David C. Korten

Consumer Cooperatives Management Association

Portland, OR, June 13, 2008

Speaking to you as cooperatives managers is for me a long awaited privilege as I believe your experience gives you much to teach the world. I love the theme of this conference: “Grow Co-op.” You recognize that it is time to make the values and principles of the cooperatives movement the defining framework for economic life in the United States and the world. It means much more than simply growing the numbers and size of cooperative businesses. It means bringing forth a new economy devoted to the service of our our children, families, communities and natural systems through sharing and cooperation.

The organizations you manage are the repositories of the experience and expertise needed to make it happen. This means you are positioned to make a decisive contribution to what may be the most important work of our time.

For decades, many of us have anticipated that the day of reckoning for our reckless economic excess was near at hand. That day has arrived and our very survival as a species is at risk. Peak oil, climate chaos, financial collapse, and spreading social disintegration born of extreme inequality are real and immediate. They are all converging manifestations of a failed economic system and they are poised to impose a dramatic restructuring of every aspect of modern life. The resulting imperative presents us with an epic test of our human intelligence and creativity.

The choices we make at this defining human moment will determine whether the inevitable correction plays out as  a suicidal last man standing competition for what remains of Earth’s resources or a cooperative sharing of those resources to secure the health of all our children, families, communities and natural systems. 

Our situation can be summed up as a three fold crisis.  First, we are headed to environmental collapse because we are consuming environmental resources faster than Earth can regenerate them. Second, we are headed to social collapse because of extreme and growing inequality.  Third, our most powerful governing institutions are devoted to increasing inequality by encouraging ever increasing consumption to make money for people who already have far more money than they need. They are the institutions of what I call the global suicide economy.

How many of you have watched Annie Leonard’s video “The Story of Stuff?” I must have watched it a dozen times. It’s a brilliant exposition of the consequences of an economic system designed to make money for rich capitalists without regard for human or natural consequences.

This economy is an extension of the self-destructive dynamic of ruthless competition and domination of a 5,000 year Era of Empire. We must now bring forth a new Era of Earth Community of sharing and caring that honors our interdependence with one another and with the living systems of our Earth Mother. It requires taking the step to a new level of species maturity based on a re-examination of what it means to be human and of our place in the Cosmos. Success holds the promise of a more secure and fulfilling life for everyone.

When I was a student in business school our professors repeatedly told us. Look at the Big Picture. Don’t just treat the symptoms of the problem at hand. Look up stream to find and treat the cause, the failed institutions and economic theories that are blindly driving society to environmental and social collapse.

Environmental collapse is a result of runaway growth in human consumption and population fueled by a century of cheap oil and driven by an economic ideology that says greed is good, more consumption is always better, money is the measure of true value, consumption is the primary civic duty, and labor and nature are commodities.

From the perspective of our Earth Mother, our human excesses were for millennia little more than the normal nuisance one expects from young children. That began to change at the beginning of the 20th century as we discovered the power of the stored energy of the sun we call petroleum and mistakenly assumed that we were no longer bound by physical limits.

The growth in population and consumption really took off following World War II. Somewhere around 1980 it passed a threshold. Our human consumption became more than a nuisance. It exceeded what our Mother could bear and began to threaten her very life. We see the results in climate chaos, depletion of fresh water and fertile soils, the collapse of fisheries, the erosion of denuded forest lands and melting ice caps. We are building up toxics in the water, soil, and air. We are killing our mother and thereby ourselves. As a species, we must grow up fast and accept our adult responsibilities. The implications are straight forward.

Any Star Trek fans here? Remember those scenes in Star Trek. Scotty to Captain Kirk. Life support is failing. Kirk to Scotty. Shut down all nonessential systems and redirect all available resources to life support. There it is — the order for our time. No resources for war or extravagance. Focus all attention on the health of the crew and the life support system.

