David Korten on a “New Economy of Life”

The old economy of greed and domination is dying. A new economy of life and partnership is struggling to be born. The outcome is ours to choose. ~ David Korten

Floor of the New York Stock Exchange at the height of trading. Photo by Jean Beaufort, Public Domain Pictures.

How do we move from an economy based on greed and domination to a “new economy of life”?  First we have to recognize where we have been.  

Over the past thirty years “virtually all the benefit of U.S. economic growth has gone to the richest 1 percent of Americans.”

Even after the crash of 2008, “the financial assets of America’s billionaires and the idle cash of the most profitable corporations are now at historic highs. Their biggest challenge is to figure out where to park all their cash.”

Few are committed to long-term investment that can put people to work. That is hardly on the radar for those for whom the only “value” is making more money. “The substantial majority of trades in financial markets are made by high-speed computers in securities held for fractions of a second.”

“This rabble you’re talking about – they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community…” Savings and loan manager George Baily rebukes board member Henry Potter in the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

What do we learn from history?  After the Great Depression, financial reforms established banking and investment based on community banks, mutual savings and loans, and credit unions, which provided services for local Main Street economies.

This system which Wall Street interests dismiss as quaint and antiquated financed the U.S. Victory in World War II, the creation of a strong American middle class, an unprecedented period of economic stability and prosperity, and the investments that made America the world’s undisputed industrial and technological leader.

“Eviction.” Photo by Molly Marshall on Flickr

In the 1970s Wall Street interests pushed “a deregulation agenda” that led to a transfer of financial power from Main Street to Wall Street.

Instead of investing in businesses, they created a new business model, one that “now specializes in charging excessive fees and usurious interest rates,” provides leverage for speculators speculating on their own accounts, entices the unwary into mortgages they can’t afford, bundles junk mortgages and sells them as triple A securities betting against their very clients, extracts subsidies and bailouts from government, launders money from drug and arms traders, and uses offshore accounts for “their profits to avoid taxes.”

While the middle class melts away, “Wall Street profited at every step and declared its experiment with deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy a great success.”

The result?  A thirty-year “experiment with trickle-down economics that favored the interest of Wall Street speculators over the hardworking people and business of Main Street has proved it doesn’t work.”  

“Power to the People” poster by John August Swanson. From the website of the Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law and Politics

Korten calls for a “new economy based on a value-based pragmatism that recognizes a simple truth: If the world is to work for any of us, it must work for all of us.”

The values Korten espouses are “the health and well-being of our children, families, communities, and the natural environment.”  I like these values.  Do you also?

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 237-241.

Banner Image: “The protectors of our industries”. Tycoons Cyrus Field, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Russell Sage, seated on bags of “millions”, being carried by workers of various professions. 1883 lithograph by Mayer Merkel & Ottmann, from Puck Magazine, in the Library of Congress. On Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Is economics about values?  Who defines those values for us?  Do business schools and universities include debates about values in their training of economists and business people, politicians and lawyers and future judges?  Do the rest of us get a say in the values that underscore our economic system?  If not, why not?  How to bring values back to our exercise of economics?

Recommended Reading

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

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2 thoughts on “David Korten on a “New Economy of Life””

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    In 2010 Warren Buffett and Bill Gates initiated The Giving Pledge. It is a campaign to encourage extremely wealthy people to contribute a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes. As of May 2019, the pledge has 204 signatories, either individuals or couples, from 22 countries.

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