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                             By David C. Korten
                      Portland Living Earth Conference
                              January 31, 2003
It’s a joy to meet again with so many friends in the First Unitarian Church.
Congratulations to Living Earth and Betsy Toll and to all the many local groups and
individuals who’ve come together around this event to educate us about their programs
and to strengthening alliances in the cause of creating living economies and vibrant
communities in Northwest Oregon.

I love the framing: Living Economies, Vibrant Communities. This is what we are all
working together to achieve. Ultimately our work is about life; about how we want to
live. From one perspective it looks like a beautiful mosaic, with each of our individual
pieces contributing to a larger whole. From another perspective it appears we are growing
a new social organism dedicated to defining and creating together the community and the
world we want through a process that flows from a deep sense of our connection to one
another and to the earth.

Portland is an icon for America of active citizens working to demonstrate the possibilities
for creating a model of a livable, people-friendly, life-friendly city. I love it and I’m
delighted to be meeting with you this weekend. Countless similar gathering are
happening around our nation and around the world; people coming together to create the
communities that can be as building blocks of the world that can be. So here we are —
and we have our work cut out for us.

Aren’t these great times? People keep telling me things will have to get worse before they
get better. So how bad can it get?

Only a few years ago America was abuzz with talk of the new economy of high tech
start-ups, lean and mean management, heroic CEOs creating wealth for shareholders,
increasing productivity, and an ever-rising stock market. We had won the Cold War, we
were at peace, and the economy just kept expanding. New billionaires were being created
faster than Forbes magazine could count them. The old rules no longer seemed to apply.
Politicians and pundits told us that business cycles and environmental limits were relics
of the past. We in America had become masters of a perpetual wealth machine.

Yet even as the economy boomed throughout the 1990s we were finding we could no
longer afford many of the things we once took for granted, like leisure time, family life,
education, health care, retirement, parks, clean water, and job security. A single working
adult can no longer support a family. Even families with two parents working three or
more jobs struggle to make ends meet. One in four American children lives in poverty.
Minority youth are more likely to go to prison than to college. Drug use — both legal and
illegal — is increasing. Many teachers face growing class sizes, outdated textbooks, and
run down facilities. As medical costs soar, doctors and nurses find it ever more difficult

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to give their patients proper care and more people find health insurance beyond their
means. A combination of sprawl, strip malling, and traffic congestion separate us from
nature, uglify our public spaces, and increase the tension in our lives. Extreme weather
events, and the related floods, drought, and fire storms bring home the grim realities of
climate change and leave us increasingly fearful of what the future holds for our children.

During the 1990s, the United States experienced one of the greatest economic booms in
its history. Yet many middle-class and poorer Americans saw their standard of living
stagnate and in many cases even decline. In much of the developed world, some of the
most dehumanizing poverty is found in the midst of the most rapidly growing economies.
Here in Oregon you are forced to shorten the school year, turn people out of nursing
homes, cut services to battered women, close methadone clinics. Authorities are even
turning people away from jails.

How can it be that even as the economy is booming and we are getting richer, so many of
us seem in fact to be getting poorer? It seems truly strange. People who say there is no
alternative suffer from a serious lack of imagination. Isn’t the purpose of economic
growth and rising productivity to increase the quality of our lives? What’s an economy

It’s a question with a seemingly self-evident answer. My personal list includes the

#      A secure, adequate, meaningful, and dignified means of living for every person
       that meets their basic needs for healthful food, clean water, clothing, shelter,
       transport, education, entertainment, and healthcare.
#      Work arrangements that allow adequate time for family, friends, participation in
       community and political life, healthful physical activity, learning, and spiritual
#      A clean, healthy environment vibrant with the diversity of life.
#      Adequate long-term investment in education, physical infrastructure, and natural
       capital to secure the economic, social, and environmental health of future
#      Broad, equitable, and democratic participation in ownership adequate to secure
       the foundation of political democracy.

What is especially curious is that these are the basics of a decent life. Furthermore, it is
within the means of virtually every country in the world to provide them for all their
citizens — if it were their priority to do so. Yet it is difficult to find an economy
anywhere that is not moving in a negative direction on most or all of these indicators.
This suggests a disturbing truth. For most countries providing a good and decent life for
all is not the actual priority of the national economy? So what is the priority?

