Peter Block Review: Agenda for a New Economy

by Peter Block on June 3, 2011

Tagged as: Local Economy / Food / Land/Environment

In the beginning of Agenda for a New Economy, David Korten says he has written this book “to break the silence and open the unmentioned possibility that it is time to let go of Wall Street and build a new economy based on different values and institutions.”

What is interesting is that he means it. 

Korten names what we know to be true: that the wealth and economic security we count on so dearly is built on the fragile belief that someone will come along and pay more for our house and more for our investments than we paid. And more to the point: that the profit from these transactions constitutes real value for our economy. He asserts that Wall Street is based on this phantom wealth and that is what is undermining our democracy, the middle class and the environment.

If we decided Korten was right, the implications are big.

The Dow Jones average would no longer be headline news. Financial news programs would fade due to lack of interest, and the big box stores on the edge of town would revert to farmland for we would no longer go shopping when we were bored or depressed. You could walk to where you needed to go, buy from those you know, and find satisfaction in what you have, not from what more you want.

Korten goes to the heart of what is not working in our society. What he proposes is a Main Street marketplace to replace Wall Street capitalism. This would be a world where our communities would be restored, we would live on a human scale, legs might be restored as a means of transportation, and we would gain some control over our food and livelihood. This would reduce our dependency on decisions made by stakeholders with no investment or concern for what is local. It might also lead to that greatest of all dangers facing modern economies: savings. 

Korten’s book is not only thought provoking, it is also well written. You don’t have to be an economist or even interested in economics to get into it. All you need is to be someone who wants to be conscious about money and its effects. What he is talking about is a way of life, so if you have one, you will enjoy this book. The thinking is transparent and the examples simple and accessible. Korten’s real gift is in translating the complex language of economics and policy into language we can relate to.

Korten believes in the capacity of citizens to create the world they want to inhabit. 

He is also not afraid of idealism, which is a good thing, and he believes in the power of a vision and the capacity of citizens to self-organize and create the world they want to inhabit. Just look at the titles of  the two last chapters: “When the People Lead, the Leaders Will Follow” and “Change the Story, Change the Future.” Not the kind of focus you’d expect in a book seemingly about the economy.  

Those of us who care about building functional neighborhoods and abundant communities should definitely read this book. It takes all we value and practice in these pursuits and applies them to well-being of our society and the commons. No surprise since Korten started out as an organization development practitioner. 

So if you are weary of your worldview, discontent with your context, moody about your mental model, or out to pasture with your paradigm, this book is for you. It is a powerful antidote to the conventional wisdom that has us convinced that what ails us is good for us. 

David Korten: Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth2d ed. San Francisco: Berrett Koehler, 2010