TEXT: Cylvia Hayes’ June 7, 2014 keynote talk to CommonBound conference in Boston: A personal summary of progress
“So one of the things we’re doing in Oregon is we’re developing a genuine progress indicator. This is a metric that quantifies fiscal capital just like GDP, but also quantifies your human capital and your natural capital . . . Even before the onset of the great recession, the economy was not producing the outcomes that we need. Yea, GDP was going up. But so were greenhouse gas emissions, poverty, income equality. The truth is Americans’ ability to achieve upward mobility has been eroding for decades.”
Below is a text, as transcribed by the Rules Change Project, of a 13-minute keynote speech by Oregon “first lady” Cylvia Hayes during June 7, 2014 panel, “All Hands On Deck: Leveraging Business, Civil Society, and Government for System Change.” The panel was part of the CommonBound conference at Northeastern University in Boston, organized by the non-profit New Economics Coalition. The Boston conference program described Hayes as follows: Cylvia Hayes is currently the First Lady of Oregon, where she is spearheading development and implementation of a Genuine Progress Indicator for the state. She is the founder and CEO of 3EStrategies, a clean economy consulting firm; is a Fellow of the American Leadership Forum; and has expertise in collaborative leadership skills.
Thank-you everybody. I love the topic of this panel, because I think it is absolutely essential that all the sectors — business, government, not-for-profit, faith — figure out our niches in this new clean-economy ecosystem. I think there are several roles that government can take. The first is to seize the bully pulpit — raise awareness about critical issues and also paint a powerful vision that points to how things could be.
A second piece is to support the policies and programs that create conditions that make it more likely for positive change to happen. Now, unfortunately, right now our federal government is off the rails. And the gridlock that is being produced by partisan ideologies combined with the fact that too many of our elected officials are more committed to maintaining power than to wielding that power for the greater good has really caused us problems at the federal level.
This is one of the biggest reasons that John decided to run for governor, having been a two-term governor before and knowing what that involved, and why I decided to jump into this truly bizarre position of first lady. And I will tell you I could do a whole other speech on that title, how becoming first lady made me a more radical feminist. But that’s a different topic. (Applause)
Many of our elected officials are more committed to maintaining power than to wielding that power for the greater good . . . [t]his is one of the reasons I decided to jump into this truly bizarre position of first lady. And I will tell you I could do a whole other speech on that title, how becoming first lady made me a more radical feminist.
John and I jumped in because we do believe we are at a point where incrementalism wasn’t going to cut it. We have got to take on systems change in everything from education to energy and we’re not going to get it right now from our federal government. We really think that state and multi-state regional efforts are our best opportunities for powerful innovation and we can prove up new ways of doing things there — we’ll have an opportunity to provide what I call trickle-up leadership.
I have heard it said that if you ask the wrong question, the answers don’t matter. So consider, ever since the onset of the great recession, we have been asking, ‘How can we spur economic recovery?’ But recovery has the sense of going back, of returning to the way things were. And I believe that is the wrong question.
Even before the onset of the great recession, the economy was not producing the outcomes that we need. Yea, GDP was going up. But so were greenhouse gas emissions, poverty, income equality. The truth is Americans’ ability to achieve upward mobility has been eroding for decades. And this generation of young people — our kids and grandkids — are the very first American generation not expected to be better off than their parents were.
We do not need to go back to that. We do not just need economic recovery. We need economic reinvention. (Applause). I think it should raise alarm bells, and I’m sure it does in this room, that the only time we see a downward dip in deforestation or pollution or greenhouse gas emissions is when the economy goes into recession. It’s like economic growth slows, and the planet takes a breath.
After all, as rascally Western novelist Edward Abbey pointed out, growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Under what John and I are calling the prosperity agenda, we’re really working on trying to create conditions that will foster growth that betters everybody, growth that makes us muscular, vs. cancerous.
So, in Oregon, John and I are starting a different conversation. We’re asking the question: ‘Does it really make sense to have an economic model that requires continuously escalating consumption of natural resources on a planet of finite natural resources? (Applause) After all, as rascally Western novelist Edward Abbey pointed out, growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Under what John and I are calling the prosperity agenda, we’re really working on trying to create conditions that will foster growth that betters everybody, growth that makes us muscular, vs. cancerous. And I’m going to talk about just a couple of the key components of this.
The first is our health-care reform. Our national debate on this issue has been asking the wrong question. All of the push has been to get additional people insured. And that is important. But we’re failing to ask, insured for what? What should the health-care system look like, and as a result, we’re getting more and more people covered under a health-care system that is rediculously expensive and is producing health incomes that are only marginally better than Cuba’s.
In Oregon, we asked the question: How can we redesign how we deliver health-care services to make people healthier and hopefully save money in the process. We received waivers from the federal government to be able to spend our Medicaid dollars on preventative measures vs. just after-the-illness services. (Applause)
And we have created a whole new sector of workforce — they are community-care workers. And they take a proactive approach to working with people in their homes, in the community, to improve their well being and keep them out of the hospitals — particularly the emergency rooms. It’s early but I can tell you the numbers we have so far, for every dollar we have so far invested in community care workers, we’ve saved between $2.50 and $4.00.