No more throwaway stuff. No more economic growth for the rich. No more shipping toys around the world and speculating in the global financial casino. No more advertising to get us to consume what we don’t need. Our priority must be to grow our well-being rather than our consumption. Invest in peace, education, health care, local economies, environmental rejuvenation, and compact communities with sidewalks, bicycle paths, and public transportation,

Here is the kicker. We must eliminate exactly those forms of non-essential production and consumption that our present economic and political systems are designed to promote and invest instead in the things these systems currently neglect.

Regarding the second element of the big picture, the social fabric of civilization is unraveling as a consequence of extreme and growing inequality. A world divided between the profligate and the desperate cannot long endure. It intensifies competition for Earth’s resources, undermines the legitimacy of our institutions, and erodes the mutual trust and caring essential to healthy social function. Environmental collapse is hitting the poorest and most vulnerable first, particularly communities of color. It is only a matter of time, however, before the consequences hit us all.

In 2005 Forbes Magazine counted 691 billionaires in the world. This year, 2008, only three years later, it counted 1,250, nearly double, and estimated their combined wealth at $4.4 trillion. That comes to an average of about $3.5 billion each. These are the folks the right wing think tanks believe need more tax relief. According to a United Nations study, the richest 2% of world’s people now own 51% of all the world’s assets. The poorest 50% own only 1%. That is why we call them poor, because they don’t own any assets. When the rich own everything there is nothing left for the poor to own.

Say, a poor family wants a small plot of land to grow some food. A billionaire wants that land for a 20,000 square foot vacation home he may reside in for no more than a few days a year. Guess who gets the land.

They tell us that the unregulated market results in the fairest and most efficient allocation of resources and that economic growth is essential lift the poor to prosperity. What they don’t mention is that markets allocate fairly only when economic power is equitably distributed. Under conditions of extreme inequality, the market responds to every whim of the very rich and ignores even the most basic needs of the very poor. This is neither moral nor efficient.

Most growth in consumption in recent years has not been at the bottom where it is needed. Its been at the very top among the already super wealthy. Our real resources are shrinking, but whatever resources are left, are up for sale to the rich.

For the super rich, if we run out of oil, there is always ethanol. Meanwhile desperate mothers watch helplessly as their babies die for lack of food.

We cannot grow our way out of poverty. The only way to end poverty and heal our social divisions on an already over stressed planet is through a redistribution of resources from rich to poor and from nonessential to essential uses. Ooops. Can’t you just hear the right wing wind bags? Hey, that Korten guy, he’s talking about equity. I bet he’s an advocate for cooperative ownership. He must be a communist.        

Actually I’m a proud American patriot. I grew up with the patriotic story that the United States is a middle class democracy without the extremes of class division that characterize other societies. That story once made us the envy of the world and proud to be Americans. Of course it was never quite accurate, but it expressed a beautiful widely shared human ideal that we must now reclaim. Equity is an essential foundation of true democracy and of our national ideal and self-image. Equity can even be defended on the grounds of rightful inheritance and property rights. Think about it.

Natural wealth was created by our Earth mother and is therefore a common heritage of all her children, including all non-human species. None of us has a right to abuse that wealth or to monopolize it to the exclusion of our sisters and brothers.

This brings us to the third element of the big picture: the governing institutions to which we give the power to set our priorities and our collective course. We might wonder how such reckless injustice could happen in a world governed by democratically elected governments.

The answer is both simple and alarming. Our world is not governed by democratically elected governments. It is ruled by global financial institutions in the service of financial speculators who exchange trillions of dollars each day in search of instant unearned profits to increase the fortunes — and the power— of the richest people on the planet. Global financial institutions bring down governments that displease them, and buy and sell the largest corporations like commodities. By design and law the defining priority and obligation of these governing institutions is to generate financial profits to make rich people richer, in short to increase inequality in a world in desperate need of greater equity. To this end, the corporations that rise or fall at the pleasure of the speculators, assault our eyes and ears with advertising messages intended to get those of us who already have more stuff than we need — to buy more stuff.

That is the big picture. In summary, we must:

  1. Bring human consumption into balance with Earth’s natural systems by eliminating unproductive consumption and by restoring and even enhancing Earth’s natural regenerative processes.
  2. We must bring our human relationships into balance with one another by sharing resources and knowledge equitably and turning from a culture of competition and private accumulation to a culture of cooperation and sharing.
  3. We must create a system of radically democratic life-serving governing institutions that support balanced relationships with one another and Earth, give voice to every person, and nurture the higher order potentials of the human consciousness.

