As Asia regional adviser on development management for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Dr. David Korten traveled frequently to Southeast Asia and the Philippines. Author of several books that present alternative views on capitalism, he shares with readers what he has learned from his travels.
He recalls an insight that came to him in Baguio City while on a 10-day retreat with leaders of six major Asian non-governmental organizations. They were grappling with the reality of continuing impoverishment and erosion of social and ecological moorings in their countries amidst seeming prosperity in the more advanced countries in the region. The root cause: Perpetuation of the myth that monetized wealth was the proper measure of worth.
They came to a confounding realization:
“(A)n image came to mind of development as a pool of money spreading out across the Asian countryside consuming life wherever it touched. It was as if money itself had become an evil motive force, absorbing intelligent and highly defined living beings and communities to grow its own featureless bulk — money-consuming life to grow money. Consumed by our quest for money, we fail to notice that we have relinquished control of our lives to the institutions that control our access to money. We accept our enslavement to institutions for which we are merely a means to an end, alien to our own existence and well being.”
A Filipino economist, Dr. Sixto Roxas, contributed the second insight. Dr. Korten recalls that, in answer to his query on why economists seem to prescribe solutions that eventually become ruinous to the economy and ecology, Dr. Roxas said:
“That’s easy. They choose the firm rather than the household as their basic unit of analysis. The word economics comes from the ancient Greek word oikonomia, meaning “household management,” and the classical economists viewed the economy through that lens. When the founders of contemporary economics sought to raise economics to the stature of a science by basing it on a mathematical model, they chose the firm because its transactions are monetized and therefore already quantified. Economists have since viewed the economy through the lens of the [profit seeking] firm rather than that of the [life seeking] household.”
The inevitable result: The nearly unchallenged hegemony of “money-driven global corporations.”
Having identified the problem, the second imperative is to propose an alternative.
Inevitably, we return to Riane Eisler’s advocacy of the Partnership paradigm to replace the Dominator view that has spawned the seeming endless cycle of greed, inequality and poverty. As she proposes, the “real wealth of nations” should be measured not only in terms of gross domestic product but in terms of the quality of life of the broad masses. The primacy of people over money must be upheld.
In place of the rule of money, Dr. Korten proposes a “living earth system model,” featuring three essential elements:
Ecosystem Health and Balance: It must value life above all else and support individuals and communities in growing the generative capacity of Earth’s biosphere, while meeting human needs within the limits of that capacity.
Shared Prosperity: It must support the sharing of resources to meet the essential needs of all people by securing their right of access to a means of living.
Living Democracy: It must give each person an active voice in the decisions that affect his or her life, and support the just and nonviolent resolution of conflict through processes that are both inclusive and transparent.
The third action imperative is to implement the paradigm shift that would bring about the realization of the desired new order.
Scanning the current Philippine environment, it is apparent that there are a good number of major private corporations – as well as social enterprises – that are committed to establishing a more egalitarian, humanist-oriented society. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs abound.
The Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), which was established in 1970 during the First Quarter Storm that presaged the imposition of martial rule, has refocused its mission to squarely address poverty reduction. Its leaders have committed themselves to “programs that lead to self-reliance.” Beyond simply contributing a percentage of their profits to a social development fund, PBSP member firms have adopted the concept of “inclusive business” that underlines the importance of integrating smaller firms into the mainstream of economic development.
The best place to start is the home, or the household, where the “real wealth of nations” is shaped and formed: in the consciousness of children that are reared by parents whose beliefs are rooted in humanist values. From such homes would emerge living communities – and enlightened organizations –
that are dedicated to healthy ecosystem, shared prosperity and living democracy.