Changing economic reality hinges on three core areas: 1) Changing the story, 2) Creating the new reality from the bottom up, and 3) Changing the rules
By David Korten
As part of the New Economy 2.0 series
As explained in my New Economy 2.0 blog on “Winning the Culture War,” the power of authentic culture stories gives civil society the ultimate advantage in the contest for the human future. Stories alone will not, of course, bring down the institutions of Empire. Nor should we welcome the inevitable chaos that the collapse of Empire will bring if we have not first laid a foundation of the new rules, relationships and institutions of a New Economy.
Social systems self-organize around ideas and relationships. They are living, complex, dynamic and constantly evolving as they and their members learn from shared experience. The organism, not the machine, provides the appropriate metaphor. The relevant knowledge resides not in the heads of outside experts but in the people who populate the system. The challenge for those who strive to be agents of transformational change is to help members of the group, community or society recognize, organize and use that knowledge in ever more effective ways.
Through the dynamics of societal scale social learning processes, people innovate, create and learn to relate in new ways that enhance their shared well-being. Individual learning translates into community learning that translates into species learning.
The overall process has three primary elements that frame a powerful societal-scale change strategy.
- Change the defining stories of the mainstream culture. My previous New Economy 2.0 blog made the case that “Every Great Social Movement” begins with an idea carried forward through conversations that challenge and ultimately displace a prevailing cultural story. The civil rights movement is changing the cultural story on race. The women’s movement is changing the story on gender. The environmental movement is changing the story on the human relationship to nature. Through public presentations, books, magazines, talk shows and the Internet’s many communications tools, millions of people are now spreading stories of the possibilities of a New Economy.
- Create a new economic reality from the bottom up. Many of those who have been inspired by some aspect of the New Economy story are already engaged in initiatives that are building the foundation of strong local living economies. They are establishing and supporting locally owned human-scale businesses and family farms that create regional self-reliance in food, energy and other basic essentials. They are moving their money to local banks and credit unions, retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency and changing land-use policies to favor compact communities, reduce auto dependence and reclaim agricultural and forest lands. By creating a new reality on the ground their actions open opportunities for new personal choices, demonstrate the possibilities of the new story and build a base for effective political action.
- Change the rules to support the values and institutions of the emergent new reality. The rules put in place by Wall Street lobbyists put the economic rights of global financiers and corporations ahead of the economic rights of ordinary people, place-based communities, and even nations. As we change the story and build appropriate institutions from the bottom up, we gain the political traction needed to change the rules to support democratic self-determination at the lowest feasible level of systems organization.
Successful social movements are emergent, evolving, radically self-organizing and involve the dedicated efforts of many people, each finding the role that best uses his or her gifts and passions.
My life path has led to a somewhat unusual interconnected engagement with all three strategic elements. I participated in founding YES! Magazine to communicate the stories of the human future, it is ours to create and serve as its board chair. I am a founding board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, which supports communities across the United States and Canada in growing the New Economy from the bottom up. And I co-chair the New Economy Working Group, which is framing and advancing a New Economy policy agenda.
Social movements grow and evolve, not through top-down direction, but around framing ideas and mutually supportive relationships. New ideas gain traction depending on their inherent appeal and utility. As individual groups find one another, new alliances may emerge, depending on what works for those involved in the moment. Some alliances are fleeting; others endure.
As social movements develop, multiple sources of leadership are essential. There are many individuals and organizations whose work incrementally influences the whole. Any individual or group, however, that presumes to be the leader of the whole or aspires to organize a central coordinating body to impose order on the chaos does not understand the process. Self-organizing chaos is integral to the movement building process and essential to its success.
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: Do you have examples of any of the three core strategies outlined here? We invite you to share them on Talkback!