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Path to a Peace Economy

David Korten presented the following speech on October 19, 2009 during a keynote lecture at the Economics of Peace Conference in Sonoma, California.

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Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the Great Integral Spirit that expresses itself through what we know as creation embarked on a bold and risky experiment in reflective consciousness: bringing forth a species able to step back and to reflect on creation in awe and wonder and to participate as a conscious co-creator in the continued creative unfolding. We humans are that species.

In the past 100 years, we humans have achieved technological mastery beyond the imagination of previous generations. Yet, lacking in the wisdom of place and community that is the heritage of indigenous peoples, the cultures we call mainstream have lost their way — forgetting what it means to be human and denying our connection to the web of planetary life.

Our reflective consciousness gives us the capacity to choose our future with conscious collective intent. It was a risky experiment, however, because the capacity for self-awareness gives us an ego that can run out of control if it forgets it exists only as part of a larger whole.

In our earliest days, we humans raised our children collectively in the clan, tribe, or village, initiating them to the ways of life and the need to care for our Earth Mother as she in turn cares for us.

Over millennia, as our human consciousness was awakening and our capacities for self-direction grew, we learned to communicate through speech, master fire, domesticate plants and animals, and construct houses of skins, wood, stone, and dried mud. We developed the arts of pottery, painting, weaving, and carving. We undertook vast continental and transcontinental migrations to populate the planet and adapted to vastly different physical topographies and climates. We created complex languages and social codes that allowed for life in larger communities.

Then, some 5,000 years ago, something began to go terribly wrong. We turned from the ways of Earth Community and embraced the ways of Empire. It was a time of separation and forgetting. Community, partnership, and the celebration of life gave way to individualism, domination, and violence. 

The few expropriated the wealth of the many. The masculine drove out the feminine. We continued to worship the Sky Father, but turned against our Earth Mother.  We came to value the power to kill and destroy more highly than the ability to create and nurture life.
Conquest became the measure of greatness. Economies came to be based on servitude and eventually money became the prime arbiter of human relationships.

Consider the dynamics inherent in a dominator system. With a few on the top and the many on the bottom, everyone is placed in competition with everyone else for the favored positions and the bonds of caring and sharing are broken. The creative energy of the species is redirected from securing the well-being of the tribe to advancing the technological instruments of war and the social instruments of domination.

The winners expropriate the available resources to maintain the system of domination. Positions of power are too often claimed by the most ruthless and psychologically damaged members of society. And so it has been for 5,000 years

If this discussion of Empire sounds familiar, it is for good reason. The kings and emperors have been replaced by corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers, but we are still living in the Era of Empire—and the basic dynamics still hold.

In the past 100 years, we humans have achieved technological mastery beyond the imagination of previous generations. Yet, lacking in the wisdom of place and community that is the heritage of indigenous peoples, the cultures we call mainstream have lost their way — forgetting what it means to be human and denying our connection to the web of planetary life. The time has come to rediscover our humanity and bring ourselves back into balance with our living Earth Mother. Creation has presented us with our final examination to determine whether we are a species worthy of survival. We must not, need not, fail.

When Money Rules

At its core, our current economic crisis is a spiritual crisis framed by this well-known scriptural verse from the Sermon on the Mount:

No one can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:24.

Mammon refers to wealth as an object of worship; the worship of a false god; a form of demonic possession; an evil force in opposition to Life.

Our worship of Mammon is the consequence of an illusion: the illusion that money is wealth and that making money is synonymous with producing wealth. The truth, as Wall Street has so dramatically demonstrated, is very different. Money isn’t wealth, and it is quite easy to make lots of money without producing anything of value to the larger society.
Money, the most mysterious of human inventions, a magical number of no meaning or existence outside the human mind, has displaced life as our object of sacred veneration and become the ultimate arbiter of human priorities. Money determines the fate of nations and shapes the boom and bust cycles of economic life. It allows some to live in grand opulence in the midst of scarcity, while confining others to death by starvation in the midst of plenty.

French cafeThe Economics of Happiness
France hopes to take the lead in shifting emphasis "from a ‘production-oriented’ measurement system to one focused on the well-being of current and future generations.”

This is money as a system of power, a tyranny all the more complete because it is largely invisible to those it enslaves. To liberate ourselves from the tyranny, we must demystify money and recognize that it is a mere number created from nothing with a simple accounting entry when a bank issues a loan. As economist John Kenneth Galbraith once famously observed, the process by which money is created is “so simple it repels the mind.”

When you take out a loan from a bank, the bank opens an account in your name and enters the amount of the loan in its ledger. That becomes a liability on the bank’s accounts, offset by the corresponding asset of your promise to repay with interest. Two simple accounting entries, and money magically appears from nowhere. This simple fact makes banking a very profitable business and is the key to the ability of the institutions of Wall Street and its global counterparts to rule the world.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild, founder of the Rothschild banking dynasty, once famously said, "Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation and I care not who makes its laws."

That pretty well sums it up. In our current system, this control is centralized in and monopolized by Wall Street institutions that value only money and seek only private accumulation. From a societal perspective it is a devastatingly unwise and destructive arrangement.

Money, particularly money that is created out of nothing without any contribution to the creation of anything of corresponding value, is phantom wealth—it has no substance or intrinsic utility. Creating phantom wealth is a Wall Street specialty. They call it financial innovation. I call it theft.

A Real Wealth Economy

So what is real wealth? We might say it is anything that has a real intrinsic value: land, labor, knowledge, food, education.

Most valuable of all are those forms of wealth that are beyond price: Love, a healthy, happy child, a job that provides a sense of self-worth and contribution, membership in a strong caring community, a healthy vibrant natural environment, peace—none of which find any place on Wall Street balance sheets or in our calculations of GDP.

Pull back the curtain, as the financial crash has done, and the truth is revealed that Wall Street acquires its power by destroying real living wealth to create phantom financial wealth. Wall Street is more than immoral, it is an institutional manifestation of evil.

So what will the New Economy look like, and how will we achieve it?

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