I really wanted to like Agenda for a New Economy, by David C. Korten, but I just couldn’t get into it and really stay focused on it. In this book, Korten explains how Wall Street only generates “phantom wealth” that has no relationship to any real wealth measure of health and happiness, and why we need to do away with a Wall Street-based economy entirely and return to a Main Street economy based on “real wealth.” I agree almost entirely with Korten, but I could not get engaged in the book. I have a lot of difficulty understanding how our current economy works (which Korten says may indicate that I am actually in touch with reality), and after reading this book my pre-existing opinion that there is something seriously perverted about our economic system has been reinforced. However, I’m not sure I could explain in much detail how and why it is perverted, even though explaining that seems to be at least the partial intent of the book. In general, I felt that the book was somewhat repetitive, the distinctions between the three sections in it were not clear-cut, and the writing was lacking crisp clarity.
While he did present some concrete steps and actions, it is still difficult for me to believe we can possibly get from our current state to the ideal Main Street economy he describes. Reading this book made me anxious because it highlighted how very large and deep are the problems in front of us, and how very different the future must look if we are going to achieve any degree of sustainability and peace. And yet what politicians do best seems to be maintaining the status quo. It was difficult for me to maintain hope while reading this book.
I did write down a few quotes from Agenda for a New Economy, that put into words thought I have had. Here are two of them:
It is illogical and deeply destructive to design an economic system in a way that creates an artificial demand for perpetual growth on a finite planet. Even more pernicious is that the growth must be achieved in ways that continuously improve the financial position of the already rich relative to everyone else.
The owning classes have long recognized that any political unification of the oppressed places their imperial class privilege at risk. The separate claims of identity politics based on race, gender, and occupational specialization are tolerable to Empire, because they emphasize and perpetuate division. Discussion of class, however, is forbidden, because it exposes common interests and unifying sturctural issues around which a powerful resistance movement might be built.
To conclude, perhaps I am simply not the right audience for Agenda for a new Economy. I did not need to be convinced that our current economic system, based on endless growth and consumption, makes no sense, is not sustainable, and does not correlate with health and happiness. I already knew this – feel it deep in my bones – and know that it must change or we are doomed. I think when I pick up a book such as this one, I am looking in part for reinforcement of my beliefs, but more importantly for concrete evidence of why my beliefs are correct and concrete ways to make changes. This book did not particularly satisfy the two latter desires, nor fill me with hope and inspiration.