Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

It’s the stupid economy

by Bob Douglas.

Every politician knows that the way to win elections is through the hip pocket nerve. During his presidential election campaign, Bill Clinton’s advisers had him look repeatedly at a whiteboard on which was written, ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’

But I think we should be reversing the order of two words in that statement and insist to our politicians that ‘It’s the stupid economy!’ The problems that are now looming for our human world are being driven by population and economic growth, the two issues that we all continue to put in the ‘too hard basket’. Economic orthodoxy continues to insist that the solution to our problems is growth in the gross national product (GNP).

In March 1968, Robert F Kennedy in an address at the University of Kansas said about the human economy:

Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product — if we should judge America by that — counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warheads and armoured cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

The second E of SEE-Change refers to the economy. The jitters about American and European debt are returning world focus to the possibility of another global financial crisis, which, this time could be huge. Will we be ready this time around to ask fundamental questions of the kind implied in Robert Kennedy’s quote and insist that our leaders develop a new economy that serves the real needs of people and the planet?

American writer David Korten in Agenda for a New Economy says that the world economy is an antiquated and fraudulent system of ‘money-go-round’ that serves the interests of Wall Street  rather than those of Main Street.

We cannot afford to wait for our leaders to do something about the stupid economic system that drives modern civilisation. The push must come from the community, which is where economic reform can be most effective. I hope that SEE-Change groups can begin to address this challenge.

Developing a ‘Sharehood’ within our close neighborhoods could be a way to start.

With thanks to our


  • ACT Government Environment and Planning
  • The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT (AISACT)
  • Catholic Education Office (Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn)
  • Education and Training Directorate
  • ACT Government