I was there when we transformed the economy. Were you?
It happened 15 – 17 May 2017 in Boulder, Colorado, at the Regenerative Future Summit. The Summit featured leading thinkers in the new economy, CEOs, activists and 300 citizens who gathered to create a new narrative for a Regenerative Economy: a world that works for 100% of humanity.
Scholars who framed the concepts that now guide global sustainable business and development set the context. Bob Costanza, one of the team who established the Planetary Boundaries, teamed with John Fullerton, author of Regenerative Capitalism, and Kate Raworth, the renegade economist, whose new book, Doughnut Economics, shows how to ensure dignity and prosperity for all people.
Working groups tackled topics from transforming finance to accelerating the spread of electric car charging stations to regenerative agriculture. They set out pragmatic actions that communities and companies need to implement to create a world that works for 100% of humanity. They framed implementation strategies to transform:
Culture and Civil Society;
Business and Finance;
Consciousness and Education;
Energy and Agriculture;
Media and Politics.
The Summit announced a narrative for an economy in service to life. Based in the discipline of Humanistic Management, it tells a new story of who we are as human beings. If you’ve had an economics class, or even been around more than a few years, you’ve been told that people are basically greedy. Despite the urgings of all of the world’s great religions, “neoliberalism,” the economic narrative that now runs the world, has convinced us that “greed is good.” The sole goal of the economy and business, it says, is to generate financial wealth. The freedom of the individual (person or corporation) is the primary societal value. Markets are perfect and all of us individualistically maximizing our own desires will somehow deliver a world that works.
Except that it didn’t. Today eight men have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion humans on earth. The middle class is sinking into poverty with mothers working two jobs to support their families, while proponents of austerity cut social services to give greater tax benefits to the richest one percent. Give money to the rich, they tell us, they’re rich, they’ll invest it and we’ll all be better off. If we just let the free market sort things out, all will be well.
Except that we aren’t. The rich call themselves “job creators.” But they invest not in new companies, but in financial instruments that benefit the big banks. So in 2016 the bonuses paid to Wall St. bankers, if shared among minimum wage earners, would have doubled the minimum wage. Just the bonuses.
“Government is the problem,” say the neoliberals. “The only role for government is to maintain a strong military. Government should be small, and used only to protect individuals and their private property. Regulations (which to most of us mean the rules that protect us from shoddy workmanship, pollution and products that may harm our health) are cut wherever possible.” And people die.
The global economy rests on a knife-edge of unsustainable practices. We suffer:
· Growing income inequity and persistent poverty;
· The prospect of biophysical collapse and loss of ecosystems and climate stability;
· Loss of jobs that pay a living wage and provide dignity;
· Rising levels of anger, fear, and intolerance;
· Domination of cultural values by advertisers and marketers;
· A growing thirst for meaning and connection.
The old narrative is based on is an incomplete view of what it means to be human, assumptions that scientists now reject. Psychologists, evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and others find that most people are not greedy, rugged individualists. We seek to meet our needs, but more, people seek goodness, connection, and caring. We desire to be rewarded for meaningful contributions with a decent living. We are not mostly motivated to acquire wealth.
So for three days in May we fought back. We created a new story:
True freedom and success depend on creating a world where individuals flourish and we all prosper. Governments serve us best when they recognize our individual dignity and enhance our interconnectedness. To thrive, businesses and society must pivot toward a new purpose: shared well-being on a healthy planet.
This new narratives balances our innate entrepreneurialism and individualism with fairness and with our desire to bond with others. There is a business case for this view: purpose-driven organizations that respect dignity enjoy greater productivity. More sustainable brands and ethical investments deliver higher profitability.
But there is also a personal case: this approach delivers a higher quality of life. Science now tells us that life itself is interconnected and mutualistic, not separate, and competitive. Implementing more regenerative practices drawn from natural systems principles is a better way to achieve true freedom and a world that works for everyone.
It isn’t a left wing or right wing exercise. As conservative commentator, David Brooks put it, the future of the U.S. (and many other countries) “...is not going to be found in protecting jobs that are long gone or in catering to the fears of aging whites. There is a raging need for a movement that embraces economic dynamism, global engagement and social support — that is part Milton Friedman on economic policy, Ronald Reagan on foreign policy and Franklin Roosevelt on welfare policy.”
The people who met in May reached consensus on ways to meet the challenges facing us. They embraced the value of market mechanisms and cooperative action for shared prosperity. They distilled the best of both approaches to create a new narrative of an economy in service to life.
I was there.
And you can be, too. Because this event hasn’t happened yet. You haven’t missed it.