The Playing Field
Based on David Korten’s new book Agenda for a New Economy :From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth (Berrett-Koehler Publishers,Inc. 2010
The World Bank, Wall Street and the Washington Concensus players wearing black suits and boiled white shirts, ( others in local indigenous clothing, i.e. Developing World leaders).
The man in the street.
A Brief Introduction
The world is in a state of dysfunction. The planet is in a state of dysfunction. Human societies are crumbling under the steamroller impact of a juggernaut called the Global Economy. Environments everywhere are shattered from the dried up
Aral Sea to the melting Himalayan glaciers. An enormous calamity awaits the human race within the century when the IPCC itself puts the possible rise of temperatures within this period to a possible 6.4C . The history of the Planet is very long but we haven’t seen anything like the extinctions we are presently witnessing for the past twenty million years (i.e. End Permean extinctions).
The atmosphere contains twentyfive percent more carbon dioxide than it has for the past 1,60,000 years. This has been accumulated through unchecked industrial carbon emissions, mainly from burning of fossil energy, principally, coal. We have since the Industrial Revolution been following a system of development based upon burning fossil energy and turning wheels, which is in itself a Revolution. Experts expect energy consumption to rise 60% due to population growth which will make matters worse. Meanwhile, food supplies will fall due to climate change and extreme weather events will offset economic expansion. Energy sources are unsustainable and all fossil energy pollutes, with further dangers caused by global warming such as melting ice sheets over tundra causing huge release of methane gases into the atmosphere. Methane is 20 times worse than carbon dioxide. Governments seem oblivious of the fact that carbon dioxide traps solar infrared rays and causes warming within the Planet’s atmosphere. Either they do not know or are not willing to see the fact. They are against mitigative strategies and offer adaptive strategies. There has to be a reason for blindfold leadership, which is what the Playing Field is all about. Warming since 1981 resulted in annual combined loss of 5 billions dollars a year for cereal crops and this is going to grow as heat waves cross 4C by mid century. Change in rainfall patterns will destroy rice farming in
South Asia and change of rainfall patterns threaten and Central African rainforest. The world’s fourth largest inland water system the Brazil Aral Sea has dried up and become a desert meaning the collapse of the regional economies it supported. The causes for this have been traced to human environmental mis-management resulting in an economic catastrophe for local people. Climate change negotiations have been dictated by the and collective responsibility in international law has collapsed. The monopoly of the twentyseven European Union states and US have benefited hugely from the new economic policies prevalent in today’s world. With half US ’s population the EU generates thirty percent of the gross world product ($18.4 Trillion in 2008). The wealthy nations represented by the G-8 and G-20 nations represent the council of the world’s wealthy nations and the latter is the principal forum of discussions on international economic issues. These economic issue are deeply connected with climate change in the Planet’s atmosphere and the exploitation of resources of the weaker nations. The time has come for the weaker societies everywhere (and the weaker nations in particular) to wake up to the fact that something terrible is happening in our once harsh but comfortable world. We need to wake up to what Sigmund Freud called “the deep inner needs of our nature”, the decision must come from our individual and collective unconscious that something has gone terribly wrong, and is continuing to become worse. We have to wake up to the fact that there is no future for our grandchildren in a world such as we now inhabit. We have to identify the devil that is crushing human enterprise and survival skills with a powerful weapon of destruction – the Economy, modern economics which is based upon Gross Domestic Product, in the name of development. The India Third World or “the South” is where things will go most cruelly for populations due to the escalating crises of climate change and industrial development ( read mining of minerals, dumping of toxic waste, massive deforestation, utilization of cheap and expendable human labor Etc.) I would have added “big dams” but soon there will not be enough water for such projects. And where climate change causes excessive rains the problem will not be big dams but big floods. Wherever in the world we look today and see what is happening we find a clear paradigm, the pleasant northern climes well off to a greater degree than the South in economy and Weather, some times harried by extreme weather events; and the torrid South stewing in its poverty and human and environmental degradation as it is picked clean of its last natural resources by the economic vultures, big lending institutions and so called “Aid” given by wealthy nations not without small print. This was the gift of the post World War II Economy when the embattled superpowers of the then colonizing nations decided to reap back the costs of war as well as the losses in freeing their erstwhile colonies from the clutches of colonialism , that most debased form of piracy known to man.