Pacific Coast Collaborative
Another effort that I am super excited about and very personally involved in is the Pacific Coast Collaborative. This is a joint effort of the governors of California, Oregon and Washington and the premier of British Columbia. They have come together to sign an agreement to work collaboratively to accelerate clean-economy development in that West Coast region and aggressively tackle climate change. The approach is to be really bold within each of our jurisdictions because everybody has different laws, different structures, we’ve got to do things a little differently. So do the best we can in each of those four jurisdictions in away that builds a regional economy. And I am pleased to report that a comprehensive outside shows we’ve currently got about 500,000 Pacific Coast residents earning clean-economy paychecks right now — those are full-time jobs — they are paying better, they are growing faster and they have been more recession resistant than the conventional economy. (Applause) I just say when you put California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia together we’re the fifth-largest economy in the world . . . if we added some of your states, maybe we’d get to fourth [largest].
Measuring genuine progress, not just GDP
Another piece of the prosperity agenda that was mentioned earlier is our shift to measuring what matters. One of the really brilliant things, insights, in my opinion that John had, he was two-term governor for eight years, was out of office for eight years, and during that time he realized, you can’t effectively govern a state in a two-year, biennial budget cycle. For instance, you cannot see the return on investment for things like early-learning programs, or programs that support low-income, at-risk families. But when you go out 5-7 years, that’s an ROI of many, many dollars to one. So he moved forward with implementation of a 10-year state plan and a 10-year state budget, so we could actually start seeing some of the implications of our policy decisions on our fiscal resources.
I have been part of the movement to move beyond gross-domestic product as a way of measuring success for almost 20 years. (Applause) And we have momentum, like I have never seen, people. This is very exciting. So one of the things we’re doing in Oregon is we’re developing a genuine progress indicator.
Meanwhile and prior, I have been part of the movement to move beyond gross-domestic product as a way of measuring success for almost 20 years. (Applause) And we have momentum, like I have never seen, people. This is very exciting. So one of the things we’re doing in Oregon is we’re developing a genuine progress indicator. This is a metric that quantifies fiscal capital just like GDP, but also quantifies your human capital and your natural capital. And we’re integrating that into our 10-year plan and we intend to use it as a filter in developing our next state budget. (Applause) I’m super excited about that one. And there are a number of states that are doing this and if you want to, this is a shameless plug, but if want to know more about that you should come to the Beyond GDP workshop tomorrow where we’ll be talking about that.
A focus on reducing poverty
The final thing I want to talk about is our direct focus, in Oregon, on poverty. And talking about the poverty crisis in your state is not something that most high-level political analysts will advise a high-level politician to do. But Martin Luther King said, if you don’t talk about race, you are going to have racism. And I think the same holds true on poverty. So the governor and I are talking about it and we’re talking about it a lot and we’re talking about it not just as a human tragedy but as a tremendous economic drain. We’re also talking about the fact that this is not just about lazy people who need to work harder. The reason we have a poverty crisis is in part because we have an economic system that is institutionalizing economic classism. (Applause) I am thrilled to report and I can’t tell you how helpful this has been. We have been effective enough in making the economic argument on this that Oregon’s largest business association has gotten on board and they have recently added poverty reduction as one of the top three goals of the Oregon Business Plan. We have really significant partnership there now.
We’re also talking about the fact that this is not just about lazy people who need to work harder. The reason we have a poverty crisis is in part because we have an economic system that is institutionalizing economic classism. (Applause)
And this is personal, this one is personal. For me. I have experienced a taste of the destructive force of poverty. I am the first of my ancestry to be born outside of Oklahoma and Arkansas. That happened because my mom left her first husband for his younger brother, and they had to get the hell out of Dodge. So my older half-brother and sister are my half brother and sister and my cousins. That’s probably not something you expected to hear today. That is why I was born in the Pacific Northwest, for which I am so grateful — you can’t even imagine. My parents were hard-working but under-educated. We lived up in a shack in the foothills in Washington state and lived without power or electricity for awhile. Over time, mental illness and alcoholism took their toll on my parents and I wound up on my own at age 16 and I have struggled financially for most of my life. I know exactly what it is like to have to choose between paying the rent or the electricity. I know what it is like to put off going to the doctor because you’ve gotta’ have that last bit of gas money to get back and forth to work in between paychecks.
I also know that if I hadn’t had help, both from caring individuals and from effective systems, I would not have been able to go on to become a first-generation college graduate and be living the life I’m living today. (Applause) I’m grateful for that, and I’m pissed off that our systems have eroded to point where it is harder today to do that than it was when I did it. (Applause)
So these are just some of the highlights that we’re working on in Oregon trying to get to a more healthy economic model. I know that all of you are working hard in your niches trying to get to that same place and it sometimes feels like a heavy, heavy lift. And for me when I get to feeling like that one small person trying to change the whole global capitalist structure, it’s helpful for me to remember that the economy is not the Atlantic Ocean. It is not the Grand Canyon. It is not a force of nature or an act of God. It is something that humans have made over generations. We invented it. Which means we absolutely can re-invent it. (Applause)
And you all are doing that. There are so many examples of the new economy being put into action. This is absolutely the time to lean into making this a true movement. Because we are right, we are necessary and we are powerful. Thank-you. (Applause)
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