The Economics of Wholeness
from "Learning to Count: What Really Counts" by Tom Bender
Values and the sacred may seem to be strange bed fellows with economics. In truth, they are not only compatible, but essential elements of achieving immense economic productivity gains that can create a secure, abundant and caring future for all. The heart of our culture has been economics. Today, a revolutionary "Factor 10 Economics" is producing order of magnitude improvements in productivity by daring to restore values, the sacred, systems theory, and ecology to their rightful role as the core of economics.
In the process, our conventional economic tools such as "future discounting" and "present value accounting" have been shown to be mere smoke screens to conceal the real costs of public policies that benefit special interests. Short term thinking rarely produces better results than Ion g_ term approaches. But actions based on such thinking usually end Up eliminating the more productive options, so we forget their existence. Longer forestry rotations seem somewhat academic once someone has cut down all the trees.
Economics is not about money. Money is not real wealth it is merely a medium of exchange. Money is finance, accounting, and the rules and games to get resources into, or out of, our own or other people's pockets. We need to look beyond the money transactions to see the real events that are occurring behind the veil of human rules that distort our perceptions and distract our attention. For it is there that real change is occurring.
What economics is about is resources material and energetic; biological and ecological; human, community, and spiritual. It is about work, ingenuity, and time and about joy. It is about desires and dreams, and the structure of industry and institutions that we use to attain those dreams. Ultimately, it is about wisdom and it is definitely time to bring that into our balance sheets.
Our economics has been successful at achieving an unprecedented material quality of life for large numbers of people. Yet for most people, even that quality of life has been declining since the mid 1970s. And we have been missing vast potentials for both qualitative and material improvements in our lives.
Every economics supports and embodies specific values and goals. Different goals generate very different institutions, products, and economic systems. Each framework of economics materializes different dreams and destroys or embodies different values. We need to choose where we want to go, before we choose the way to go.
There are four major changes affecting economics in the last century that dwarf all others. All come from outside of economics, but from real world, on the ground experience. They are only now being fully integrated into our economics. They are:
Conventional economics says to cut forests when the trees are only 40 years old. Yet rotations four times as long have been shown to produce considerably more wood per year; more net income and less work needed in the forestry operations; 75% fewer clearcuts; and restored productivity of fisheries, other forest resources, and recreation, yielding total forest benefits of 20 to 30 times that of conventional forestry practices. Every time you cut an acre of forest, you lose benefit of the next 20 years of solar energy falling on that acre of land.
Explicit linkage of life affirming values and goals with the economic systems
needed to attain them.
Understanding and integrating the ecological and resource underpinnings and
interactions of economic systems.
Acknowledgment of how and how greatly the spiritual dimensions of our existence
Together, developments in these areas are bringing order of magnitude improvement in the way we operate our businesses and institutions and handle our lives. Factor 10" economics has already become public policy of many European nations, international development organizations, and leading businesses. It is achieving ten fold
improvements in resource productivity the amount of materials needed to produce a car or energy needed to light our homes. It also is achieving equal magnitudes of improvement in institutional and financial productivity in how much it costs to produce a car or provide health care; in personal and social goals and well being; and in social and planetary welfare.
The principles of the new economics are uncomplicated:
Interestingly, it is new perceptions, not new technologies, that are key to achieving most of these gains. Equally important, personal and community life is positively transformed in the process.
The aftermath of last fall's terrorist attacks has brought significant questioning of the direction our global culture has taken. Disparities of material wealth and poverty, questionable ethics used to maintain economic supremacy, and absence of spiritual dimensions in our culture appear to be central issues behind both religious fundamentalism and recent terrorism. Factor 10 economics provides an unexpected path out of this quagmire. It shows us we have the resources to make the whole world a success erasing poverty, eliminating starvation, and ending battles over resources. It is time now for compassion and sharing, not greed. Wisely used, they can open a brighter world for us all.
Tom Bender is recipient of national and international awards for his seminal work in development of sustainable economics, communities, and design. His most recent book, Learning to Count What REALLY Counts, is on sale now. You can order it through your bookstore or on-line through powells.com, amazon.com, or barnesandnoble.com or by emailing fireriverpress@nehalemtel. net.
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