We live in a profoundly unequal world by design. Wealth accumulates in the hands of the already-wealthy as a byproduct of extractive economic principles. Everyone in the world who is working to tackle the ecological crisis, bring an end to mass poverty, or reduce the suffering of those around them needs to realize this essential fact.
Recognize this simple truth and the entire game changes.
Right now, at least 24 TRILLION dollars is squirreled away in tax havens around the world. This is money that has been hidden from view in a clandestine network of shell companies, computer accounting systems, law firms, and legal structures that comprise a global architecture for wealth hoarding. It is systemic corruption that was put in place on purpose.
Think of it like when famine hits a small village and starvation is on the rise, yet the richest in the community close off their grain towers to keep a ten year supply of food to themselves so they can remain in power after the famine comes to an end. We are living through a period of history where the investments we make today will shape whether it is even possible to have a civilization tomorrow. Yet the wealthiest 0.1% are behaving like spoiled children — trying to grab another billion dollars from the coffers while billions of other people are malnourished and starving.
Imagine instead if we took the global crisis seriously and recognized the financial parasites for what they are. The wealth hoarders are symptomatic of an economic paradigm that behaves like cancer, spreading and growing exponentially because that is what its core logic dictates it to do.
We must replace the logic of extraction with principles that are compatible with life. It will not be possible to make our cities sustainable (or even affordable to live in) if our economic paradigm fails to take into account the logic of homeostasis and its support capacities based in the patterns of emergence.
Let me explain with an example.
The human body continues to exist moment by moment because a vast web of interconnected systems — for circulation of nutrients, digestion, feeling pain, monitoring changes, and so forth — are keeping it in a “safe zone” for several key biological parameters. Get too hot? Open up the follicles on your skin and start sweating. Too acidic? Release hormones for appetite to seek food that will restore balance. Too much pressure on the brain? Feel the discomfort and alter your behavior accordingly — maybe by sitting down and taking a few breaths.
Our bodies, like all living things, are able to regulate themselves as nested systems of emergent order. They do this in a combination of centralized and distributed systems of control that function in parallel at multiple levels. Forget the mythical battle between large centralized economies and “free” markets. Real economic systems work through multi-tiered feedbacks in government and management across households, municipalities, professional associations, regional and national agencies, trade consortiums, and more.
No single level dominates, yet all work in harmony through the coordination of multi-level patterns for selecting desired outcomes. The field of evolutionary studies explains how all of this works. Biologist David Sloan Wilson describes it bluntly when he says the economy is an organism.
My reason for pointing this out is that our financial system has “gone rogue” and made the central goal for civilization to maximize profits for the few at the expense of the many. This is what cancer does and its end state is well known. We will not have a living civilization much longer if this pattern of growth without constraint continues.
Let us seek instead to behave like the living systems we are in our communities. In order to do this, we need to release the financial nutrients that have been squirreled away from the body of the economy as a whole. Currently, with wealth hoarding the way it is, the economy is functioning like your body would if half of your blood supply got syphoned off to the big toe on your left foot. Very quickly, you would lose consciousness and go into cardiac arrest.
This is the antithesis of sustainability.
And it is the direction we are heading now — and we’ll only change course by updating the rules-of-play for our global economy. End the wealth hoarding and invest in the future of our species instead. Do this and we have a chance at making the transition to sustainability. Fail to do this, and we over-exploit the natural foundations of our livelihoods and go into rapid decline. Then our civilization collapses.
The choice is now before us.