PCDForum Column #17,   Release Date August 15, 1991

by James Robertson

Citizen movements throughout the world are discovering the extent to which our collective social and environmental crisis stems directly from outmoded economic policies and perspectives seriously in conflict with the needs of a democratic, post-European, sustainable one-world economy. This realization has given birth to an international citizen coalition, the new economics movement. This movement is broadly inclusive of millions of people throughout the world who are exploring alternative ways of organizing society to manage its critically scarce resources. We come from many different spheres. Many of us are unknown to one another and may not even recognize that we are contributing to a new way of economic life and thought.

  • Some of us seek changes in our own way of life, the work we do, the goods we buy, the way we invest our financial savings, how we deal with our household wastes and so on.
  • Some of us concentrate on changing the institutions that influence and constrain economic life. We may work to shift the burden of taxation away from people's incomes and toward the use of real resources, such as land and energy, or to reform the institutions of global economic governance such as the IMF, the World Bank, the GATT, and the G7 to make them more democratic and responsive to the needs of people and ecology.
  • Some of us promote the use of enabling and conserving technologies, as in energy conservation and organic farming.
  • Some work to change the dominant ideas and values that influence all these other things, such as the idea that money values personal income, business profits, and the GNP of countries are the only true measure of success and that spiritual beliefs have little practical bearing on economic affairs.

Our diversity is an important strength, as changes in each of these spheres contribute to changes in the others. Together they define the new economics movement, which is helping to shape a new post-modern, post-European world order for the next century and beyond.

The current modern world order began to emerge about 500 year ago with Columbus' voyage to America and Vasco da Gama's voyage to India. It eventually crystallized in the second half of the 18th century at the time of the American and French revolutions and the Enlightenment. This was a period of extraordinary human progress. Yet the world view that drove its achievements, including its ideas of value-free science and a world economy comprised of a collection of national economies competing for wealth, led to conditions that have become intolerably disabling for earth's people and damaging to its ecology.

The new post-modern, post-European approach to economic life and thought, which the new economics movement is beginning to crystallize, must be based on quite different principles.

  • It must systematically enable people to take greater control of their lives.
  • It must systematically conserve the earth's resources.
  • It must include qualitative values and ethical choice in economic life.
  • It must recognize that our first concern is no longer with the wealth of nations, but with a single one-world economy, which must be reconceptualized, redesigned, and restructured over the coming years into a pluralistic, decentralizing multi-level system.

These principles must find practical application in a variety of spheres, including:

  • Elimination of the kinds of international trade and debt that impoverish the peoples of the South and compel them to mine environmentally valuable resources like tropical forests.
  • New ways of organizing work that eliminate the necessity to depend on either an employer or welfare doles for one's livelihood.
  • New ways of living that drastically cut present levels of energy-use and pollution.
  • New ways of measuring economic performance that reflect actual human well-being.

The recent economic summit of the Group of Seven (G7) in London, demonstrated once again that leadership on these issues will not be forthcoming from the heads of the world's most powerful government's and businesses. Leadership for change must come from a broadly based movement of citizens able to see beyond the short-term interests of business and government and become active contributors to the shaping of the new economics and its practical application.

James Robertson is a patron of the New Economics Foundation in London, a leading writer on alternative economics, and a contributing editor of the PCDForum. This column was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum based on his paper "Seven Years On: The Other Economic Summit Begins Its Second Seven Year Cycle." These ideas are further developed in Robertson's most recent book Future Wealth: A New Economics for the 21st Century. Further information on the new economics movement is available from the New Economics Foundation, 88/94 Wentworth Street, London E1 7SE, U.K.

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