Extract from an article by David Korten at

3: What Would a Down-to-Earth Economy Look Like?

How did we end up with Wall Street when models for a healthy economy are all around us?

Modern neuroscience affirms that the human brain evolved to reward cooperation and service. In other words, nature has hard-wired the original instructions into our brain. Extreme individualism, greed, and violence are pathological and a sign of physical, developmental, cultural, and/or institutional system failure. Caring relationships are the foundation of healthy families, communities, and life itself.

We are living out the consequences of our collective human failure to adhere to the original instructions—the organizing principles of healthy living systems readily discernible through observation of nature at work. These are the principles by which we must rethink and reorganize human economies.

So how would nature design an economy? An economy is nothing more than a system for allocating resources to productive activity—presumably in support of life. In fact, nature is an economy, with material and information exchange, saving, investment, production, and consumption—all functions we associate with economic activity. Absent human intervention, as Lyons says, “It just continues on and on in great cycles of regeneration.”

Nature surrounds us with expressions of the organizing principles that make possible life’s exceptional resilience, capacity for adaptation, creative innovation, and vibrant abundance. Earth’s biosphere and the human body are two magnificent examples.

  Wall Street Nature
Defining value Money
Primary performance indicators Growth, financial returns, flows, and assets Life’s abundance, health, resilience, and creative potential
Primary dynamic Competition to maximize self-interest Cooperation to optimize self- and community interest
Decision-making power Global, top-down, centralized, and concentrated Local, bottom-up, and distributed
Time frame Immediate return Sustained yield
Local character Uniform Diverse
Resource control Monopolized Shared
Resource flows Global, linear, one-time use from mine to dump Local, circular, perpetual use, zero waste
Deficits of concern Financial Social and environmental
Measure of efficiency Returns to financial capital Returns to social and natural capital
Growth Infinite growth of money and material consumption A stage in life’s endless regenerative cycles of birth, growth, death, and rebirth