In 2018 a survey of 8000 Americans, including statistical cluster analysis, seven distinct political 'tribes' were revealed (Hawkins et al., 2018). The three tribes in the intermediate political positions called the Exhausted Majority, comprised 67 percent of the participants. This majority, comprised of Democrats and Republicans, was characterized by:
- being ideologically flexible;
- supporting the search for political compromise;
- being fatigued by US politics today;
- feeling forgotten in political debate.
In the 2020 election, the Exhausted Majority was not forgotten and probably made up a large portion of Biden's vote. Back in 2018, 23 percent of this majority was Republican.
The parties are not homogeneous, and when reading headlines such as The Rotting of the Republican Mind (Brooks, 2020), I wonder if this helps us appreciate those more moderate groups in our parties, such as those Republican election officials who have confirmed the validity of the results, despite Trump's position and personal threats to their lives. The press, television, and social media emphasize the extremes, increasing their sales but keeping us in a continual mindset of conflict.
Let us see why greater ideological flexibility and willingness to compromise are essential for both parties and US citizens to affront some of the critical concerns facing the nation over the next decades. The three issues considered are providing a decent life for the working class, the response to the climate change crisis, and the changing nature of capitalism.
A decent life for the working class
The US has fallen years behind other developed countries, particularly in Europe, in providing a civilized life for its waged class. As (Partanen, p. 316 2016) succinctly explains, "What Americans need, so that they can stop struggling so hard to be super-achievers, is simple: affordable, high-quality health care, daycare, education, living wages, and paid vacations." This is what most European nations, not only the Nordic ones, already have. In Europe, the lower 50 percent of income earners enjoy 22 percent of the total. In the US, it is 13 percent! Also, the average European health care costs per person are one half that of the US, and their private companies are not burdened with complicated schemes for providing insurance/health care. The American dream of the "land of opportunity" is fading. The same changes that Scandinavian and other European countries made in their education systems and social policies helped them create societies with a higher degree of mobility. Seventeen out of the top twenty socially mobile countries are European. Instead, the US ranks 27th among the developed nations (World Economic Forum, 2020). Also, the wealth inequalities between rich and poor in the US, where the top one percent owns 40 percent of the wealth, dramatically exacerbates the situation. From 1980 to 2016, also US income inequality has increased by 20 percent. As the Great Gatsby curve illustrates, the greater the concentration in the wealth of a nation, the less likely it is that children from poor families will improve their economic status as adults, explaining in part the low ranking in the US's social mobility (Vandiver, 2013).
Pressured by the extreme wealth and income inequalities and by a more relentless force, Mother Nature, in the form of climate warming, capitalism is evolving. We are shifting towards governance based on the stakeholders of the corporation rather than only the traditional stockholders. Larry Fink, Chairman of Blackrock, typifies this point of view, "The money we manage belongs to our clients, and we can only serve them if we address how global changes will impact their outcomes. We can only serve our shareholders if we focus on the long term, and constantly evolve our business, driving industry dynamics instead of reacting to them. And we can only serve our full set of stakeholders – from our employees to the communities where we operate – if we continue to make a positive contribution to society" (Fink, p.1 2020). The widen stakeholder model has its origin in the work in1997 by John Elkington. He identified a newly emerging cluster of non-financial considerations involving the environment, social aspects, and corporate governance, which should be included in the factors determining a company's equity value. This led to a system of ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) rating used to evaluate a corporation's overall performance. Unfortunately, parts of the rating system are self-reported and not always replicable, but it is widely used and being improved.
In Europe, countries have implemented alternative solutions with more stringent environmental laws and the participation of labor unions directly in the board of directors of large corporations. This permitted higher wages and less labor conflict. In times of crisis, it allowed the corporate boards to agree to reduce work instead of firing workers. An alternative scheme, the movement of Good Business Certification offers a more inclusive set of corporate goals and performance criteria. "The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment" (Bcorporation, p.1 2020). Some 200 criteria are employed for a very exhaustive certification, also evaluating suppliers' labor and environmental situation. Presently some 3500 firms have become B Corporations. From a climate mitigation point of view, one of the firm's required ecological indicators should be the tons of emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent for the entire company and the local factories.
Another reason that capitalism is changing is that the nature of consumption is evolving. Increasingly consumers are asking for more environmentally friendly products and services. They want to know the carbon footprint of what they are purchasing. A Danish supermarket chain is offering this information for customers' purchases. Based on your lifestyle and pattern of acquisitions, Internet applications estimate your carbon footprint. Programs are provided for offsetting intensive carbon-intensive activities, such as planting trees to compensate for flying. The circular economy's idea, stressing the four R's (reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot/compost), is taking hold. More organic materials are being utilized in product construction. The sharing economy has begun. In the EU following the successful Ecodesign Directive for energy-related products, the Commission is starting a new sustainable product policy. “To help reach the green deal objectives of lower resource consumption and less environmental impact, we are developing a sustainable product initiative. With this legal framework, we’re bringing all products produced or sold in the EU in line with technical standards for sustainability” (European Commission, 2020).
