I was really inspired reading Umair Haque’s “A Six-Step Extreme Makover For the Economy.” Haque’s post encapsulates all of the most dysfunctional tendencies in our economic incentive structure and how we can redesign incentive systems for smarter economies and healthier societies. I’ve excerpted Haque’s six step’s below:
1. Detox. While most advanced economies claim to be "post-industrial," the plain fact is that capital-intensive, rapidly depreciating, high-maintenance, often downright self-destructive industrial age stuff still receives the lion's share of subsidies: oil, water, big food (or food-like products, at any rate), "banking."
2. Get a makeunder. Massive swathes of eyeliner, and gigantic dollops of foundation on the proverbial pig — they perpetually let us overstate real prosperity, as it matters in authentic human terms.
3. Cut up the credit card. In most advanced economies, debt is subsidized (through tax shield effects, and the like). The result is a structurally tilted playing field that incentivizes debt and accelerates bubbles and crises.
4. Hit the gym. It's one thing to limit subsidies for centuries-old stuff. It's another to reward groundbreaking breakthroughs — and I'd argue that most of our methods for doing that are grossly inefficient.
5. Go to charm school. Let's face it: our institutions need far sharper checks and balances if we're going to prosper, for civil society's been rendered as toothless as a kitten.
6. Diet. Let's simplify the onerous, socially pointless complex tax code. Here's a simpler, better approach: if it's harmful to people, or useless to society, tax it. If it's beneficial to people, useful to society, don't.
Personally, I love this list because it is clear, radical and elegant. It’s in line with some of the insights we have been coming to in our research on social change at CivicActions. Specifically, we are seeing more and more movements addressing the core mess made by outdated and poorly designed systems. Movements like 350.org, Mind Apples and Beyond Zero Emissions are detox-based movements. They are detox in the sense that they are attempts to direct the way we do things towards more intrinsically sustainable and enjoyable ends. Whether starting a grassroots movement dedicated to happiness for everyone (Mind Apples) or crowdsourcing the post-carbon transition of a major industrial economy (Beyond Zero Emissions) these groups are moving towards ideal outcomes instead of managing a dysfunctional systems.
So much of our political energy, intellectual capital, and time investment go to dysfunctional, failing or historically out of date models and approaches. We have too many resources dedicated to the toxic economy and addressing its excesses versus investing in new models and systemic overhaul. This reality is both daunting and potentially cathartic. Social and economic detox is essential for any long-term strategic success. Ultimately the most interesting and dynamic initiatives, movement and businesses will play a detox role. The detox is going to both incredibly socially important and where many entrepreneurial opportunities will arise.