The New System Series: Volume 3

Written by Gus Speth

Originally posted on

In The New Economy: A Living Earth System Model,David Korten contrasts what he calls the self-destructing “suicide economy” we have and a “living Earth economy” that self-organizes toward ecosystem health and balance, shared prosperity, and living democracy. He calls for a system transformation that shifts power from global corporations to largely self-reliant and deeply democratic, self-governing, bio-regional living communities. Korten further argues that we cannot look to the corporations that created and benefit from the failed system to now transform that system. His priorities for system transformation include a new story of human possibility and purpose, a new economics that values life over money, a legal system that secures the rights of nature and people over the presumed rights of corporations, and a radical restructuring and redistribution of ownership. He sees leadership coming, as he believes it must, from social movements with a shared vision of unrealized human possibility.

In The Good Society, Henning Meyer argues that a values-based, social democratic system, with a mixed economy, holds considerable promise as a new model, and as the mechanism to change the current system. Meyer’s envisioned system “seeks to combine an activist cosmopolitan outlook on global issues with a re-foundation of social democracy’s communitarian roots.” At the core of the proposed changes is how policies are created. According to Meyer, we need to adopt a “transformative policy approach,” one that places politics over economic interests and focuses on transparency, inclusivity, democratic decision making, and global connectivity and solidarity. At the economic level, Meyer advocates for the adoption of diverse ownership models, including models that better fit the production of public goods. Financial markets and institutions must also be transformed to serve social purposes, explains Meyer. In addition to the values-based approach, Meyer claims that a “conducive regulatory environment,” along with trade unions, is crucial to combat economic inequality and the challenges of a digital era.

In Democratizing Wealth in the U.S. South, Ed Whitfield presents the Fund for Democratic Communities (F4DC) vision for a next system based on communal ownership of productive assets. As Whitfield explains, the goal of the new system must be total economic democracy and community control over production, in order to place “the wealth created by human labor back into the commons for the benefit of all.” Focusing on the grassroots level, Whitfield advocates for a structural change in ownership, with cooperative associations and democratically managed community groups owning productive assets, and public financial institutions controlling and owning surplus values and investments. Examples of F4DC’s proposed system include experiments in community ownership and community-as-developer in the US South, site for past and ongoing crisis, along with reparations to be paid to communities that have been “systemically stripped of the wealth produced within them,” outlines Whitfield.

Finally, in Start With Worker Self-Directed Enterprises, Richard Wolff describes a next economic system centered on worker-directed cooperatives. According to Wolff, to transition to a non-capitalist system we must change the “who and the why of key economic decision making.” To do so, Wolff proposes changes at the “basic enterprise level” by “making workers their own bosses.” Through the creation of Worker Self Directed Enterprises (WSDE), workers become responsible for democratically deciding – one worker, one vote – how to divide up the tasks to be performed, what, how, and where it is to be produced, and how to use and distribute net revenues or profits. In making these decisions, WSDEs – working along with democratic organizations of residential communities – would consider matters in addition to just profit such as health, community wealth, and solidarity. According to Wolff, the “growth and proliferation” of WSDEs represents both the goal for the next system and the mechanism through which we will transition to it.

The Next System Project’s “New Systems” paper series seeks to publicize comprehensive alternative political-economic system models and approaches that are different in fundamental ways from the failed systems of the past and present, and capable of delivering superior social, economic, and ecological outcomes. The introduction to the series and a full list of New Systems papers published to date can be found here.

Gus Speth

Co-Chair, Next System Project