Actually it’s remarkably straight forward. The corporate global economy is what
organizational consultant Margaret Wheatley calls an “emergent system.” Those
responsible for corporate interests grew it into being through their day-to-day effort to

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increase profits and market share, i.e., not in response to the needs of life, but in response
to their own perceived need to increase their own power. Step by step over more than a
hundred years, they reshaped America’s politics, legal system, and culture to create the
interlocking systems of interests and mutual obligations designed by elites engaged in the
pursuit of power in disregard of the needs of life. The result is a suicide economy that is
destroying life and the foundations of its own existence to consolidate the power and
privilege of a small ruling oligarchy. And, unfortunately, it is extremely good at it.

If there is to be a human future, we must replace the culture and institutions of the suicide
economy with the culture and institutions of a planetary system of life-serving,
democratically accountable living economies rooted in communities of place and
functioning in creative productive partnership with the living Earth.

Our commitment to growing strong local living economies and vibrant communities is an
essential element of an even larger challenge. The Earth Charter, a remarkable document
produced through consultations over a period of several years involving thousands of
persons of virtually every nationality, race, religion, and ethic grouping on the planet,
opens with these prophetic words:

        "We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must
        choose its future."

Given the unfolding policies of the present U.S. political regime we might characterize it
as a choice between American empire and Earth community.

It is a choice between two wholly different visions of the human future: one leading to
global self-destruction through an escalating spiral of violence against life. The other
leading to a new human civilization dedicated to peace, justice, and the love of life.

This choice is a contemporary manifestation of an epic struggle deeply rooted in the
human psyche between the forces of empire and the forces of democracy empire and
democracy — hierarchy and self-rule — that extends back to the earliest human

The dominator relationships of empire follow naturally from a perception of the world as
an inherently hostile and competitive place filled with human and natural enemies that
must be controlled or destroyed by physical force. This perception gives rise to a fear of
life itself and a desire to control or destroy life as an act of self-protection. It stems in part
from a deep inner fear of our own unruly impulses.

It creates a competitive mindset: be a winner or be a loser, rule or be ruled, kill or be
killed. It leads to a belief that trust, compassion, and cooperation are for fools and
cowards. The values and worldview of empire find expression in a life-destructive global
suicide economy, and in the American Imperium.

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The partnership relations of Earth community flow, by contrast, from a perception that
the world is inherently nurturing, compassionate, and overflowing with creative
abundance and opportunity. From the Earth community perspective, violence and conflict
are irrational, because they are self-destructive. They are morally wrong because all life
is a manifestation of a sacred spiritual unity. Violence against life is violence against the
sacred spirit of creation. Meaning and purpose are found in equitably sharing power and
resources to secure the well-being of all and engaging in the cooperative exploration of
life’s infinite creative possibilities. The values and worldview of Earth community find
eloquent expression in living economies and global civil society.

Individuals and societies differ as to which one of the competing tendencies —
domination or partnership — is more prominent in their lives, but both tendencies reside
in each of us. So we ask: Where lies truth? Is the world inherently hostile and dangerous
or inherently caring and compassionate? The answer is — it depends on us — on we the
people of planet Earth — because we have the knowledge, technology, and
organizational capacity to create the world we choose. We need only the vision to see the
possibility of a caring and compassionate world and to choose to live it into being.

The underlying dynamics of empire compel it to continuously expand its dominion
through conquest and exploitation. With few remaining frontiers left to conquer and with
economic, social, and environmental breakdown accelerating beyond the limits of social
and environmental tolerance, we have reached the End of Empire.

This confrontation with the social and environmental limits of our finite living planet is
more than historic. It is an evolutionary event that compels us to develop new
relationships with one another and the living Earth. The further along we are with getting
the foundations of local living economies in place before the final fall of Empire the less
tragic the consequences will be.

This is fundamental to the essential human agenda for the 21st century.
As a species we have very little time to accomplish the following:

   M Bring the material consumption of our species into balance with the earth.
   M Realign our economic priorities to assure all persons have access to an adequate
     and meaningful means of living for themselves & their families.
   M Democratize our institutions to root power in people and community.
   M Replace the dominant culture of materialism with cultures grounded in life
     affirming values of cooperation, caring, compassion, and community.
   M Integrate the material and spiritual aspects of our being to become whole persons.

The work of creating a new American economy is a part of our contribution as
Americans to this global agenda.

The forces aligned against our success are enormous. Consider the new language that has
entered the political discourse here in America in only the past few months. We used to
talk about American democracy and the checks and balances of the American system.

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Now media pundits talk openly of American Empire and the ruling American oligarchy.
The checks and balances of our system have been circumvented and democracy is under
open attack. Shortly after last November’s election Bill Moyers interviewed Lewis
Lapham, editor of Harper’s magazine on his Friday evening PBS television show. Asked
who won the election, Lapham told Moyers the election was a victory for America’s
ruling oligarchy — which he defined as the frightened rich who think that the democratic
experiment has served its purpose, run its course, gone far enough — and are now intent
on protecting their power and privilege behind gated communities, steep income
differences, an invincible army, and an invincible homeland security department. The
ruling oligarchy no longer bothers to hide behind a façade of democracy. An increasingly
clear, transparent, and coordinated agenda is being advanced by an alliance of the
Republican and Democratic parties, their corporate pay masters, the corporate media, and
a number of right-wing think tanks and foundations. Lapham has it pegged.

The good news is that the combination of a series of shocks to the political complacency
of the American public combined with the extreme and inappropriate responses of
America’s ruling junta is shocking people into a new political awareness.

First, a stolen election revealed the fragility or our democracy. Next a stock market
meltdown unmasked the reality of a bubble economy. Then the 911 terrorist attacks
shocked us out of a deep complacency regarding our relationships to the world. A wave
of corporate scandals revealed the deep corruption of the system of corporate rule. The
administration’s repressive and flagrantly self-serving responses to America’s need for
economic recovery and increased security revealed the hand of an administration
controlled by right-wing extremists.

   Tax breaks for billionaires to stimulate the economy.
   A missile shield in space to fight invisible terrorist networks on the ground.
   First strike use of weapons of mass destruction to stop the first strike use of weapons
    of mass destruction.
   Genocide against the people of Iraq to stop genocide in Iraq.
   Launching Armageddon in the Middle East to bring peace to the Middle East.
   The imposition of a military-police state in America to secure freedom in America.

Equally significant is the gap between the administration’s goals and the values of the
vast majority of the American people. Polling data make clear that the vast major of
Americans embrace life values. They want a healthy environment, peace, economic
justice and security for all, freedom, and democracy. To get within half million votes of
his opponent the man the Supreme Court appointed to be America’s president had to
present himself as a compassionate conservative who would work for ordinary people, be
fiscally responsible, leave no child behind, protect the environment, and pursue a
peaceful, cooperative, and non-belligerent foreign policy respectful of the rights and
interests of others. These were major themes of his campaign.

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The State of the Union message on Tuesday night was intended to restore the
compassionate conservative image. It spoke of a job for every man and woman who
wants one, support for small business, tax relief for middle income workers, affordable
health care for all Americans, energy independence and a major investment in
nonpolluting hydrogen energy, human services for the homeless, the fatherless, the
addicted, battered women, and lonely seniors, and a major AIDS initiative for Africa. By
his description the war against Iraq would remove a ruthless dictator and his weapons of
mass destruction while bringing food, medical supplies, and freedom to Iraq’s people.
Never mind the stark contrast between words and actions. It was a masterful piece of
theater that played to the positive values of most Americans.

It is becoming clear to growing numbers of people that there is a need for serious change
and if it there is to be a new and visionary agenda, it will not come from the Republicans,
the Democrats, or America’s corporate CEOs. It will come — if at all — from “We the
people,” from civil society.

We necessarily and appropriately work on many fronts — including peace, civil rights,
democracy, economic justice, and the environment — for in the end they are all the same
struggle against a predatory and undemocratic system that values power more than life. If
we are to prevail, however, we must be clear in our purpose and our strategy in each area
of engagement. There is no one else. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for.

In my capacity as board chair of the Positive Futures Network and YES! magazine I have
been watching the awakening of a new seriousness within our own organization. We have
been taking on more central themes relating to peace, what it means to be an American,
economic transformation, and real democracy. We seem to be touching a deep cord. The
more serious and relevant we become in our message of the possibilities for change, the
faster subscriptions and contributions grow.

We, the people of civil society, can no longer afford to think and act like we are
representatives of an alternative fringe. We represent the majority values of the people in
America and beyond. We are giving birth to the emerging new mainstream. We must
think and act accordingly by being inclusive in our language and appeal.

Let’s focus for the moment on the challenge of creating living economies — an essential
foundation of vibrant communities.

The suicide economy is a product of human choices motivated by a love of power. We
might call it a love of money, but money in this instance is best understood as a proxy for
power. It is within our means to make different choices motivated by a love of life. The
suicide economy features absentee ownership, monopoly, and the concentration of power
delinked from obligations to people or place. We must replace the suicide economy with
living economies based on locally rooted ownership and deeply held American ideals of
equity, democracy, the rule of law, fair markets, and personal responsibility.

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The difference between a life seeking, life-serving economy and a power seeking suicide
economy may be characterized as the difference between capitalism — which
concentrates power in global financial markets and corporations delinked from public
accountability — and a market economy that roots ownership and decisions in people and
communities. It is the difference between a healthy body and a cancer.

The defining institution of the suicide economy is the publicly traded, limited liability
corporation. It is an institutional form designed to concentrate virtually unlimited power
to the sole purpose of enriching absentee owners who bear no liability for the social or
environmental consequences of the actions taken in their name.

Even worse, most of the shares of the absentee owners are held in mutual funds or
retirement funds managed by professional money managers who are evaluated
exclusively on the financial performance of the funds they manage. The actual owners
have no idea what companies they own or what those companies are doing in their name.

Nature’s closest equivalent to the publicly traded, limited liability corporation is a cancer
cell — which seeks its own unlimited and undifferentiated growth by expropriating the
life energy of neighboring cells, without regard to the consequences for the body that is
its host. It is a legally sanctioned invitation to benefit from behavior that otherwise would
be considered sociopathic — even criminal. It is an institution that has no place in a life-
serving, living economy. Let me underscore this point. There is no place in a life-serving,
living economy for the institution of the publicly traded, limited liability corporation.

Three characteristics bear primary responsibility for the pathological dysfunction of the
publicly traded, limited liability corporation: unlimited size, absentee ownership, and
exemption from personal liability. By contrast, living economies are made up of human-
scale enterprises locally owned by people who have a direct stake in the many impacts
associated with the enterprise. A firm owned by workers, community members,
customers, and/or suppliers who directly bear the consequences of its actions is more
likely to provide:

•      Employees with safe, meaningful, family-wage jobs.
•      Customers with useful, safe, high-quality products.
•      Suppliers with steady markets and fair dealing.
•      Communities with a healthy social and natural environment.

One of my favorite prototypes of a living economy enterprise is Philadelphia’s White
Dog Café owned an operated by Judy Wicks. It’s an icon of a living economy enterprise.
Judy buys most of the food served at the White Dog Café from local organic farmers,
serves only meat from humanely raised animals, pays her workers a living wage, devotes
10 percent of profits to local charity, and has mobilized other Philadelphia restaurants to
join in rebuilding the local food production and distribution system. Business Ethics
Newsletter recently gave the White Dog Café its newly established living economy
enterprise award.

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Organic Valley dairy cooperative was another of the Business Ethics nominees. It is
owned by small dairy farmers producing organic dairy products with pasture raised
livestock. In total it is a $100 million operation with a national reach. Headquartered in
Wisconsin it is gradually enrolling dairy farmers across the country. It demonstrates a
successful approach to national branding and marketing with accountability to human
scale, locally owned enterprises with a commitment to equity and a healthy environment.
The cooperative form combines the advantages of scale with locally rooted ownership
and accountability.

South Mountain Company, an employee-owned, environmentally conscious design and
build contractor located on Martha’s Vineyard, was a third nominee. Each year South
Mountain does $5 million of renovation, new construction and affordable housing
development. 12 of its 25 full-time employees are owners. All its employees are on the
track to ownership. At a two day company retreat the employees imagined the future they
wanted to see for Martha’s Vineyard as the place where they live and committed
themselves to making it a reality. Affordable housing, preserving rural character,
supporting traditional economies, and promoting environmental stewardship were key
elements of their commitment. They design each of their projects to facilitate the creation
of vibrant communities in which people live in harmonious and fulfilling relationship
with one another and the natural environment.

In the YES! magazine living economies issue you will find many stories of living
enterprises and living economy initiatives — including Portland’s Rebuilding Center. It’s
located in a low-income neighborhood and provides local employment for 36 full-time
local employees who dismantle old buildings and recover the materials for resale. The
starting wage for unskilled labor is $10 an hour. Income beyond what is required to pay
decent wages and expand the business goes community projects, particularly to assist
disadvantaged youth.

There are stories from the Appalachia region of southwest Virginia and northeast
Tennessee and from Burlington Vermont of initiatives that grow business relationships
among local independent enterprises aimed at adding value to the region’s natural
resources and bringing together producers and the market place. This development of
business relationships among living economy enterprises exemplifies what the living
economies concept is about.

In Appalachia it began with a community supported agriculture (CSA) project and a
system for marketing local produce to local restaurants and a locally owned chain of
supermarkets. They have been gradually converting farms from growing tobacco to
growing organic produce. Locally owned farm supply stores now carry organic fertilizers
and pest-control products. A local egg producer provides high nutrient compost. They’ve
established an incubator kitchen that helps local residents develop and market value-
added food products that become independent businesses. A sustainable forestry and
wood products program supports sustainable production and harvesting by local wood lot
owners. Harvested timber is milled and sold locally.

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Living economy enterprises may be organized as partnerships; individual- or family-
owned businesses; consumer- or producer-owned cooperatives; community corporations;
or companies privately owned by workers, other community members, or social
investors. They may be for-profit or nonprofit. Just about the only thing they cannot be, is
a publicly traded, limited liability corporation.

I want to also stress that our goal is not to fix the suicide economy, which is an economy
designed primarily to maintain a system of unequal power and privilege. The goal is to
replace the suicide economy with a new economy — a planetary system of local living
economies — created to serve the needs of people and other living beings.

The complex, self-reinforcing dynamics of an emergent system make it virtually
impossible to transform from within. Those who attempt to do so are almost invariably
marginalized or expelled. When environmental writer Carl Frankel set out to write his
book In Earth’s Company on corporate environmentalism, he looked for true
environmental champions within the corporate world. He found three. By the time his
book was published, all three had been fired.

An emergent system that no longer serves can be displaced only by a more powerful
emergent system. According to organizational consultant Meg Wheatley, “This means
that the work of change is to start over, to organize new local efforts, connect them to
each other, and know that their values and practices can emerge as something even

This insight is critical to the work ahead. The most promising approach to ridding our
societies of the pathological culture and institutions of the suicide economy is to displace
them. Each time we choose where we shop, work, and invest, we can redirect our life
energy from the suicide economy to the emergent living economy.

There is a great deal of work already under way aimed at defining and creating new life-
serving, living economies free of the corporate cancer — including by many of the
individuals and organizations participating in this event. Be sure to stick around after the
talk to visit their exhibits and get to know their organizations.

I want to make special mention of two groups:

      Portland chapter of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Talk to
       Matt Lounsbury and Paul Needham. You can get a free copy of the previous YES!
       magazine issue on Living Economies at their table.
      American Independent Business Alliance. Talk to Scott Jones.

I’m an advisor to both of these groups, which have similar goals, but different points of

Also be sure to check out the YES! magazine, commonly known as the ultimate antidote
to despair and cynicism in these troubled times. It is filled with the stories of people who

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are creating a new human reality by living the future. The current YES! issue is on “What
Would Democracy Look Like?” It is an especially timely topic given the events of the
past two years.

Copies of my books When Corporations Rule the World and The Post-Corporate World:
Life after Capitalism are available for purchase at the Living Earth exhibit. Living Earth
is also featuring a new book produced by the International Forum on Globalization on
“Alternatives to Economic Globalization.” This is a path breaking report I helped to
author that presents a comprehensive and well documented analysis and a serious and
comprehensive proposal for a global system of equitable, rule-based local market
economies free of publicly traded corporations, the World Bank, the IMF, and the World
Trade Organization. It presents a strong counter to ill informed critics who claim those
who protest corporate globalization have no analysis and offer no alternatives.

The whole idea of displacing the suicide economy with a system of local living
economies would seem hopelessly naïve, except for the fact that millions of for- and not-
for-profit enterprises and public initiatives around the world are already aligned with the
values and organizational principles of living economies. They include local independent
businesses of all sorts from bookstores to bakeries, land trusts, local organic farms,
farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture initiatives, restaurants specializing in
locally grown organic produce, community banks, local currencies, buy-local campaigns,
suppliers of fair-traded coffee, independent media, and many more. Indeed, independent,
human-scale businesses are by far the majority of all businesses, provide most jobs,
create nearly all new jobs, and are the source of most innovation.

