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Depart Reevaluating Economics

Transition to Regenerative Economies

A regen­er­a­tive econ­o­my con­sti­tutes a bold move in the direc­tion of estab­lish­ing a health­i­er soci­ety.

“It’s all a ques­tion of sto­ry. We are in trou­ble now because we don’t have a good sto­ry. We are in between sto­ries. The old sto­ry, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effec­tive.” — Thomas Berry

Space­ship Earth geo­des­ic sphere, Ben­jamin Suter, 2018

Eco-the­olo­gian Thomas Berry devel­oped a world­view that sees humans inte­grat­ed with­in a cos­mic cel­e­bra­tion of the uni­verse. With a depar­ture from an old world­view that places humans as sep­a­rate from nature, we can begin to real­ize how the uni­ver­sal prin­ci­ples the cos­mos employs to build sta­ble, healthy, and sus­tain­able sys­tems can, and must, be used as a mod­el for eco­nom­ic-sys­tem design. The idea that an eco­nom­ic sys­tem can work in har­mo­ny with our solar sys­tem is as far out as it is close to home.

Berry’s work has been brought into eco­nom­ic dis­cus­sion by John Fuller­ton, founder and pres­i­dent of Cap­i­tal Insti­tute. Fullerton’s orga­ni­za­tion is self-described as “a col­lab­o­ra­tive work­ing to illu­mi­nate how our econ­o­my and finan­cial sys­tem can oper­ate to pro­mote a more just, regen­er­a­tive, and thus sus­tain­able way of liv­ing on this earth.”5 Com­pa­nies that make invest­ments in mod­els of coop­er­a­tion and col­lec­tive uplift can help to do their part to close the gaps in wealth dis­par­i­ty. This kind of cor­rec­tive mea­sure will then gen­er­ate fur­ther ben­e­fits for improved eco­nom­ic dynam­ics.

A regen­er­a­tive econ­o­my hon­ors its place among peo­ple and envi­ron­ment. It oper­ates to nur­ture healthy, sta­ble com­mu­ni­ties, and biore­gions. Shar­ing his ideas in Fast Com­pa­ny, Fuller­ton explains the eight ele­ments to what he calls Regen­er­a­tive Cap­i­tal­ism.6

Light instal­la­tion in a garage, Mar­ius Masalar, 2016

To para­phrase: Right Rela­tion­ship speaks to respect­ing how the econ­o­my is embed­ded in human cul­ture and the ecos­phere, and that each of these rela­tion­ships must be nur­tured. Entre­pre­neuri­al­ism, as a prin­ci­ple for regen­er­a­tive eco­nom­ics, draws on the innate abil­i­ty of human beings to inno­vate and “cre­ate anew” across all sec­tors of soci­ety. Wealth Viewed Holis­ti­cal­ly defines true wealth in terms of the well-being of the “whole” which can be achieved through har­mo­niz­ing the mul­ti­ple forms of capital—social, eco­log­i­cal, man­u­fac­tured, and finan­cial. Shared Pros­per­i­ty refers to how wealth can be equi­tably dis­trib­uted in the con­text of an expand­ed view of true wealth. Real Econ­o­my Cir­cu­lar­i­ty pro­motes a ver­sion of the econ­o­my that con­tin­u­al­ly strives to rad­i­cal­ly min­i­mize the amount of ener­gy, mate­r­i­al, and resources used through­out all phas­es of the pro­duc­tion cycle. “Edge Effect” Abun­dance explains how cre­ative and diverse col­lab­o­ra­tions increase the pos­si­bil­i­ty for val­ue-adding wealth to emerge through rela­tion­ships and exchanges. Resilien­cy refers to how a whole system’s adapt­abil­i­ty to change devel­ops over long-term learn­ing and is val­ued more high­ly than our cur­rent brit­tle con­cen­tra­tions of pow­er. And last­ly, a regen­er­a­tive econ­o­my Hon­ors Place in its abil­i­ty to nur­ture healthy, sta­ble com­mu­ni­ties and biore­gions in phys­i­cal and vir­tu­al space.7

Alter­na­tive eco­nom­ic pri­or­i­ties guid­ing future invest­ment can be found in B Cor­po­ra­tions, the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion title for com­pa­nies that keep eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions in mind—in terms of qual­i­ty of life for work­ers, impact on local com­mu­ni­ties, and the pro­tec­tion of the environment—while still main­tain­ing their busi­ness. This com­mu­ni­ty of com­pa­nies observes strict guide­lines that ensure fair and just busi­ness prac­tices, and that strive to bal­ance social respon­si­bil­i­ty and trans­paren­cy with the demands of their share­hold­ers. The core mes­sage of the B Corp Dec­la­ra­tion of Inter­de­pen­dence is:

“That we must be the change we seek in the world. That all busi­ness ought to be con­duct­ed as if peo­ple and place mat­tered. That, through their prod­ucts, prac­tices, and prof­its, busi­ness­es should aspire to do no harm and ben­e­fit all. To do so requires that we act with the under­stand­ing that we are each depen­dent upon anoth­er and thus respon­si­ble for each oth­er and future gen­er­a­tions.”8

Accord­ing to John Fuller­ton, oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties to imbue cap­i­tal with eth­i­cal deci­sion-mak­ing appear through social finance, impact invest­ing, local-liv­ing economies, and crowd-fund­ing, as well as a num­ber of ini­tia­tives like B Team and Break­through Cap­i­tal­ism.

The rea­son for draw­ing atten­tion to the prin­ci­ples of these com­pa­nies is to illus­trate how the depar­ture from our cur­rent eco­nom­ic sys­tem is already under­way. The empha­sis on change reminds us that the dif­fi­cul­ty with embrac­ing change has to do with how deeply root­ed sys­temic issues become over time. The more time and rep­e­ti­tion our species spends on con­tin­u­ing pat­terns of pro­duc­tion that have cat­a­stroph­ic con­se­quences, the more intran­si­gent peo­ple con­tribut­ing to these prob­lems can feel, despite what­ev­er evi­dence sug­gests the need to shift course. Change doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly ever get eas­i­er, though. It remains its own unique and evolv­ing chal­lenge. Yet, as the peo­ple exchang­ing what we val­ue with­in eco­nom­ic sys­tems, we can cer­tain­ly voice our pri­or­i­ties to a much more mean­ing­ful effect.

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Depart Reevaluating Economics

Mystic Insights for the Marketplace

The way our cur­rent eco­nom­ic sys­tem is designed does not attract the health­i­est peo­ple. Ego-dri­ven com­pe­ti­tion is ready to be replaced. Sys­temic coop­er­a­tion will reaf­firm con­nec­tions between peo­ple, ecol­o­gy, and econ­o­my.

“Thai Bud­dhist Shrine, Super Brand Mall”, Liz Hin­g­ley, 2016

In Feb­ru­ary 2019, John Fuller­ton spoke in record­ed con­ver­sa­tions with Thomas Hübl about eco­nom­ic prin­ci­ples that can sys­tem­i­cal­ly change how cap­i­tal is man­aged and dis­trib­uted. Hübl describes him­self as a “mys­tic in the mar­ket­place”, whose “teach­ings aim to guide prac­ti­tion­ers toward a deep­er lev­el of self-awareness—from an ego-cen­tered world­view to a life of authen­tic expres­sion, ser­vice, and align­ment.”9 Respon­si­bil­i­ty, as Hüble says, can be described in terms of an abil­i­ty to respond where atten­tion is need­ed most.

Hübl points out how the super-intel­li­gence of the human sys­tem evolved over hun­dreds of thou­sands of years. He explains how the future is call­ing us while the past has a grav­i­ty that can hold us down. The path for­ward is paved with excite­ment, inno­va­tion, and eros. The fire of change is cur­rent­ly look­ing for oxy­gen to flour­ish. We want to aspire to a future built to exceed the lim­i­ta­tions before us now. But if we fail to rec­og­nize how deeply engrained the past is with­in us, we may encounter an invis­i­ble break­ing point and we will not be able to progress onward. How­ev­er, if we can gain the skills to under­stand the trau­ma with­in us as a les­son from the past, then we have all the nec­es­sary ele­ments to move for­ward unen­cum­bered.

