The Common Good
July-August 1999

Is There Life After Capitalism?

by Marvin Rees | July-August 1999

Beyond money as the measure.

If the greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed, then perhaps the greatest victory for the corporate class has been the general acceptance among the masses of the inevitability of capitalism as the only viable system for running the world. This makes David Korten's The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism both timely and much needed.

The church once imposed a dogmatic intellectual tyranny that blocked true social and spiritual progress. The modern equivalent of this tyranny, Korten argues, is capitalism and its corporate priests who peddle the idea that consumerist society is the highest stage of political thought. But more than just hindering progress, money has been made the "defining value of contemporary societies and given birth to a hedonistic ethic of material self gratification...and an economic system that rewards greed and destroys life."

More than a critique of capitalism, this is a book about choosing life as the defining characteristic of society. More than half the book is given over to helping us develop a new image of reality and providing us with the tools to practically act on this awakening.

Korten's official credentials are beyond question. He earned his master's and Ph.D. from Stanford's Graduate School of Business, taught at the Harvard School of Business, and conducted research at the Harvard Institute for International Development. He is at pains, however, to point out that the genesis for this book—and its forerunner When Corporations Rule the World—was in his 30 years of field experience as an economic adviser in Africa and Southeast Asia. He describes this as a time during which he "became aware of the stark difference between the myth and the reality of the development story." Korten tells of the emergence of "a new story" in which "the solutions that had defined much of my life as a development worker turned out to be a source of terrible problems."

KORTEN DRAWS powerfully on what is called the "new biology," and makes it the central metaphor for the book's diagnosis and prescription. It is a notion that views the world as a living organism and urges cooperation over competition. Within this metaphor, Korten identifies capitalism as a cancer, a system that "feeds on the energy reserves of what remains of the healthy body, expropriating life's energy to sustain its own deadly growth." We are presented with a choice. We can "awaken to the reality that what we really want is life not money," we can work to eliminate corporate privilege, we can make life our central measure of all human activity, and so starve the cancer and nurture life. Or we can continue as we are, retaining the capitalist image of reality presented to us, allowing money to be the measure of all things, and so feed the cancer and welcome death.

The book includes practical information such as listings of organizations that work for change and real stories of people who have sought to nurture life. Korten emphasizes that steps to change are within the reach of every concerned reader. "Perhaps we have been so busy searching the distant horizon for exotic answers to our deepening crisis," he writes, "that we have failed to notice the obvious answers that are right in front of us." For those who heed the call, The Post-Corporate World might just serve as a roadmap to a more humane future

MARVIN REES is outreach assistant at Sojourners.

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