Economy on the Edge: Seeking a World That Works for the 100%

Sharing Economy

The Guardian
6 June 2014

The global economy is on the edge with 85 people having as much wealth as 3.5bn of the world’s poorest. We need a new story of an economy that doesn’t trash the planet

Humanity is learning the hard way. We are exceeding the planetary boundaries that define the edge of our planet’s capacity to support us. At the same time, we remain below the edge of what people need to live within a just, safe, and prosperous operating space, what Kate Raworth has called doughnut economics.

The global economy stands on the precipice, with 85 individuals having as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest. This leaves most of us living on a precarious edge of one form or another, as the “tower economy” accretes to itself ever-greater wealth.

How do we deal with edges? Pessimists and the careless jump or stumble off them. Visionaries sketch idyllic futures, but we need a strategy of change we can implement, an economy for the rest of us.

When standing on a crumbling cliff, the smart move is to back up and turn around. When we do, we see what had previously been left behind in our headlong dash to the edge – what is left of intact nature and of human community. Turning, we see the remnants of our beautiful world and the ancient wisdom we forgot.

Edges are also interesting. Diversity and abundance are found at the intersection of two ecosystems.

If we are courageous enough to think anew, we can begin to roll the edges back into the center, bringing diversity from the margins into the conversation about solutions. In the current economy, the most resilient people have been left out and disenfranchised. Bringing these voices in from the edges is the antidote to the Russell Brand video calling for revolution – now with over 10m views on YouTube.

Pete Seeger, the great singer and activist said, “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

From the edge we can craft an economy for the future, a strategy of change to give people a place to stand, a future to hold on to. People are afraid, confused – they need a new story about an economy that doesn’t trash the planet.

At present people and nature are in service to the economy, which itself serves the desires of the financial sector. The economy we need would demote finance to its proper role as a tool, and ensure the creation of an economy in service to well-being.

The economy we seek is founded on the principles of ecological economics. It recognizes that the linear flow of money and stuff (what economists define as “the economy”) is only a fragment of the larger real economy, embedded in human society. If it is to be shifted to serve and enhance human well-being it must be governed. More fundamentally, the economy and society are both embedded in the rest of nature. Without intact ecosystems and the services they provide us, neither can long survive.

The foundational work of stopping bad stuff and saving intact bits is just as essential as more visionary thinking.

This economy from the edge builds on the economic democracy work of the more than 100 organizational members of the New Economy Coalition, and on the work of the New Economics Foundation to achieve social, economic, and environmental justice. It is a joint effort to create a self-aware movement that builds on the hundreds of communities becoming 100% renewably powered, on Bhutan implementing organic agriculture throughout the country, and entrepreneurs teaching Kabul street orphans to make fuel briquettes from trash. William Gibson said that the future is already here; it is just not widely distributed. Our job is to find the best solutions and take them to scale.

This is “Occupy meets Wall Street”. It is emergent in the struggle in Richmond, California, to use the power of local government to confront the banksters and return people to affordable homes. At the same time, it is impact investors shifting flows of finance into the real economy. It is visionary business leaders using the power of their companies to drive sustainability throughout their supply chains, setting science-based- goals to implement genuine sustainability. It is not “us versus them”, but all those who would build a finer future working together.

The strategy of change embodies the Natural Capitalist arc of transition (a decade and a half’s success in moving the corporate sector into more sustainable practices) building on the solid business case for behaving more responsibly to people and the planet. This is not the old triple bottom line that made environmental programs into cost centers, but an integrated Bottom Line – the recognition that behaving more responsibly is better business, and that we can solve the gnarliest problems facing the earth at a profit.

Entrepreneurs have always set sail for new worlds, returning with news that the world is not flat, and that the future can be so much more than the linear, exhausted economy measured by soulless statistics like GDP – the flat flow through the economy of money and stuff.

There is a round economy out there waiting to be discovered – a circular economy, a sharing economy – to counter the liquidation economy. Entrepreneurs have always sailed into the unknown to find new lands, new hope, to counter flat earth myths and the modern equivalent, climate denialism.
We can find a new paradigm no one is expecting. This is what Peter Diamondis in his book Abundance and, better, Jigar Shah in his book Creating Climate Wealth are saying. We need to bring the complexity of biodiversity, the magic of innovation to bear on crafting solutions that blend technology and human potential. But we need to govern using ancient, indigenous wisdom.

With a vision of a round earth comes the mindfulness of our little blue orb, Buckminster Fuller’s Spaceship Earth, and the emergence of a new worldview of us all as crew, all responsible for its stewardship, and all needful of caring for each other if our vessel is to survive.

The Edge is where you face tough choices. It defines our time, our economy, and the way forward, as we create an economy in service to life.
What will emerge has many names, from the “Living Economy,” to the “Purpose Economy,” Capitalism 2.0 to perhaps “Lagom,” – Swedish for “just right” or “just enough”. Whatever we call it we seek what Buckminster Fuller termed, “a world that works for 100% of humanity”.

Help us name it. Join the conversation at There’s a bottle of whisky for the one who coins the best name.

L Hunter Lovins is president and founder of the Natural Capitalism Solutions. Donna Morton is the CEO and co-founder of First Power. Robert Constanza is a chair in public policy at Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU. Ida Kubiszewski is a Senior Lecturer at the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU.