Sunday, February 01, 2009

America, It's Time To Say Goodbye To Wall Street: An Interview With Author David Korten

“We face a monumental economic challenge that goes far beyond anything being discussed in the U.S. Congress or the corporate press. The hardships imposed by temporarily frozen credit markets pale in comparison to what lies ahead.
Even the significant funds that the Obama administration is committed to spending on economic stimulus will do nothing to address the deeper structural causes of our threefold financial, social, and environmental crisis. On the positive side, the financial crisis has put to rest the myths that our economic institutions are sound and that markets work best when deregulated. This creates an opportune moment to open a national conversation about what we can and must do to create an economic system that can for work for all people for all time.”
Internationally renowned social scientist and historian David Korten wrote those words in the introduction of his new book, Agenda For A New Economy: From Phantom Wealth To Real Wealth, scheduled to be released by Berrett-Kohler Publishers tomorrow.

Some of you may have previously read Korten’s 1995 international bestseller, When Corporations Rule the World. Longtime readers/listeners of the Intrepid Liberal Journal may also recall my August 2007 podcast interview with Korten about his book, The Great Turning: From Empire To Earth Community. You can learn more about Korten’s background by clicking here and reading the introductory text to that podcast.

Korten’s current book is organized in four parts: Part I, The Case for a New Economy; Part II, The Case for Eliminating Wall Street; Part III, Agenda for a Real Wealth Economy and Part IV, Change the Story, Change the Future. Essentially, Korten divides the economy into “Wall Street” and “Main Street.” The first half of Korten’s book is dedicated to indicting Wall Street for generating “phantom wealth” at the expense of society’s quality of life. In the second half, Korten promotes twelve concepts to empower a “Main Street” economy that facilitates the exchange of tangible goods and services among citizens living within their means.

His diagnosis and prescriptions are jarring. Korten postulates that Main Street is far closer to the original vision of Adam Smith while Wall Street capitalism is the antithesis of a free market economy. Reform-minded liberals, who believe we can work within America’s established financial credit markets banking system and stabilize our economy with band-aids and bailouts, will likely be just as opposed to his book as Wall Street apologists. Conservatives will likely dismiss Korten’s solutions because he believes in government regulation to ensure that businesses and citizens behave within agreed upon social norms.

As Korten sees it, corporations in a Wall Street economy are given incentives to destroy the planet’s environment and inflate its financial statements by taking a wrecking ball to the middle class. In a true market economy, business entities that inflict harm on the environment and their community’s overall quality of life could not survive. Hence, Korten writes that under a Wall Street economy, corporations,
“If it were a real person, it would fit the clinical profile of a sociopath.”
Sadly, in American society, sociopathic behavior was rewarded as the proper spoils of capitalism. Hence, one of Korten’s twelve concepts to empower a Main Street economy is to “Reclaim the corporate charter” so that the public has a means of ensuring accountability and social responsibility.

The future that Korten envisions is a community ethos in which citizens and businesses have a stake in the health, infrastructure and overall quality of life in their local community as well as the world at large.

Vicki Robin, coauthor of Your Money or Your Life and cofounder of Conversation Cafes issued the following praise for Korten’s book:
“Once again David Korten has provided us with a clear understanding of why the old economy is driving us and nature to ruin - and a framework for transforming it. Especially in this time of economic meltdown it's crucial for caring people everywhere to get that patching the tires of a vehicle that's going over a cliff is neither sane nor acceptable. The financial crisis is a healing crisis and Korten gives us prescriptions that could actually give us a thriving and just economy that works for people and the planet. I hope every reader feels, as I have, a sense of relief at hearing the truth and a renewed passion for civic engagement, now knowing what direction we need to steer our ship."
Korten agreed to a podcast interview with me over the telephone yesterday afternoon about his latest book, why he believes the Wall Street economy is irredeemable and his solutions for the future. Our conversation was approximately forty-two minutes. Please refer to the flash media player below.



Either searching for “Intrepid Liberal Journal” or “Robert Ellman” can also access this interview at no cost via the Itunes Store.

5 comments:

jimbojames said...

I like what David Korten says about eliminating the sociopathic mentality of corporations, but I will do him one better. The fact is that we must dis-empower corporations. They must not be treated as 'people.' They must not be allowed to lobby, or spend kabillions on executive salaries and even advertising. Uh oh, I just took a shot at Madison Avenue, who would like to think of themselves as Main Street, but that is another issue entirely. The corporations simply should not have power. Certainly, not as much as people do under the US Constitution.

Brion Emde said...

Yes, my feeling about corporations-as-people is very simple: People die.

So, if a particular corporation wants to be a "person", every day some random number generator cranks and a number is drawn. If their "number comes up", that corporation has died and must be liquidated and re-formed.

That's more like a person than the current undead (vampire?, zombie?) so-called persons that the corporations are currently existing as.

Or, they can be non-persons and not have the rights of people.

jimbojames said...

I like what David Korten says about eliminating the sociopathic mentality of corporations, but I will do him one better. The fact is that we must dis-empower corporations. They must not be treated as 'people.' They must not be allowed to lobby, or possibly even advertise. Uh oh, I just hurt Madison Avenue's bottom line, but that is another issue entirely. The corporations should not have power. Certainly, not as much as people under the US Constitution.

Len Hart said...

From your article:

Main Street is far closer to the original vision of Adam Smith while Wall Street capitalism is the antithesis of a free market economy.

I have believed that to be true even before I took economics. Wall Street is a 'virtual' economy which would be harmless enough if the effects had been confined to an arcade game.

Alas --the promise of quick riches and quick stock profits are motive enough for the financial 'establishment' to seek out for 'investment' the military contractors and the quick fixes they represent.

christian_left said...

Sounds like a good book. Korten's helpful distinction between "capitalism" and the "market economy" echoes Fernand Braudel, the famous French historian of the Annales school, who wrote in his three-volume history of the modern economy, Civilization and Capitalism, about the counter-intuitive (to the ears of our political culture) distinction.