It is a time for big ideas and bold agendas. The path ahead requires that we get more of our human satisfaction from caring relationships and less from material goods. It means ending war as a means of settling international disputes and dismantling our military establishment. It means creating green jobs for all. It means reclaiming the American ideal of a democratic middle class nation without extremes of wealth and poverty. It means rebuilding local economies, replacing existing buildings with living buildings that generate more energy than they consume and cleanse the air and water that circulates through them and restructuring our built environment to facilitate community and eliminate our automobile dependence. It means sharing beneficial technology so that all nations may do the same.

We are told that a serious effort to save the environment would impose serious hardship, particularly on the poor. Does any of this agenda sound like unbearable hardship? And exactly how is a more just distribution of resources going to hurt the poor?

Do you by chance see a role here for the cooperatives movement?  I bet you do, because the cooperatives movement, as you know well, is the primary human repository of the experience and expertise in the values and institutional forms of a new economy that harnesses the beneficial power of markets and private property to meet the needs of all. The human future depends on how you use that experience and expertise.

Dealing with the organizational forms of business is key. Two organizational forms define the opposing ends of the spectrum: The publicly traded corporation and the member owned cooperative. The publicly traded corporation embodies the most extreme form of absentee ownership organized to strip decision making of all but financial considerations. In the publicly traded, limited liability corporation the money has more legal protections than people and nature, employees are required to leave their personal values at the door and subject to instant arbitrary dismissal, there is no attachment or loyalty to place, and decisions are expected to serve only the short-term financial interests of wealthy absentee owners without regard to human or natural consequences.

How strikingly different the member owned cooperative, where ownership is in the hands of those who have have an immediate nonfinancial stake in the social and environmental consequences of the firms decisions, who are rooted in the place when the firm does its business, and who are urged to give full consideration to long-term community well-being in their decision making.

It should be clear to anyone of a mature moral consciousness, which enterprise form is the better suited to addressing the great challenge of our time. Ownership is key; real ownership in which people are real owners who embrace both the privileges and responsibilities of ownership. The fact that your cooperatives organizations often find it difficult to get your members to think and act like real owners is testimony to the extent to which we are conditioned to think only like consumers and workers.

What If We All Wanted the Same Thing?

Now I want to shift the focus a bit and let you in on a stunning little secret first revealed to me in 1992 when I was participating in the civil society portion of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was part of a gathering of some 15,000 people representing the vast variety of humanity’s races, religions, nationalities, and languages. Our discussions centered on defining the world we wanted to create together.

These discussions were chaotic and sometimes contentious. But at one point it hit me like a bolt of lightening. For all our differences, we all wanted the same thing: healthy children, families, and communities with healthy natural environments living in peace and cooperation—and not just for ourselves. We wanted it for everyone. Out of our conversations grew our shared dream of a world in which people and nature live in dynamic, creative and ultimately cooperative and balanced relationship. The Earth Charter, which is the product of a continuation of this discussion, refers to this world as an Earth Community,

I’ve lived in a lot of exotic places: Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Indonesia, the Philippines, California, Florida, even Washington, DC. I’ve experienced a lot of different kinds of people. As I reflect back on that experience I realize that for all our differences, with the exception of a relatively few who suffer from debilitating psychological dysfunction, we humans are a lot more alike than we generally realize. Most of us want to breathe clean air and drink clean water. We want tasty nutritious food uncontaminated with toxins. We want healthy, happy children, loving families, and a caring community with a beautiful healthy natural environment. We want meaningful work, a living wage, and security in our old age. We want a say in the decisions our government makes. We want world peace.

But, you say, what about here in the United States? What about our division between red states and blue states?  

