How to Break the Culture of Making Money from Money. Interview with David Korten

David Korten interviewed during the launch of Development 52.3 'Beyond Economics', which was held in New York on 29-31 October 2009.

Q: The opening of your article, which is an excerpt from your book Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, is a fascinating vision of a utopian world to come. Do you think we can really achieve such a world and how?

A: The reason I wrote this scenario is because I am trying to confront the issue of why we are locked into an economic system which leads us on a path to collective suicide. And the book lays out what we need to do to create a whole new framework. Very often people say 'well what would that look like?', 'how would we actually live?' and so I wrote this scenario of what it might look like. We are told that change would be so expensive, there would be so much hardship, we would have to give up so much, well I don't think that's really true. If you look at it the right way, if we make intelligent use of our resources, if we build our relationships of caring, which is part of demonetizing the economy, we can actually have a better life for everyone and this is what it might look like.

Q: Do you think these changes can be brought about by what you term 'the second global superpower' (meaning global civil society)? What is the role of policymakers in switching to this new model?

A: My view is that the only way we can get there is through civil society, people's action of creating anew from the bottom up. At the same time we face a reality that the system of rules that shape our economy give the advantage to the economic predators, to the transnational corporations, to the financial markets. They operate totally in a predatory mode simply to maximize the financial wealth of people at the top. And they are not going to initiate the change, they are going to resist it at every step. This is why it can only happen through citizen action and it has to involve the solidarity of people across all national borders. The system itself tries to keep us divided by nationality, by religion, by race, by gender and they keep us fighting for a share over a shrinking pie. The real issue is the system which needs to change so that we can all have a better life.

Q: Can you explain us in more detail what the difference is between phantom wealth and real wealth?

A: Yes, it's quite simple. Actually itís been so clear with the Wall Street collapse of the financial system that that whole Wall Street infrastructure of institutions is basically about making money from money. Now money is nothing but a number, it's a part of our cultural conditioning, we are conditioned to think of money as wealth but it's not, it's just a number. It represents nothing else, but gives enormous power to the people who create it. The whole system is dedicated to creating these numbers from nothing through financial bubbles by all means of accounting manipulation in order to give the Wall Street money managers control over all walks of society. So phantom wealth is any kind of financial wealth which is created from nothing unrelated to the creation of anything with real value and I would argue that Wall Street produces nothing of value. They do as long as we depend on money- we depend on the money that they create- but there's much better ways to create and allocate the money that would better serve our society. Real wealth starts with anything of real value, land, labour, health, education, technology, food, endless numbers of things that are real, that are central to our survival, but the most important form of real wealth has no monetary value, like love for a healthy and happy child, or a strong family, a caring community, a vibrant natural environment, these are all forms of living wealth which is the ultimate real wealth.

Q: In your book you also mention conversation as being revolutionary in changing cultural stories. How do you envisage conversation getting us out of the current crisis?

A: Our biggest trap, the thing that holds us captive to the system are the stories that circulate in our culture, by which we define what it means to be human and what human possibilities are, and all the various aspects of what is wealth and what proper life should be. All of those stories are currently framed within a culture in ways that support the system of domination and exploitation which I refer to as Empire. The thing that is really interesting to me is the deep level of conversations among people. You begin to see that there's this contrast between the false stories of Empire and the real stories that define a real reality. The things that they really believe in their moments of reflection are the real story but they are so in conflict with the cultural stories that they think 'so there must be something wrong with me, I am not really understanding, or maybe I am crazy'. But it's through conversation that our shared truths, real truths come out and ultimately transform the culture. An example I often use is from the women's movement, how that emerged through conversations among women at a time when the prevailing story was that the key to happiness was to find the right man, marry him and devote your life to his service, and if you were a woman and that story was not working for you, you were supposed to believe that the fault was in you, that you were not a proper woman. So women got together and started having heartfelt conversations about their role and those cultural beliefs, and it turned out that that story was not working for many women. Women became very much aware that the fault was not in themselves, the fault was in the cultural stories so they changed the cultural stories and that unleashed the feminine power in society.

Interview by Laura Fano Morrissey

Click here  to read the abstract of David Korten's article in Development 52.3.


David Korten is president and founder of the People-Centered Development Forum and author of numerous books including Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, The Great Turning and When Corporations Rule the World.