Work­ing on one’s con­scious­ness offers a path­way into deal­ing with the prob­lems that afflict human­i­ty. Humans run the sys­tems like econ­o­my that we have invent­ed. And, when humans in lead­er­ship posi­tions feel stressed, that stress enters those influ­en­tial sys­tems by way of bad deci­sions, affect­ing large num­bers of com­mu­ni­ties and envi­ron­ments.

In response, Hübl pro­pos­es that each one of us estab­lish con­tact to one’s body. He believes it is our body that often holds many of the answers we seek. Healthy self-reg­u­la­tion occurs when we are relaxed enough to rec­og­nize what’s hap­pen­ing with­in us and why we’re feel­ing what we feel. That con­tact with our inner being brings us clos­er to bal­ance and bet­ter equips us to break pat­terns that do not serve us.

The basis for life is a healthy fam­i­ly sys­tem. If that fam­i­ly is dys­func­tion­al, then it’ll affect how we act in groups as well as com­pa­nies. If we don’t know who we are and don’t feel right in rela­tion to our­selves, that will affect every­thing else. Neg­a­tive cor­po­rate cul­tures are rife with infight­ing, dis­trust, and mis­in­for­ma­tion. These qual­i­ties do not lead to wise deci­sion-mak­ing. For the symp­toms of greedy self-inter­est to yield to the good of the true major­i­ty of a com­pa­ny or a col­lec­tive, more peo­ple need to be involved in finan­cial deci­sions. When only a small num­ber of elite indi­vid­u­als con­trol a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of cap­i­tal, they are nat­u­ral­ly more prone to engag­ing in risky deci­sion-mak­ing. A sure­fire path for less knowl­edgable deci­sions is one built upon lim­it­ed per­spec­tives. We believe that peo­ple who pos­sess intu­itive, car­ing inter­ests in the envi­ron­ment and their fel­low human, will work well togeth­er to redi­rect cap­i­tal toward our future econ­o­my.

The more we fos­ter car­ing and embrace change, the bet­ter we can main­tain our cap­i­tal mar­kets. But care must come from a place of per­son­al invest­ment. Think of com­mu­ni­ty trash pick­up events at the beach. Think how effec­tive it is when every­one par­tic­i­pates to restore a space toward its true beau­ty.

The oppor­tu­ni­ty for wide­spread par­tic­i­pa­tion in a trans­for­ma­tion of the glob­al econ­o­my is cur­rent­ly under­mined by wealth dis­par­i­ty. Accord­ing to a report by Oxfam (a glob­al orga­ni­za­tion aimed at end­ing pover­ty), the total of all wealth owned by the poor­est 3.6 bil­lion peo­ple is equiv­a­lent to what the rich­est 8 peo­ple con­trol.10 This dis­par­i­ty is such a clear exam­ple of eco­nom­ic mis­align­ment. The wealth is clog­ging up at the top. Clogs do not end well. Shit spills over. To ease this unpleas­ant effect of any clog, cap­i­tal of all kind needs to be redis­trib­uted. Wealth needs to be cir­cu­lat­ed even­ly, much like oxy­gen and nutri­ents need to cir­cu­late even­ly for a healthy body to be at its best.

“The cir­cu­la­tion of mon­ey and infor­ma­tion and the effi­cient use and reuse of mate­ri­als are par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal to indi­vid­u­als, busi­ness­es, and economies reach­ing their regen­er­a­tive poten­tial.” — From the Cap­i­tal Insti­tute White Paper11

The Cap­i­tal Insti­tute calls this cru­cial aspect of a regen­er­a­tive econ­o­my Robust Cir­cu­la­tion. Accord­ing to this notion, when all the basic needs of human­i­ty are met, then every­one is empow­ered to par­tic­i­pate in the glob­al econ­o­my. The more that cap­i­tal becomes con­scious­ly redis­trib­uted, the more that all peo­ple can con­tribute to the ongo­ing health of that entire species-wide sys­tem.

“Star­dust Par­ti­cle”, Ola­fur Elias­son, 2014

By design­ing eco­nom­ic prin­ci­ples with respect to prin­ci­ples of bio­log­i­cal health, we gain the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reshape our eco­nom­ic rela­tion­ships in a ben­e­fi­cial man­ner. This shift in eco­nom­ic atti­tude can occur if we dis­tance our­selves from ego and redi­rect our focus toward a more holis­tic, future-ori­ent­ed per­spec­tive. To bring about more trans­for­ma­tive eco­nom­ic poten­tial, the idea of mys­ti­cism must con­tin­ue to gain ground in the mar­ket­place.

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Depart Reevaluating Economics

Depart from Reductivism

Humans are so much more than the data we gen­er­ate. Claim free­dom from being reduced to mere prod­ucts of data-col­lect­ing cor­po­ra­tions.

The rich trail of data behind every dig­i­tal inter­ac­tion and page impres­sion is exploit­ed at every con­ceiv­able cor­po­rate turn. In The Age of Sur­veil­lance Cap­i­tal­ism, author and Har­vard Busi­ness School pro­fes­sor Shoshana Zuboff explains what’s at stake for the future of human auton­o­my.12 Com­pa­nies effec­tive­ly mis­di­rect people’s use of their prod­ucts and ser­vices to look as though they increase options and free­doms. Yet, the real­i­ty is that our inter­ac­tions serve to sup­ply those same com­pa­nies with the raw mate­ri­als for them to exploit in order to sell prod­ucts and ser­vices back to us in a vicious cycle.

So where are the pro­tec­tions against this preda­to­ry prac­tice? It’s not that peo­ple weren’t warned. Instead, the prob­lem is noth­ing was done with that infor­ma­tion about how atten­tion was being manip­u­lat­ed.

Zuboff ref­er­ences a Unit­ed States Sen­ate com­mit­tee hear­ing in 1977 on the effects of behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tion (a term that describes the abil­i­ty for one’s inter­nal deci­sion-mak­ing to be con­trolled via select­ed behav­ioral pat­terns), stud­ied under con­ceal­ment, by the CIA in the 1950s and ‘60s. One of the big take­aways from this hear­ing was the fact that behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tion posed a seri­ous threat to democ­ra­cy and human auton­o­my. How­ev­er, despite this knowl­edge no pol­i­cy was made to pre­vent behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tion against unsus­pect­ing cit­i­zens. And so, when we arrive at the onslaught of behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tion that now occurs online, most of us are caught unaware. This sets the stage for, not only elec­tion inter­fer­ence, but a whole host of small­er, tar­get­ed efforts to influ­ence our indi­vid­ual choic­es.

“Occu­py the Amend­ment”, Jeff Hem­s­ley, 2014

Tech­nol­o­gy con­tin­ues to pro­vide avenues for manip­u­la­tion. As long as enti­ties like GAFA (Google, Apple, Face­book, Ama­zon), main­tain their iron grip on con­sumer infor­ma­tion, this data will be used to fur­ther shape our rou­tines and influ­ence our deci­sions. It’s imper­a­tive we find ways to pre­serve unmedi­at­ed spaces in which we can inter­act with­out hid­den influ­ence. Zuboff explains how “every ser­vice that has ‘per­son­al­ized’ in front of it is noth­ing but sup­ply chain inter­faces for the flow of raw mate­r­i­al to be trans­lat­ed into data, to be fash­ioned into pre­dic­tion prod­ucts, to be sold in behav­ioral futures mar­kets so that we end up fund­ing our own dom­i­na­tion. If we’re gonna fix this, no mat­ter how much we feel like we need this stuff, we’ve got to get to a place where we are will­ing to say no.”13 Resis­tance and rejec­tion are our best course of action in order to reshape the mar­ket­place into one that is more sup­port­ive of human auton­o­my and demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues.

We must remain vig­i­lant in defend­ing our right to exist with­out the con­trol of self-inter­est­ed cor­po­ra­tions claim­ing to be mak­ing the world a bet­ter place. We must con­tin­u­al­ly claim author­i­ty of our own atten­tion. The integri­ty of all our expe­ri­ences depends on this vital con­di­tion.

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