Structuring a New Economy
Part fourteen of the multi-part BLUEprint Series: How the Ocean Will Save Civilization
What if we begin to understand progress as a circle instead of a line, expanding outward, growing but including everything and everyone within?
If we are to move toward transformational change, and if we have determined that the conventional institutions have failed us, then we must close our minds to the past ways and open our eyes to new ones. How can we imagine a new economy that works, measured differently by increased quality of living, equitable distribution, social and political return, security and justice?
We must learn to live better with less. Growth for growth’s sake, measured by gross domestic product, increasing consumption, and short-term investment return is no longer tenable. It certainly did not serve us during the pandemic crisis. Return to the old way of doing business is delusion. We visualize our economy as linear, lines on a graph, and the fluctuations demonstrate volatility over time of corporate and investor speculation based on profits accounted for by self-affirming return. We question only the results, never the premises, and if our strategies and hunches fail us, we turn to banks or central government to perpetuate the system through debt, inflation, bail-outs and forgiveness, and other financial tricks that excuse and redeem and sustain the false premises. What goes up might come down; what goes down will always go up; and our entire economic well-being is balanced on that tight linear that will never break. Until it does, and the acrobats all come falling down.
We are in such a moment now. Much wringing of hands, much public questioning, much revelation of bad loans and empty collateral, corrupt leadership and industry collusion, much justification and re-investment in the bubble as documented by the DOW, S&P, NASDAQ, and other international market performance measures that signal reassurance for some and are meaningless for others. In the meantime, national debt grows to record amounts, the poverty gap between rich and poor expands, the social programs and safety nets are reduced at the moment that they are needed the most. No one is held to account for the down side or the catastrophe. The up-side accounts that grow are too often sheltered offshore or tax exempt.
What if we begin to understand progress as a circle, not a line, structure that turns around itself and grows as a collective increase in volume, as the concentric circles of enterprise expand outward, growing but including everything and everyone within? The expansion or contraction affects all equally; the totality of change is equitably shared; the return on activity and investment serves the entirety of those within.
Such a metaphor or proposed realization can be easily dismissed by the very forces vested in the old way’s past. Too naïve. Too impractical. Too radical. The fact is that the shift represents a liberating opposite: too realistic, too practical, too obvious, once you decide to envision and enable an alternative, transformational change. Decisions, individual or collective, are made when suddenly the way forward become clear, overwhelming recalcitrance and indecision, an individual, collective, even global epiphany that appears now obvious. It is interesting to observe this behavior in the context of energy companies faced with the consequence of climate change and the shift in world understanding of pervasive damage caused by fossil fuels. Many, specifically, the coal industry, will do nothing but hold on to declining revenues, indifference to employee health, and political connection to local politicians and paid lobbyists. Most of the largest energy companies, despite lip service to change, have retained their basic operations hoping to ride out the momentary distraction of shifting market forces. Some few of these companies have made a serious strategic change, pledging to meaningful emission reduction and pursuing alternatives as prescient smart business. All around them, however, a swarm of innovators are building solar farms, re-inventing hydro, looking to the ocean for tidal, wind, and geothermal energy options, causing the entire energy landscape, globally, to be re-shaped from the bottom up, and the inside out, as integrated invention outside the traditional structure of market reward. Apparently, you don’t have to be traded on The Big Board to be profitable in this new, inclusive, sustaining circular world.
The Earth, as a globe, is defined by a circumference of infinite circles. Its trajectory, too, is on a circular revolution around the sun. The natural order of movement is known, and we had best transcend linear thinking to concentrate on the circular continuity of life within. The ocean represents 70% of that containment and its Nature is a perfect sphere of possibility and purpose. A restructured economy will depend on it.
PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean.