To the patient reader, David Korten’s recent polemic, Agenda for a New Economy, provides interesting ideas for discussion. It is the new Socialist Manifesto. I have the distinct feeling that Korten is providing simple solutions to complex issues without going through or guiding the reader through those complexities. The major missing piece in this work is a thorough understanding and explanation of how we can overcome human nature and keep the espoused Utopian view viable and corruption free.
Having said all that, there are some very challenging views presented and I find that I agree with a significant number of them. This book, though rushed to press, is well written, timely, and leans heavily on previous works by Korten. He presents cogent analysis of why this economy crashed and moves on to present a vision of the future for communal living and government oversight. Korten’s twelve point program for a new economy sums up his view:
- Redirect the focus of economic policy from growing phantom wealth (money, financial speculation, equities, securitization, etc.) to growing real wealth (labor, ideas, land, gold, health care, food, etc.).
- Recover Wall Street’s unearned profits, and assess fees and fines to make Wall Street theft and gambling unprofitable.
- Implement full-cost market pricing.
- Reclaim the corporate charter.
- Restore national economic sovereignty.
- Rebuild communities with a goal of achieving local self-reliance in meeting basic needs.
- Implement policies that create a strong bias in favor of human-scale businesses owned by local stake-holders.
- Facilitate and fund stakeholder buyouts to democratize ownership.
- Use tax and income policies to favor the equitable distribution of wealth and income.
- Revise intellectual property rules to facilitate the free sharing of information and technology.
- Restructure financial services to serve Main Street.
- Transfer to the federal government the responsibility for issuing money.
Korten professes to know “What People Really Want” (Chapter 9) explaining that the propagandists of Wall Street would have us believe that “there is no alternative” (TINA), and then states that TINA is a lie. He also first recognizes the complexity of “human nature” and then blames what he calls Empire (apparently the present U.S. capitalist system) for giving rise to our worst impulses. It seems that his system would cultivate our higher angels. It’s not clear how.
In Chapter 13, Life In A Real-Wealth Economy, Korten takes us on a trip to the future. Our time-traveler writes back to us that “This seems to be a truly middle-class society. I’ve found little evidence of more than modest distinctions between the richest and the poorest in terms of income, asset ownership, size of residence, and consumption.” And then, “Economists in this time measure wealth and well-being by indicators of the health and sustainable productivity of human, social, and living natural capital. Businesses are human-scale, locally owned, and dedicated to serving the people of the community.” All seems well in this new world economy. No crime to speak of and everyone is middle-class, happy and content. Humanity is clumped into urban centers with nature surrounding them. Suburban sprawl is gone as are the large international companies.
This book will, I hope, start the discussion. Our economic system can certainly be improved, and many of Korten’s goals make sense for a sustainable society. The tone of this book, its inflammatory language, will make that discussion difficult. Its call for a wholesale destruction of the present system in favor of a practically socialist construct and wishes to use the current reset in the U.S. economy to accomplish that goal. If in fact major improvements are made through the sense of urgency caused by the financial collapse, then we should celebrate. If in fact, the patient reader can get through this polemic and mine the gems buried there, then perhaps a serious discussion will ensue.
Click to see it on Amazon.