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Reject Egonomics, Embrace Economics – YES! Magazine Solutions Journalism

Science has given us a clear warning. By the end of this decade, humans must repair the damage they are doing to Earth, or it will almost certainly become irreversible. Humanity’s self-extinction is a likely consequence.

For too long we have followed the policy directions of unfettered capitalism – an economy devoted to increasing the fortunes of billionaires with little regard for the consequences for the living Earth and most of its inhabitants. Focused on maximizing individual financial returns, contemporary economics is more accurately known as ego-nomic. Using the Latin word for “I”, the teaching of egonomics is best limited to history classes that review the devastating consequences of man’s adoption of this erroneous theory as established science.

Finding our way to a viable human future will require the guidance of a true eco-nomic. “Eco” comes from the Greek oikos, meaning household. Founded on biology and ecology rather than finance, the new economy will guide us towards an ecological civilization dedicated to caring for planet Earth and all its living beings.

Of course, the essential transition to an ecological civilization presents significant challenges. There will be no winners on a dead Earth. Therefore, we have a common interest in joining in a common cause to create an alternative future now within our means.

The environmental and social failures of modern society highlight two obvious fundamental truths that conventional egonomics ignores. First, the Earth is our common home and the source of our existence and well-being. Second, money has no meaning or use beyond the human mind. Indeed, most modern currencies are nothing more than invisible electronic traces stored on computer memory chips.

Ignoring these truths, egonomics has guided us toward a world that confines the vast majority of the planet’s inhabitants to the servitude of those who are already wealthy, whose ultimate goal is to increase their personal financial assets. The resulting growth in inequality is beyond obscene.

In January 2023, the World Economic Forum reported that the financial assets of the world’s richest were increasing by $2.7 trillion per day. The average billionaire gained about $1.7 million in new financial assets for every dollar of salary received by someone in the bottom 90%.

Earth stands out among the planets we have observed so far for its ability to support life. And we humans distinguish ourselves from earthly beings by our ability to choose and create our future together. This gives us special privileges and particular essential responsibilities, consistent with what science now identifies as our distinctive human nature. As science says, mentally healthy humans derive deep satisfaction from caring for others.

We also now know that a small minority of people, deprived of appropriate care from an early age, find pleasure in demonstrating their power over others by inflicting harm. They suffer from a grandiose sense of superiority and self-entitlement known as narcissistic personality disorder. These individuals are disproportionately present among the wealthy in society.

The false and self-serving promises of egonomics promoted by these individuals have so misled us that we have allowed money to replace mutual care in mediating our relationships with others and with the living Earth. This love of money now so dominates our consciousness that we have come to idolize financial predators.

The challenge of our time is to realize our true, largely untapped human potential by learning to live as beloved communities, anchored in mutual care and service to one another and to the natural and human commons. , consistent with our true nature.

The new economy calls us to:

  1. Replace GDP with valid indicators of beneficial economic performance.
  2. Confront and dispel the illusion that money is wealth and that its growth benefits everyone.
  3. Embrace biology and ecology as the most fundamental disciplines of economics for an ecological civilization.

We are currently debating the choice between socialism (an economy run by politicians and civil servants) and capitalism (an economy run by private financiers). Many of us fear a possible merger of the two into fascism.

Yet we rarely mention the alternative of people power, rooted in democratically self-governing communities and markets, the foundations of ecological civilization. Achieving this alternative will require that financial assets be equitably distributed to ensure that responsibilities for making important decisions are truly shared. Predatory, monopolistic, profit-maximizing corporations will need to be converted into worker/community cooperatives responsible for meeting the needs of all their stakeholders.

We must minimize reliance on money as a substitute for caring relationships. The private banking system that currently operates beyond accountability to governments and national interests must be replaced by a global system of community banks cooperatively owned and managed by the communities in which they operate.

We are not dealing with a broken system in need of repair. We are dealing with a failing system that needs to be replaced. We will only achieve this transformation toward ecological civilization through a grassroots meta-movement in which the people of the world come together, guided by valid economics, in a unifying commitment to creating a world that works for all life on Earth.

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David KortenDavid Korten
David Korten

is co-founder of YES! Media, former professor at Harvard Business School, member of the Club of Rome, founding member of the Alliance for Ecological Civilization, president of the Living Economies Forum and author of international bestsellers When businesses rule the world; The post-corporate world: life after capitalism; And The great turning point: from the empire to the earthly community. He is also the author of the white papers “Ecological Civilization” and “Economics for an Ecological Civilization”.