Korten's People-Centered Economy
David Korten, President of the Manila-based People-Center
Development Forum, was educated at Stanford's Business School and taught at Harvard's. By
training not inclined to a radical perspective, he became convinced that nothing short of
radical change is essential to address the challenges of sustainability. He proposes a
people-centered in contrast to a growth-centered economy. In a people-centered economy the
focus would be on improving the quality of life rather than on material consumption; on
the needs of all rather than the wants of the monied; on economic return to households
rather than to capital; on community cooperation rather than on individual competition.
Economic activity would emphasize local markets and local ownership rather than on foreign
markets, on local diversification and self-reliance in basics rather than international
specialization. Preference would be given to production for local markets rather than for
export. Financial and environmental conservation and saving would be encouraged rather
than financial and environmental borrowing and debt. Social and environmental costs would
be explicitly part of the costs of doing business. Access to beneficial technology would
be free rather than controlled by corporate monopolies.
In this vision the linkage between quality of life goals, humane
scales of production, household well-being, local self-reliance in basics and
environmental responsibility is clear.
Korten identifies the foundations of the movement for social and
political transformation as being a political awakening of people suffering from the
effects of the current system's failure -- job losers, displaced persons, those whose
lives are affected by toxic waste dumps -- and a spiritual awakening of people being
pushed to confront the shallowness of systems dominated by money and its accompaniments.
[David Korten "Rethinking Development: Economy, Ecology &
Spirituality," a Videotaped program produced by CODEL - 475 Riverside Drive, Room
1842, New York, NY 10115, 1993.]
He calls for a melding of economics and ecology into an
integrated discipline which would attend to achieving a sustainable economy "in which
human society has a balanced relationship with the earth's ecosystem and yet human needs
are adequately provided for."
An ecological economics has to be predominantly an economics of
household and community, not firms, he argues. Decentralization and local accountability
must be key features. [David Korten "Sustainable Development: A Review Article,"
World Policy Journal IX (Winter, 1991-92), 158-190.]
III.c Daly and Cobb's Wholistic
Community of Communities
Economist Herman E. Daly and theologian John B. Cobb, Jr. have
collaborated in a thoughtful, comprehensive analysis of how we might redirect the economy
toward community, the environment and a sustainable future. They titled their study, For
the Common Good.33 33. Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the
Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable
Future (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1989). See their summary article, "Toward a
Self-Reliant National Economy," New Options (December 26, 1989), 4, 7-8;
also review by Jan Love, "Wholistic Economics," Sojourners (December,
They confront the effects of modern economic growth and argue
against free trade and for building and strengthening the weakening bonds of national
community and then expanding community by federation into larger trading blocs among
national communities with similar standards regarding wages, welfare, population control
and environmental protection.
They reject the primacy of growth with its accompanying emphasis
on consumerism and reject science as the only method of ascertaining truth in economics.
Their wholistic, multidimensional analysis is oriented around a biospheric vision based on
Christian theism. The value base for their vision is concern for justice, for the
well-being of all creation, and for genuine and non-offensive community security.
Various strains of thought shape their vision. They put emphasis
on balanced trade which would limit the quantity of imports in light of the available
exports. They would reduce the now high degree of global interdependence, and promote
national and community self-sufficiency. They advocate smaller markets and political
communities of more humane scale. Their communities would guarantee jobs and health care,
would provide creative and varied styles of ownership and would feature a negative income
tax. The size of the population would be controlled by a transferable birth quota plan.
Economics would be driven by and be in service to community
which Daly and Cobb define as follows:
To have a communal character...does not entail intimacy among
all participants. It does entail that membership in the society contributes to
self-identification. We accept this requirement and add three others. A society should not
be called a community unless (1) there is extensive participation by its members in the
decisions by which its life is governed, (2) the society as a whole takes responsibility
for the members, and (3) this responsibility includes respect for the diverse
individuality of these members. [Daly and Cobb, 172.]
III.d Theobald's Economic Security
In 1963 Robert Theobald, a pioneer American futurist, wrote Free
Men and Free Markets. After pointing out how unfree the markets in the so-called
"free market economy" of the US really are he identified the problem:
It is the attempt to keep the economy growing fast enough to
provide jobs for all that harnesses man[sic] to the juggernaut of scientific and
technological change and that keeps us living within a 'whirling-dervish economy dependent
on compulsive consumption.' [Robert Theobald, Free Men and Free Markets
(New York:NY: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1963), 144.]
He proposed a plan to ensure that each individual would obtain
sufficient resources to allow her/him freedom in choice of action and that these resources
would be distributed without government interference in the market mechanism. The Economic
Security Plan embodies a positive concept of work as more than simply earning a living.
The plan would break the link between jobs and income by
providing to everyone a constitutionally guaranteed right to Basic Economic Security -- a
"due-income" which would provide an economic floor. This would reflect a shared
responsibility of the whole society for the welfare of all its members in a way that would
enhance the good of all.
In this plan everyone's position as a member of society would be
secure as the number of market-supported jobs declines in response to technological
change. (Writing in l963 he envisioned what is being experienced thirty years later by
displaced low-skilled workers and middle management.) The middle-income group would be
protected from an abrupt decline in their standard of living through Committed Spending,
the second component of the Plan.
The work of the society would be done in two sectors. First, in
the Marketives people wishing higher standards of living than that provided by the Basic
Economic Security Plan would work as now in profit-oriented activities for compensation
determined in the market place. They would pay taxes on income above the Basic Economic
Security level. Second, in the Consentives people would work to produce the necessities of
life which would be sold at cost of materials and other required supplies. In these
workers and management would freely consent to work together in circumstances of equality
since workers would not be dependent on a wage contract, since workers would receive their
support from Basic Economic Security Plan. Consentives would sell in competition with the
marketive in the market system; they would be market-oriented but not market-supported.
Workers in Consentives would be working at activities they freely chose.
Over time the Marketives would be producing things that could
most efficiently be produced in large quantities, as Consentives by their very nature
would not be likely to be interested in repetitive production. Also, over time the
position of the Marketive in the socioeconomic system would shift. Its primary purpose
would be to act in the interests of the total society, not solely of the stockholders.
Management would now be free to act responsibly.
Theobald notes that all of this can only occur if "the
economic and social goals of the society as a whole are changed and we aim to achieve an
equitable distribution of resources which would then allow production without exploitation
and unforced consumption." [Ibid., 184.]
Theobald posited three decades ago that these goals are not only
old Utopian dreams; they are now necessary for our survival. This is certainly no less
true now than when he wrote in l963!
These examples of how the economy might look if different values
were primary are illustrative and can be useful in stimulating discussion, generating the
sense of possibility, and in making imaginable the idea of sustainable societies in which
people can live and work together in dignity and freedom. As such they can help to
generate energy for the struggle.
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