This is the Moment

David Korten
Posted May 9, 2010

The financial crash pretty much took people by surprise. Before people could catch their breath, the politicians responded with a massive bailout for the Wall Street bankers who bore primary responsibility for the crash. Thanks to the taxpayer bailout and a constant flow of near free credit to the big banks from the Federal Reserve, Wall Street is in apparent recovery with record profits and bonuses. Main Street remains mired in high unemployment, low wages, consumer debt, bankruptcies, and foreclosures. This stunning contrast is not lost on the public.

The American Dream has been shattered and many millions of people are in desperate economic situations. The political right puts the primary blame on government and the political left on Wall Street, but awareness of the deeper reality is dawning. Wall Street and Washington work hand-in-hand as the revolving door between them spins ever faster. As the truth of the corruption of both becomes inescapable, the political frustration and anger are destined to become ever more intense.

Balanced on a Knife Edge

I have long been a student of the psychological dynamics that lead people to rally around authoritarian leaders in times of fear and uncertainty. (Indeed, it was the topic of my first ever publication in a professional journal nearly 50 years ago.)

Fear and uncertainty combined with feelings of personal isolation and a lack of knowledge of positive options create fertile ground for the demagogue. The embrace of extreme authoritarianism is inevitable, however, only if we allow the reptilian core of our human brain to take control. On the more hopeful side, such conditions can also create an opening to new possibilities if our brain’s more advanced limbic and neocortical layers that give us our capacity for caring, cooperation, and intelligent choice making remain in control. Two variables are key to the more positive outcome: awareness of positive alternatives and membership in a caring community that shares in a vision of possibility.

As a nation, we in the United States are poised on a knife edge that can tip the balance toward increasingly authoritarian rule based on division and violence or toward a coming together around the opportunity to create a positive future for all. If you are following YES! Magazine, you are aware of the rapid growth of grassroots initiatives around the world built on positive social and environmental values.

When the 2008 financial crash originally hit, groups working toward a New Economy vision were not ready to grasp the moment and neither was the public. Growing public awareness of the corrupt Wall Street-Washington Axis combines with the reality that nothing is happening on Wall Street or in Washington likely to bring a Main Street recovery to create the opening for a game-changing national conversation on the economic choices at hand.

People want to know what went wrong and what the options are. If those of us who hold a positive vision do not provide them with positive alternatives, demagogues engaged in divisive racial and immigrant scapegoating and calls to repression and violence will fill the void.

The Great Turning Initiative

Let me update you on what the Great Turning Initiative has been doing to develop tools and institutional capacity to help tip the balance toward a positive outcome.

Over the past year, our focus at the Great Turning Initiative has been to work with our key partners — YES! Magazine, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and the New Economy Working Group —  to build tools and capacity in support of a New Economy. Kat and I have focused our energy on the New Economy within the frame of a three-fold strategy.

  1. Change the prevailing cultural stories relating to the nature of wealth, the purpose and structure of the economy, and the possibilities of our human nature.
  2. Create a new economic reality from the bottom up.
  3. Change the rules of the game to favor an equitable and sustainable real wealth economy of Main Street over the socially and environmentally destructive phantom wealth economy of Wall Street.

YES! Magazine is the primary vehicle for changing prevailing cultural stories and encouraging action. (I continue to serve as board chair.) Over the past few months, YES! has developed a new YES! Takes on the News web feature with daily posts about people, events, and ideas that illuminate the positive possibilities hiding behind the generally discouraging daily news headlines. This now highly dynamic website is combined with the sophisticated use of social media, web aggregation sites like and, and dissemination to influential bloggers to extend the reach and influence of YES! Magazine by orders of magnitude and make it a serious player in framing the positive possibilities of our time. Give yourself a positive energy boost by signing up for YES! This Week  e-mail to read, hear, and view the stories of possibility that rarely get mentioned by corporate media, most other progressive media, and even NPR.

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) is the primary vehicle for creating a new economic reality from the bottom up. (I continue to serve on the BALLE board.) Now comprised of over 80 community networks with over 22,000 independent business members in 30 U.S. States and Canadian provinces, BALLE brings together independent business leaders, economic development professionals, government officials, social innovators, and community leaders to build thriving Main Street real wealth economies. BALLE’s greatest current challenge is to keep up with the demand from communities eager to become part of this movement. It is just completing a highly successful leadership transition and reorganization that puts the focus clearly on local network support and mutual learning and provides exciting new capabilities. BALLE is changing the face of business and is in the early stages of going global. (The 8th Annual BALLE Conference, May 21-23 in Charleston, SC, drew hundreds of new and experienced local living economy practitioners, community leaders, and New Economy thinkers from the U.S., Canada, and Europe.)

The New Economy Working Group (NEWGroup) is the primary vehicle for bringing together all the elements in support of changes in the rules of the game. It is based in the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in DC, a policy think tank with strong connections to the Progressive Caucus in the U.S. Congress, a wide variety of progressive policy groups and to grassroots social justice and faith community groups with strong popular education outreach capability. IPS, YES! Magazine, BALLE, and the PCDForum are NEWGroup partners. We have also recently welcomed Gus Speth and Gar Alperovitz, two highly influential New Economy thinkers, to our core team. (I’m co-chair along with John Cavanagh, the head of IPS.) We have completed the basic work of developing a strong consensus New Economy story and frame to guide policy action. This is now posted on our NEWGroup website and we are turning our attention to education and outreach strategies.

