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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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Living Earth

We begin with a recognition that the old economy is based not only on the illusion that money is wealth, but as well the illusion that we live in a world of open frontiers with endless abundant resources free for the taking. We are only now as a species awakening to the reality that we are passengers on a living spaceship and must learn to live in balanced relationship with our local ecosystems everywhere, working with nature to reuse and recycle everything and to eliminate the release of any substance that nature cannot readily absorb and detoxify.

Spaceship Earth, our Birth Mother, is endowed with a wondrous self-managing, self-regulating life support system that has nourished us as a species through the years of our growing up. As a loving parent, she has absorbed the insults and injuries of our reckless adolescent behavior. Our numbers and the power of our technology, however, now exceed her capacity to absorb.

Defining Principles

We must now restructure our economic institutions to align with three foundational principles: Ecological balance. Shared prosperity. And living democracy. Let’s take them one by one.

  1. Ecological Balance: It's spaceship management 101. We must bring ourselves into balance with Earth’s life support system—the biosphere. This requires something you don’t normally hear mentioned at economics conferences. We need to reduce aggregate human consumption, global GDP, starting with the most profligate nations. I’ll say more about this later. Follow me closely here: We must simultaneously redesign our human economies to function everywhere as subsystems of the local ecosystems that comprise Earth’s biosphere. 
  2. Shared Prosperity:  As we act to reduce aggregate consumption, we need to recognize that Earth’s bounty is the shared birthright of all living beings and learn to share it equitably to the benefit of all. The potential benefits of sharing prosperity go far beyond securing our mutual survival. According to a massive body of public health research, people in societies in which wealth and work are equitably shared enjoy greater physical and emotional health, stronger families and communities, less violence, and healthier natural environments than people in more unequal societies. Societies that are more equal are also more democratic and more resilient in the face of crisis.

    This has important implications for those of us who live in the United States. UK social epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson observes that among the world’s 30 richest countries we in the United States are number one in many things, including homicide rates, teenage pregnancy rates, rates of imprisonment, and numerous other social dysfunctions. We are also number one in the size of the income gap between our richest and poorest members. This is not a coincidence.

    The reason is simple. Greater inequality means greater psychological and emotional stress and insecurity for everyone, including for those at the top. Great sharing means less stress and insecurity.

  3. Living Democracy means exactly what it says:  living democracy as a daily practice of civic engagement. In a living democracy, popular sovereignty is integral to the fabric of community life. Living democracies celebrate and affirm diversity within a framework of individual rights, community responsibility, and mutual accountability. Their political and economic institutions support local decision making within a framework of cooperation and mutually agreed rules.

Ecological Balance, Shared Prosperity, and Living Democracy: three foundational principles of the new living peace economies on which the human future depends.

A Familiar Alternative

According to a massive body of public health research, people in societies in which wealth and work are equitably shared enjoy greater physical and emotional health, stronger families and communities, less violence, and healthier natural environments than people in more unequal societies.

Those of us who came of age during the latter part of the twentieth century were taught that we are limited to a choice between two economic models: the model of Wall Street capitalism or the model of Soviet communism. We in the West chose Wall Street capitalism based on the false claim that capitalism is the natural champion of democracy and market choice. Now we see the reality that when Wall Street capitalism has its way, our political choices are limited to politicians who serve Wall Street interests and our market choices are limited to those that generate the greatest Wall Street profits.

Living Market Economies

We’re not supposed to notice that both capitalism and communism, as we have known them, are simply alternative models of elite rule.

We have another option that is rarely mentioned, a planetary system of local living market economies that distribute and root decision-making power everywhere in inclusive, democratic, place-based living Earth communities, much in the manner of healthy ecosystems.

Many of the features of this New Economy option are more familiar than we might at first realize. They bear substantial resemblance to the Main Street economies many of us knew as we were growing up in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

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