Presidential Candidates: Extractive or Generative?

In her latest book, Owning Our Future, Marjorie Kelly tells a hopeful story of “Journeys to a Generative Economy.” She describes people who are actually helping to build an economy “around ideals like fairness, community and sustainability—an economy that in its normal functioning tends to create fair and just outcomes, benefits the many rather than the few, and enables an enduring human presence on a flourishing earth” (210).

Rather than “play by the rules that the robber barons left us,” she says, a number of cooperatives and building societies, community banks and credit unions survived even as giants like Lehman Brothers collapsed. These under-celebrated organizations are already successfully challenging the notion that financial capital must grow endlessly and the rich must rule.

Kelly calls the old, still dominant feudal order of things, “extractive,” and the emerging mission-controlled and employee-owned businesses that enliven the community, “generative.”

You can’t say “extractive” without visualizing businesses relentlessly mining the system, squeezing out maximum profit as quickly as possible, laying waste the environment and destroying people. “Generative” cannot but summon up images of planting and nurturing so that what the earth yields sustains the community.

I kept thinking that Kelly’s terms and the way she looks at the economy might also help us assess the policies offered by each presidential ticket.  Are their policies “extractive,” as in maximizing wealth for the few, or are they “generative,’ seeding the ground so the community as a whole can enjoy the fruits of all our labors and can thrive?


Obama/Biden: Extend coverage; bring children onto parents’ policies, get rid of pre-existing conditions; cover preventative care. I’d call that Generative. 

Romney/Ryan: Repeal the Affordable Care Act a.k.a. Obamacare. Take away the coverage now enjoyed by millions more, ask seniors to potentially pay an estimated $6400 in additional costs. Extractive.


Obama/Biden: Realize savings by eliminating wasteful spending and over-payments to providers; enhance services to beneficiaries; keep Medicare solvent for several more years. Generative.

Romney/Ryan: Give seniors vouchers to go shopping for “affordable” insurance—a search that will likely mean they will have to pay for what was once covered entirely by Medicare. Profits for insurance companies will continue to grow while seniors are exposed to the mercies of the market place. Yup, Extractive.


Obama/Biden: TheAmerican Federation of Teachers says 300,000 school employees kept their jobs because of the stimulus. The President sought– but Congress failed to approve –$55 billion to prevent more than 300,000 teacher layoffs. He increased federal aid to college students and brought scrutiny to for-profit colleges that are collecting large sums in tuition from students while giving them little prospect of landing jobs.  Generative.

Romney/Ryan: Public education is “an antiquated system controlled to a disturbing degree by the unions representing teachers.” Claritssa Sanchez, a teacher in Las Vegas wondered recently: “When he (Romney) says class sizes don’t even matter, I want to know why he thinks he knows what’s better for students than us teachers.” Ryan’s budget cuts Pell Grants and Romney thinks students should “shop around,” borrow from their parents and not rely so much on federal aid. The “new normal” they call for is about making new tax cuts for the wealthy and new cuts to education “normal.” Extractive.


Obama/Biden: Make contraception available to women who want it and let women make the tough personal decisions about their own reproductive lives safely. Do not force victims of rape and incest to carry to term pregnancies resulting from these acts of violence. Generative.  

Romney/Ryan: Romney has been called a “weathervane” on this, changing his position depending on how the political winds are blowing. Ryan, working with the now infamous Todd Akin, to author the bizarre notion of “forcible rape”  (as opposed to “consensual rape” perhaps?) has not expressly called for women to be jailed for having abortions but has emphasized that “If it’s illegal, it’s illegal.”  Ryan and the Republican legislators who have advanced dozens of bills in various states to impose severe restrictions on women’s reproductive rights are stridently “pro-life.”  They want full “personhood” rights for the fertilized egg; they just have trouble recognizing the personhood of the woman bearing the egg. Yeah, sounds Extractive.

Kelly ends her book by asserting that the problem is “not on Wall Street but in us.” Having gone along with the notion that capital expands forever, we have now seen up close and personal that “if financial income keeps trying to grow more than the incomes of everyone else, it becomes more extractive. The wealthy become wealthier by extracting more from the rest of us” (209).


Jesus said “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” (Luke 14:13)  He did not say, “If anyone will not work neither should he eat.”    To vote generative is to vote for the common good. And that is Good News.

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2 comments on “Presidential Candidates: Extractive or Generative?
  1. Kaysie McAlister says:

    Here is a twist to contemplate…if we are a country founded on Christian Judeo principles, what are the other religions in our country saying about feeding the masses? America represents the freedom of religion and I suspect that all religions in the USA also encourage generativity. While it is easy to sit and gripe about how some folks are not pulling their weight, it is on us to turn that question around and say “am I doing what my religious and/or spiritual beliefs tell me to do?” Am I looking into my own soul and not judging others? Am I part of something bigger than me or do I rotate around myself?

    There will always be the few who don’t pull their weight for a variety of reasons. If we float them, they will float. And maybe the kindness will encourage them to float others. Where there is softness and hope, there is a future.

    We seem to be hearing only from a harsh group of folks who adhere to the theories that only the alpha leaders will survive. Dog eat dog. Survival of the strongest.

    Good luck with that thinking. They teach nothing when they conquer by brute force and brute thinking. The funny thing is, the Native Americans are still here….they didn’t disapear after they lost everything. The Jews are still here…they didn’t disapear after they lost everything. The Hawaiians are still here after they lost everything. The Japanese are still here after ending up in interment camps. The blacks have survived slavery. And on and on. We cannot stop the people who remind us that we have debts to own up to: rhetoric to turn into action, and that we have so much to learn from our smaller, fringe groups that won’t go away no matter what we do to them.

  2. Thanks for always thoughtfully extending the boundaries of the discussion, Kaysie.

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