Skip to main content
Blurred people walking in the same direction

Getting to the Next System

Gus Speth

Gus Speth

Distinguished Next System Fellow more

Environment & Energy Movement Strategy & History

Guideposts on the way to a new political economy

The America we must seek for our children and grandchildren is surely not the America we have today. Our country confronts a daunting array of challenges in the maintenance of our people’s wellbeing, in the conduct of our international affairs, in the management of our planet’s natural assets, and in the workings of our politics. Taken together, these challenges place in grave peril much that we hold dear.

If we are going to change things for the better, we must first understand the forces that brought us to this sea of troubles. When big problems emerge across the entire spectrum of national life, it cannot be due to small reasons. We have encompassing problems because of fundamental flaws in our economic and political system. By understanding these flaws, we can end them and move forward to a new system.

We have encompassing problems because of fundamental flaws in our economic and political system. By understanding these flaws, we can end them and move forward to a new system.

I think America got off course for two primary reasons. In recent decades we failed to build consistently on the foundations laid by the New Deal, by Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms and his Second Bill of Rights, and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Eleanor Roosevelt championed so vigorously. Instead, we unleashed a virulent, fast-growing strain of corporate-consumerist capitalism. “Ours is the Ruthless Economy,” say Paul Samuelson and William Nordhaus in their influential textbook, Macroeconomics. And indeed it is. In its ruthlessness at home and abroad, it creates a world of wounds. As it strengthens and grows, those wounds deepen and multiply, with especially severe impacts on America’s black and other minority communities.

Such an economy begs for restraint and guidance in the public interest—control that must be provided mostly by government. Yet, at this point, the captains of our economic life and those who have benefitted disproportionately from it have largely taken over our political life. Corporations, long identified as our principal economic actors, are now also our principal political actors. Among other things, America’s business community has promoted the decline of organized labor, a force that once offered important counter- weight to corporate power. The result is a combined economic and political system—the operating system upon which our society runs—of great power and voraciousness, pursuing its own economic interests without serious concern for the values of fairness, justice, or sustainability that democratic government might have provided.

Read and Download:

Gus Speth

Gus Speth

Distinguished Next System Fellow more

More related work

Nenad Stojkovic via Flickr

Gar Alperovitz on how change happens over “pizza and some beer”

Gar Alperovitz talks about how the democratic economy can come into being much as movements did in the 1960s: “Six friends get together and get some pizza and some beer.” read more
Windmills under a blue sky

A new era of public power: A vision for New York Power Authority in pursuit of climate justice

As both the owners and customers of the NYPA, New Yorkers have the opportunity to demand, build, and benefit from a more democratic and equitable energy system as the state aims to be greenhouse-gas-emission-free by 2040. read more
Election celebration outside White House, November 7, 2020

After Trump, before Biden: What’s next for the American left?

Trumpism—whether or not it morphs into a new form, with a new leadership or strategy—is something we still don’t understand properly. The outcome of this election shows we have a lot more work to do to ensure the Trumpers don’t have a continuing path forward. read more