The Platform I Wish I Could Vote For

Well, I went and did my civic duty. Can’t really say I “dropped the handle”; “touched the screen” doesn’t really have the right ring to it…

This election for me was a lesser of two evils decision. If only McCain had run the platform he ran in 2000. If only Lieberman had been his running mate. Oh well—we rarely get what we want…

But I did start thinking about what I want. I think it’ll be a term for that. With—most likely—a Democratic president and Congress, it’ll should provide space for thinking about the shape of politics to come. Here’s what I’d like:

  • A moderate coalition
  • fiscally conservative (pay as you go only)
  • economically moderate with a focus on conservation and localization

To expand a bit on that last point, I’m not a free-trade capitalist. Some interference in the markets is necessary. And, for the desperate cause of moving away from a cheap energy economy that means  tax credits and incentives for:

  • business and households that reduce energy consumption/are fitted for demonstrable energy conservation (including incentives for telecommuting and mass transit use)
  • emphasize local industries
  • support a move away from service industries and cultivate local food production and small manufacturing industries
  • tax out-sourcing for investment in local community colleges/vocation programs 
  • stop fuel subsidies by taxing fuel to the real cost of production and use the tax gains to work towards a lower energy infrastucture (electrified railways, et al.) 

Would this look like protectionism? isolationism? On the first, yeah—it would. On the second—not in principle but in practice. 

On social issues? Give me a break… We’re tired of the culture wars. I have yet to see a cogent argument for how gay marriage is an attack on hetero marriage. If you want to protect marriage, then make marriage counseling mandatory for couples of all sorts.

I don’t know—it’s still stuff I’m kicking around. And it’s not like anyone’s going to ask my opinion anyway—it’s just what I’d like to see…

14 Replies to “The Platform I Wish I Could Vote For”

  1. Hi Derek,

    Here’s my rant written in response to your post:

    I live in upstate NY where there is no local industry to support. There’s a service economy or we commute to NYC. My commute is 2 hours each way by train.

    The locally grown produce also heads down to NYC where the hipster locavores can feel good about eating local food. Most of us up here go to Walmart because the prices match up with our incomes. Even Shoprite is twice as expensive as Walmart. I also buy most of my clothes at Walmart, except my pants. JC Penney is the place for fake Dockers. We buy our “fair trade” individual serving Keurig coffee at Sam’s Club. Keurig coffee makers are the best. There’s no cleaning and I’m willing to throw away a small, plastic cup each time I drink a cup of coffee in order to enjoy the pleasure of drinking the coffee without cleaning up the grounds.

    I enjoy being alienated from my food and its sources. I love frozen vegetables. I love peeled baby carrots in a bag. I want these foods irradiated so they will be safe and continue to come prepackaged. I love Walmart’s bags of antibiotic-free frozen chicken breasts. I don’t experience anything numinous about gardens. I like trees, but I’m not deeply committed to them.

    I don’t recycle. I like the frisson of guilty and satisfying pleasure I feel when throwing out glass or cans and secretly defying all my leftist friends. I want the religious right out of my bedroom and the religious left out of my trashcan. I live up in the mountains and will remain unaffected by any change in our coastlines if the waters rise.

    You’re such a brilliant man but I don’t understand your politics as posted on the blog. It seems to me to be a kind of politics of nostalgia.

    I suspect you long for a world of villages where people live with Benedictine restraint and pray the Office in the shadow of their local wind farm. After Vespers, we’d pick our lettuces and tomatoes from our gardens and eat them with something we bought from our local non-chain store. In the evening, before Compline, the family would gather to talk, perhaps some weaving would be done on the new loom, and we’d listen to a little death metal.

    I’m sorry for the satire, but I’m trying to understand why I find your politics so irritating. I guess because your vision is so extreme, would require social and economic revolution, yet you act as if it’s a “moderate” political position.

    For some reason I haven’t yet determined, I also see something neo-puritan (neo-medieval??) about your politics. They seem a little grim, a little prim to me.You want me to give up the material joys of life in 21st century America for the spiritual pleasures of horticultural asceticism? I say no.