It turns out that for all the talk of red states and blue states, polling data reveal substantial agreement on many key issues. We are more purple than we realize. For example, eighty-three percent of us believe that as a society the United States is focused on the wrong priorities. Supermajorities of more than 80 percent want to give higher priority to the needs of children, family, community, and the natural environment. Seventy-two percent of us agree that big companies have too much power. Put it together and we find out that Americans want a world that puts people ahead of profits, spiritual values ahead of financial values, and international cooperation ahead of international domination. Note that none of these are distinctively conservative or liberal values. They are widely shared human values. Imagine the possibilities if one day all of us who live in this country were to wake up one morning and recognize that we are one nation yearning for healthy children, families, communities, and natural environments?

So where do you stand? Let me see some hands. Do you believe that as a society we are focused on the wrong priorities? Do you yearn to see greater priority given to the needs of children, family community, and nature? Do you think big business has too much power? Look at that. We all want the same thing as most everyone else in the world. And I bet that some of you came in here believing that your belief in cooperatives principles makes you part of a fringe minority. In fact, we are the leading edge of a national and global supermajority and it is appropriate for us to speak and act accordingly.

I want to note something else significant. A growing body of scientific findings reveals that our human brains are wired for compassion, caring, altruism, and cooperation. Engaging in helpful loving acts of cooperation and generosity stimulates the release of our bliss hormone, the same hormone released when we’re having good sex and eating chocolate. Isn’t that stunning? Think of the possibilities. Cooperation and service hold the key to Earthly bliss.  No wonder we dream of a world of healthy families and communities living in healthy environments. It is the way our brains are wired.

The Barriers

So what’s our problem? Why are we in such a mess? Why didn’t we long ago just get together to create the world we really want.

What are is the barrier to creating a world in which we measure our progress against a national happiness index rather than by an index of how fast we are turning stuff into garbage? Corrupt politicians and greedy corporate executives come to mind.

Their actions certainly demonstrate that there are some seriously morally and psychologically challenged people in the world. Unfortunately these are the people most inclined to engage in the ruthless competitive struggle required to claim positions of great power.

And then there are also those dysfunctional institutions we mentioned devoted to the concentration of wealth and power. These institutions tend to recruit to the highest levels of power the ethically challenged whose personal values are consistent with the institution’s values and priorities.

The Bad Story in Our Heads

Our biggest problem, however, is neither bad people nor bad institutions. The problem way up there at the source of the stream is a bad story that keeps running on an endless loop in our heads telling us to get real, because the world of our dreams is nothing more than a naïve fantasy forever beyond our reach. You know the story. Its probably been running in your head all the time I’ve been speaking.

It is our human nature to be fearful, violent, greedy, and individualistic. We depend on the competitive forces of a free unregulated market to channel our greed and individualism to the constructive advance of the economic growth that enriches us all. Our wellbeing depends on strong leaders with the will to use their police and military power to protect us from the criminals, terrorists, and rogue dictators who threaten our way of life. There is no alternative. It’s in our nature.

The discipline and competition necessary to achieve order in this life may bring pain and hardship to some, but it is all for the good, because the brutal competition of war and the unrelenting pursuit of individual profit builds character, drives innovation, and leads to greatness. This competition, violent and destructive as it may sometimes be, has been the key to human success since the beginning of time and ultimately works to the benefit of everyone. Our only hope to experience the world we truly want is the promise that if we obey and serve those whom God has granted the power and wealth to rule in this life, God will reward us with paradise in the afterlife in a place where people live in peace, harmony, and eternal bliss.

Have you ever heard this story? How often do elements of this story run in your head telling you that the world you long for really isn’t possible? I call it our Empire story, because it so conveniently serves the institutions of Empire.

Perhaps the most interesting part is the promise of peace, harmony, and eternal bliss in the afterlife as our reward for enduring the violence and oppression of Empire. But don’t even think about creating such a world here in this life. 

Corporate media bombard us with stories of the violent, the greedy, and the individualistic and celebrate the political and financial success of ruthless politicians and corporate CEOs. They tell us that there is no common or collective social interest beyond the aggregation of individual interests. We are supposed to believe that everyone does better when we pursue our individual advantage without government interference. Milton Friedman won a Nobel Prize in economics for a work in which he argued that to sacrifice personal financial gain for some supposed higher good is actually immoral. It is quite a commentary on the economics profession that they give out Nobel Prizes to celebrate the moral philosophy of the psychopath.

