Patricia of Patricia’s Wisdom, one of our favorite visitors to Passing Thru, has put up two great summaries of ideas from Agenda for a New Economy, by David Korten. You can find them here (Understanding Agenda for a New Economy) and here (The Case for Eliminating Wall Street). She found so much that was interesting in the book that she’s planning more, so make sure you subscribe to her blog to get them, if you don’t already.
I’ve not read Korten’s book, but since I was the lucky recipient of a generous Barnes and Noble gift card from Pete’s parents on my birthday, I’m going to go get it. Those who know me will also realize that’s not going to stop me from commenting and expanding from Patricia’s summaries of the points in the book, though.
Before I do, a little bit of context. I pretty much got through Economics 101 in college by the skin of my teeth. I can still hear the professor droning on and on, and remember the helpless feeling of not understanding the relevance to my world as it was at the time. Honestly, teaching economic theory to kids who have had little participation in the economy, such as working in real jobs or starting their own businesses, is ridiculous.
Here’s what we do in our system. We, via our colleges and universities, indoctrinate and regurgitate earnest MBA’s and lawyers into the maelstrom of politics, business and finance. There they are quickly given the keys to drive the machines that comprise the nation, sometimes even with a map but certainly with little to no behind the wheel experience. And most importantly, while they may be able to identify the various parts of the economic or political engine, they don’t know how to fix it. In essence, we give our car to a rookie mechanic who can’t do the repair, but still charges by the hour with no end in sight.
I’d never taken an accounting course, never run a business, never even had savings of my own to manage. I stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later, and even though I wrote a book about the experience, the whole thing still strikes me as preposterous… – Michael Lewis
(See Liar’s Poker and Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, both by Michael Lewis, which we discussed here in “Tenacity” and here in “Panic”; Timothy Geithner; and yes, even Barack Obama. Some of you will stop reading now, and that’s okay. We’ll see you another time.)
Patricia tells us Korten advises that corrective adjustments as promoted by the flawed establishment will not fix or even stabilize the economy. Rather, Main Street values are what create real wealth. Korten defines Main Street values as “local businesses and working people engaged in producing real goods and services which provide a livelihood for themselves and their communities.”
From Patricia’s summaries, I wasn’t clear on whether Korten was an observant chronicler or offering up a manifesto. There appeared to be somewhat of a blueprint emerging from the points Patricia enumerated, but I’ll have to read the book and the summaries she continues to post to be sure. However, I believe the forces he mentions and the shifts or resets that result are already in play. See our discussion of “Small” from last October.
There is the voluntary simplicity movement, the trend toward buying and eating local, organic and micro-farming (on the front page of USA Today yesterday!), Seth Godin‘s “Small is the New Big,” Howard Lindzon‘s “too small to fail,” and a host of other associated ideologically-relevant phenomena that comprise the shift.
The most interesting component of the shift is that we have the simultaneous ability to function in a fluid environment comprised of both micro and macro, most notably promoted by the global characteristics of the internet. So the connectivity and intimacy not only takes on a new dimension, but a different span than in the past. Example: the Iranian uprising play-by-play on Twitter.
In Patricia’s second summary, Korten defines Wall Street-based economic goals as building upon wealth disparities in economic populations. Further, Korten appears to believe that the heights of polarity achieved via economic and political empire building are the genus of the victimization of the middle class. Specifically, he mentions religious fundamentalists who demanded lip service to a socially conservative agenda, neo-conservatives who built the military machine, Libertarians and Wall Street corporate interest. (Now Korten’s going to lose some readers. That’s okay. I’m sure he won’t miss you.)
There’s no doubt that the bankers’ joyride of buccaneers and privateers occurred with much pillage and plunder, but Korten paints with a broad, blaming brush. Whenever the Blame Game is played, victimization isn’t far behind. Sorry, Mr. Korten, you’re gonna lose me every time with that one.
References to victimization of the middle class invariably lead to the notion that its members somehow need to be rescued, primarily by the imposition of well-meaning, yet ultimately draconian reorganization and regulation. If the middle class needs to be rescued, it’s only from itself and the notion that it is no longer self-determinant.
Assignment of responsibility for mistakes and wrong-doing is essential for learning, and to some degree, focus on punishment for the wrong-doers is also necessary. But, the preponderance of blame ascribed by a noisy segment intent upon change for the sake of change is impeding real progress.
Currently, the Blame Game is a cunning distraction from the realities of the ineffectual.
Promoting this type of change – and I would mean change for change’s sake at any cost, which we are seeing in voluminous measure at the moment – is more self-justification than anything. As in, having to justify the trust of the electorate or shareholders by doing Something with a capital “S.” It seems like we’re hearing a lot of “this was wrong,” “we inherited a bigger mess than we thought,” “evil corporations and greedy people control a finite pie,” etc.
The problem with this, as Korten seems to admit (and again, I’m going from Patricia’s summary) is that no one knows the size of the pie. What if the pie is infinite? What if we all believed the pie is infinite?
It seems to me that this country was founded on infinite opportunism from which infinite possibilities manifest in abundance. Subsequently, wealth and riches ensue: wealth and richness of spirit as well as lucre. It has been true throughout my lifetime that I could wake up any morning and always have another chance. Frankly, that’s all I think anyone should require.
However, from a top-down policy standpoint, the only nod to an infinite pie I’m seeing at the moment is the government’s ability to print more currency to sustain itself. That isn’t what “wealth creation” means to me.
I don’t think anyone needs convincing that change is necessary for progress. Change, however, doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I think we are seeing the policy-based fruits of such political and economic naivete on a daily basis.
Good change is more of an evolutionary stairstep approach, with a progression that builds upon existing practice and then levels off to let things settle. Nothing about what happened before in the government and economy is all bad, and nothing about what is happening now is all good. Yet, that appears to be the current top-down message.
The most extraordinary change is being wrought on a day to day basis, and will continue to be, by fairly ordinary people. But that’s more like the daily breeze you notice coming from a different direction instead of a tectonic shift of cataclysmic magnitude as some would have us believe they are capable.
We’re in the midst of a big ole reset, to be sure, but it’s not ever going to be the result of top-down policy or strategy. Instead, the change is here in the trenches, with ordinary folks just like you and me. And I think the folks who think they are in charge are going to be sadly disabused of that notion.
Thanks to Patricia for always being such a fine thought provocateur.
Midget Mechanic by burma lay
Greed is Good by Man met bril
Game Over by jaygooby
Who Ate All the Pies? by Roger B
Stairway by g_heyde
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