The challenge is to wean ourselves away from our dependent relationships with the
suicide economy and facilitate the development of business to business relationships with
one another to create the webs of relationships of a new system of local living economies.

For those who want to facilitate the emergence of local living economies it is helpful to
work by clusters of related businesses. Start with a few simple questions. What do local
people and businesses regularly buy that is or could be supplied locally by socially and
environmentally responsible independent enterprises? Which existing local businesses are
trying to practice living economy values? In what sectors are they clustered? Are there
collaborative efforts aligned with living economy values already underway to bring these
businesses together? The answers will point to promising opportunities.

Food is often a logical place to start. Everyone needs and cares about food, and food can
be grown almost everywhere, is freshest and most wholesome when local, and is our
most intimate connection to the land. In many communities, a farmers’ market or a
restaurant serving locally produced organic foods provides a focal point for organizing.

In some communities, clusters of businesses devoted to energy conservation,
environmental construction, and the local production of solar, wind, and mini-hydro
power are forming living economy webs devoted to advancing local energy

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independence. There are many more examples relating to forestry, media, health care,
materials recovery, finance and others.

There is much work and much work ahead to resolve key issues. For example, what is
required to keep a human-scale local business both local and human-scale? Successful
businesses tend to grow. We have a whole series of examples of businesses that have
been icons of the socially responsible business community that have gone public to
finance expansion and then ultimately been bought out by transnational corporations. Ben
and Jerry's was bought out in a hostile take over by Unilever. Odwalla was bought by
Coca Cola. Cascadia Farms was bought by General Mills and Stonyfield Yogurt by
Dannon. In some cases the founders of the acquired businesses have taken the public
position that this means they will be infecting the acquiring business with their social
values. The reality is that they are simply helping the predator corporation green its
image while taking yet another model of a different way of doing business off the field of

There are models for keeping businesses small and strong while at the same time
spreading a good idea to many communities. For example, Judy Wicks invites those
interested in starting cafes similar to the White Dog in other communities to come learn
the business from her and then create their own business. Such business might then join
together in a cooperatively owned alliance that offers branding, marketing, and other
support services to its member businesses.

Finance is a critical issue as we get serious about creating and sustaining living economy
enterprises. It is difficult to obtain bank and equity financing for businesses that intend to
stay local and human-scale. How do we solve that problem? What about exit strategies?
Every business owner eventually reaches a time when they want to get their money out of
their business so they can retire.

Of course all along the way as we work to create a new economy based on living system
principles, we must continue with initiatives aimed at limiting the power and legitimacy
of publicly-traded, limited-liability corporations through consumer boycotts, shareholder
activism, elimination of corporate personhood, redefining the corporate charter, and
ultimately breaking up large corporations and selling off their component parts to
workers, communities, or their customers. There is plenty of important work for all of us.

Look to this as a moment of creative opportunity. Corporate scandals, a faltering
economy, and stock- market declines have dealt a serious blow to the legitimacy of the
suicide economy and the corporations that dominate our lives. While the ruling elites
occupy themselves with pseudo reforms intended to restore faith in the pathological
institutions on which their power and privilege were built, the rest of us can embrace this
moment of economic failure as an historic opportunity to advance real change.

There is evidence of a profound awakening of human consciousness around the planet to
the spiritual nature of creation and to the innate human possibility to create societies that
nurture and rejoice in a love of all beings is our source of hope. This is our primary hope

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for the future. The energy thus released is flowing toward what writer and Buddhist
scholar Joanna Macy calls the “Great Turning” — the exhaustion of a dying era and the
birthing of the new.

Macy sees three dimensions to the work of bringing forth the Great Turning. The first
involves resistance, organizing holding actions like the anti-war and anti-corporate
globalization protests aimed at slowing the destruction. The second involves creating new
social and economic structures. The third is spiritual awakening. As Macy explains,

   “New coalitions and new ways of production are not enough for the Great Turning.
   They will shrivel and die unless they are rooted in deeply held values — in our sense
   of who we are, who we want to be, and how we relate to each other and the living
   body of Earth. That amounts to a shift in consciousness, which is actually happening
   now at a rapid rate. This is the third dimension of the Great Turning, and it is, at
   root, a spiritual revolution, awakening perceptions and values that are both very
   new and very ancient, linking back to rivers of ancestral wisdom.”