We are told that if our children are to have a future they must be educated to compete and win over the children of India and China. Do you ever think about the implications? What is the moral justification for an economy in which either your child or mine is doomed to destitution by the success of the other. Wouldn’t it make more sense to get together and create a world in which all our children can have a happy productive life?

We too easily accept the idea that the psychopaths among us are not only the human norm, but in fact the moral standard of our society and the highest expression of what it means to be human. In truth they are pathological exceptions to the healthy norm. This is the sickness of the ideology of market fundamentalism and its denial of both the value and the possibility of human cooperation.

The elements of this destructive and immoral narrative are embedded in the stories most commonly heard from economists, scientists, preachers, politicians, and historians—among others. We heard them in school. We hear them in church. They are constantly repeated by the media. Their constant repetition creates a kind of cultural trance from which we are now just beginning to awaken.

Our very future as a nation depends on bringing forth a new economy grounded in a new culture of cooperative values and new business forms to create a world that works for all the children and for every living being.

Most of us were raised to believe that we must choose between two competing economic models. One is the extreme individualism of a capitalist market economy in which a few capitalists own everything, make the decisions, and reduce everyone else to a form of indentured servitude. The other is the extreme collectivism of a Communist command and control economy in which a few government bureaucrats act as trustees of all of society’s assets, make the decisions, and reduce everyone else to a form of indentured servitude. Both are dominator systems that deny our human rights and suppress our human creativity. We are well familiar with the failure of Communism. The failures of capitalism are currently playing out all around us.

Does anyone here have an idea as to what an alternative to these two failed system might look like? What about a cooperative market economy grounded in principles of cooperative enterprises and economic democracy? Can you begin to imagine such a thing? Adam Smith, long revered as the prophet of the market economy, envisioned market economies grounded in the positive moral values of functioning communities.  When I studied economics in my student days the ideal market model was the farmer’s market in which small producers and consumers came together to exchange their wares within a framework of rules for fair dealing. It doesn’t bear much in common with an economy dominated by financial speculators and corporate oligopolies. It bears a strong remeblence to an economy comprised of cooperative enterprises.

I have long believed that private property is a good thing. Indeed, I believe it is such a good thing that everyone should have some. We should each own our own home, the tools of our trade, and a stake in the enterprise in which we work.

Here we see the difference between the capitalist market system we have and the cooperative market system we must now create. The capitalist market system features a brutal competition for survival and the unlimited concentration and monopolization of economic power without regard to consequences. A cooperative market system features a competition for excellence, not survival, an equitable and democratic participation in the rights and responsibilities of ownership, and a commitment to meeting the needs of all. They could hardly be more different. Only the latter can deliver on the promise of justice and prosperity for all.

Change begins with a new story that celebrates the best rather than the worst of what we are and can be. Its pretty straight forward. If we convince ourselves that we are innately brutal, greedy beings and that this is all for the good, then we set ourselves a goal of perfecting our capacity for greed and violence, thus perpetuating the world of our nightmares.

It is time to start filling our heads instead with the story that it is our nature to be caring and giving and that this is all for the good, and therefore we properly set our sights on perfecting our capacity for love and caring and create the world of our dreams. The story of the potentials of our human capacity for love isn’t particularly new. A young fellow named Jesus built quite a following by preaching it to large crowds of adoring fans some 2,000 years ago. Some of our most revered heroes, for example Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. preached the same message and built powerful social movements.

OK. I know the question running in your head. “Didn’t this Korten guy just say its been this way for 5,000 years. They crucified Jesus and they assassinated Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Why should we expect things to change now? Its over. The ice caps are melting. We’re cooked.”

Here is the key to why now. The global scale collapse of social and environmental systems provides a shared imperative. The communications capabilities of the Internet provides the opportunity. For the first time since our earliest human like ancestors walked the earth millions of years go, we have the means for all the world’s people to engage in conversation with one another to expose the fallacies of the Empire story, awaken from our cultural trance, and create global alliances for change that transcend all the normal human boundaries.

