Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy
Regular Contributors:  Herman Daly, Brian Czech, Brent Blackwelder, James Magnus-Johnston, and Eric Zencey. Guest authors by invitation.

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Could Obama Be the First Steady-State President?

by Brian Czech

Could President Obama be the one who leads Americans to recognize the ever-growing conflict between GDP and the health of the nation? Could Obama be the first to hearken the steady state economy — stabilized levels of production and consumption — as the sustainable alternative? Could Obama be the “steady-state president” we’ve all (well not all, but many of us) been waiting for?

Alas, probably not. The time is not quite ripe enough. Yet it is not quite out of the question, either. Obama shows clear signs of steady statesmanship, and citizens show signs of wanting it.

In “Obama’s New Square Deal,” Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. described how “President Obama has decided that he is more likely to win if the election is about big things rather than small ones. He hopes to turn the 2012 campaign from a plebiscite about the current state of the economy into a referendum about the broader progressive tradition that made us a middle-class nation. For the second time, he intends to stake his fate on a battle for the future.”

That’s exactly the type of leadership needed to advance the steady state economy as a policy goal with widespread public support. In particular, we need a focus on “big things,” such as the long-run sustainability of the American and global economies. We need a president who will “battle for the future,” not for another percentage point in next year’s GDP growth.

The progressive tradition Dionne sees Obama adhering to is also conducive to the steady state economy, which is roughly indicated by stabilized GDP and a stable standard of living. Dionne rightly points to Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt as primary purveyors of the progressive movement, and sees signs that Obama could channel the Roosevelts into a 21st century New Deal for the middle class. TR and FDR were concerned with the middle class, for sure, but they were concerned with much more as well. They were concerned with truly “big things” such as the long-run sustainability of the nation.

Theodore Roosevelt was the father of the American conservation estate, establishing national forests and parks left and right, as well as establishing the first national wildlife refuge at Pelican Island, Florida in 1903. This original icon of the Republican Party would be seen as an iconoclast today, as the Grand Old Party is the last in line to protect our great natural heritage. “Drill baby drill” is the iconic rhetoric of today’s Republicans. TR made an early escape from Big Money with his Bull Moose Party.

Meanwhile, FDR was the leader in establishing the broad sweep of progressive, professional natural resources agencies and programs we have today. The Soil Conservation Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management, among many others, were brainchildren of Roosevelt and his savvy secretaries of Agriculture and Interior. FDR and his Cabinet knew all about trade-offs, sacrifice, and “opportunity costs.” They knew you couldn’t have your cake and eat it too. They knew well the trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection. By contrast, today’s Democrats are more likely to muddy the conservation waters with the rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.”

But that brings us back to Obama. He is an exception, at least by today’s standards. He is a throwback to the heyday of smart, progressive politics. He doesn’t insult our intelligence with win-win rhetoric. In fact, Obama hardly even uttered the phrase “economic growth” until the recession made it politically impossible not to. He knows we need a paradigm shift in economic thinking and that sustainability is the watchword for the 21st century.

So perhaps the recession has Obama biding his time, waiting until the coast is clear enough for steady statesmanship. He needs some cover, political cover, in order to talk truthfully about the trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection, economic sustainability, and national security. He needs academics, think tanks, bureaucrats, and a growing base of citizens, national and global, to describe the trade-off between economic growth and national wellbeing.

Otherwise, how can we expect Obama to be the first steady-state president?

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3 Responses to “Could Obama Be the First Steady-State President?”

  1. cdresearch says:

    Sorry, but Obama shows NO evidence of steady-statesmanship. NONE.

    And E. J. Dionne Jr. has no idea what he’s talking about. Obama is NOTHING like TR & FDR. Obama is the “PR” President, plain and simple. His rhetoric is almost completely disassociated from his actions. I wonder why is this so hard to see?!

    “But that brings us back to Obama. He is an exception, at least by today’s standards. He is a throwback to the heyday of smart, progressive politics. He doesn’t insult our intelligence with win-win rhetoric ……. He needs some cover, political cover, in order to talk truthfully about the trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection,
    economic sustainability, and national security ………”

    No offense, Brian, but this is delusional. I won’t even bother wasting my time listing all the policies Obama’s pursued behind the scenes that are in fact the polar opposite of “progressive”. And Obama is far from stupid or ignorant about much of anything. He’s simply one of the smoothest politicians ever at giving lip-service to liberal causes in public while he works to undermine them behind everyone’s back. This serves his and his friends interests. This is deliberate, and calculated. He’s not even a hypocrite, but rather a status quo figurehead for the most powerful country in the world. And that’s a troubling realization in an era that desperately needs radical change.

    That said, a truly visionary President that fights for the people is not enough anyways. A steady-state economy will only come about with decades of mass insistence by millions of impassioned and courageous ordinary citizens. And this will not be welcomed by Obama or any other President (certainly not from the people behind the throne). We will have to literally force them to change by creating unprecedented disruption to the status quo that makes it effectively impossible to govern without making fundamental concessions; policies designed to move us in the direction of a more just and sustainable society.

  2. Mark says:

    A dissent:

    Obama’s domestic policies are more reactionary than Nixon’s, on detention without trial, surveillance and even the health care proposals. Obama is pushing “clean coal,” “safe” nuclear power, more highways, and is getting the empire in more wars than Bush and Cheney. If you liked the war on Iraq you’ll love the war on Pakistan.

    Obama’s first job after college was CIA, not a progressive position. He worked for “Business International Corporation” which the New York Times exposed as a CIA front in 1977 (before Obama went to work for them). Obama’s mentor at Columbia was Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Carter’s National Security Advisor and an architect of the “long nuclear war” strategy (Presidential Directive 59, published in 1979), among other unpleasantness.

    I don’t expect that he will push steady state at all. I’m not disappointed by him, I never expected anything other than the mostly awful policies we’ve gotten.

    Obama is the good cop to the Republican bad cop. He was Wall Street’s choice in 2008 and it looks like the Republicans are running a gaggle of clowns to ensure continuity in 2012.

    American Presidential “elections” are like televised wrestling, a bruising contest that is rigged in advance.

    The last President who proposed a different paradigm was Kennedy, but that wasn’t allowed to happen, as we all know. The illusion of democracy died in Dallas, that’s where the political autopsy starts.

    —-

    http://www.oilempire.us/moonrace.html
    JFK’s speech 1963-09-20 to the UN calling off the space race, nuclear arms race and Cold War

    http://www.oilempire.us/jfk-unspeakable.html
    JFK and the Unspeakable

    http://www.oilempire.us/elections.html
    elections rigged in advance

  3. Neven says:

    Could President Obama be the one who leads Americans to recognize the ever-growing conflict between GDP and the health of the nation?

    Sure, but he has to ask Goldman Sachs first, and then they have to give him permission.

    The US needs a third party…

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