NEWGroup is well connected to the New Economy Network, a much larger alliance of progressive groups committed to advancing a New Economy agenda, and to the New Economics Institute, a think tank initiative sponsored by the Schumacher Society in New England and the new economics foundation (nef) in London. Among these initiatives, NEWGroup provides leadership in articulating a coherent and comprehensive New Economy vision.

YES! Magazine, BALLE, IPS, and NEWGroup are building essential institutional capabilities for advancing economic transformation that the progressive movement has previously lacked.

A New Edition of Agenda for a New Economy

I spent most of February and March writing the Second Edition of Agenda for a New Economy. I updated the analysis and present the stronger and more coherent framing of the New Economy story and agenda developed by NEWGroup over the past year and a half. Among other new themes, Agenda II addresses:

  • The lack of any established school of economics adequate to guide the economic choices we must now make,
  • The distinction between good debt and bad debt,
  • A money system redesign that puts money to the service of life,
  • The restructuring of our economic institutions to mimic and integrate with Earth’s biosphere, and
  • The moral choices involved in taking the step from market fundamentalism to market based economic democracy.

A new chapter titled “Greed Is Not a Virtue: Sharing Is Not a Sin” takes on the moral issues and contrasts how Wall Street market fundamentalists actively promote the seven deadly sins as virtues with how the New Economy supports the seven life-serving virtues.

Be one of the first to get a copy!  YES! Magazine is offering an opportunity to pre-purchase the Second Edition of Agenda for a New Economy.  Purchase through YES! and get a 22% discount, or take advantage of their book and subscription offer, and get a year of YES! Magazine with David’s book for $24.  Kat Gjovik, PCDForum Director of Communications and Outreach, is adapting the Agenda discussion guide to address the new material in Agenda 2 that will be ready by the time of the launch.


Outreach and Education

We are delighted to be working with David Brancaccio on a series of PBS specials on New Economy themes and developing a collaboration with Annie Leonard, who is planning a continuing series of video presentations in the Story of Stuff series.  These clear voices and popular formats will expand the reach of the New Economy story exponentially.

Our social networking experiment has proven to be effective in providing real time information about our work and New Economy developments and connecting with organizations and grassroots initiatives with similar purpose.  (Connections via Facebook and Twitter (@dkorten and @thegreatturning) have grown steadily since last summer.)

Chuck Collins, who heads the Boston office of the Institute for Policy Studies has well developed connections with U.S. groups engaged in popular economics education and is the sponsor of the Common Security Club initiative that is growing rapidly across the United States to engage in New Economy self education, mutual aid, and social action. Kat Gjovik will work with Chuck and connect with other groups across the United States and Canada on New Economy education initiatives.

There are encouraging signs that religious leaders are recognizing that the economic crisis is at its core a spiritual and moral crisis and that the faith community has an essential role and responsibility in restoring society’s moral compass that honors our human responsibility to care for one another and creation. We see religious institutions as potentially the most powerful carriers of the framing vision of the New Economy, in part, by encouraging religious education programs to incorporate and adapt New Economy materials from YES! Magazine, the new edition of Agenda, and the new discussion guide, and introduce initiatives such as the Common Security Club to local faith communities.

I’m particularly excited by the possibilities for interfaith work in alliance with the three Seattle-based “Interfaith Amigos”—Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Sheikh Jamal Rahman. They see the powerful moral connection between our analysis of the structural violence of Empire and their efforts to revitalize the institutions of the three Abrahamic faiths within a spiritual/ecumenical framing. They see advancing the spiritual revaluing embodied in the New Economy vision as essential to diminishing the polarities that are tearing us apart as a nation and shoring up the badly needed sense of worth that is a human right of every person and a foundation of caring community. (Check out their regular blog for YES!)

In January, I did a speaking tour in Europe that has spurred initiatives to develop Scandinavian and EU New Economy Vision statements, the latter by the EU chapter of the Club of Rome, and sparked interest in expanding the BALLE network to Scandinavia. In early April, I spoke at two events in Alberta, Canada that have spurred an initiative by Public Interest Alberta to create a New Economy vision for Alberta.

An Unlikely Alliance

In closing, I want to mention one of our newest and most unexpected alliances. Joseph McCormick, who comes from what we progressives would characterize as the far right, is a leader of the Transpartisan Alliance, a unique transpartisan political movement in the United States. Joseph is well connected with and respected by political leaders from across the political spectrum.

A personal spiritual experience awakened in Joseph his ability to see common ground in foundational values and goals between thoughtful elements on both sides of the seemingly intractable U.S. political divide. The commonality centers on values of local control, caring communities, personal responsibility, a non-imperialistic U.S. foreign policy, and environmental stewardship, all of which align well with the New Economy agenda. These elements now find potential common ground in their shared outrage against the corruption of the Wall Street-Washington axis and their shared commitment to democracy, community, and healthy natural systems. Joseph now lives in Seattle and we have begun a series of conversations exploring ways of working together to build and a new political alignment in support of economic transformation.