The old notion that human nature is based in greed is giving way to a different understanding
By David Korten
As part of the New Economy 2.0 series
Some years ago the Filipino activist-philosopher Nicanor Perlas shared an insight with me that since has been a foundation of my work. Each of the three institutional sectors – business, government and civil society – has its distinctive power competence. Business commands the power of money. Government commands the coercive power of the police and military. Civil society commands the power of authentic moral values communicated through authentic cultural stories. Moral authority ultimately trumps the power of money and guns. Therefore, civil society holds the ultimate power advantage.
This simple frame helped me see the extent to which the global citizen resistance against the corporate misuse of multilateral trade agreements was a contest between competing stories—one fabricated to serve the interests of Empire; the other an authentic story born of the experience and aspirations of ordinary people. According to the story fabricated and promoted by Wall Street’s PR machine:
The use of multilateral trade agreements to eliminate national borders as barriers to the free flow of trade and investment is bringing universal peace, prosperity and democracy to all the world’s peoples and nations.
Wow, that sounds wonderful. But even in the early 1990s it was becoming evident that the reality was quite different.
A group of some 50 citizen activist-leaders from around the world began meeting in 1994 to share their actual experience with these agreements. They found a consistent pattern of results wholly contrary to the corporate story, broke the silence and spread the real story:
Multilateral trade agreements are freeing global corporations from restrictions on their ability to exploit workers, ignore community interests, circumvent democracy, pollute the environment and expropriate the resources of poor countries, with devastating consequences for people, community, democracy and nature.
Just as fabricated stories are an instrument of social control; authentic stories are an instrument of liberation. Although corporations controlled the money and the media, the civil society story trumped the corporate story, because it was true to what people were actually experiencing. The awakening of public consciousness changed the political context of corporate-sponsored multilateral trade negotiations and brought them to a near standstill.
A similar process is now playing out. The fabricated story that there is no alternative to the existing Wall Street system is being challenged by the New Economy story that it is possible to create a world of strong communities and living economies. People across the United States and the world are organizing to make the new story a reality in the places where they live.
The New Economy story that we humans are capable of creating a vibrant, peaceful, cooperative world bursting with life resonates deep within the soul of all but the deeply psychologically damaged. Once that connection is made between a possible human future and the soul’s deepest yearning, the lies of Wall Street advertisers and propagandists are exposed and trance is broken. We are liberated to take responsibility for our future and get on with living the world of our shared human dream into being.
New Economy messages are spreading through countless conversations to challenge the false claims of the fabricated stories of the old economy culture that:
- It is our inherent human nature to be individualistic, materialistic, greedy, competitive and violent.
- We live on an open frontier of endless resources that are free for the taking to grow the economy.
- Money is wealth, money defines the value of life, making money is our highest human calling, and everything related to money is best left to the market.
- Government is the problem and unregulated markets are the solution.
As pointed out in previous New Economy 2.0 blogs, in fact:
- The human brain is wired to support creativity, cooperation and life in community. That is our nature. The prevalence of materialism, greed, competition and violence common in modern society is a symptom of severe cultural and institutional dysfunction.
- We humans inhabit a wondrous but finite living planet with a self-organizing biosphere to which we must adapt our lives and economies.
- Life, not money, is the true measure of value; money’s only legitimate use is in life’s service. An obsession with making money is a sign of psychological and social dysfunction.
- Markets are essential to the function of a healthy democratic society. Their proper function, however, depends on proper rules implemented by democratic governments under the watchful eye of a strong and dynamic civil society.
Story power is the ultimate power. Authentic stories liberate the human consciousness, build immunity to cultural manipulation and give us the courage and insight to create a world of peace and prosperity for all.
About David Korten
David Korten (livingeconomiesforum.org) is the author of Agenda for a New Economy, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group and a founding member of Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE).
About New Economy 2.0
Visionary economist David Korten introduces a national conversation series, New Economy 2.0, on CSRwire Talkback based on his acclaimed book, Agenda for a New Economy, 2nd edition. For the next several weeks, Korten will summarize the main points and key lessons of each chapter of his book, leading from a dissection of what went wrong in the “phantom wealth Wall Street economy” to the presentation of a vision of a world of real wealth Main Street economies that support strong middle class societies, honor real market principles and work in partnership with Earth’s biosphere.
New Economy 2.0 envisions an economy in which life is the defining value and power that resides in people and communities. It contrasts with the popular New Economy 1.0 fantasy of a magical high-tech economy liberated from environmental reality and devoted to the growth of phantom wealth financial assets.
This exciting, new series is co-published by CSRwire and YES! Magazine.
The arguments presented here are developed in greater detail in Agenda for a New Economy available from the YES! Magazine Web store.
Readers: What’s your take on human nature? Share your story on Talkback!