The Conscious Economy

The solution to globalization is not to throw rocks at big businesses like Wal-Mart but to build the alternative,” says Shuman, author of Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age.

The “alternative” that Shuman is talking about includes not just businesses that are planted on Main Street but entire economies that are locally based. “The more times a dollar circulates in my community, the more jobs, income, and wealth there is in my community,” says Shuman.

And if that well-worn dollar must go elsewhere, let it go to another locally owned business, not to a global corporation. Local business people are as threatened by giant national and transnational industrial, financial, service, and retail corporations as working people are.

Part of the reason Shuman is so high on locally owned for-profits is that “Americans are unlikely to hitch their future to these unconventional corporate forms [cooperatives, non-profits, and public enterprises]… The nation’s ideological commitment to private property and the profit motive, reinforced by the mythology of the rugged individual, are too deeply etched into our collective psyche.” (p.99).

Or ask David Korten puts it,

“The human future depends on moving beyond the self-limiting and ultimately self-destructive ways of Empire to become a new Era of Community in which life is the defining cultural value, cooperation and partnership are society’s organizing principles, and networking is the predominant organizational form.

The culture and institutions of the global suicide economy must be replaced by the culture and institutions of a planetary system of living economies that mimics the behavior of healthy living organisms and ecosystems.

Living Economies. A living economy is comprised of fair-profit [in contrast to profit maximizing] and not-for-profit living enterprises that are place-based, human-scale, stakeholder-owned, democratically accountable, and life serving.

In contrast to the publicly-traded, limited-liability corporation, which is best described as a pool of money dedicated to its self-replication, living enterprises function as communities of people engaged in the business of creating just, sustainable, and fulfilling livelihoods for themselves while contributing to the economic health and prosperity of the community.

Millions of such living enterprises already exist throughout the world. Many have been around for generations. Many people already have a preference for patronizing such enterprises.

Although the foundation of a planetary system of living economies already exists, it remains for these enterprises to recognize and value the potentials they embody and to consciously advance the formation of living economies by growing new webs of relationships among themselves as they walk away from the pathological culture and institutions of the suicide economy.

As living economies become established and recognized as viable and attractive alternatives to collective suicide, they will become a favored choice — of the culturally conscious for employment, shopping and investment — attracting ever more life energy away from the suicide economy and to themselves.

The process will accelerate as living economies offer an increasing and ever more visible variety of viable, beneficial options. Ultimately, the culture and institutions of economic pathology will give way to those of economic health.

The Era of Community is the opposite of the them/us mentality of the Empire Era, with qualities of oneness, sharing, caring, and non-violence – what Martin Luther King called “the Beloved Community.” Creating an economic system, which models these qualities, a “Living Economy,” that will provide an alternative to the Suicide Economy of the Empire Era is a challenge for today’s entrepreneurs.

The new movement is not about maximizing profits, but about maximizing relationships. Rather than striving for continuous growth, national branding and centralized control, new models are scaled to build authentic and meaningful relationships, which add to the quality of life in our local communities and natural environment.”

In short, to quote Judy Wicks . . .

People want fair trade not “Free” trade, alternative education that nurtures the whole child, not just reading, writing and “rithmetic”, a maximization of relationships, not of profits; honesty and transparency, not more lies, hype and manipulation; naturalness, not pretense; the growth of consciousness and creativity, not brands and market share; democracy and decentralized ownership, not concentrated wealth; a living return, not the highest return; a living wage, not the minimum wage; a fair price, not the lowest price; sharing, not hoarding; simplicity, not luxury; life-serving, not self-serving; partnership, not domination; cooperation, not competition; win-win exchange, not win-lose exploitation; family farms, not factory farms; biodiversity, not monocrops; cultural diversity, not monoculture; creativity, not conformity; slow food, not fast food; our bucks, not Starbucks; our mart, not Wal-Mart; a love of life, not a love of money.

We’re tired of seeing this suicide economy steal by enslaving people to produce chocolate, by destroying the environment and thus stealing people’s ability to live there, by stealing the clean air, water and land we rely on to live. In short – stealing our very future.

If you’re on this call, you probably agree with me that each particular place has its own gift. What’s appropriate in one place will not be in another. This green business movement must be about the redistribution of wealth and power. That’s part of why I do almost all of my events on a pay what you can basis.

The only way we can survive is to bring our energy, money and attention back home – to localize again. I think this movement (in its many forms) is one of the most important movements of our times.

And I think we’re seeing what Paul Hawken, author of Natural Capitalism, describes as a sort of third generation of conscious business. Each generation has had a fundamentally different orientation towards its relationship to the rest of the world.

The first generation was all about Containment: You saw it in  the Bophal chemical disaster, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and in the Exxon oil spill. There was this sense that harm is inevitable. It’s the cost of doing business. It’s just ‘collateral damage.’

The second generation focused on Enhancement: there became a sense that,  “it could be better, business could do good”. People began to say, “Okay, if it meets the business case, if it makes good money we’ll do it.” Harm was no longer seen as inevitable. It could be prevented if it convenient and profitable to do so.

But he suggests that there’s the beginning of a third generation focused on Transformation: there’s a growing sense that it’s no longer good enough to ‘do no harm’. We’re seeing a fundamental shift from single to multiple bottom lines. Profit is no longer King to many businesses.

So, we’re in an interesting time really. On one hand we see this incredible growth in organic food but, in reality, only 0.4% of U.S. farmland is dedicated to organics. Fair trade coffee seems to be showing up everywhere – but it’s only 2% of the market. The conscious economy is growing fast but it’s nowhere close to where we need to be.

Psst . . . here’s a secret you already know . . . there’s more than ONE economy.

The way “out of the game” is to realize that there’s another one game in town. Margaret Thatcher justified her ridiculous policies by saying “There Is No Alternative”.


I suggest that there are actually TWO economies: The Suicide Economy and the Conscious Economy. The first is on its way out (never was sustainable anyway) and the second is one its way in.

1)   The Suicide Economy – this would be the big thing destroying the planet we’re all trying so hard to ignore. It is fast paced, globalized and highly competitive. Much like Frankenstein it is our own creation that will likely kills us.

2)   The Conscious Economy – This economy is slower paced, localized and highly cooperative. It’s not about maximizing profits, but maximizing relationships.

The answer – for you and for all of us – is NOT to find ways to become more successful in the current Suicide Economy. It is to find ways to shift, personally and collectively to the Conscious Economy – to Local Living Economies.


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