As protests continue across America, it’s clear that there’s widespread frustration and anger held by a large percentage of the population who feels downtrodden by the status quo and demoralized by slim prospects for things getting better.
I’m by no means an experienced revolutionary, so take everything that follows with a massive boulder of salt. But watching the nightly riots raises the question: Is there a more effective way to create positive societal change?
I spend a lot of time analyzing and criticizing the worsening and morally unjust equality divide that has accelerated over recent decades. In my opinion, most of the major ills in today’s society have their roots there. The recent death of George Floyd has served to emphasize how certain communities bear more of the brunt of this inequality than others. And very understandably and predictably, more and more of these communities are reaching their breaking point.
So, if the objective is to engage the current power structure and influence it to change, presented below is a preliminary exploration of several methods that may offer better odds for success than what we’ve seen over the past week.
Focus On The Cracks In The Armor
The current system is not going to willingly change. Those who control it receive too much benefit from the status quo to give up their advantage by choice.
As John Kenneth Galbraith aptly put it:
“People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.”
Therefore, success in changing the status quo lies in making it too painful to continue.
Which leads to the questions: How can we, the oppressed masses, do that? What agency do we have?
Riots, with their violence and destruction, are often counter-productive. Yes, they generate media coverage, but they also galvanize central control. Political leaders now see themselves involved in a just crusade against mob rule; so they commit more tightly to ‘restoring order’ and to not letting ‘thugs’ direct the action. Police and/or military involvement ramps up and a lot of demonstrators can become collateral damage with little change to the system to show for it.
So, how can the populace create enough discomfort for those at the top to effect change?
By strategically focusing their collective power on weak points within the system. By targeting the cracks in the armor and pressing them hard via coordinated action that is — and this is essential — peaceful and legal.
Chris and I want to be clear on this: while we understand the tremendous fear, anger and frustration many of the seriously aggrieved rightly feel, and while we completely agree that the deeply unfair status quo needs massive and immediate reform, we don’t support violence against others nor the destruction of property and livelihoods. Not only do those tactics undermine the moral authority of any protest, we don’t think they’re effective in producing long-term positive change.
Ideas For A Righteous Revolution
Elements of a righteous revolution for our modern era could include:
1. Boycotting The Big Banks
The lifeblood of today’s economy is credit (i.e. debt). Or to be more accurate: exponentially increasing credit.
As growth in credit slows, economic instability skyrockets.
As a visual of this, note the period in the below chart where Total US Credit barely dipped from 2008-2009. That little wiggle nearly destroyed the global economy:
Therefore a social movement that impairs the growth of credit is one that will get attention.
The biggest engine of credit growth is the banking system, which is in the business of making loans. In fact, banks are able to generate 10x more loans than they hold in deposits through the process of fractional reserve lending.
The big national and international Too Big To Fail banks are by far the most important institutions for maintaining the status quo. They fund and grease its smooth operation.
So anything that throws sand in those gears, like a national boycott of the big banks, will get noticed.
If a meaningful percentage of US households suddenly moved our savings and banking services out of Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank and Wells Fargo, and into small local savings banks and credit unions, that would send a powerful message.
Those four banks hold more than $4 trillion in customer deposits. Let’s assume 5% of that, $200 billion, walked out the door. Given the 10x nature of fractional reserve lending, that equates to $2 trillion(!) in lost loan potential.
That’s hitting the banks, and the US economy, where it hurts. Imagine the pain if 10% or even 20% of deposits left this way?
And imagine the beneficial impact this movement of capital would have at the local level. Today, the lion’s share of bank deposits goes to these TBTF institutions and are then loaned out to massive corporations to use in advancing their already grossly unfair advantage. Wouldn’t it be far preferable to fund development in your community instead?
Imagine further the signal such a “banking revolt” would have if orchestrated to happen on the same day. Banks are required to hold only a small fraction of reserves on hand at any given time. Enough withdrawal demands occurring simultaneously would essentially create a run on the bank (remember this scene from It’s A Wonderful Life?).
Co-incident runs at multiple TBTF banks will get a LOT of notice. From the media, from our political leaders, and from those running the system. And no one gets tear gassed, beaten, jailed, or killed.
2. Living Debt-Free
Complementing the idea above, another way to reduce total credit is to adopt a debt-free lifestyle.
US consumers currently hold over $20 trillion in mortgage, credit card, auto and student loans. Decreasing that by even just a few trillion would be exceptionally concerning to the banking industry.
Debt is extremely hard to avoid taking on in today’s world — given our current way of living. And once in debt, most households are wage-slaves to the bank until their balances are paid off (which they aren’t, ever, for most).
But there are ways to change our lifestyles to be debt independent. They are not easy at present. But the personal freedom that results, as well as the financial freedom that grows with savings that otherwise would have been directed to interest payments, are immense.
A social movement that elevates debt-free living as a driving cause will unleash all sorts of creativity for how to make it possible and enjoyable: co-habitation, communal resource pooling, new models for education/health services/commerce, and many others.
And by making ourselves less captive to the system currently controlling us, we gain more bargaining power with those running it.
3. Converting The Media
Right now, the mass media has proven itself little more than a parrot of what its corporate backers tell it to report.
