Given the very real tragedy of our current economy, we need a new economic story that dispels faulty assumptions about growth, the environment and our natural resources, and transforms the anti-social power of self-interested behavior along with the extractive practice of over-accumulation.
The new economic story is rooted in the incontrovertible reality of interdependence—social, ecological, and spiritual. At the same time, the new story honors cultural freedom and equality in matters political. The story embraces the value of dynamic tensions inherent in this construction. The new economic story restores to money its original purpose, to be put at the service of people who can use it to serve others, and eliminates the use of money solely to make more money. An essential part of the story is money as differentiated transactional functions—purchase, loan, and gift. Each of these functions has its own qualities that support not only the continual circulation of money, but also its renewal. The story assumes that economic activity will generate surplus capital, some appropriate portion of which will be reinvested in entrepreneurial innovation and some significant portion will be returned as gift to regenerate culture.
The story is based upon an understanding that all economic activity is actually initiated by gift, just as each of our breathing lives is supported at the outset by the gift of nourishment. That fluid gift is transformed through human development into capacities for new ideas and recognition of the needs of others. This is a snapshot of how a healthy culture contributes to economic renewal. Lending helps implement those economic ideas and the money is quickened by the use of loan (or gift) proceeds for purchase.
So the story portrays economic self-renewal through the continual flow and transformation of money through transactions. Economic life is actually managed collaboratively or associatively by representatives of all the parties affected by it. Thus, in the new story everyone’s basic needs are present, and through the circulation of money our interdependence becomes transparent and life-affirming. It is fully integrated. It is not only possible but also necessary for our survival. This is the new economic story characterized—nothing more than an intimation. It will take tremendous will, steadfastness of purpose, and an endless supply of social tact and grace to bring about this transformation. But first it is important to understand the intentions of the story itself, so it can support coherent action and be told compellingly to others.
Digging deeper into the current economic story surfaces lots of apparently disconnected pieces. The story is laden with an abundance of impenetrable shadow elements and sorely lacking in the brilliant light of the possible. The story the media tells includes, but is not limited to: free markets as the primary approach to the world’s problems; the benefit of competition regardless of its consequences; and, the inevitability of inequity and the value of accumulated wealth. The more I hear the story the more fictional, even cynical, it appears as the evidence of its rampant and unethical self-interest accumulates. I also suspect I am not alone in suffering dissonance as I live within a storied system that appears to be crumbling, while working to support the emergence of a new one, or, at least, one that operates on a drastically revised set of principles.
To see this emergence as a transformation rather than replacement of the old presents a problem. Transformation assumes an interconnected inter-influential world in which the potential new forms must lie somewhere within the existing one. To see this potential requires acceptance of it all, even the shadows. However, the economic story I tell myself is neither one of good versus bad, nor of suspended judgment. It is instead one that transforms: assumptions about to direct experience of; power over to responsibility with; and, self-interest into service to.
Most of the stories I am told about economics are based upon the dynamic of polarities, the haves and have-nots, management and labor, supply and demand, red and blue. This model of dualistic thinking has a long history in Western culture, but it no longer serves if the non-material world of thoughts, feelings, and intentions is to be taken seriously. To this day we are still teaching that our world is constructed around managing polarities. Faucets run hot and cold, batteries have positive and negative poles, gender is defined as male or female—a small sample. At a material level these dualities serve as nothing more than identifiers or locators. They really have very little to do with how we make meaning out of experience; instead, meaning emerges through the interaction of multiple polarities. When we sense temperature, or electric current, or the human psyche, we are looking at indicator-concepts that acknowledge a field created through the co-presence and movement of polarities. For example, though I am male, I am aware of both masculine and feminine qualities that operate within my character and inform my interactions with the world.
If we are to have a new economic story, it will require a shift in thinking that sees money in the same light—as an indicator-concept, an energetic field, which is not a thing or commodity but rather a circulating measure and store of value which itself arises from the relationship between unused resources and unmet needs in economic life. The essential point is: If we are to transform the current economic story to a new one, whether you agree with my telling of it or not, we are going to have to change our thinking to include the notion that every material matter has a non-material counterpart; and, further, that each of us stands as measure of the dynamic energy field that arises from their constant interactions. How we choose to act as economic beings, individually or collaboratively, can transform the economic story, and at the same time, bring positive change to culture and the processes of governance as a by-product. Such is the power of story.