Futurist Urges Shift From 'Casino' to Control

The global economy is a "casino" moving out of control, reducing the power of governments, damaging the environment, and undermining social well-being. It can't last.

But don't despair. There is also "slow-motion good news" going on, as the old way of doing things increasingly gets challenged - and changed - by "global citizens," grass-roots organizations, and enlightened businesses around the world. In the end, human adaptability and ingenuity likely will overcome adversity.

This, in essence, is the view of Hazel Henderson, author, lecturer, consultant to business and government, futurist, and self-described "anti-economist."

For nearly 30 years, Ms. Henderson has been a critic of traditional economics, which she tweaks as "politics in disguise." She has called for new ways of looking at social and economic structures and relationships (new "paradigms," to use one of her favorite words), and she was talking and writing about "sustainability" years before it became a buzzword in environmental and eventually business circles.

In a telephone interview from her home in St. Augustine, Fla., (where she was battening hatches against hurricane Bertha), Henderson discussed the ideas presented in her new book, "Building a Win-Win World: Life Beyond Global Economic Warfare" (Berret-Koehler).

Behind many of today's economic, political, and social problems, she sees a single cause: "Technological innovation keeps outrunning social innovation."

"With computerized trading" in currencies and bonds, for example, "you now have $1.3 trillion swirling around the planet every 24 hours." The result: "global financial markets now are more or less in the driver's seat on policies in every nation-state."

"The problem with all of this is that capital markets still are not including social and environmental costs," she says. And because "no central bank or finance minister can control the game any more, the way they used to," it is more and more difficult for political leaders to keep promises on issues like job creation, environmental protection, and maintaining a minimum social safety net.

It's a view that contrasts strikingly with conservative economists, who praise the discipline of the marketplace for a global shift toward tamer inflation, sounder fiscal policies, and rises in productivity, jobs, and incomes.

But Henderson is not alone in her critique of mainstream views. In recent years, some economists have become willing to consider new approaches to measuring economic growth, for example, taking the depletion of natural resources into account.

As a positive counter to economic globalization and its political and social dangers, Henderson notes the emergence of grass-roots organizations and business groups influencing national and international policy-makers. There now are about 18,000 nongovernmental organizations around the world, 1,500 of them officially recognized by the United Nations.

In the United States, the President's Council on Sustainable Development includes a wide range of business, environmental, and other leaders not typically thought of as working together.

The Business Council for Sustainable Development (begun by Swiss industrialist Stephan Schmidheiny) includes more than 50 major companies from around the world. And Henderson calls it "a great encouragement" that 10 percent of all businesses now engage in "stakeholder capitalism" that values "social conscience and environmental awareness."

Much remains to be done, she says, such as "harmonizing global agreements and regulations on the use of the global commons," including "cyberspace."

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