The Larger Context For Economics

What is the economic process for?
To free our spirit from demands of the physical world,
so that we can unfold higher and more creative potentials

One of the articles in Rediscovering The North American Vision (IC#3)
Originally published in Summer 1983 on page 48
Copyright (c)1983, 1996 by Context Institute

The following is taken from one of the evening talks given at the Planetary Village conference. Francois Duquesne has for the past few years been the director of the Findhorn Community in Scotland.

I DON’T INTEND in half an hour to prosecute our ailing economies, but I thought – what do I want to share with you on the topic that’s meaningful to me, and hopefully could be meaningful to you? That’s what I’d like to talk about for half an hour.

You see, I don’t believe personally that there is an economic problem in the world. I know there is, I feel there is, a political problem. I feel we have the resources at hand to feed and clothe and house everyone, but as long as we spend a million dollars a minute worldwide on armaments – just to mention one waste – as long as we lack the political will to harness these resources and to marshal them in the right direction, then what we are doing is patching at the seamwork.

And from my experience at our community, when we had financial problems, we discovered that really we didn’t have financial problems, we had political problems – problems of mistrust and miscommunication. And then, behind that, we didn’t have political problems, we had a spiritual problem – one of motivation, one of vision, one of purpose, one of caring for the community. How to feel connected to the community? How to feel a part of it? So that the will to agree, the will to share, the will to work, the will to give, is unleashed. And then when the motivation is there, and the will to come together is there, then the energy is released and things begin to work.

Well, I feel that’s the same in the world. I feel also that God has the same problem. How to market Him or Herself and make Him or Herself available to every conscious entity in the whole wide universe. That’s a big marketing problem, when you think of it. I’m not sure whether there are advertising agencies at work, but somehow He or She seems to manage that very well.

And the way that works, as I see it, is by something you could call a sharing of substance. Somehow God manages to make that presence – His presence – accessible to every one of us. There is a willingness (there’s got to be, or else none of us would be here); there is a willingness to reach out and nourish.

And so if we can listen to that, and if we can begin to imagine and look at the economics and the ecology of the universe, then perhaps we can begin to see our own economics in perspective – in a wider context – which is not just the production and distribution of goods and services. I mean, true, that is the sign of economics. But it has to be fitted into a wider field. We have to ask: what for? to what end? for what purpose?

And the way divine energy makes itself accessible to us is in order to fill a need – the need of oneness, the need of communion. And the way, initially, economics starts is in response to a need – the most basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and then comfort. And then once those needs are met, we have to ask the question, what is the entire economic process for? And viewed in the larger perspective, I would suggest it is to free our spirit from the demands of the physical world, so that we can unfold higher and more creative potentials.

Depending on how we define ourselves, the images we use to define ourselves would, I feel, also condition the kind of economics we create. As long as we confuse our identity into a quest for power, then economics is really an accumulation of goods. It is seeking after those artifacts which will tell the world who we are. If my bank account is such-and-such, and I own such-and-such a car, and I wear such-and-such clothes, then I’m telling the world who I am.

And the fundamental shift of consciousness I feel we need to take place, before we talk about economics, is to ask the questions who we are and how is our identity to be made. And if we think about the way Divinity or Spirit does it, then it’s not so much an accumulation of substance as it is a radiation of substance, a radiation of nourishment. And I would venture to say that the new values of success, in the emerging future economy, will not be how much one possesses, but how much of a source of wealth and nourishment a person is to his or her world. And we will begin to think in terms of circulation of energy.

Both processes need to be honored: the extracting, the manufacturing, the distribution, and meeting the needs at the very physical level; but somehow we need to shift that within a wider perspective, one that makes us sensitive to the needs of the whole. And then if we are motivated by the needs of the whole, somehow our priority changes. We will be able to view what are traditionally called the economic inputs – of labor, of land, of capital, of resources – in an entirely different context. To me, a powerful image that is really meaningful, is the one of the communion. When Jesus said to the disciples, here is bread, here is my blood – he didn’t say here is my blood and it’s going to cost you $10 a pint. There was a profound symbol of giving, of sharing of oneself.

Now, with these few thoughts in mind, if we begin to look at the economic process with those values, then again, techniques will be required, we will need to form new institutions. But even before that, it’s learning to see the old ways with new eyes.

Taking, for example, the three main inputs which factor into the economic process, of assets: the assets of land, which have to be extended to include earth support systems – the sea, the air, the oceans, the plants, the animals, and themselves to be divided into the starts and flows, non-renewable and renewable; if we think about labor, and extend that to mean work, intelligence, creative potential, creativity, human fulfillment; and if we think about capital, and include in that traditionally the means of production, savings, money – but further, what is capital for?

I feel capital is given, I feel capital is yielded up naturally, you don’t do anything. You plant one potato, work on the soil and nourish the soil, and you harvest not one potato but twenty potatoes, or whatever. There is a multiplication, there is an abundance that’s flowing there. Capital comes from the Latin capacitas, which means the potentials, the capacities. And to me, capital which is naturally yielded up through the economic process has to be converted back in nourishment, to nourish the capacities of human beings.

So that the profits – nothing against profits – the profits that are generated through the economic cycle have a responsibility, in order to complete that cycle, to be plowed back into the culture in order to nourish the human creative potential of individual beings.

If you think of work, we are so used in our culture to thinking of work for a living – I earn my money and then I spend it. We have all sorts of splits: producer/consumer, manager/worker, employer/employee. But the Buddhist approach to work, for instance, just to illustrate out of another culture, is very different than our own. The Buddhist practitioner engages in work primarily to overcome ego attachment, because one has to associate with others, one has to enter a process which economists have called division of labor. And the other reason for entering work, in the Buddhist economics, is the idea of right livelihood, of meeting a need in the world through one’s own giving.

If you think of the land – the assets – and begin to bring into question the notions of ownership, the notions of use or abuse, then when we think about meeting our needs – physical needs – then somehow we have a more complete picture of what is required of us. The way we will craft our goods, we’ll be mindful of the materials themselves, we’ll be mindful of the spirit – as we say at Findhorn, the deva – that lives in the machine. Or again, to quote the story that was narrated to us this morning the cathedral in the stone.

But for that to happen, somehow we need to relinquish the need and the pressure of accumulation, of security which is gained by holding. And if a measure of economic process is actually the radiation of nourishment, then the way we will design our corporations and our communities will be reflective of this.

What we’ve had to work with at Findhorn is to engage the whole community in believing in itself. How do you mobilize people’s savings? How do we get people to invest their capital or their savings or their work or their talent or their skill into something their heart really believes in? And this is where the sharing of substance, the response to need which is more than just a personal need, comes to a point of focus that allows that process to take place.

So all these things are happening in various parts of the world. One realizes that the industrial economies have reached a point where they can no longer meet the needs. And rather than waiting for that cycle to change at the top, what is happening in our community is that we start at the bottom. We start to recreate an economy that is grounded, that’s not floating up there, that’s not built on debt or inflation or illusions or greed or inflated need.

Because that’s the problem, the economy is floating up – inflated, literally – and what we need to do is ground it back to values that are sound, that meet the needs of people, because that’s what the economic process was meant to do in the first place.

For instance, we are thinking of creating a credit union in our community, to facilitate the flow of savings coming together, and then we encourage people to think in terms of their assets. An exercise we do is, we tell them, you take a piece of paper and you address a balance sheet of your life. On the one hand you put your assets – from the physical to the emotional, to the mental, the psychological, and the spiritual – and on the other side you put your liabilities, physical and so forth. You put folks in touch with the richness that they have, and say, you’ve been given all this – talents, physical assets, etc. – what is it for? What does it mean to be a steward of the resources one has been given?

And that to me is engaging in reformulating our economy in a very immediate and personal way. It’s not trying to beat the system, it’s not trying to beat inflation or get ahead or having somehow a survivalist attitude of how can I get ahead during the inflationary times or the hard times that are ahead. But it’s taking responsibility for our assets – our wealth – and seeing how that wealth can serve the greater needs of the community.

And it is my awareness that the wealth that is born out of community is structurally sound, the peace that is born out of community is also structurally sound.

I remember talking in Eugene last year to a business convention – Winner’s Circle, I believe, and everybody was wearing a badge saying ‘I’m a Winner’ – positive thinking trying to attract capital into the area. But what I was sharing with those people is that when people pool their resources and obey the first law of economics, which is that of association, then the flows begin to take place again. Wealth is a by-product of community, that’s basically what I’m trying to say.

And the prime organizing principle of economics is association. In western culture we’ve interpreted that as division of labor, and we’ve allowed a complete separation between the owners and non-owners, the workers and the management. But what’s happening – through the Mondragon experiment, for instance, or through the Japanese Quality Circles or mini- corporations, or very much in the communities themselves – is that these differences, these polarities, are being broken down so that people learn to consume and produce – to prosume, as Toffler calls it – and they learn to exercise responsibility in a management capacity, but also to do the work with their hands, if that’s required.

And they learn to put their money in the community and yet get a return, to be a stockholder of their community – but not separate – to have an investment, to be actively involved and participating.

I heartily also recommend the film on Mondragon, which is an experiment that started in Spain some thirty years ago whereby the Basque community has devised an institutional way of blending the best of the capitalism free-spirit market with social responsibility; where each worker is a stockholder in the company and everyone has a single vote; where there is not a division between management and labor.

I don’t think it’s useful to polarize ourselves into one system or the other. In our community we found we have to have both. We have the non-profit – the Foundation – and that’s a particular mode of functioning; but we also have seen that that has its limits. People need the discipline of the marketplace, as it were, to test their muscle, to stand on their own feet. And if there is a community there, or a welfare state – an umbrella, that protects people from the realities of life – then there is no growth, there is no spiritual growth.

And we’ve made a mistake by equating spiritual growth – which is limitless – with physical growth, which doesn’t need to be. The spirit needs a vehicle to work and function in, but once that vehicle has been tuned, then the spiritual growth itself is limitless. But somehow because we have misidentified ourselves with our possessions, we have translated that concept of limitless growth into the physical domain, which naturally is cancerous and goes nowhere.

So that’s why, perhaps, the first steps to disentangle ourselves from such wrong thinking, is what is called Voluntary Simplicity. Maybe limiting, consciously and voluntarily, the amount of possessions that we have, simply so that we can again re-connect ourselves to the impulse of nourishment of the spirit and the creative potential.

I feel that one economy is passing – the mass economy, the production of goods and services, planned obsolescence and all these things. What we are moving toward is one in which intelligence is valued, in which the quality of the product is valued – customer relations.

I’ve seen how in our grocery shop the business has been booming, because we’ve increased the quality of the goods and because we’ve increased the person-to-person contact. So that each person who comes to the till, who is welcomed, who is made to feel a part of the whole, who is touching a warmth – that person is nourished on another level than just buying the goods. That’s what we are looking after, that’s the big thirst, the big hunger, in the world – the need for connectedness. And we need to use and devote our entire economic process to achieve that connectedness in order to feel at peace. Because our identity is not confined within one nation-state or within one community or one person. Our identity will only be found by sharing, by the sharing of substance, the exchange between nations. The reason our identity, our species identity, cannot surface, cannot fulfill us, is that there is not that sharing or that exchange.

So, these are a few thoughts which to me are meaningful, because they set the tone for engaging in economic activity. Out of that, the resources are already at hand – the conceptual tools, the practical tools, whether they are worker-owned cooperatives like the Mondragon system, or community banks that consecrate the savings of the local community for local reinvestment, whether they are the more participatory styles of management within the corporation, whether they are ingenious ways of reshaping the economic international order – all the proposals are there, the plans are there, the mechanisms, the ideas are there.

But what still is lacking is the political will or the imagination to put them into action.

And, again, I feel that this is where the community, the planetary village, comes in, because we have the opportunity there to do it on a small scale. And if that works, if we can model sustainable economics at the level of the village, then the same principles, through resonance, through holography, will apply on the larger scale.

So that’s all I would like to say within my 30 minutes, in terms of a context, in terms of a few directions of force, which to me precede rushing into rearranging the world economy, because I feel they are fundamental directions and awarenesses to have before we engage in that.

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