Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.
We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.
We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.
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New World Notes
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Welcome to the twentieth episode of Third Paradigm. Last week, we talked about the significance of the year 2012 in the Mayan calendar, as described by Daniel Pinchbeck in his books 2012: The Return of Quezalcoatl, Toward 2012, and the e-zine, Reality Sandwich. This week, I'd like to describe my own vision for the year 2020 – how it could feel to live in Santa Cruz County eleven years from now. What would our relationship be with the rest of the State and the country? How would we interact with the world? What would health, education, and employment look like? My friend Nancy, from the Transition Santa Cruz Economics Study Group, says that there are three parts to every plan. First, she has to have a vision for how something could work. Then, there needs to be a process for how to get from here to there. Third, she anticipates how the vested interests would react, and she develops a strategy accordingly. So here's the vision, the process, and the politics, woven together in my 2020 futuristic fable.
After this blue sky adventure, we'll walk back into the current fog of the California budget crisis. Last week, Assembly member Bill Monning and County Treasurer Fred Keeley led a Tax Reform visioning process at Cabrillo College. As you might suspect, this wasn't about how we could lower them. After the presentation, I bummed a ride with Fred, because my car was parked on the far side of campus. I told him that if anyone could do it, I thought he could. He thanked me for the compliment, but I reminded him that it had a caveat. He replied, "Yes, I heard that." It was his role, I said, to figure out a solution within the mainstream framework. "And your role," he countered, "to put a stake way off the beaten path and show the view from there. I always enjoy our lunches," he continued, "because they make me look at things in ways I never thought of before."
So while I raise contradictions in their logic, I think our local representatives have integrity and intelligence. We need to give them new choices. If we know which way we want to go, there are any number of good people to cast as our fearless leader. But before we pit the forces-of-light against the forces-of-darkness, we need a poem to begin with, three excerpts from To Begin With, the Sweet Grass by Mary Oliver.
That was Mary Oliver from her collection called Evidence. Mary Oliver's advice is good – love yourself, since somebody has to. Then forget it, Then, love the world.
In my hypothetical scenario of the year 2020, there are a number of people who've taken this admonishment as their religion. Alice is a member of the Indigenous Planet, which takes native values as all of our inheritance. The property she and her husband Jerry "bought" had been given back to the Global Reservation. This makes it exempt from property tax, but it can never again be sold through a monetary system. They lived with her parents while earning community credits for the down-payment, doing elder care, teaching, and nonprofit work. The former owners received 10,000 skilled-service hours from the county, in a form of reverse-mortgage, so they could live out their lives at home. Whatever they don't use, their grown children will inherit in free tax services, massage, pet boarding, vacation rentals, childcare, gardening, or whatever else is offered by local residents. Because it's an exchange, the same people don't need to provide the service as receive the goods.
As members of the Indigenous Planet (IP), Alice and Jerry don't believe in making a profit from passive investment, debt, or litigation. Because of this, the courts have ruled that they're exempt from the national debt. By collective decision, they instead dedicate 25% of their income to paying down the social debt through donations to global charities. And because they don't litigate, they also can't be sued. This allows them to sell what they bake in their kitchens or assemble an elderly neighbor's walker without worrying. The IP's have become modern Samaritans, showing the potential we have for generosity when released from our fears.
Example 2. Each person receives at birth $150,000 in credits toward education, which is the same amount a K14 public education costs. This pays for 1500 credits at $100 per credit for 15 hours of instruction. Altogether, it's 22,500 hours of education. But now, parents and kids can diversify and take classes from neighbors, farmers, or college students. They can also homeschool or co-op school, and save all or part for a lifetime of education. Rosa, for instance, saved half of her medical school expenses by using independent study and paying only to take the exams. She volunteered in a quality-of-life clinic to pay for the other half. By 2020, Santa Cruz had turned several buildings that were reverse-mortgaged into these clinics. The city equipped them with the latest in technology, and volunteers staffed them, including doctors, homeopaths, and chiropractors. Although they couldn't deal with everything, a visit only cost a $20 donation, which equipped a similar clinic in a third-world country.
