DETROIT NEWS Commentary December 7, 2006

December 8, 2006

This Commentary piece appeared in the Detroit News, December 7, 2006 edition.
It was written in response to a long piece in The Democratic Strategist by Celinda Lake and Daniel Gotoff about “The Role of the Economy in the 2006 Elections.” They wrote, “neither party had advanced a credible vision for a prosperous 21st-century economy that works for all Americans.”

That observation is correct, in my opinion. This drought of innovative economic thinking and vision is based in the fundamental disconnect between our political process and the realities of nature. I wrote the DETROIT NEWS piece to offer a different vision based on ecological intelligence — hence the name of this blog. It appears below.

DETROIT NEWS – December 7, 2006
Local Commentary
We need new spirit of Pearl Harbor
State must adapt now as it did in World War II to gain final victory
by Christopher Bedford of the Center for Economic Security

In the dark days of early 1942, Frank Loesser wrote a song to capture the nation’s mood after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Entitled “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” it expressed the desire by millions of Americans to get involved in the fight in spite of what seemed to be overwhelming odds.

On the 65th anniversary of the attack, many of us in Michigan are asking the same question, “What must we do to win our current fight?” — the fight to save our economic future from a Pearl Harbor-scale disaster.

State faces staggering task
This Dec. 7, Michigan is staggering under bad economic news — 40,000 manufacturing jobs lost in 2006; 54,000 more predicted to be lost in 2007-2008. Most of these manufacturing losses are well-paid union jobs with benefits. They probably will be replaced by less well-paid service jobs with no benefits. This triple combination of job loss, income loss, and benefits loss inaugurates a crisis so large that it threatens to overwhelm Michigan’s governmental system.

In addition, the elimination of the Single Business Tax has removed $2 billion of tax revenue from the state’s books. The ailing manufacturing economy makes replacing these public funds painful and difficult. So at the very time Michigan’s tax revenues face their greatest challenge, the demand for state-funded services has never been higher — and continues to grow.

Unlike the federal government, the state can’t engage in deficit spending to cover the shortfall. We are approaching a kind of “perfect financial storm.” So what do we do? What is our version of “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” in this moment of crisis?

Albert Einstein once observed, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” If Michigan is to transcend this crisis, we need to think creatively. We need to envision our future from a different level of consciousness.

New outlook needed
I believe that new level of consciousness is something revolutionary thinker, designer, and architect Bill McDonough calls “ecological intelligence” — business initiatives that gain competitive advantage from working in harmony with nature, accepting nature’s order and operating within its laws. This is what Charles Darwin meant when he wrote “survival of the fittest” — the species that fit most effectively into nature’s order would survive the best. Our state’s future economic security depends almost totally upon our ability to achieve this ecological fit. If we do, many of our most pressing and costly problems will diminish greatly in size, and ultimately, disappear. For ecological intelligence is about being “good,” not just “less bad.”

Instead of establishing more regulations to marginally reduce the amount of pollutants flowing into the Great Lakes, Michigan could invest in changing the fundamental DNA of industry and agriculture, substituting ecologically safe materials for toxic inputs, mandating ecologically sustainable farming techniques to eliminate nutrient runoff.

Instead of promoting new carbon-based fuels like ethanol and biodiesel as alternatives to existing carbon-based fuels like coal or oil, Michigan could lead the transition to a solar-electric and hydrogen-based economy, harvesting the wind and the sun to power our state without adding to global warming.

Encourage diversity
Instead of exclusively seeking a few large new employers or investing in monocultures to solve the state’s economic decline with one or two big deals, Michigan could aggressively invest in many small enterprises innovating in diverse and unpredictable ways. That would be the ecologically intelligent thing to do because nature’s prime directive is encourage diversity.

I believe if Michigan were to be intentional about being ecologically smart — we could create new ways of making things and doing business that would attract customers worldwide.

Our solutions to these problems represent a great business opportunity for the state.

This Dec. 7, amidst the closing plants and falling employment numbers, we should adapt the song of 1942 and sing, “Praise the Lord and Work In Harmony with His Creation.” This is a fight we can win.

Christopher B. Bedford is president of the Center for Economic Security in Montague. E-mail letters to or fax (313) 222-6417


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