Criticism of the status quo and worthy ideas for its evolution are often derided, demonized or simply not mentioned.
How do you influence a corrupted media to report on the ideas you want? Speak to its self-interest.
Most large mainstream media companies are in financial straits. The digital era destroyed the old publishing business models and the survivors are struggling to find a sustainable way to operate profitably.
Here’s one way a citizen movement could use that to its advantage:
- Have 100,000 people sign up for the New York Times print+digital package on the same day.
- Given current promotions, that’s an immediate out of pocket cost per person of $40. Total immediate revenue to NYT: $4 million; total projected customer value to the NYT over the next two years: $156 million
- Have those people then send the executive editor of the NYT an email saying they will immediately cancel and demand a refund if the news organization doesn’t start balanced reporting on key topics important to the movement (e.g., the economic and social inequality being created by the Federal Reserve’s actions, or exposing injustice when corrupt politicians/executive/cops aren’t held accountable for their crimes)
Staring at an unexpected windfall of millions of dollars and many thousands of new subscribers, one that could disappear in a moment, the executive staff at the NYT would consider this opportunity very seriously. Even if they rejected it, the commercial power of the topics being requested will shape their future thinking and coverage.
This simple strategy is scalable and can be deployed to nearly any major media organization. And it uses the weight of the collective to press hard in a peaceful, legal way on the weak spot of an influential player in the system — providing both a carrot and a stick for constructive change without anybody exposed to the threat of violence.
4. Exposing The Villains
Government and corporate institutions control the world we live in. But it’s important remember these institutions are run by people — people who have daily commutes, social outings, dogs to walk, etc, just like the rest of us.
Continuing on the idea of applying collective pressure to the weak points of the system, it’s easy to make decisions with far-reaching impact from the perch of a boardroom table. It’s a lot harder to do so when staring into the judging eyes of the people who will suffer from the repercussions of those decisions.
The members of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee, the managing editors of the major media outlets, the C-level executives of the TBTF banks, — these are real people.
40 million US workers (that we know of) have lost their jobs over the past two months. Imagine if just a few thousand of these folks peacefully lined both sides of the streets that a few of these senior policymakers take to work, holding signs asking the tough questions like “Why Is The Fed Killing Savers?” “Is Blackrock Really More Important Than Black Lives?”
Candelight vigils in their neighborhoods. Photos mailed to their homes of the victims pushed further into despair by the growing inequality their current policies create. Questions asked respectfully from a non-threatening distance on the street, in the grocery store, at a restaurant — anywhere public and where legally allowed.
It may not work on every target, but most humans can’t ignore and remain insensitive to such visible pain of so many others for long. Most, if not all, of these people believe they are “doing god’s work” and don’t see themselves as villains. A large and persistent demonstration like this can be quite effective in shaking their faith in their current beliefs and opening the door for them to realize their actions are responsible for much more damage than they’ve realized.
Again and especially here, peaceful non-violence is essential. To have credibility and integrity, the movement needs to be far above the evils it’s rejecting. Should it devolve into the abuse of a single individual at mob hands, the movement loses its moral legitimacy.
What Is The Platform?
The above are just ideas. None of them is a silver bullet. There may be, and probably are, many better ones out there for the righteous revolutionary to adopt.
The point of this piece is to demonstrate that there are effective options for protest and rebellion that don’t require bloodshed, looting and property damage. And that may prove materially more effective than confrontation in the streets at resulting in positive change.
But whatever tactics are ultimately pursued, it’s key to have an ideological platform underlying the revolution. You can’t just be “against” the current order; you need to stand “for” a constructive vision or set of principles for doing things better.
As Buckminster Fuller said:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Your platform sets the north star that your movement will organize behind and orient itself against. Distill your message into a small number of clear, big principles (“Equal treatment under the law”, “Govern within our means”, and “Main Street over Wall Street” are a few good ones to consider) and make sure everybody rallying to your banner knows what they are.
Should you indeed be successful in bringing the existing power brokers to the negotiating table, or replacing them completely in the case of extreme revolution, these principles will determine your resulting programs and policies. Be sure to put as much effort into clarifying these up front as you do into your protest of the current regime.
Deeper Into The Fourth Turning We Go
Look, as I admitted up front, I’m no experienced social warrior. The ideas above are conceptual; I can’t speak with the authority of having led people to put them into practice (though I do live debt-free and am a big advocate for that lifestyle).
We have warned for years in our writing here at PeakProsperity.com that we are all now well into a Fourth Turning, where the old order breaks down and a new one, often violently, replaces it.
The protests and riots we’re now seeing are not unexpected. In fact, we anticipate growing social unrest over this next decade as those in control become more desperate in their actions to preserve their advantage while the rest of society rebels harder for a new and better order.
Our general advice to concerned individuals is to prioritize staying safe and reducing your vulnerability profile to crime and violence. That remains the case.
But collectively, if we’re against much of what’s happening around us and to us, we need to stand for something better if we want a brighter future.
Chris and I plan to take Buckminster Fuller’s advice and devote some serious brain cycles to what principles we’d like to see in a new model to replace the imperfect one we’ve currently got. In the process, we’ll welcome any suggestions you may have to offer.