Ownership is liberating only if it liberates; the new paradigm has to be a participatory society
In order to push his 2004 bid for re-election, and his radical and untenable economic ideology, George W. Bush touted the need for an “ownership society”. In theory, this meant ordinary people could have access like never before to capital for home-buying, and the paradigm of a privately owned individualist property would be firmly rooted in the democratic ground of American society.
“In theory”, because that never really was the case. There was a massive new flow of capital from financial institutions to home-buying, but much of the capital was illusory, and the motivation was to gather more wealth to those institutions, not to leave it in the hands of homeowners. In practice, most borrowers were in fact falling into a dangerous situation in which they were in effect owned —their homes, their wages, their working lives and recreational time— by the lenders.
When the system collapsed, the same Bush government engineered a massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to failing banks, but did nothing to rescue homeowners at risk of foreclosure. The reason for this is that the ownership in the phrase ownership society is not the right of individuals to accumulate wealth, influence and independence, but rather of powerful interests to control ever greater swaths of the American economic landscape.
The dirty energy economy is based on the model where magnates own and control a specific resource that contains a specific amount of energy, which they can offer or withhold from the marketplace. For many who are accustomed to this model, it is unthinkable that energy might not be owned at all, but merely accessed, harvested.
The clean energy economy returns the power of ownership to the natural systems we depend on for everything that we are in this world. The sun, the wind, cannot be owned, only accessed, their energy harvested. To build more infrastructure means to make the resource more plentiful, more affordable, more user-friendly, and a better foundation for ordinary people to take on ever more sophisticated roles in the overall economic landscape.
The ownership model which privileges dirty energy —fossil fuels and the hugely expensive, taxpayer-funded, extreme contamination risk of nuclear power— rests on the power of concentrated interests to deprive the wider marketplace of needed resources, to control supply, to dictate the terms of ordinary people’s freedom of movement, action and enterprise.
The usership model, which must necessarily replace it, leaves behind such feudal dynamics and privileges the right of ordinary people to participate in the shaping of their own destiny. Capital will flow where there is constructive use value, not fortification-concentration value, and the centuries-long process of democratic revolution will reach its next stage, where the planning, the executing of and the active participation in economic influence, are more justly dispersed among free individuals and communities.
This is the logic of democracy: that all people will have the genuine liberty to choose their fate and to be judged only according to 1) their basic humanity and 2) the merit won by forthright exhibition of the content of their character, in collaboration —direct or indirect— with the better interests of others. An economic model that privileges privilege also privileges privation, and the rolling back of most people’s great gains in the way of personal and political agency.
There are feudal interests now, who perceive the democratization of the economic landscape as a threat, just as there we feudal interests who had such views in 18th century Europe and in the slaveowning antebellum south. There is a middle ground between the totalitarian systems of feudal oligarchy and one-party communism, and that is open democracy: where the founding principles and the general interest of a diverse and free people preclude the overweening concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
It does not matter that such interests spend millions to advertise their desire to liberate ordinary people… The Soviet Union claimed to liberate every republic it conquered, but only replaced the feudal misery of their peoples with a totalitarian misery in many cases far more extreme. Advertising is not ample enough information for anyone to make a informed judgment; it is paid propaganda generally directed toward serving the salesman.
The usership model of democratizing capitalism privileges not those who would profit from your persuasion, but those who would gain your support by supporting you, in genuine, measurable terms. There is, as such, a substantial argument to be made for an “open-source” alternative ecosystem to all markets where interest might be concentrated.
The logic of technological development —increasing ephemeralization, combined with increasingly robust capabilities, in service of the ordinary individual’s self-selected interests— here meshes with the principle of continually empowering the individual human intellect to make sound, informed, humane decisions, in service of genuine personal and generalized civilizational human interest.
Lifelong learning becomes the norm, the de fact regime of intellect-cultivation, because the expansional logic of ephemeralizing technologies seeks first and foremost the delivery of information. This has a decentralizing effect on the nature of power narratives, and requires the building of an economic infrastructure that puts the sovereign citizen and the free community of human beings before the right of the powerful to engage in actions that concentrate their power.
Clean energy decentralizes economic power, by undercutting the feudal model whereby the power to dictate conditions of wealth and survival is concentrated in the hands of those least at risk from the tidal effects of supply and demand. Ordinary people, and small communities, can build their own supply of energy, wealth and constructive empowerment.
An economic model based on clean renewable energy resources will undercut the momentum enjoyed by feudalist oligarchs, even as it precludes the rise of planned economies. As individuals, families, small businesses and local communities, take control of the power generation infrastructure, the logic of investment, regulation, taxation and even national defense, will shift, to advantage the methods and resources that most efficiently provide people with energy, information, and mobility.