We must reject ego-nomics to prevent human extinction

David Korten, president of the Living Economies Forum and member of the Earth4All Transformational Economics Commission and the Club of Rome

To secure the wellbeing of all of Earth’s people and the many other members of Earth’s household, we will need a new economics, an “eco-nomics” that guides us on a path to a life-centric civilisation.

Our modern lives are largely determined by economic policies shaped by prevailing economic theory. Yet current economic theory serves us well only if our societal purpose is to exploit people and Earth to make money for the already rich. This economics is better named ego-nomics, as its focus on personal financial return is more ego (from the Latin “I”) than eco (from the Greek “oikos” meaning household). In our current interdependent world, our household is Earth and all its living beings.

Humans confront an unprecedented challenge. Science tells us that by the end of this decade we must reverse the damage we are doing to the Earth or reach a point beyond which repair becomes impossible. To secure the wellbeing of all of Earth’s people and the many other members of Earth’s household, we will need a new economics, an “eco-nomics” that guides us on a path to a life-centric civilisation, an Ecological Civilisation dedicated to caring for one another and all members of the Earth household.

The challenges of the transformation we must now navigate are daunting. Yet human self-extinction—the likely consequence of failure—makes it essential that we join in common cause with serious commitment.

As we examine the environmental and social failures of modern society, we confront a host of self-evident truths that conventional ego-nomics ignores. Earth is our common home and the source of our existence and wellbeing. Money has no meaning or utility beyond the human mind. Indeed, most modern money is only invisible electronic traces stored on computer memory chips.

Not only has ego-nomics ignored these truths. It has also led us to create a world in which the vast majority of the world’s people have been reduced to servitude to those who control those electronic traces.

The resulting growth in inequality is beyond obscene. In January 2023, the World Economic Forum reported that the financial assets of the world’s super-rich were growing by $2.7 billion a day. The average billionaire was gaining roughly $1.7 million in new financial assets for every $1 in pay received by a person in the bottom 90%.

The ultimate human conceit is the belief that an all-powerful God created the vast cosmos and the finite living Earth for humans to exploit in whatever way might appeal to them. In its ability to sustain life, Earth is distinctive among the planets we have so far observed. And we humans are distinctive among Earth’s beings in our ability to choose and create our future together. This gives us special privileges—and special responsibilities—consistent with our distinctive nature.

Misled by the flawed promises of the ego-nomics promoted by the self-serving who benefit from it, we have allowed money to replace mutual care in mediating our relationships with other people and the living Earth. Indeed, we have come to idolise a small minority of predatory humans who suffer from a grandiose sense of superiority and self-entitlement known as narcissistic personality disorder. Neglected and disrespected in their earliest years, these individuals engage in a relentless quest for excess in an effort to demonstrate their self-worth in the face of their own self-doubt. In the process, they dehumanise themselves and those around them.

The challenge of our time is to fulfill our true and largely unrealised human potential as we learn to live in beloved communities of mutual caring and service to one another and the natural and human commons. Key components of the new eco-nomics involve:

  1. Replacing GDP with valid indicators of beneficial economic performance.
  2. Confronting and dispelling the illusion that money is wealth and that growing money benefits us all.
  3. Embracing biology and ecology as the disciplines most foundational to an eco-nomics for an Ecological Civilisation.

We face a series of daunting institutional challenges. We currently debate a choice between socialism (an economy ruled by politicians and public officials) and capitalism (an economy ruled by private financiers). Many of us are fearful of the potential melding of the two into fascism. What is rarely mentioned is the people power alternative rooted in democratic communities and community markets.

An Ecological Civilisation depends on the latter. It requires that financial assets be equitably distributed to assure that responsibilities for making significant decisions are truly shared. Predatory monopolistic maximising corporations will be converted into worker or community cooperatives responsible for serving the needs of all their stakeholders.

Reliance on money as a substitute for caring relationships will be minimised. The private banking system that currently operates beyond accountability to national governments and interests will be replaced by a global system of community banks cooperatively owned and operated by the communities in which they do business.

We are not dealing with a broken system in need of repair. We are dealing with a failed system in need of replacement. We will achieve this transformation to an Ecological Civilisation only through a people powered meta-movement in which the world’s people come together guided by a valid eco-nomics in a unifying commitment to creating a world that works for all of Earth life.

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This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of Earth4All or its supporting organisations. 

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