All humans share a desire for meaning, community, and purpose. Some find it in love,
hope, generosity, compassion, and a sense of spiritual connection to the whole of life.
Others seem to find it in fear, despair, cynicism, hatred, violence, greed, and material
indulgence. Belief that community will ultimately prevail is grounded in the premise that
for the vast majority of people a life of love, hope, generosity, compassion and spiritual
connection is more attractive than a life of ruthless competition, fear, violence, and hate
— and that it is within our individual and collective means to consciously choose the

One of the more visible manifestations of this awakening is the emergence of global civil
society, an extraordinary social organism new to human evolutionary experience that is
giving birth to a new politics of hope, love, and healing. It is the largest, most
international, and potentially powerful social movement in human history, yet it is not
identified with an individual leader. It is a mutually empowering movement in which
every one of the millions of participants is a leader in his or her own right. Rather than
mobilizing around an ideology or charismatic leader, it is converging around the
emergent values consensus articulated in the Earth Charter and similar citizen
declarations. It gains its power from the fact that it is an expression of deeply authentic
values that flow from the awakening of a new cultural and spiritual consciousness deep
within our being.

Manifesting a previously unknown human capacity to self-organize on a planetary-scale
with an unprecedented inclusiveness, respect for individual rights, freedom and diversity,
shared leadership, individual initiative, and a deep sense of responsibility for the whole of
life, global civil society is living into being a spiritually grounded, values based planetary
culture that points the way to the human possibilities that lie ahead. It manifests a human
capacity for democratic self-governance beyond anything previously known. It’s rapidly
expanding capacity for mutual learning, consensus convergence, and global coherence
suggests the qualities of an emergent planetary consciousness or brain. Millions of

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carriers of the new culture are forming local alliances to create many thousands of
cultural zones of freedom within which people are growing into being the new living
economies and living democracies of a new life-seeking, life-serving civilization. We are
only at the beginning of understanding the nature of this new social phenomenon, let
alone its full implications and potential

In the work at hand we must not only replace the global suicide economy with local
living economies, we must also replace the dead democracy of money with living
democracies of engaged citizens.

We must give substance to the essential truth that in a democracy, sovereignty resides in
the people. When politicians lead we call it dictatorship. When private economic interests
lead we call it corruption. When dictatorship merges with private economic interests
around extreme right-wing nationalism in pursuit of imperial expansion we call it
Fascism. Only when the leadership comes from “We the people” can we truly speak of

These insights have especially important implications for those of us who enjoy the
extraordinary privilege and responsibility of being American citizens. Our country has
been taken over by forces not of our choosing for ends contrary to the great ideals of
liberty and justice for all on which it was founded — founded I might note in a rebellion
against empire — and a king named George. We take justified pride in America as a
beacon of freedom and democracy to the world. We can shine that beacon bright and
clear as a source of hope and inspiration for all. Or we can expand and consolidate the
global dominion of the new American empire by military force.

American Empire or Earth Community? That choice is now very much before us.

Generations ago our forbearers rejected the institutions of monarchy in favor of the
institutions of representative democracy. The goal of political democracy was not to
create a more accountable monarchy; it was to replace the institutions of monarchy with
new institutions appropriate to democratic societies. We need a similar approach to
economic democracy. The appropriate goal is not to reform the institutions of corporate
rule. It is to replace them.

I believe the values of Earth community are universal values shared by the vast majority
of people in America and the world. If indeed that is true, our work speaks to the values
of a New American Majority — the foundation of a New American Politics of hope,
love, and healing that embodies the values of the world we seek to create.

In these turbulent and frightening times it is important to remind ourselves that we are
privileged to live at the most exciting moment in the whole of human history. For this is
the moment when we are being called by the deep forces of creation to awaken to a new

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consciousness of our own possibilities and to embrace the responsibilities that go with
our collective presence on the living jewel of life called Earth. We have the need and the
means to create a new American economy as a contribution to the larger work of creating
a true Earth community. The choice is ours. The time is now. The work starts right here
in our local communities of place. We’re the one’s we’ve been waiting for.

Dr. David C. Korten is the author of the international best-seller When Corporations Rule
the World; and The Post-Corporate World: Life after Capitalism. He chairs the board of
the Positive Futures Network, which publishes YES! A Journal of Positive Futures, and is
president of the People-Centered Development Forum.

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