Week in Review
This Week at Capital Institute
At The Universities for a New Economy Conference held at the New School earlier this month, we had a chance to share insights gleaned from recent conversations with Scott Fullwiler and Steve Crane, two professors at Presidio Graduate School's pioneering MBA in Sustainable Management Program. Both professors know their students need to be conversant in the old language of modern finance but they also want them to be fluent in a new vocabulary of holistic finance that acknowledges that some of the most critical values to be considered by anyone who cares about an investable future will often elude measurement.
A year and a half ago when we spoke to Gar Alperovitz for our Braintrust series on thought leaders who have most influenced us at Capital Institute, he began the conversation by asking, “If you are not a fan of either socialism or corporate capitalism, what are your alternatives and how do you get there?” Gar’s new book, What Then Must We Do? and his film, The Next American Revolution, go a long, thought-provoking way toward answering those vexing questions.
I first “met” Dan O’Neill in the spring of 2009 when I was researching an article for the New York Society of Security Analysts about Herman Daly and his groundbreaking vision of the steady state economy. At the time Dan was the European director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) and a postgraduate research student at the University of Leeds. He introduced me to the nuances of the ecological footprint and we talked about what it might mean for an economy to approach a “steady”—prosperous, nongrowing—state.
Dan, currently a lecturer in ecological economics at the University of Leeds, and Rob Dieitz, first director of the CASSE and editor of the Daly News, have now co-authored Enough is Enough, a collection of not-so-modest proposals for achieving the steady state.
The term ”the skills gap” is being bandied about quite a bit in the mainstream press these days in articles that call on the American educational system to beef up its science, technical, engineering, and math curriculum. Academics, policy analysts, and journalists are busily connecting the dots between the inadequacy of STEM teaching and the shortage of skilled advanced manufacturing workers that is leaving hundreds of thousands of jobs unfilled even in an era of stubbornly high unemployment.
Capital Institute friend Tim MacDonald of Stonebridge Partnership called our attention last week to a rousing pension fund “call to action” issued by Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, at the Fiduciary Investor Symposium held in Santa Monica last month.
James Galbraith and Dean Baker have praised Eric Laursen’s new book, The People’s Pension, for its riveting account of the history of the social security system and the ongoing wars around it. But what caught our attention at Capital Institute was Laursen’s intriguing argument that social security should be viewed as a living and ever evolving program that can be revitalized to serve as a vehicle for democratizing investment in a more sustainable, placed-based economy. As David Graeber of the Occupy Wall Street Movement says, The People’s Pension could enable “a fundamental change in public thinking about the very nature of public goods.”
I read Gus Speth's The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and the Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability (2008), before I met the man. I recall it ending on something of a down note, with an acknowledgment that the environmental movement had in many ways failed to fulfill its mission and a sense of "over to you next generation." Fortunately, however, and to my great personal enrichment, Gus did not quit.
Like most environmentalists who came of age following the publication of Silent Spring, Gus no doubt underestimated the forces working against the interests of the planet, mostly the unintended consequences of an economic system whose destructive side effects we did not comprehend, or did not want to acknowledge. Gus's brave and bold new book, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, confronts head-on the enormity of the challenge facing America. It is the unfolding of a powerful vision—grounded in a scientific understanding of the planet’s life support systems—for retaking our democracy, and restoring an economy in service of people by one of the true sages of the New Economy movement.—John Fullerton