Environmental quality may gradually replace quantity. This represents a systemic development, reinforced by nature and adapted by a growing number of governments and consumers.
Likely importance of climate policy
It appears that capitalism is going to be guided by public climate policy over the next decades. One hundred and eighty-eight countries have ratified the Paris Treaty. This calls for new ways to channel the power of the market, technology, and research toward these planetary goals. By the way, many of my Republican friends have connected the dots of climate disasters. They do believe in the existence of climate change and the need for mitigation and adaptation. Trump extremely limited them.
Presently the European Union is embarking on a thirty-year Green Deal aiming to be climate neutral in 2050, requiring action by all sectors of the economy, including "investing in low carbon technologies; supporting industry to innovate; introducing cleaner, cheaper and healthier forms of private and public transport; decarbonizing the energy sector; ensuring buildings are more energy-efficient, and working with international partners to improve global environmental standards." This January, the Commission presented the European Green Deal Investment Plan, which will mobilize at least €1 trillion of sustainable investments over the next decade. "The EU will also provide financial support and technical assistance to help those that are most affected by the move towards the green economy. This is called the Just Transition Mechanism. It will help mobilize at least €100 billion over the period 2021-2027 in the most affected regions" (European Commission, p.1 2020). The future Biden administration plans to re-join the Paris Climate Treaty and introduce an American Green Deal, very similar in approach and problems addressed in the European one (Biden, 2020). The US will probably have to compensate those sectors most hit by the energy transition in jobs and job training. Local infrastructure entails constructing new public and private transportation systems and creating many more green spaces in our cities and suburbs. We are beginning to learn about the numerous health benefits of living near green areas. People living near nature have lower stress levels and report being in good health, together with numerous other benefits (Twohig-Bennett & Jones 2018). We will design our cities according to these criteria together with the increased opportunities for smart (distant) work, which many have experienced during the pandemic.
Why we need more ideological flexibility and political compromise
Green new deals are gigantic national and local infrastructure programs. Renewal of our outdated infrastructure is necessary and will increase productivity and jobs. In the last legislature, Republicans initially supported an infrastructure bill, but Trump dropped support. The benefits of a renewed infrastructure will be realized in every state and should be legislated, projected, and managed by our best politicians and firms independent of their party affiliation. Fortunately, most countries have not politicized climate change.
The fact that capitalism is broadening its performance criteria to include social and environmental measures implies that politics should keep up with this cultural shift.
We need to take our ideological blinders off and look at what other capitalistic economies are achieving. It should become evident, also after Covid-19, that private profit is not the only solution. We should open up our thinking to the possibility of a more significant public role, especially in services of broad interest, and where we have evidence of less costly public alternatives. Results of both private and public undertakings need to be controlled in a new, more comprehensive manner. The three critical criteria deserve consideration: could you imagine a good governance party, one primarily interested in social well-being, and an environmental party? These are more likely to be the trade-offs in the future.
Everybody should be interested in beginning to recuperate the American dream. Even some of the wealthiest American billionaires such as Warren Buffett, openly admit that the rich's favorable tax treatment is unfair. Helping the working class is a vital issue and also constitutes a broad electorate belonging to both parties. New economic growth policies are being examined, such as raising wages to increase consumption and growth.
We live in exciting times. Time to be open, creative, and yes, to be flexible ideologically and politically. Let our exhausted majority be heard.
B Corporations, 2020, About B Corps, B Corporation site, accessed December 2, 2020.
Biden, J., 2020, The Biden Plan To Build A Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure And An Equitable Clean Energy Future, Joe Biden site, accessed December 2, 2020.
Brooks, D., 2020, The Rotting of the Republican Mind, November 26, The New York Times.
European Commission, 2020, Overview of sustainable finance, EU site, accessed December 2, 2020.
European Commission, 2020, Sustainably Product Policy, EU site, accessed December 2, 2020.
Fink, L, 2020, Larry Fink's Chairmans Letter to Shareholders, Sunday, March 29, 2020.
Hawkins, S., Yudin, D., Juan Torres, M., Dixon, Tim, 2018, Hidden Tribes: A Study of America's Polarized Landscape, More in Common, New York.
Partanen, A., 2016, The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, HarperCollins Publishers, New York.
Vandivier D., 2013, What is the Great Gadsby Curve, June 11, archives of the Obama White House, accessed December 4, 2020.
World Economic Forum, 2020, The Global Social Mobility Report 2020, January.