Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth

ChangeTheStoryBy David C. Korten. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015. 169 pages. $19.95/paperback; $9.99/eBook.

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Finally we have a book that brings together the important teachings of Thomas Berry (The Dream of the Earth) and the many books about an economic system that protects life on Earth rather than destroys it. David Korten identifies the Sacred Money and Markets story as the one that drives our lives today. He claims that it needs to be replaced by a Sacred Life and Living Earth story that preserves the community of life.

According to Korten, “guided by a Sacred Money and Markets story, we have created a global suicide economy designed to make money with no concern for the consequences for life. If our goal is short-term growth of the financial assets of a tiny financial oligarchy, then the system is a brilliant success.”

In his 1995 book, When Corporations Rule the World, Korten warned of an unjust international economic order. He detailed the threat economic globalization poses to long-term human interests. And in the follow-up book from 1999, The Post-Corporate World, Korten outlined an alternative economic system of healthy, thriving market economies. But his warnings weren’t enough. He now recognizes that the changes that are needed won’t come from just designing new systems. Instead, change comes when people’s stories lead them to live in creative, peaceful, and co-productive partnership with one another and with nature.

Korten’s Sacred Life and Living Earth story describes us as a people living on an earth they know as their sacred source. We once again revel in what gifts we’ve received from Earth. This story has ancient roots in indigenous wisdom. It’s very aligned with the testimonies of Friends. Our understanding of the testimony of simplicity is about removing the excesses that distract us from the life of the Spirit, as well as not using more than our fair share of Earth’s resources. Our testimony of equality would guide us away from a society of such income inequality that exists today. And our testimony of community would lead us to a society where the good of the community comes before the good of the individual.

For years I’ve been hearing and reading that we need a “steady-state economy” instead of one reliant on perpetual growth. But I’ve rarely heard what that alternative looks like. Korten actually lays out, in easy-to-understand language, what kind of system we need to “get our future right.” He explains that institutions based on the design principles of the Sacred Money and Markets story decide major resource-allocation decisions solely on the logic of short-term financial returns. But institutions based on the design principles of a Sacred Life and Living Earth story make these decisions based on long-term living returns. He then goes on to describe in detail critical design choices.

Realigning the basis of our economy to living households and communities, and away from computer-driven financial markets and corporations, is the essential first step toward a healthy, sustainable future. I recommend this book to all Friends to help with an understanding of what a healthy economy looks like, and I’ll end with a quote from the author that struck me as most profound: “Ownership is power. When that power resides in global financial markets and corporations, it supports making money. When distributed among living people in living communities, it supports making a living.”

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