Corporations in America had been given the right of “personhood” and they thereby enjoy the constitutional protections given to humans through the Bill of Rights, 1886 and the Equal Protection Amendment even though right uptil that date the US Supreme court held that corporations do not have the same right as humans. They became powerful through the great powers of freedom given to US citizens by the Constitution.
was unique in the creation of personhood for corporations (English, Dutch, French and Spanish law did not recognize the personhood of corporations). Today American corporations are among the most powerful economies in the world, worth more than many nations. Developing countries are the target of exploitation by these corporations. We have a government that counts everything in gross national product (GNP) As Robert Kennedy said in March 1968, America
“Our gross national product (GNP) is now 800 billion dollars a year. But that gross national product, if we judge the
by that, counts air pollution, and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods, and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic squall. It counts napalm, and it counts nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifles and Speck’s knives and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” USA
Kennedy could have added that the GNP does not count the loss of our forests and water systems, the cleanliness of our air and rivers, or the destruction of the natural world which holds the climate together and produces our agriculture agriculture. Perhaps in 1968 that would have taken a lot of foresight for a politician. But the fact remains that his observations are valid. The GNP today in the twentyfirst century is crushing ever more fragile natural systems such as the climate and the weather and the costs of extreme weather events and mass human tragedy as a result are not calculated in the GNP. Today rising sea level atmospheric temperatures will make human life unlivable within a couple of decades and rising sea levels will inundate coastlines. This is the result of global warming and climate change.
Theodore Roosevelt said at the Ohio Constitutional Convention in
in 1912, “We stand for the rights of property, but we stand even more for the rights of man… We will protect the rights of the wealthy man, but we maintain that he holds his wealth subject to the general right of the community to regulate its business use as the public welfare requires.” The same stands for corporations and governments. Columbus Ohio Roosevelt here identified the key distinctions and without knowing it pointed directly to the present global situation where corporations have become so big and powerful that common citizens and their governments around the world are no longer able to control or restrain corporations when they endanger the common good. The present ecological crisis is an expression of this imbalance between corporations and the common people in a world filled with toxic pollutants, acid rain, species extinction, strip mining minerals and fossil fuels, polluting the atmosphere , destroying the forests, polluting the river systems and killing the oceans and marine life.
Today we stand at a pivotal moment in the process of human evolution when all indicators say that we must not hope for a collective human future beyond the twenty-first century because the unfortunate will be sacrificed in a larger Holocaust than the imagination of man can provide, while the wealthy few will survive – either on the Planet in guarded citadels of survival where controlled climatic conditions, food and water security will be available, or in bastions in space. The unfortunate millions will disappear along with the Planet’s natural resources into an Inferno which is already being modeled by science. The unfortunate truth is that we are at a very late hour in the series of events leading up to this calamity for the Planet and its un-provided poor. But the absence of hope even in the darkest hour is contrary to the genetic order of survival of any species and we must not – we cannot afford to – give up. Therefore we have to chalk out a strategy for the immediate and future action, a Charter if you wish, which shall divide the friends of Man from the enemies of
This will constitute the Playing Field. Then we must get as many cheerleaders as we can in support of the human family. I have before me the Seven Points devised by David Korten to identify the sides of the Playing Field and I shall strive to work within this framework. I shall give the two playing teams descriptive titles as proposed in the title of Korten’s book Phantom Wealth and Real Wealth. The first represents the corporate world and its subsidiaries and benefactors, the latter represents the threatened societies and social groups worldwide who are not the beneficiaries of wealth but the targets of exploitation by the former group (i.e.Phantom Wealth). So let’s start by seeing how the game may be played on this Playing Field, not forgetting that Real Wealth has nothing but its supporters to rely upon in this game to the death. Man.
The destructive dynamics of the old Wall Street economy, Washington Concensus centre-forward players, and IMF in the wings have played a good game with the team comprising corporate captains and charming developing world champions trained in the art of money-ball.
Today the saving of Planet Earth seems to be left to Civil Society. Can Civil Society face up to governments ? This is a big question and I would say, individuals directly attacking governments will lead to counter attack. Therefore strategy must move to masses in Civil Society responding to a call for action to save the planet. Bill McKibben was successful in doing this with his 350.org campaign which woke up the planet to the threat of global warming. It could go to sleep again if the movement is not raked up again and again. We need a similar type of mass involvement mass action campaign through the World Wide Web. I have pointed the way through Intellectual Satyagraha which calls for users of the web to get involved in what is happening to our world. There are no clear pathways as yet but the idea is running on its own steam and will require channeling. I will revert back to Korten’s points.
(1.1)We have presently financial indicators to assess economic performance for social and environmental health, BUT
(1.2) Living wealth indicators. This will mean replacing financial indicators like gross national product (GNP) and gross domestic product (GDP) for defining natural and human health and putt in place an estimation of the real needs being met. The economy alone cannot be the arbiter of peoples needs and fulfillment being met, nor can it be seen as improving the Planet’s environment in any way. Wherever economic indicators are set up they are booby-trapped. Moral: Money does not make the mare go.
