Monday, October 21, 2019

Prying Open the Overton Window

If you're truly interested in finding solutions to humanity's pressing problems, then start helping us pry open the Overton Window.
The Overton Window describes the spectrum of concepts, policies and approaches that can be publicly discussed without being ridiculed or marginalized as "too radical," "unworkable," "crazy," etc. The narrower the Overton Window, the greater the impoverishment of public dialog and the fewer the solutions available.
Those holding power in a socio-economic-political system that's unraveling devote their remaining energy to closing the Overton Window so that only "approved" narratives and policies that support the status quo are "allowed" into the public sphere.
Everything outside this narrow band of status-quo-supportive narratives is immediately disparaged as "fake news," "Kremlin talking points," or other highly charged accusations designed to close the Overton Window--a process Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman called manufacturing consent: if no "outside" ideas are allowed, people accept the status quo as "all there is and all there can possibly be."
This narrow Overton Window benefits those in power who are "legally looting" the system.
There is another source of a narrow Overton Window: the cultural, social and political elites have no new ideas and so they cling to doing more of what's failed, relying on the past successes of now-failing strategies to cement their power.
Michael Grant described how this failure of imagination and devotion to the past leads inevitably to decline and collapse in his excellent account The Fall of the Roman Empire, a short book I have been recommending since 2009:
There was no room at all, in these ways of thinking, for the novel, apocalyptic situation which had now arisen, a situation which needed solutions as radical as itself. (The Status Quo) attitude is a complacent acceptance of things as they are, without a single new idea.
This acceptance was accompanied by greatly excessive optimism about the present and future. Even when the end was only sixty years away, and the Empire was already crumbling fast, Rutilius continued to address the spirit of Rome with the same supreme assurance.
This blind adherence to the ideas of the past ranks high among the principal causes of the downfall of Rome. If you were sufficiently lulled by these traditional fictions, there was no call to take any practical first-aid measures at all.
That describes the U.S. and indeed the entire global economy to a tee. All the "approved solutions" are retreads from 90 years ago: fiscal stimulus (now called MMT), lowering interest rates via central bank manipulation (now called QE), increasing social welfare (now called Universal Basic Income, UBI)--all "solutions" from the early 1930s, when the global economic system fell into its last Great Crisis.
That these will all fail is already baked in because this is not 1930. The situation is fundamentally different, but like generals who obsess over how best to fight the last war, the system's Overton Window is stuck in 1930.
The most important job of the alternative media is to pry open the Overton Window so new solutions become possible. We have been trained to believe that technology is our savior, and that "new solutions" arise only from technology. But the reality is that technology itself won't solve economic-social-political problems; it can at best enable new solutions.
In other words, there is no teleology in technology that magically causes technology to generate a sustainable economy or distribute political power equitably. We have to set those goals and use technology to serve economic, social and political innovations.
As I often say here, if you don't change the way money is created and distributed, you change nothing because the way money is created and distributed defines everything else in the way the system functions.
For my part, I've proposed a labor-backed currency that is unlike any other system for creating and distributing "money." I describe this system in my book A radically beneficial World, and in an essay The Architecture of a Labor-Backed Cryptocurrency System, the Largent (June 2016)--scroll to the bottom of the page to read it.
In the three years since the publication of the book and essay, I've gained a new appreciation for the potential for privately issued 'paper' money that is "backed" by transactions of goods and services. The advent of private-sector (i.e. non-state) blockchain currencies such as bitcoin has cracked open the Overton Window to a refreshing degree, but blockchain cryptocurrencies are only one of many potential systems of "money" that would better serve humanity that the doomed-to-implode fiat currencies issued by elites-dominated governments and central banks.
Technology is enabling new solutions, but only if we can conceptualize those solutions and pry open the Overton Window to let them into the public sphere.
If you're truly interested in finding solutions to humanity's pressing problems, then start helping us pry open the Overton Window. Those who dogmatically demand we all agree with their 1930s "solutions" and who marginalize any and all new ideas that threaten the status quo power structure are the problem, not the solution.
Prying open the Overton Window is the point of my new book Will You Be Richer or Poorer? Profit, Power and A.I. in a Traumatized World.



My recent books:
Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).


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