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David Korten (born 1937) is an American author, former professor of the Harvard Business School, political activist and prominent critic of corporate globalization.
- Irrespective of where we fall on the political spectrum, a great many of us don’t trust our own political system. Nor should we: It represents power that is captive to interests quite at odds with our own.
The biggest share of U.S. military expenditure goes to preparing for war with another world power—specifically, Russia or China... Both have much to lose and nothing to gain from starting a 20th century-style conventional war with the United States... They are aware such a war would have devastating consequences for all—worst of all if it involved nuclear weapons. Our problem is not that we and our allies are spending too little on war, but that we are spending far too much.... When two corrupt parties control the political system, debating which is the more corrupt simply diverts attention away from addressing the source of the corruption. In this case, the source is extreme inequality combined with a system of law that allows for a virtually unlimited concentration of corporate power...The corporate establishment has been winning this battle for decades by keeping us divided between those who place the blame on business and the market and those who place the blame on government... United we stand, divided we fall is a rallying cry for our time. We must do this together.
- For all the advances of modern societies, traditional tribal communities may have better served the essential needs of people for emotional support, nutrition, and exercise than does contemporary society. We don’t need to return to the ways of our ancestors, but we do need to learn from them.
What are those lessons? Instead of building more single-family dwellings, we should build multigenerational, multifamily homes in vibrant eco-villages that share facilities, tools, labor and resources. Instead of designing cities for self-driving, single-person cars, design them for walking, biking, and public transportation with lots of places for people to meet and greet, mix and mingle. Instead of growing an economy dependent on global movements of money, people, and goods to maximize profit uncoupled from place, create economies that bring people together to maximize health and well-being in the place where they live.
- How the Economy Affects Our Mental Health, Yes Magazine, (18 September 2018)
- Around the world, people are realizing the current path will lead only to disaster, and they’re beginning to ask the hard questions about what to do next.
We humans now have the knowledge and technology to move beyond the violence, fear, and daily struggle for survival that besets the lives of so many. We have the capacity to secure a world of peace, beauty, diversity, creativity, material sufficiency, and spiritual abundance for all people, and have all that in balance with Earth’s ecosystems. Achieving such a goal requires that we make this vision our common goal and transform our cultural narratives, institutions, and infrastructure accordingly—a steep but imperative challenge. Success requires leadership from all levels of society, including from people everywhere working to grow community-facilitating cultural values, institutions, and infrastructure in the places where they live.
- Why I Have Hope in the Face of Human Extinction (1 November 2018)
- Success requires leadership from all levels of society, including from people everywhere working to grow community-facilitating cultural values, institutions, and infrastructure in the places where they live. Together we need to achieve four conditions critical to the transition...
1. Earth balance. We must reduce humanity’s total environmental burden to bring us into sustainable balance with the capacity of Earth’s generative systems. This requires immediate action... 2. Equitable distribution. We must achieve an equitable distribution of wealth and power. Immediate action is required to stop the further concentration of wealth while advancing equitable cooperative ownership... 3. Life-serving technologies. We must advance technologies that strengthen rather than impair life’s regenerative capacity. Immediate action is required to roll back use of harmful technologies, including the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture and our dependence on carbon and nuclear energy.... 4. Living communities. We must rebuild relationships of people to one another and to nature to create strong, healthy, deeply democratic living communities. This will involve reducing dependence on money while encouraging sharing and mutual self-help in the places where people live... It is time to unite as families, communities, and nations in our common identity as members of an ecological civilization, with a commitment to creating the possible world of our shared human dream.
- Why I Have Hope in the Face of Human Extinction, Yes Magazine, (1 November 2018)
- This month the Green New Deal was introduced in the U.S. Congress with much fanfare, and its opponents quickly mobilized. Opponents, both on the right and in the middle, immediately attacked the plan as unaffordable far-left socialist overreach, clearly hoping that the socialist label would scare people away. I’m sensing that for most of today’s electorate, the threat posed by wildfires, floods, mass extinctions, rising sea levels, and a shifting polar vortex is far more frightening than simplistic political labels. That’s especially the case for labels like “socialism” and “communism,” which date from a time that for many is ancient history. Our living spaceship is dying by our hand, and there are no escape capsules, and no place to go if there were. So people, especially the young, are mobilizing to act and to demand action from both government and business.., In the United States, the middle class is disappearing as the division between rich and poor becomes ever more extreme. It is now evident to most people that we face a desperate need for deep change. There may be no place in a viable human future for profit-driven global megacorporations.
When Corporations Rule the World (1995, 2015)
- In its literal meaning, capitalism means rule by capital, more specifically rule by the owners of capital for their exclusive private benefit.
- p. 20
- There are more idealized definitions of capitalism, but I refer to the real capitalism—the kind we are living with. This capitalism is grounded in an elitist ideology of individualism supported by an institutional system devoted to the concentration and abuse of wealth for the exclusive benefit of a private ruling oligarchy. It is the capitalism that claims to champion democracy and markets even as it destroys them. The capitalism that claims to bring universal prosperity even while denying it to all but its most favored servants. The capitalism that destroys life to make money and organizes as a suicide economy that destroys the foundations of its own existence—and ours.
- pp. 20-21
- Television has already been wholly colonized by corporate interests, which are now laying claim to our schools. The goal is not simply to sell products and strengthen the consumer culture. It is also to create a political culture that equates the corporate interest with the human interest in the public mind.
- p. 149
Corporate Pathology and the Suicide Economy (2010)
- The defining agenda of the Era of Empire has centered on unifying the planet’s territory and resources under centralized institutions with the power to impose order in the name of peace and prosperity... Far from bringing universal peace and prosperity, however, the dark side of their legacy is a world of enormous inequality, violence, repression, and environmental destruction.
- Those who sit atop the resulting pyramids of power all too often use their favored positions for personal gain at expense of those less favored. It was true for the kings and emperors who ruled by divine right. It is true for many of the political elites who hold power by electoral mandate. And it is true for many corporate CEOs, as the Enron scandal revealed so dramatically.
- Over the past twenty years there has been an enormous shift in power from the institutions of the state to global corporations with economic resources far greater than those of most states and with a global reach that places them beyond accountability to any persons, place, or public institution. Through the processes of corporate globalization humanity is moving rapidly toward Empire’s ultimate goal of unifying the world’s people under a unified system of governance.
- As power begets power and competition becomes more ruthless, the appetites of the wealthy become more extravagant and the excluded become more desperate. The growing gap erodes trust and institutional legitimacy, which in turn compels an ever greater diversion of resources to security measures — from car alarms and security guards to police and prisons.
The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism (2012)
- In the 1980s capitalism triumphed over communism. In the 1990s it triumphed over democracy and the market economy.
- For those of us who grew up believing that capitalism is the foundation of democracy and market freedom, it has been a rude awakening to realize that under capitalism, democracy is for sale to the highest bidder and the market is centrally planned by global megacorporations larger than most states.
The New Economy: A Living Earth System Model (2016)
- The current system failure is thousands of years in the making and touches on every aspect of society. There is no magic-bullet solution. Nor will marginal adjustments to the current self-destructive system suffice. We must reinvent our culture and our institutions from the bottom up. The observations I share in this report are the product of my life experience, much of it living and working in Africa, Asia, and Latin America...
- The goal is a new economic system that supports three essential and inseparable outcomes: Ecosystem Health and Balance: It must value life above all else and support individuals and communities in growing the generative capacity of Earth’s biosphere, while meeting human needs within the limits of that capacity.
Shared Prosperity: It must support the sharing of resources to meet the essential needs of all people by securing their right of access to a means of living.
Living Democracy: It must give each person an active voice in the decisions that affect his or her life, and support the just and nonviolent resolution of conflict through processes that are both inclusive and transparent.
- I call the next system economy a “living” economy, because its underlying design principles come from our understanding of healthy living systems.
- By contrast, the system now in place: Counts Ecosystem Destruction for Financial Gain as Wealth Creation: It values life only for its market value. And counts as wealth creation the depletion of Earth’s capacity to support life in order to grow the financial assets of those who already have financial assets far beyond any need. This assures both the systematic depletion of Earth’s capacity to support life and increasing control of what remains of that capacity by a tiny oligarchy.... Encourages and celebrates ever more excessive and wasteful consumption by the few while reducing the many to increasing desperation and exclusion from access to the essential means of living—including clean air to breath, water to drink, fertile soils to grow food, and a place to live....Limits Meaningful Participation in Rule Making to the Winners in a Rigged Game: A corporate dominated, money-driven political system puts the power to make the rules in the hands of those who profit from environmental destruction and economic exclusion, thus creating a positive feedback loop reinforcing political choices that assure ultimate system collapse.
- I call this system a “suicide” economy because it is systematically destroys the foundations of its own—and our—existence. Also known as capitalism, it is dedicated to what Pope Francis calls the idolatry or worship of money. The terminally destructive outcomes of the suicide economy are not acts of nature. They are the result of human choices. We can make different choices, but to do so we must understand where we went wrong and why.
- Establishment interests are gaming the political system. They support Democrats who blame corporations for our problems. They support Republicans who blame government. We the people line up on one side or the other and are so focused on the opposing party as villain, we fail to notice the extent to which corporate power and government power are unified in the cause of corporate rule, through the oligarchy’s control of money, markets, politics, and media.
- The challenge at hand goes far beyond making some adjustments to our economic policies and institutions. We must take the step to a new human civilization defined by a mature relationship to one another and Earth’s community of life.
- Modern humans appeared some 200,000 years ago. Human activity began to change Earth’s carbon balance roughly 200 years ago. Then, just a bit over twenty years ago, the World Wide Web created the potential for humans to communicate, think, and act as a planetary species with a collective awareness of the global impact of our presence.
- Time is rapidly running out... Given what is at stake, we must assume we still have time and act with the speed and determination we might muster if Earth were under attack by alien invaders. In the words of Pogo, the comic strip character, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
- Fortunately, the emergence of a new consciousness and the new organizing structures required to actualize our potential for responsible planetary citizenship is already underway. Our mutual awakening is unfolding at an accelerating pace as collapse of critical Earth systems unfolds.
- The stronger the relationships of community, the less the need for the formal control structures of government. A primary need of the moment, however, is to use the power of government to curb the power of corporations, clean up the messes that corporations create, and facilitate natural processes of community building. Government is currently failing at all three for an evident reason. Global corporations control the political process and thereby control government.