(2.1)The present economic model requires control of the creation and allocation of money: by financial institutions, corporations, government, Wall street, Dalal street, etc.
(2.2) We need to change to Living wealth money system: The whole money system will have to be turned on its head, and will require to be decentralized and democratized (which will mean we will lose a lot of our supporters!) How is this to be done ? It will mean redirecting money from government, corporate, and bank control to the people on the commons, grass-roots societies, public interest groups, health of the planet, Etc. It will mean in effect dismantling Wall Street and putting in its place
Main Street businesses, cooperatives, community undertakings, Etc. Rebuilding community banks, mutual savings, and credit unions. In short it means making the great river of capitalist trade reverse its flow. How ?
Won’t be easy but it will have to be done. From the top of my head I liken it to global warming. Cannot do anything much personally but we can have ideas which find common concensus, such as move from adaptive and ameliorative strategies to Mitigative ones. Moral: Attack the cause of the problem rather than adapt to the problem.
(3.1) The money economy requires highly centralized fiscal policies that support extreme inequality in the distribution of income and ownership create a power imbalance which is contrary to democratic values.
(3.2) We need to change to Equitable distribution of wealth Redistribute income and ownership to achieve an equitable distribution of power and real wealth (here again I think that we will lose a lot of our supporters!) How does one achieve the impossible objective ? Answer: By walking. That’s how mountaineers climb mountains, and that’s how scientists got astronauts on the moon. There is a good old Indian method: Dialogue. The WWW is ideal for this. Our campaign will need a Dialogue Society. We all know that “equitable societies are healthier, happier, more democratic, and avoid the excesses of extravagance and desperation” (Korten) Moral: Let’s find out what makes us really happy.
(4.1) The destructive dynamics of the old Wall Street economy requires a system of absentee ownership that separates the power of decision-making from its social and environmental consequences.
(4.2) We really have to get away from this top down selfish model to Living Enterprises as Korten calls them – These favour”local rooted living owners who have a direct stake in the social and environmental consequences of the firm’s operation” This will mean favoring cooperatives and their workers in community owned enterprises which discourage absentee ownership of publicly traded companies which the backbone of the present corporate system. Moral: While money makes the world go ‘round its got to be spread on everybody’s toast.
(5.1)The present economic dynamic is” the use of corporate charters to create legally protected concentrations of global-scale economic power under unified management devoted to narrow and exclusive private interests.” (Korten)
(5.2) This has to change. We have to rediscover the true meaning of democracy and the real meanings of markets where people can exchange goods. We have to “Free both the market and the democracy from corporate domination by breaking up concentrations of corporate power, eliminating public subsidies for large corporations, and limiting political participation to real people.”(Korten) Phew ! How on earth is that possible ? One way to start is to know on which side of the Playing Field one is.Unless one has decided that how is one to begin to hunt the Dragon ? The next step is to join the Movement of the underdogs (which includes the whole population of the planet minus the 0.1 percent corporate-political nexus cartel). Moral: Search and search until you find.
(6.1) We have all now become aware that local economies are being eroded systematically to create space for outside corporate, political and private outside interests that seek only short-term financial profit for themselves and are completely unaccountable to the people and their environments which they brazenly exploit and destroy. These people formerly depended upon local economies supported by these environments. Huge extinctions are being created which can only go from local to global in scale while these select privately controlled outside interests succeed in gobbling them up.
(6.2) The answer is naturally as korten says to “build diversified, self-reliant, energy efficient, democratically self-organizing economies that are comprised of living enterprises devoted to serving local needs functioning as subsystems of their regional ecosystems.” Well here is a gameplan.
The moral here is: Try, try, try again until you succeed.
(7.1) We have to fight the global rules created by Globalization which attack individuals and local economies everywhere and which increasingly target unprotected environments and weaker societies – an extension of the piracy first witnessed in the Age of Colonialism” which was economically, morally and socially justified by the society that created the Enlightenment in Europe and lauded itself over the colonizing of Africa, Canada, the Americas , Australia Etc.
(7.2) The Playing Field is unbalanced and we need to restructure the rules and institutions of surviving genuine democracy and peoples’ interests if we are to save what’s left otherwise there will not be a second chance. Globalization has created a minefield of the planet and things can only get worse. Society must organize itself to face the challenge of Globalization which comes as a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. The further these facts can be disseminated and people made aware the better The moral here must be: Five sticks tied together are stronger than one.