Making a Living (Economy): By David Korten

By David Korten. Originally posted on Yes! Magazine, here.

In a world rushing toward environmental and social collapse, there is no place for war, speculation, auto-dependent sprawl, toxic contamination, and wasteful consumption —activities that generate a major portion of current GDP. This massive misallocation of resources is an artifact of a mistaken belief that human prosperity is maximized by unrestrained global competition for resources, markets, and money to drive growth in the consumption of whatever goods and services generate the greatest private financial profit.

The living economy frame shifts the focus from making money to making a living. This simple shift in perspective shines a spotlight on the many ways we can simultaneously improve the quality of our lives while reducing our human burden on the biosphere. For example:

Unrealistic? Perhaps. But so is the assumption we humans can continue our current path of military conflict, sprawl, auto dependence, consumerism, and toxic pollution and still have a livable future.

Consider the possibilities for shifting resources from destructive to beneficial uses:

Real Security: The United States faces no credible conventional military threat from any nation. Our primary military threats are from a handful of terrorists armed with little more than a willingness to die for their cause. Yet we devote more than half of the federal government’s discretionary budget to the military, an amount roughly equal to the military expenditure of all the world’s governments combined.

Our most certain security threats come from human-induced climate chaos and the related food insecurity, economic dependence on oil, shortages of freshwater, extreme inequality and disintegration of the social fabric, catastrophic health care costs, and a predatory financial system.

Reducing our need to expropriate the resources of others to maintain our material extravagance will be a far more effective counter to terrorism than military occupation of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Rolling back our military commitment will free up real resources to address the real threats to our security.

Healthy Communities: Sprawling low-density, auto-dependent exurbs populated with poorly insulated homes and unsightly strip malls consume prime agricultural and forest lands, reduce food security, increase infrastructure costs, reduce aquifer regeneration, increase dependence on foreign oil, generate pollution, and dehumanize us by isolating us from one another and from nature. We can reconfigure and retrofit our built environment to restore green spaces and create walkable, high density communities served by clean and efficient public transportation. This will eliminate the need for most private vehicles; recover land needed for agriculture, forests, and natural habitat; reduce commuting time; purify our air and water; minimize dependence on fossil fuels; and restore the relationships of community essential to human health and happiness.

Liberated Culture: Wall Street maintains its hold on our minds by the constant bombardment of our eyes and ears with paid messages crafted by communications professionals to manipulate our sense of who we are, what we value, and what gives us pleasure. The goal is to manipulate our minds to get us to buy products we don’t really want or need and to vote for politicians who serve interests other than our own.

The manufactured messages are so pervasive that it becomes difficult to know our real selves, our real values, and the real sources of our well-being and happiness. We end up devoting our lives to serving the corporate drive for ever expanding profits at the expense of democracy, happiness, our humanity, and the future of our children.

Market theory assumes that the business role is to respond to consumer preferences, not dictate them. Let’s give it a try in the living economy world.

An advertising ban would raise complex free speech issues. There is nothing in the Constitution, however, that says expenditures on speech must be tax deductible. Let advertising expense beyond providing basic information on product availability and specifications come from after-tax revenues. I don’t get a tax deduction for exercising my free speech rights. Why should a corporation?

Far from imposing sacrifice, the transition from the Wall Street suicide economy to Main Street living economies can at once increase our security, health, and happiness while reducing advertising pollution and our burden on the biosphere. It will surely reduce the paychecks of Wall Street bankers and traders, but it is a major upside opportunity for the rest of us.


This is the eighteenth of a series of blogs based on excerpts adapted from the 2nd edition of Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. I wrote Agenda to spur a national conversation on economic policy issues and options that are otherwise largely ignored. This blog series is intended to contribute to that conversation. —DK


David Korten ( is the author of Agenda for a New Economy, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is board chair of YES! Magazine and co-chair of the New Economy Working Group. This Agenda for a New Economy blog series is co-sponsored by and based on excerpts from Agenda for a New Economy, 2nd edition.

2 thoughts on “Making a Living (Economy): By David Korten

  1. Just want to make you aware of a company here were i live which sells locale produce on the internet you order and they deliver on Thursday. It can be an example for many other communities to get locale produce. A good way for small farmers and producers to sell their products to the locale people.

    It would be great if we could stop all these unwanted advertising. The amount of leaflets we get in the letterbox all that paper ink and printing for what?????


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