Article Nine

Towards a Wisdom Economy – value, meaning and exchange in an infinite game

The economies of nation states are usually understood in terms of the generation and exchange of goods and services based on the extraction of resources and labour. This however, is a limited and mechanical view that isolates exchange from real people and places. Closer to reality, economies are the manifestation of complex relationships between evolving ecological and industrial systems, political movements, technological developments, cultural values, meaning structures and the experiences beliefs and behaviours of constantly changing individuals. 

To the extent that an economic system ignores this complexity, reduces humans to self-interest maximising machines or views the natural world purely in terms of human utility (natural resources) it will contribute to an extinctionary cultural paradigm.

An economic system is not only the emergent result of a cultural worldview, but in a hermeneutic cycle, these systems act back on its participants in normative and transformative ways. This concept of how what we make as humans influences our ways of being in the world is known as ontological design. 

A market economy, for example, is based primarily on each actor maximising their own benefit. This might both emerge from and contribute to the development of a culture of greed, selfishness, rivalry and separateness. These anthropocentric ways of being in the world seem normal and natural to most within this finite game paradigm yet are defuturing when viewed from a larger historical and evolutionary perspective. The current economic systems reinforce this finite paradigm at a core level of what it means to be human. Concepts such as scarcity, win-lose game theory, competition, a separate self and linear resource extraction are so intrinsic to this paradigm that they are rarely questioned. 

To contribute to the evolution of human consciousness beyond the anthropocentric paradigm, we need to engage in the radical interconnectedness of all things. Considering ontological design, the creation of more integrated economic systems might play a central role in this transition. 

I believe that the core value in these new economies of ongoingness, rather than materials, labour or knowledge (information) must be wisdom. The prioritization of non-dual wisdom must be foundational to not only our systems of exchange but our way of making sense of the world and being in the world. This wisdom must be based on an awareness of deep interconnection. Charles Eisenstein refers to this as “interbeing”. In this paradigm harm can never be externalized and thus wisdom not only seeks to do no harm, but benefit as many as possible while contributing to further connection. In this way, wisdom and discernment (meaning-making and sense-making) must be guided by relationships of love (other-orientedness) and humility (awareness of the tendency for self-deception). These virtues are not routinely considered in economics, yet most of us do not want to live in a world void of love, compassion or humility.

A wisdom economy then, is an approach to relationships and exchange that seeks to benefit all known participants and stakeholders towards a mutual thriving through the expanse of time. The scientific knowledge and technological skills to transition towards such an economy are already being employed in many schools. The emergence of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) focused programs and curriculum exemplify this. However, without the complementary development of human interiors (love, humility, wisdom, discerment etc.) the knowledge and skills provided in most schools are likely to be applied to the current market economies of unsustainable competition, linear extraction, consumption and eventual collapse. What is missing is the other half of education, the development of the human soul. Our knowledge and skills are growing rapidly while our sense of meaning and purpose atrophy.

For more on the other half of education see Article Ten coming in January 2020.