An Ecological, Economic, and Social Revolution

Copyright © 2004 John E. Ikerd




Introduction.  An Awakening         

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Our common sense tells us that much of today’s conventional wisdom is just plain wrong.  Logic and reason cannot resolve this conflict.  Without purpose and meaning, a person has nothing to guide life’s decisions, and logic and reason cannot reveal life’s purpose and meaning.  Today’s mechanistic approach to science and understanding quite simply is incapable of addressing the critical social and ecological problems of today.  All of these concerns cry out for better ways of thinking.  Thomas Paine’s call for a return to common sense of two-hundred years ago rings even more true today.  It’s time for a fundamental change in thinking – in economics, in politics, and in our personal lives.


SECTION I – The Villain


Chapter 1. The Seductiveness of Selfishness, the Glory of Greed          

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Americans today are vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation, simply because they lack an understanding of the fundamental principles of contemporary economic thinking.  With a basic understanding of supply, demand, and the role of markets in rewarding productivity and rationing consumption, anyone can effectively challenge the fallacies of today’s “free market” economics.  A brief review of the past half-century of American economic history indicates the social and ecological vulnerability of the American economy as we enter the twenty-first century.  It is deeply rooted in the exploitation of both natural and human resources, and thus, quite simply is not sustainable.  Our common sense tells us there is something wrong with our current “glorification of greed” and “worship of prosperity,” if we will but listen.


Chapter 2. The Industrialization of America

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Americans are vulnerable to all sorts of corporate propaganda, simply because they don’t understand the fundamental concepts of industrialization.  Industrialization is not about manufacturing; it is about specialization, standardization, and consolidation of control – in factories, farms, governments, schools, everywhere all across America.  The economic history of industrialization spans the industrial revolution of the late 1700s, the great corporate trusts and Progressive Movement of the late 1800s, to the emergence of a new post-industrial, knowledge-based era in the late 1900s.  Our common sense tells us that living organizations – including economies and societies – cannot be run like factories without negative ecological and social consequences, if we will but listen. 


Chapter 3. From Capitalism to Corporatism

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Americans are vulnerable to all sorts of exploitation, simply because they don’t have a basic understanding of free market economics – the dominant economic philosophy of today.  Adam Smith’s 200+ year old observations in his landmark book, Wealth of Nations, provide the foundation for the current beliefs of free market advocates.  Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of free markets, which transformed individual greed into societal good, has been mangled in the machinery of industrialization.  The markets no longer work, at least not for the good of society.  Today’s macroeconomic thinking, emerging from the Great Depression in the form of Keynesian Economics, has evolved into contemporary monetary and economic policy.  But, microeconomic policy does nothing to ensure a socially responsible economy – it’s all about promoting economic growth.  Our common sense should tell us that today’s economics is about wealth, not well-being, if we would but listen.   


Chapter 4. The Corporate Society

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America today has neither a capitalistic economy nor a democratic society; both have merged into an American form of corporatism.  Corporatism, the separation of ownership from responsibility and decision-making, is the final natural evolutionary stage of industrialization.  Corporatization now dominates nearly all aspects of American life – including all branches of government, health care, research and education, communication, and politics.  Our common sense tells us corporatism is neither capitalistic nor democratic, if we will but listen.


Chapter 5. An Unconscious People

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Today’s American society, quite simply, is not sustainable over the long run – it is not ecologically sound, economically viable, or socially responsible.  Most Americans are aware there is something fundamentally wrong.  However, they don’t understand what’s wrong or are too busy to think about it, thus don’t know what to do about it.  In addition, we are constantly bombarded with corporate propaganda telling us to quit worrying, be happy, and learn to appreciate our opportunities to work harder and make more money.  We have become a nation of unconscious people. But, the industrial era is coming to a close, whether we are ready or not.  In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “When change is happening, you need to get involved; otherwise you may sleep through the revolution.” 


SECTION II – The Vision


Chapter 6. The Post-Corporate Society

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A great transformation is well underway in American society today.  We are moving out of the old industrial era and into a new post-industrial, post-corporate era of human progress.  Philosophers and futurists seem to agree, progress in this new era will depend much more on the uniquely human capacities for complex thought and ethical choices than on our ability to organize and control resources.  The developmental paradigm for this new era is emerging under the conceptual umbrella of sustainability.  The sustainable agriculture movement provides a useful metaphor for this new post-corporate society.


Chapter 7. The Next Step Forward for Humanity

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The new post-corporate era brings with it a vision of a fundamentally better world.  Mutually beneficial relationships of choice will replace exploitation and domination, providing a sustainable foundation for this new world.  Quantum physics and chaos theory will replace mechanical physics and statistics in creating a new science of life.  The industrial organizational paradigm will be replaced by a new paradigm appropriate for living organizations – communities, economies, and societies.  Less stress, less conflict, less crime, less exploitation, and less fighting will be the natural consequences of the next step forward for humanity.


Chapter 8. Pursuit of Enlightened Self-Interests

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The new era of human progress will be motivated by a more enlightened concept of self-interest – one that includes the social and spiritual, as well as the individual aspects of self.  This new enlightenment will require greater reliance on our sense of first principles, our innate sense of truth and rightness – a greater reliance on our common sense.  Nowhere is the need for a return to common sense greater than reforming the economics of narrow, individual self-interest.  Our common sense tells us it is not a sacrifice to care for others nor is it a sacrifice to care for the earth, because these things contribute to our own quality of life.  Our enlightened self-interest is in doing for others, of both present and the future, as we would have them do for us. 


Chapter 9.  Using Common Sense for the Common Good

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Government is neither inherently good nor bad.  It is simply a means by which we can do together those things that we agree need to be done but cannot be done individually.  To some, the only necessary role of government is in protecting private property rights.  The Constitution, however, defines the necessary role of government as ensuring equity and justice – ensuring that all people have equal access to those things to which they have equal rights.  Markets allocate things according to ability not according to rights.  Anything from which the public in general will benefit, but for which private incentives are either absent or inadequate, is a legitimate public good or service.  A consensus of the governed needs to be restored and the functions of government need to be refocused on the public good, because common sense tell us that good government can serve the common good.


Chapter 10.  Toward an Economics of Sustainability

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Sustainability provides the conceptual framework for a new economics – an economics as if people mattered.  The new economy must integrate the individual, social, and moral economies if it is to be sustainable.  The new economy must continually protect and renew ecological and social capital, as well as economic capital, if it is to be sustainable.  The paradigm of sustainability provides the conceptual hierarchy for effectively integrating the private, public, and moral economies.  The new vision for the future is that of an economy, society, and ecosystem working together, in harmony, to sustain a more desirable quality of life for all people of all times. 


SECTION III – The Victory


Chapter 11.  Seeds of Revolution

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The seeds of revolution today are no different in concept from those that sparked the American Revolution more than 200 years ago.  Corporatism has become our monarchy, the free-market has become our king, and our democracy has become a corporate aristocracy.  This time, however, we need not overthrow the government; we need only retake control.  We have not lost the spirit of America; we have just become distracted from it.  We have both the ability and responsibility to rewrite our Constitution, to protect society from economic and ecological exploitation, and thus, to create a sustainable America.  We can win the new revolution, if we can find the courage to start it.


Chapter 12. The Societal Victory

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If we had a lever long enough, and some place to stand, we could literally move the world.  By focusing on critical leverage points – on logical, doable steps, such as election reform, campaign finance reform, elimination of corporate welfare, and restoration of competition – we can restore our democratic society and our capitalistic economy.  The final step to societal victory will be constitutional consensus to guarantee basic social, economic, and ecological rights – for both current and future generations.  A new National Board for Sustainable Development, with broad public representation, could then seek to balance the economic, ecological, and social interests in securing a higher quality of life for all.


Chapter 13. The Personal Victory

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We can enhance our personal quality of life, regardless of what happens in the larger society.  Equally important, any social or political reforms will be short lived, unless affirmed by fundamental changes in personal ethics and values.  Each person’s road to victory will be different.  The old self-help strategies, based on goals and objectives and strategic planning, are taking us in the wrong direction.  However, new self-help principles for sustainable living have emerged in popular literature to help guide the way to a brighter future.  Being guided by principles, staying open to opportunity, going to the source for solutions, making good decisions, and finally, letting go are all important landmarks on the road to personal victory.


Chapter 14. The Spiritual Victory

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To build a sustainable society, we must acknowledge and affirm the spiritual dimension of our lives.  We know that we have a soul.  Our soul is the means by which we access our common sense.  Our common sense is our knowledge of first principles, of what is true and right, which we share in common with others, once we acknowledge the existence of our soul.  Nowhere are the negative consequences of denying the spiritual more apparent than in our systems of food and farming.  We must reclaim the spiritual in all aspects of our lives, including food and farming, if we are to win the victory of sustainability.


Chapter 15. Seeds of Hope

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There are no guarantees of success but there is hope for success – the hope in each of us.  Change never comes from the powerful and proud – they have too much to lose and too little to gain.  Change always comes from the common and humble – we have little to lose and much to gain.  We live in an interconnected world, when one person changes, the world changes.  And, as we change, one-by-one, we eventually reach a tipping point – a point of explosive, societal change.  Hope is not the expectation of early victory or a belief that the odds are in our favor, but rather, hope is the knowledge that something good is possible.  Regardless of the odds of success, life is simply too precious to live without hope.  The author of this book is but a sower of the seeds of hope.  Some seeds will wither and die, but hopefully, some will grow and multiply into a new economic, ecological, and social revolution.