Meanwhile, climate change, the withdrawal of cheap oil subsidies, and a falling U.S. dollar are poised to bring the mother of al market corrections as economic incentives shift from global to local economies. We will soon be reading about long haul transport and global supply chains of the corporate global economy only in our history books.  They will go the way of the SUV, chemical and energy intensive agriculture, auto dependent suburbia, strip malls, shopping centers, energy inefficient single family homes, and box stores like WalMart located in the middle of nowhere.

The communities with the best prospect to weather the mounting forces of a perfect economic storm will be those that act now to rebuild local supply chains, reverse the trend toward conversion of farm and forest lands, concentrate population in compact communities that bring home, work, and recreation in easy reach by foot, bicycle, and public transportation, support local, low input, family farms, and seek to become substantially self-reliant in food and energy. Nationally we face the imperative to renounce war as an instrument of national policy and begin the conversion of the resources of the military industrial complex to more useful purposes.

It is difficult to imagine global corporations captive to the predatory, short-term financial demands of global financial institutions playing a constructive role in such transformation. Some that have no prospect of producing beneficial goods and services best just go out of business. Those that do have a potential to produce beneficial goods and services might best be broken up into their component units and converted to cooperative ownership models. There are needs for many new enterprises that might ideally be organized on a cooperative model. Think about an alliance between the cooperatives movement and the green jobs movement to spawn new cooperative farms and enterprises devoted to local food and energy self-reliance, and to retrofitting and restructuring the local built environment to increase energy efficiency, utilize solar, wind, and geothermal energy, cleanse the air and water, radically reduce reliance on automobiles, and build strong, caring communities.

Consumer coops are well positioned to take the lead in advancing this economic transformation. You are natural marketing outlets for cooperative goods and serves produced by a myriad of individually or cooperatively owned local enterprises. You have a natural role in rebuilding local systems of food and agriculture and in advancing local energy self-reliance, and green building. In each instances, think not only about your role in supporting the development of individual new cooperative businesses.

Think about rebuilding whole local economy sectors based on the cooperatives model. Imagine a self-reliant local food system based on cooperative farms, cooperative food processing enterprises, financing from cooperative credit unions, transportation by trucking coops, and sold by cooperative grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and restaurants. Think in the same terms about the energy sector, the housing sector, etc.

You also have an essential role in educating the broader society in the guiding principles of a cooperative market economy. This is an essential contribution to changing the economic story that there is no viable alternative to rapacious capitalism. Every functioning coop is living proof to the contrary. Team up with a local college or trade school to offer courses on cooperatives principles to everyone in your community.

I also want to note the potential connection between your role in advancing a cooperative economy and one of my favorite organizations, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). I participated in founding BALLE in 2002 and serve on its board. BALLE’s mission is to grow a new economy from the bottom up based on locally owned, community oriented, local businesses.

As this new economy grows, we all have more choices as to where we shop, work, and invest, allowing us each to withdraw our life energy from the institutions of the corporate global economy and redirect it to the institutions of a newly emergent local living economies that root economy power in place within a framework of community values. Founded in 2002, BALLE currently has 52 local networks and 15,000 members in the United States and Canada.

This work gains increasing momentum as awareness grows of the significance and implications of the rapid and wrenching economic adjustment that lies before us. We see the potential to create societies that dramatically increase the quality of our lives even as the quantity of our consumption declines.

I believe the greatest barrier to success is presented by the cultural stories I’ve mentioned earlier constantly repeated in the echo chamber of corporate media to legitimate an imperial system of power and privilege that feeds and perpetuates psychological and social dysfunction.

We weren’t born with the Empire story in our heads. Its not in our genes. It got there because it is a constantly reoccurring theme of the cultural stories we turn to for answers to our most basic questions about ourselves and our possibilities. These stories are continuously propagated by the economic, political, and religious institutions of Empire.

