved by mere tinkering around the edges of the failed model which created the current crisis,” concludes the report.


The US is not alone

This new trend surfacing in US society encompasses the need  to change the paradigm of development throughout the whole world, from the currently prevailing model focused on economic growth and monetary stability to one centered on human well-being and dignity, as stressed by the SW report throughout its thematic chapter.

An article by the Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives, included in the Social Watch report, underscores that “there is need to change the mindset”. Another article, this one written by one of the Reflection Group members, Mexican scholar Alejandro Chanona, specifies that this change must lead to the reduction of inequalities, having the State as the “main promoter” of sustainability,

More information
Wanted: a new economy and a new social contract (US national report, in PDF format):
Switching paradigms: the only way forward (Alejandro Chanona’s study):

Social Watch Report 2012: