"The Economics of Wholeness"
from Learning to Count What Really Counts

© Tom Bender 6/06/02
for Magical Blend

Values and the sacred may seem to be strange bed-fellows with economics. In truth, they are not only compatible, but essential elements of achieving immense economic productivity gains that can create a secure, abundant and caring future for all. The heart of our culture has been economics. Today, a revolutionary "Factor 10 Economics" is producing order-of-magnitude improvements in productivity ­ by daring to restore values, the sacred, systems theory, and ecology to their rightful role as the core of economics.

In the process, our conventional economic tools such as "future discounting" and "present value accounting" have been shown to be mere smokescreens to conceal the real costs of public policies that benefit special interests. Short-term thinking rarely produces better results than long-term approaches. But actions based on such thinking usually end up eliminating the more productive options, so we forget their existence. Longer forestry rotations seem somewhat academic once someone has cut all the trees.

Economics is not about money. Money is not real wealth ­ it is merely a medium of exchange. Money is finance, accounting, and the rules and games to get resources into or out of our own or other people's pockets. We need to look beyond the money transactions to see the real events that are occurring behind the veil of human rules that distort our perceptions and distract our attention. For it is there that real change is occurring.

What economics is about is resources-material and energetic; biological and ecological; human, community, and spiritual. It is about work, ingenuity, and time-and about joy. It is about desires and dreams, and the structure of industry and institutions that we use to attain those dreams. Ultimately, it is about wisdom-and it is definitely time to bring that into our balance sheets.

Our economics has been successful at achieving an unprecedented material quality of life for large numbers of people. Yet for most people, even that quality of life has been declining since the mid-1970s. And we have been missing vast potentials for both qualitative and material improvements in our lives.

Every economics supports and embodies specific values and goals. Different goals generate very different institutions, products, and economic systems. Each framework of economics materializes different dreams and destroys or embodies different values. We need to choose where we want to go, before we choose the way to go.

There are four major changes affecting economics in the last century that dwarf all others. All come from outside of economics, but from real-world, on-the-ground experience. They are only now being fully integrated into our economics. They are:

* Examination of economic problems and solutions from a wholistic systems perspective, with more meaningful forms of measurement.

Conventional economics says to cut forests when the trees are only 40 years old. Yet rotations four times as long have been shown to produce considerably more wood per year, more net income and less work needed in the forestry operations, 75% fewer clearcuts; restored productivity of fisheries, other forest products, and recreation, yielding total forest benefits of 20 to 30 times that of conventional forestry practices. Every time you cut an acre of forest, you lose benefit of the next 20 years of solar energy falling on that acre of land.

* Explicit linkage of life-affirming values and goals with the economic systems needed to attain them.

We're taught that work is something to be minimized for both the worker and the employer. Yet meaningful creative work is essential for us to develop and apply our abilities, to have self-worth, to be of value to our communities, and to find rewards in what we do.

* Understanding and integrating the ecological and resource underpinnings and interactions of economic systems.

The dynamics of income resources, such as solar energy, are very different from those of capital resources, such as petroleum. Each day's solar energy not used is lost. Fossil fuels not used are worth more tomorrow! And for us to have to do what nature does free for us has immense costs.

* Acknowledgment of how and how greatly the spiritual dimensions of our existence impacts economics.

Most of our intractable social problems are merely symptoms of a single disease of the spirit ­ of lack of self-worth, lack of respect by and for others, and lack of opportunity to be of value to family and society ­ that turns ever-present temptations into epidemic problems. The spiritual vehicle of chi or life-force energy is what gives vitality, connectedness, and meaning to our surroundings and our lives. Our true goals in life have more to do with love and being loved, and with having meaning in our lives than with how much money we make.

Together, developments in these areas are bringing order-of-magnitude improvement in the way we operate our businesses and institutions and handle our lives. Factor 10 economics has already become public policy of many European nations, international development organizations and leading businesses. It is achieving ten-fold improvements in resource productivity - the amount of materials needed to produce a car, or energy needed to light our homes. It also is achieving equal magnitudes of improvement in institutional and financial productivity - how much it costs to produce a car or provide health care; in personal and social goals and well-being, and in social and planetary welfare.

The principles of the new economics are uncomplicated:
· Look at the whole picture.
· See, count, and pay, the true costs of our actions.
· Don't discount the future ­ we will spend the rest of our lives there.
· Something which makes a qualitative difference in our lives is probably more important that something which only makes a quantitative difference.
· Economics is only a tool for clarifying decisions, and needs to give precedence to the larger social and ecological systems of which it is part.
· Support actions which are life-enhancing and which expand rather than foreclose options for the future.

Interestingly, it is new perceptions, not new technologies, that are key to achieving most of these gains. Equally important, personal and community life is positively transformed in the process.

The aftermath of last fall's terrorist attacks has brought significant questioning of the direction our global culture has taken. Disparities of material wealth and poverty, questionable ethics used to maintain economic supremacy, and absence of spiritual dimensions in our culture appear to be central issues behind both religious fundamentalism and recent terrorism. Factor 10 economics provides an unexpected path out of this quagmire. It shows us we have the resources to make the whole world a success ­ erasing poverty, eliminating starvation, and ending battles over resources. It is time now for compassion and sharing, not greed. Wisely used, they can open a brighter world for us all.

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