    Here endeth my rant. I’m hungry and it’s time to open a can (to be subsequently thrown in the garbage) and fire up the microwave.

    -Walmart Episcopalian

  2. I’d love to join you in neo-mediaeval land. :-) You run and that platform and you’ve got my vote.

  3. Walmart Episcopalian–

    I don’t pretend to agree with Derek about everything, but since my politics these days have many similarities, I’ll try to defend myself from the worst of your charges.

    First of all, it’s not a kind of politics of nostalgia. If global oil production really has peaked at 85 million barrels per day, demand for fossil fuels in the countries where your Walmart stuff (and my Ross clothes) are made may push the United States from buying oil off the free market. With domestic and possibly Canadian production, this will leave us with natural gas and oil consumption at the level of the 1950s. From a quantitative perspective, our social and economic context may look like the past. However, it will be very difficult to run present day America on that basis. More importantly, there’s a lot of things we may want to retain from this era like heterosexual egalitarian marriages and greater equality before the law.

    So that brings me to, “I guess because your vision is so extreme, would require social and economic revolution, yet you act as if it’s a “moderate” political position.”

    You may note some similarity to a Hegelian dialectic, in that there is a prediction that a less energy-intensive order is inevitable. The program outlined above differs from Marxism in that Marxists wish to prime the proletariat to speed the day of violent revolution. I think Derek really wants to build a less energy-intensive economy now, so that there will be less opportunity to foment such a revolution in the future.

    But I think one of your accusations is spot-on. There is something neo-medieval about this platform in that like the religious right, I am in favor of a politics driven by considerations of virtue, just not in the same way as the religious right. I spent time working against Proposition 8 in California (and will fight to reverse it at the next opportunity) but was rather distressed how many of its arguments against Prop 8 were founded on equality before the law rather than the benefits to society and personal virtue of the expansion of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

    Tomorrow, I will be picking olives off the trees outside my workplace. Why? Well, the olive oil tastes like wood alcohol. But it is a sign that one of the leading scientific and engineering institutions in the world is seriously worried that they cannot maintain the material joys of 21st century America with technology. It’s a sign that things are going to change, whether you live in the coastlands and the mountains, and it’s not necessarily the kind of change the President-elect was discussing during his campaign.

  4. Walmart Episcopalian,

    I suspect you long for a world of villages where people live with Benedictine restraint and pray the Office in the shadow of their local wind farm. After Vespers, we’d pick our lettuces and tomatoes from our gardens and eat them with something we bought from our local non-chain store. In the evening, before Compline, the family would gather to talk, perhaps some weaving would be done on the new loom, and we’d listen to a little death metal.

    Brilliant! I loved this piece of satire! :-D I think you’ve got me pretty well id’d with this one…

    I want the religious right out of my bedroom and the religious left out of my trashcan. That’s a good line too…

    The problem, as Caelius notes, is that the motivation behind this vision is not nostalgia—it’s dread. And Caelius hits it right on the nose. We will never see $20-a-barrel oil again—but our economy is utterly dependent upon it.

    Walmart is cheap. For now.

    You know why it’s cheap. There’s no secret. It’s because the products that Walmart sells can be manufactured in a place halfway across the world where the corporations do not have to meet union-negotiated minimum wages, environmental, or safety requirements of the sort that cause American goods to be more expensive. The cheap oil economy that has flourished since the 30’s or so is absolutely right that this makes economic sense. The savings for foreign production greatly outweigh the transportation costs.

    But what happens when that stops being the case?

    Not only are we currently producing 85 million barrels of oil a day but demand is increasing yearly by an addition 20 million a day. This kind of growth after producing so much for so long is simply not sustainable. Caelius and I aren’t saying that the earth is going to run out of oil–what we’re saying is that we are going to have to spend more and more money and energy to recover the oil that’s left until we reach the point when it is no longer viable to do so.

    I’ve been convinced that this will occur within our lifetimes. Perhaps within the next few decades.

