I have never had a good relationship with the word ‘economy’. To me, the word made me think of finance regimes, rent, speculation, capitalistic crocodiles and frantic traders addicted to computerized screens. I wanted to study relationships between the members of our global tribe, humanitarian crises and how to create peaceful communities. Despite the resistance, I ended up studying at London School of Economics, with political science and ‘development economics’ – and remember immediately reacting to the distinction between ‘developed’ and ‘less-developed’ countries. For is Norway not also a country undergoing continuous economic development? And is it not these so-called developed countries who are the main decision-making forces in the global economic system – which in turn is the source of the extreme inequalities in the world today?
My frustration grew. I protested against the financial crisis with the Occupy Movement in London, sought answers from Chang, Piketty and Polyani, Escobar, Macy and Næss; and marched against Monsanto in the streets of Oslo. I had a deep need to understand how all these crises were connected – without having to resort to books on finance, derivatives and formulas. It did not feel logical. And I felt the anxiety building up inside me – rooted in a feeling of hopelessness. Of facing an enemy that not only was invisible, but also a product of human kind’s own actions over time. A neoliberal system that had grown so large and powerful that there was no way back. For how could we possibly make any progress when not even the politicians in my home country Norway understood the dangers of dumping mining waste in the Norwegian fjords, the effect of poisonous pesticides on the dance of the bees, and the consequences of drilling for oil in the North? Part of me wanted to run away from it all.
I ran away to our cabin in Vestfold. To breathe. Too ground myself. Barefoot, I began walking the usual path through the woods, passing the abundant fields of barley and potatoes. Felt the sand under my feet as I came closer to the ocean, where the seaweed was floating softly underneath the surface. A place where my mind and thoughts are undisturbed. “It is not logical. It is not ‘eco-logical’. And the solutions do not lie in what I am against, but rather – what I am for.”
Towards a heart-mind economy
The word ‘economy’ derives from the greek language, from οἶκος (oikos; house) and νόμος (nomos; custom, law), i.e. rules of the house, or household. Could it then be said that a balanced economy is a system which ensures that resources and values are sustainably managed between people of a common household? An economy which exists and develops in a balanced symbiosis with nature, and not against it? I am for recreating a balance. For moving from what destroys to that which creates. I am for an economy built on both the intellectual and the emotional ‘logos’ – uniting the mind and the heart in authentic relations between people and nature. I am for taking back the original meaning of economics.
So how do I get there? How can humanity get there? How can the balance be restored? To me, this project began with a seed in the shape of an idea, which slowly sprouted and blossomed into the book ‘Growing a New Economy – Beyond Crisis Capitalism and Environmental Destruction’. We wanted this text to be a source for people who ask themselves the same questions, and were eager to understand how today’s economic system works, how we managed to create it in the first place, and how we can begin transforming it.
Environmental activist and author Naomi Klein writes: “We live in a time of overlapping crisis, and we need to connect the dots, because we don’t have time to solve each crisis sequentially. We need a movement that addresses all of them.” With the book, we aim to tell the story of how everything is connected – and that the solutions to the individual crises cannot be seen in isolation from each other. Our greatest challenges are not global warming, resource depletion, pollution or financial shocks – these are only symptoms of an economic system that is neither sustainable, nor fair. Symptoms of an imbalance in the deeper structures of the planet’s own immune system – in the very logic of our economic operating system. Is it logical to create a system which necessitates increased economic activity and spending, leading to the destruction of our natural environment?
We are facing a fundamental value question. It evolves around the lifestyle and worldview that the so-called developed countries have become accustomed to in the last couple of decades. A lifestyle which directly contributes to destroying the most sophisticated and effective systems we have for converting natural resources to natural life forces – the ecosystems. Already in 1997, a report was released which presented an estimate of the services provided by the global ecosystems, through e.g. pollination, the ocean’s recycling of nutrients, climate stabilisation and biodiversity. The scientists agreed that the value was around 33 trillion dollars, double the amount of the global GDP at the time. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the priceless value of our time spent re-connecting to nature!
Re-calibrating our economic compass
As people begin experiencing and feeling a closer connection to their local ecology, my hope is that start asking more questions about how, why and what we invest our money and resources in. I am for an economy which unfolds from humankinds’ inherent ability to collaborate on imagining new realities and solutions towards taking care of our extended household. Alternatives such as co-operatives, basic income, permaculture, food education, and revived knowledge about technologies – which will increase our quality of life and reduce our ecological footprint. That our relationship to nature is weaved closer into our own personal identities and social fabrics.
It is also a case of bringing these questions into classrooms, and that we from an early age learn about natures’ innate value and work continuously to make sure it is well protected. As we speak, millions of students from well-respected institutions of higher education are engaging in the global conversation on how to reform courses on neo-classical economic teaching, dominated by free market theory, and ignoring the current system’s effect on our environment.
If our values are not reflected in our personal lifestyle, they will not be reflected in the society we wish to create, and we will lack the moral strength to oppose the disillusioned political forces. As long as the ’free’ markets, green washed versions of capitalism, and financial systems out of control are placing limitations on nature’s own cycles, the symptoms of the disease will continue to show. As Wendel Berry eloquently puts it; “Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”
We are now experiencing a time of critical need to re-calibrate our economic compass and introduce new theories for how we manage our common household. Through a decentralised, democratic and circular economy – rich in cultural diversity, the time has come to facilitate innovative solutions grounded in both modern and ancient wisdom and practice. This said, systems change does not happen over night. It will emerge from the grassroots, and grow steadily alongside a generation who not only know what we are against, but most importantly – what we are for.