Van Jones earned his law degree from Yale. As an African American he would have been heavily recruited by many major law firms with offers of large salaries, but instead chose to go work with the minority communities in California. He was asked to speak at the first conference for the Network of Spiritual Progressives. I have a tape of it, and his speech was one of the highlights of the event. Van Jones wrote a nice commentary praising the NSP that appeared in the Huffington Post in 2005. More recently he has become very active in the environmental movement, and combined it with his earlier social work by promoting green job programs for poor minority communities.
In 2008 the Unitarian Universalists asked him to be the key note speaker at their annual General Assembly conference. I had the privilege of listening to him give that speech in person, and remember it as one of the most thought provoking and inspiring speeches that I have ever heard. I wrote a brief summary of his talk here. I was thrilled almost beyond words when Obama asked him to serve in the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He was one of the few people I looked towards as a hero. I was heart broken at what happened in the past few days though.
- ‘Peace Rose’ by Peter Kuper
I had the pleasure of attending the recent Woodstock Peace Economics Forum, held in the town of Woodstock NY (yes, it’s THE Woodstock) on the 40th anniversary of the original Woodstock concert. The theme seemed to be “Turning Swords into Wind Turbines.” There was a lot of interesting talk about the impact of the military on our economy, environmental issues, and the state of activism in general.
While some participants seemed to have been stuck in old arguments and rhetoric that hasn’t changed much since the 1969 concert, there were some interesting new facts and approaches. Economist Robert Pollin gave the following information from a recent study about the impact of federal spending on job creation. If $1 million were spent by the government in various different ways, the study concluded how many jobs would be created. As usual, the real figures are very eye opening. How many jobs would be created if the government spent $1 million on:
The Military – 11 jobs
The Green Agenda – 17 jobs
Education – 23 jobs
Child Care – 40 jobs
These are only the immediate impacts. The long term benefits on job creation for spending money on better education could be fairly dramatic, but that was not projected in this study.
There was some interesting historical discussion refuting the idea that the military spending in WWII was necessary to pull us out of the Great Depression. Some economists have convincingly argued that government spending such massive amounts of money as they did during WWII would have pulled us out of the Great Depression almost no matter what it was spent on. In fact, there were many other projects where the money spent would have produced much bigger economic benefits.
So if anyone still tries to claim that massive military spending is needed for the economy and for job creation, you can tell them that the facts just don’t support that.
One of the comments made during the presidential primary debates last year has remained stuck in my memory to this day. It came from Joe Biden, who was recalling some “folksy wisdom” from his father. His father had a saying that went something like this: “Don’t lecture me about the moral values you claim to have, just show me your budget so that I can see what your real moral values are”. As I recall, Joe Biden was making this comment in reference to our national budget, but I shuddered when I think that this commentary applies equally well to my own personal budget. If our moral values were to be judged by looking at our personal budgets, how well would any of us fare?
When I was invited by Dave Belden to participate in this blog, I agreed because it gave me a chance to write about some economic issues that I felt strongly about. Future appends will include comments about David Korten’s writings, as well as issues raised in a group I belong to called “UUs [Unitarian Universalists] for a Just Economic Community”. This is also a personal issue for me because about 4 months ago I was laid off from a job that I held for 26 years. I have been engaged in the job search routine and the soul searching that comes with it ever since.
When I left my job I received a nice severance package that includes health benefits, so my family’s financial situation is relatively good compared to others. However, there were some rather dark periods when I wasn’t sure that this was the case.
I found a surprisingly strong empathy quickly developed in me towards other people going through financial distress. Now I feel a personal bond with those people for whom the outlook is much bleaker.