The Power of Authentic Stories

Profound social change takes place when an important cultural story changes. Don’t, however, look to the institutions of Empire to take the initiative to change the stories that affirm their power.

Democracy took hold when citizens organized to replace the story of the divine right of kings with the story that the powers of government derive from the will of the people.

People of color and women won recognition of their full human rights only as the civil rights and women’s movements successfully exposed the fallacy of the story that people of color and women are less than fully human. Recognizing the full humanity of all peoples opens us to a deeper understanding of what it truly means to be human in all the rich potentials that our human nature embodies.

The environmental movement is replacing the story that nature is a dark and evil threat to be subdued, vanquished, and used for whatever purposes please us with the story of Earth as a living community, the mother of life.

We are still working on many of these new stories, but members of my generation have experienced the enormous societal shifts that these changes in our cultural stories have already wrought.

Even though imperial propagandists have the full support of corporate media, they work at an inherent disadvantage, because their success depends on suppressing our natural human desire for community, justice, and true creative expression. The results Empire seeks do not come naturally, which is why it must employ large cadres of specialists at extravagant salaries to fabricate its stories.

Corporations command economic power. Governments command the coercive power of the police and military. The power of civil society resides in the power of authentic stories that acknowledge and express our genuine desire to love and be loved and to live in creative caring communities with peace and justice for all beings. These stories resonate with what we know deep in our being to be true and thus strip the institutions of Empire of their legitimacy. They give civil society the ultimate power advantage.

Once we are clear that the alternative to the violent domination of Empire is the world of our shared dream, we can together reclaim the power we have yielded to Empire and redirect it to the work of creating a world that works for all.

How does it happen? It begins with a conversation. A while back Cecile Andrews, a colleague in Seattle known for her book The Circle of Simplicity explained to me how the women’s movement changed the story on gender, and unleashed the long suppressed power of the feminine. It started with discussion circles in which women came together to share personal stories. As each woman spoke, a powerful truth was revealed.

According to the old gender story, the key to a woman’s happiness is to find the right man, marry him, and devote her life to his service. Women whose experience failed to conform to this story blamed themselves. They assumed they were personally deficient and therefore unworthy.

By breaking the silence to share their stories they came to see that the problem was not with themselves, but rather with the story. Many then lent their voices to a growing chorus of women engaged in changing the cultural stories by which society had long defined women and their roles.

Cecile noted to me that the same process is involved in the voluntary simplicity movement. Through sharing stories about what makes us truly happy, we come to see the fallacy of the advertising story that material consumption is our source of happiness. Once this fallacy is seen for what it is, we can enthusiastically share our stories of how we are improving the quality of our lives by reducing the quantity of our consumption to gain control of our time to do more of the things that make us feel fully alive.

To sum up: The world we must create if there is to be a human future is the world most humans want and the world our brains are wired to create. We live this world into being as we bring forther a new economy based on the principles and institutions of the cooperatives movement. It means creating a new economic story.

So what are the prevailing economic stories that the cooperatives movement seeks to change to turn our nation and the world to cooperative market economies? And how do we best work together to achieve that?

The Great Turning: and YES! magazine provide useful tools for this work.  Subscribe to YES! Better yet, carry YES! in your coop as part of your cooperatives education work. It is filled with stories about creating the world we want. My wife Fran is the publisher/executive director. She can provide an information flier. Sign up with her for our e-mail newsletters. Get a copy of The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. You will find guidance on the web at greatturning.org.



Our distinctive human capacity for reflection and intentional choice carries a corresponding moral responsibility to care for our Earth Mother and for one another. We must now test the limits of the individual and collective creative potential of our species as we strive to become the change we seek.

In these turbulent and frightening times, it is important to remind ourselves that we are privileged to live at the most exciting moment of creative opportunity in the whole of the human experience. The future is in our hands. Now is the hour. We have the power to turn this world around.

            We are the ones we have been waiting for.


David C. Korten is author of The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and When Corporations Rule the World, co-founder and board chair of YES! magazine, president of the People-Centered Development Forum, and a board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. For more information and resources for study and discussion see: www.livingeconomiesforum.org, and www.yesmagazine.org.