This is the sixteenth of a series of blogs based on excerpts adapted from the 2nd edition of Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. I wrote Agenda to spur a national conversation on economic policy issues and options that are otherwise largely ignored. This blog series is intended to contribute to that conversation. —DK
In 1992, I participated in the civil society portion of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It involved some fifteen thousand people representing the vast variety of humanity’s races, religions, nationalities, and languages. It was, at the time, the largest and most diverse global gathering in human history. Our discussions centered on defining, and committing ourselves to, the vision of the world we would create together.
These discussions were chaotic and often contentious. But at one point it hit me like a bolt of lightning. Despite our differences, we all wanted the same things: healthy, happy children, families, and communities living in peace and cooperation in healthy natural environments. Out of our conversations emerged an articulation of our shared dream of a world in which people and nature live in dynamic, creative, cooperative, and balanced relationships. The Earth Charter, which is the product of a continuation of this discussion, calls it Earth Community, a community of life.
I’ve lived in a lot of places with starkly different cultures: Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Indonesia, the Philippines, California, Massachusetts, Florida, Virginia, New York City, and Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. Surprise! Look beneath the colorful differences in cultural expression and you find at the core everyone wants to breathe clean air and drink clean water. They want tasty, nutritious food uncontaminated with toxins. They want meaningful work, a living wage, success and happiness for their children, and security in their old age. They want a say in the decisions their governments make and they want to live in peace.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine, observes that:
The great spiritual-religious wisdom traditions of the world have all taugh some variant of this message: The deepest human pleasures come from living in a world based on justice, peace, love, generosity, kindness, and celebration of the universe and service to the ultimate moral law of the universe (whether learned through revelation or through reason).
For 5,000 years we have continuously recreated a world that appeals only to the psychologically deranged.
Beyond our varied races, religions, nationalities, and languages, we humans share a collective dream of a world of healthy, happy children, families, communities, and natural environments joined in peace and cooperation. These are all forms of real wealth that are not available for purchase or sale and have no monetary equivalent. These are our primary sources of true happiness.
We have been trapped in Empire’s pernicious rule-or-be-ruled, kill-or-be-killed, play-or-die dynamic by geographic and cultural barriers that have kept us divided and unable to embrace our true nature and common interest. The possibility to liberate ourselves from this self-inflicted tragedy is within our grasp.
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The communication technologies of the Internet in place for little more than 20 years create a potential for collective dialogue, organizing, and action never before available. We now have the means, as well as the need and the right, to bridge the geographic and cultural barriers that have for so long divided us, recognize our common yearning, and bring forth cultures and institutions that cultivate and reward our higher nature.
Do we have the will? I believe we do. It is being expressed by growing millions of people working largely outside the institutions of Empire.
Yet economists prefer to assess economic performance by growth in gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the market value of economic output. The GDP can be rising in the face of simultaneous epidemics of child obesity and starvation. It can be rising in the face of disintegrating families and a vanishing middle class, increasing prison populations, rising unemployment, the disruption of community, collapsing environmental systems, the hollowing out of domestic manufacturing capabilities, failing schools, growing trade deficits, and costly but senseless foreign wars.
And all the while, economists tell us we are getting richer. Such nonsense.
Consider how differently we might organize our human economies if we measured economic performance by indicators of the outcomes we truly seek—the sources of true happiness.
It is a stunning and hopeful truth. The world we must now create if there is to be a human future is also the world of our common dream. The barriers are self-inflicted. They include the fabricated belief that we are by nature incapable of cooperating in the common good and the use of flawed measures of economic and social performance.
So let us recognize and cultivate the potentials of our true nature and henceforth assess the performance of our economies against the outcomes we truly seek.