    That’s why I’m all about boosting agarian and local industries. It’s not that I don’t like picking up cheap products and foods at the store, it’s that in the not too distant future it may not be possible.

    That would be the dread I mentioned earlier…

  5. P.S. Check out what the markets are up to. Not pretty at all. I work with spreadsheets all day long; they’re great things.

    Can’t eat ’em, though.

    When the chips are down (and they’re surely heading down) having whatever limited boost you can get from a backyard garden—or a community garden—is not a bad investment at all…

  6. Wow, I generally hate talk about “political platforms” – but this post has turned out to be really interesting!

    What’s fascinating is to see how somebody – W.E. – who (it seems) hasn’t been reading your blog for very long interprets your Peak Oil Economy posts. Also fascinating that there are obviously intelligent people around who haven’t yet digested the Peak Oil problem and/or thought about the implications.

    If there’s death metal involved, BTW, I’m not coming over….

  7. bls,

    I think there are quite a lot of obviously intelligent people who have never heard of Peak Oil. And there are those who have only heard a crack-pot caricature of it. And probably some who aren’t sure if the data presented about it is reliable. I mean, it requires a radical shift in how we understand our economy and world—and is quite a lot to take just on faith and some stats tossed around on the internet that come from who knows where.

    I was skeptical when I first heard about it, but slowly came around based not just on what I read but by the fact that it convinced people like Caelius and Dean Kinsley. I’m not a hard scientist. I can’t evaluate the methods and models used for geology and the planetary sciences—but they can. The fact that they are rational, credible people without a direct economic stake in it (i.e., they’re not getting rich off the belief in the idea…) made it much more compelling to me.

    But—and here I’ll own up to the “neo-puritanical” accusation a bit—even if Peak Oil turns out *not* to be true, reduction of our consumption and voluntary simplicity still are good things to my mind as natural implications of the Gospel. But that’s a theological position for me and as a result is not a satisfactory basis for a political position. I would not try to impose my theological views through legislation or politics. Rather the political position is grounded in what I believe to be scientific and mathematical evidence.

  8. WE said:

    “I don’t recycle. I like the frisson of guilty and satisfying pleasure I feel when throwing out glass or cans and secretly defying all my leftist friends. I want the religious right out of my bedroom and the religious left out of my trashcan. I live up in the mountains and will remain unaffected by any change in our coastlines if the waters rise.”

    I realized this was a bit satirical/tongue-in-cheek, but those people who live in island/coastal nations–among whom are some of the very poorest people in the world–are going to be very seriously affected by this. We in the West with our fossil fuel economy have been using the atmosphere as our own personal carbon sink, and it’s looking increasingly like the world’s poor are going to be picking up the tab. How is that fair, much less Christian?

    Also: I’m totally there for death metal night. :)

  9. Well, I don’t really think it’s “puritan” to believe it’s important to be conscious about the sorts of things we’re implicated in, as Lee notes.

    It’s easy enough to forget that we all collude in the abysmal treatment – one might accurately say “torture” in many cases – of sentient creatures via the factory farming system. It’s affected me enough that I have stopped eating meat unless I can be sure it hasn’t involved that kind of maltreatment. And actually, this seems to have helped me get healthier and enjoy my food more – so again: how is that “puritan”?

    It’s not “puritan” to enjoy eating fresh vegetables you grew yourself (and without cancer-causing pesticides). It’s not “puritan” to enjoy the terrific taste of fresh-baked bread you just took out of the oven. These are highly pleasurable, in fact.

    And I can’t see how it’s “puritan” to stop throwing trash around for somebody else to deal with, either.

  10. (There are, of course, things that are puritannical about “the left” – but I don’t think what you’re talking about involves them much.

    “Simplicity” is not equivalent to “puritannical.” Some of the puritanism, in fact, is completely on the other side; lots of people don’t like getting their hands (or psyches) dirty and therefore support multiple layers of literal and metaphorical wrapping to avoid having to do so.)

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