OUR THEME for this spring issue is economics, but not the kind of economics that you find in textbooks or in the back pages of newspapers. Those aspects have their place, but our interest here is with a broader picture and a new perspective. Why is a new approach needed?
- As a science and especially as a guide to political policy, conventional economics – capitalist or marxist – simply isn’t working.
- Even if it were working in the short run, its long term policies, based on continual growth and the assumption of inexhaustible resources, do not fit with a humane sustainable culture.
- Equally important, somehow our conventional economic attitudes have managed to take one of the most beautiful of human experiences – the way we can create, by working with and for each other, a quality of life that is so much finer and deeper than what we can create alone – and turned this process into something that is all too often cold, distasteful, painful and alienating.
What is this new perspective? This introduction is hardly the place for detailed explanations, but we have tried to catch the flavor of it through the phrase, "economics in an intelligent universe". What does the universe have to do with economics? A lot. Economic systems are built on assumptions about human nature and the way the universe works. Conventional economics, which got its start about 200 years ago on the British Isles when that culture was enthusiastically exploring the industrial possibilities of machinery and was enthralled with the power and simplicity of Newtonian science, could well be described as economics in a mechanical universe.
In contrast, we are using the word "intelligent" to emphasize four related factors that seem to be essential ingredients for any successful new vision of economics.
1 ) Our view of the universe, as developed through the various sciences during the past 200 years has consistently grown in the direction of a much more lively, interconnected, and unpredictable universe than the early mechanistic view expected. From quantum physics to biology, from systems theory to ecology, from psychology to chemistry, the old "clockwork" images have given way to much more complex systems full of all sorts of feedback loops and interconnections. We can hardly expect economics to be any less complex.
2) The new economic and technological frontiers that we are expanding into are no longer mechanical, but rather electronic and biological. Our focus has shifted from extensions of muscle power to extensions of brain power. Information and intelligence are the new key economic factors, the new wealth.
3) At the same time, many people are exploring their own inner awareness, their own consciousness, and discovering that here too the universe is much more interconnected than we might have expected. Of course, this is not news to the world’s major religious and spiritual traditions who have always held that the universe is much more alive and intelligent than materialists expect.
4) Perhaps most importantly, we are coming to see ourselves – as human beings – as much more complex, wonderful and resourceful than conventional economics gives us credit for. We are increasingly unwilling to squeeze ourselves into the narrow molds that conventional economic options and attitudes offer us.
The time is ripe for our economic attitudes and institutions to catch up to the growth that has occurred in other areas of our culture.
In what follows, we consider these questions first from personal perspectives and then from more systematic ones. Personal/global, structure/values – these are like pairs of legs, both sides needed for graceful walking.