Example 3 is Xavier, a software engineer and father of twins. His wife lost her job during the Great Reckoning, as it was now known. For several months, Xavier worried that he'd be next, and calculated how long they could go before losing their house. Like everyone else, they stopped spending and investing. Then his employer went to the Community Friday model. Every person in the company, including the executives, received 80% pay for a 4-day week. In return for this cut, the company agreed that for a year, they wouldn't lay anyone off. On Fridays, everyone was encouraged to help in their community – plant gardens, help neighbors, organize a softball team. Halfway through the year, the company was so productive they started profit-sharing. His wife did some contract work as a graphic designer. But when a job came open, she declined it.
Instead, she started a clothing line with CA organic fair-trade cotton. Products made and sold within the county were free trade, and not taxed as sales or income. Since there was no advantage to mass production under this system, she and other designers freely traded patterns and ideas on the web.
We'll break for a song by Spearhead. When we come back, we'll look at how the West was won back, in my little dream scene.
[Michael Franti & Spearhead – Hey World]
That was Hey World by Michael Franti and Spearhead, featuring Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. To tempt you to stick around for another day or two, we're presenting a 2020 vision – how it could feel to live in Santa Cruz in the year 2020. Job security, cheap healthcare, housing work exchange, worry-free retirement, and all the education you can eat. Sounds good, doesn't it? So what are we heading for instead? Let's look at where we are now.
Housing, healthcare, retirement, and higher education have risen to the economy's high water mark. Now that the tide's gone out, it's left us high and dry. Unemployment and homelessness are spiraling out of control. The average personal debt is 15 months gross income, and the national debt's twice the country's net assets.
In response, Obama's stimulus package increases our national debt, in order to increase our personal debt. As John Kenneth Galbraith said on Democracy Now, Obama is phrasing the problem as getting credit flowing, as if it's a plumbing issue. According to Obama, all we need to do is wrench open the borrowing spigot. But we're already up to our necks in a cesspool of debt. To pay our state and national debts, we have to imagine a future in which money will circulate faster, the cost of living will be higher, and we'll get even less for our tax dollar than we do now.
In addition, Obama is increasing our social debt in Mexico, Colombia, Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. If citizens there sue the US for damages, who will pay? Not only are we paying for wars we don't believe in, but we'll be held responsible for reparations. The era of US impunity is drawing to a close. I showed the movie Cocalera to my student group about the rise of the indigenous President of Bolivia, Evo Morales. In it, the coca grower's union ends each meeting by saying in unison, "Death to the Yankees." I think it was eye-opening to the students. We've bought into the media myth that everyone loves or at least envies us. But an increasing number of countries are simply turning their backs.
What would happen if other countries imposed the same conditions that we imposed on them? As the dollar falls, Latin American solidarity is increasing. We may someday want to immigrate to Mexico. Imagine fleeing the country with no money, except what you've paid in bribes to get out. You're left in a land where no one wants you, branded by the color of your skin. Any given day you could end up in jail or deported. This song by Firewater describes what is - our culture seen by the outsider - the immigrant, refugee, or asylum-seeker. For Ebenezer US, this is the ghost of America present.
[Firewater – A Place Not So Unkind]
That was Firewater with A Place Not So Unkind. So how do we do it? How do we turn the US into a place not so unkind and a people not so torn apart? Every day, we're giving money to people we don't trust for things we don't believe in - corporate interests and the governments that serve them. We're trapped in a cycle of dependence on the very things that are killing us. The solutions proposed at the CA tax reform meeting would tie even more weights to our feet as we're trying to tread water.
But local government has few choices. More money is the one-stop solution to every problem, and the only answer allowed to us by law. And then we're restricted in how we raise it. We can add from a quarter to 1% to the 7.25% State sales tax. But Santa Cruz County has already added 1.25%. So now we're talking about taxing services, like dry-cleaning, salons, or landscaping. Alternatively, we can add on more property and parcel taxes. But we already pay an additional 11% plus $200. As home values fall, this leaves many paying over 1% of a still-inflated value. A fully-paid property at today's prices will cost $500/month just in property tax, which is as much as rent or a mortgage should be. The county is now looking to re-evaluate commercial properties. But we already have many of them sitting overpriced and empty.
What aren't we allowed to tax? We can't tax the $500,000 exemption on real estate speculation that gives our homes this artificial value, driving up the cost of ownership, and making rentals unaffordable for both renter and property owner. We can't tax the duty-free trade that undermines local production and forces us to compete with countries where unionists are killed. We can't increase the capital gains tax that makes gambling more lucrative than labor, especially if you own the gambling house. We can't take back control of our income, sales, and property taxes, nor design tax breaks to foster self-sufficiency and kindness. Unless we, with a network of other counties and states, start a movement to reclaim local control of taxation, there's no way that I can see to save ourselves.
But if we did take back control, we could transition over the next decade to gradually but irrevocably transfer taxes into local ownership and global cooperation. Let's start with what is in 2010 and show what could be in 2020:
We could phase out the 30-year mortgage. Starting in 2010, all new mortgages would have to go through a county bank and title company. In 2011, the maximum mortgage allowed would be 29 years, In 2012, 28 years. By the year 2020, the 20-year mortgage would cut the cost of housing in half.
At the same time, a property profit tax would go up 5% a year. In 2010, there would still be a 500K tax-exempt gain but in 2011, 5% or $25,000 would be owed in tax. By 2020, 50% or $250,000 would be owed. This would drive speculators to sell. The only buyers would be those who wanted to live here or rent it out. Rentals could be a sustainable source of retirement income when it was paid off in 20 years.
Then there's income tax. Right now, 25% goes directly from the employer to the Federal government and 11% goes direct to the State. Our scenario would first centralize all tax collection in the county to be disbursed weekly. Just based on the float, we'd never need to borrow again. It would also give us control of disbursement and audits. Of the 25% Federal tax, 2% would transfer each year to the county, and 1% to the county from the State. In return, Santa Cruz would take over 10% per year of payments to in-county State and Federal employees. By 2020, 5% of income would go to the Federal government, and Lockheed Martin would be employed by and for the county. We'd receive 30 cents of every income dollar.
In addition, State sales tax would transfer a quarter percent to the county each year, but we'd have free-trade for goods produced and sold in-county. We could raise taxes on import goods unless they're made fair-trade.
Capital gains tax would go up by 3.5% a year, but the government would get 1% a year less. The rest would go to international NGO's protecting human rights, food sovereignty, and natural resources. This would give the global community a reason to abolish tax shelters with 45% of all stock option sales going to humanitarian causes.
Finally, the county could issue community credits and a local currency that wasn't taxed. It could give tax incentives for Community Friday businesses to keep employment secure, or owners of community-based businesses. Our taxes could match charitable donations by 25%, as England does, and we could make donation-generating properties into tax-deductions.
There's no limit to what we could do if we owned our taxes. Maybe, if we joined the Indigenous Planet, we could really discover America. Towards that goal, our final song is (Who Discovered) America by Ozomatli. This has been Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for editing and music. And remember that it takes a network to undermine an empire.
I heard her story from across the sea,
There was never one as fair, lovely as she.
With sun soaked skin and eyes of green,
with all kindness and grace of a queen.
I set sail into a cold, dark sky.
I had to see this beauty with my own eyes.
I crossed the ocean in a tiny ship
With her image in my mind and her name on my lips. I set.
I found her standing upon the shore.
She was everything I dreamed of and so much more.
I felt a love that I've never known
And I knew I had to make her my own.
She was light of the night. She was dark as the night.
I fell under her spell, couldn't tell wrong from right.
She breathed new life inside of me.
A whole new world she gave to me.
Surrendered all she had to me,
Even silver and gold.
All she asked was my soul.
How could I've know I'd been hypnotized.
There was more to my queen than first met the eye.
She had a chain of lovers who died her slaves
With a notion of blood for every drop that she gave.
I never thought she could break my heart
but all her contradictions are tearing me apart.
The secret she hides.
The beauty she flaunts
She'll stop at nothing just to get what she wants.
This is Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm, Sundays at 2 and Thursday mornings at 10. Thanks for listening.