July 2, 2019, Revised – Version 3
[This working paper was written by author, independent scholar, engaged citizen, and former Harvard Business School professor, Dr. David Korten, as a contribution to discussions framing a new economics for the 21st century. It may be freely shared in whole or in part. (The first version of this working paper (May 23, 2019), second version (June 19, 2019), and fourth version (August 18, 2019) are available for those who want to follow the progression of thought and discussion on this topic.)]
Our most prestigious universities continue to teach economics principles now known to be driving humanity to self-extinction. An economics for the 21st century will guide us from an economy that empowers corporations in the service of money to an economy that empowers people in the service of life.
Voices from every quarter—from student activists to the Vatican—are calling for an economy that serves the well-being of people and Earth. Workers and their unions join in with the wrenching observation that “There are no good jobs on a dead planet.” Pope Francis condemns an economy devoted to the “idolatry of money.”
A global alliance of citizen movements has banded together under the banner of WEALL to work for an economy devoted to the well-being of people and planet. New Zealand has announced a new budget that puts the focus on growing well-being rather than growing GDP.
A youth-led political movement in the United States calls for a Green New Deal. Rethinking Economics, a global student movement demands reform of economics seminars that rarely mention poverty, climate change, or inequality. The Club of Rome, a global alliance of new-paradigm thought leaders, has launched initiatives on the climate crisis, a new civilization, and reclaiming economics.
These calls are born of a spreading awareness of the institutional failure that drives humanity toward self-extinction as more and more people compete for less and less in a world in which power and wealth are increasingly concentrated. As we confront the challenge of survival, it becomes apparent that the choices we must make to survive are the same choices required to achieve a long-denied human dream of a world of peace, material sufficiency, and spiritual abundance for all.
That awareness in turn gives birth to a recognition that there is nothing inevitable about the institutions that now so badly fail us. They are the product of choices made over decades, centuries, and even millennia by our ancestors. We now have the means to make different choices through conscious collective processes with a speed that previous generations could not have imagined.
We now face a fundamental question. Are we humans primarily financial beings whose well-being depends on growing money? Or are we living beings whose well-being depends on the health and vitality of a living Earth? The answer should be obvious, as is the reality that we are in trouble because we have created a global society based on a false assumption.
Achieving the desired and possible future for people and planet will require a deep transformation of culture, institutions, technology, and infrastructure guided to embody the foundational intellectual insights and moral principles of indigenous peoples, the Earth Charter, the papal encyclical Laudato Si’, and the Parliament of the World’s Religions’ Declaration on Climate Change. This in turn requires that we prepare a new generation of leaders with the tools to navigate that transition. And that will require a serious update of what we currently teach as economic science in our schools and universities.
With few exceptions, economics, as it is currently taught, is grounded in the same badly flawed theories and principles that bear major responsibility for the unfolding crisis. Those theories and principles value life only for its market price; use GDP growth as the defining measure of economic performance; assure us that maximizing personal financial return benefits society; recommend policies that prioritize corporate profits over human and planetary well-being; and ignore the natural limits of a finite Earth. A significant update of economics to align with reality, authentic values, and environmental imperatives of our time is urgent and seriously overdue.
Continue reading (and/or download the PDF) HERE…