15 Slices
Medium 9781887208031

3. The Midas Curse

Korten, David C. Berrett-Koehler Publishers PDF

Chapter 3

The Midas Curse

In the history of capitalism’s long expansionary cycles, it is finance capital that usually rules in the final stage, displacing the inventors and industrialists who launched the era, eclipsing the power of governments to manage the course of economic events. . . . Since returns on capital are rising faster than the productive output that must pay them, the process imposes greater and greater burdens on commerce and societies.


We are seeing a worldwide pattern of decapitalization. Capital, whether it be natural capital in the form of resources, or human capital in the form of low-wage workers, or local capital in the form of functional and healthy local economies, is being extracted and converted to financial capital at an increasingly accelerated rate.

— PA U L H A W K E N 2

in greek mythology a king named Midas ruled over the people of

Phrygia, an ancient nation in Asia Minor. In return for a favor, the god

Dionysus offered to grant Midas a wish. Midas asked that all he touched might turn to gold. His wish was granted, but when his touch turned his food, drink, and even his beloved daughter to gold, he realized that his assumed blessing was in fact a curse. He now had gold without limit, but at the price of life—both his own and that of those he loved.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781887208031

7. Responsible Freedom

Korten, David C. Berrett-Koehler Publishers PDF

Chapter 7

Responsible Freedom

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.

I awoke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold, service was joy.

— R A B I N D R A N AT H TA G O R E 1

Living systems evolve in complexity, flexibility, and intelligence through interaction with each other. These interactions require openness and vulnerability in order to process the flow-through of energy and information. They bring into play new responses and new possibilities not previously present, increasing the capacity to effect change.


we humans are the ultimate choice-making organisms, for far more than any other of life’s creatures we have the ability to create a future of our conscious choosing. This freedom is both our blessing and our curse, however, as it means we bear the burden of responsibility to make our choices wisely. Capitalism’s beguiling promise of freedom and prosperity without the commensurate burden of responsibility is perhaps the primary source of its deadly attraction. Hear this verse from its seductive song:

See All Chapters
Medium 9781887208031

9. Economic Democracy

Korten, David C. Berrett-Koehler Publishers PDF

Chapter 9

Economic Democracy

If one concedes that financial markets largely rule the world, then all that is left for governments and central banks is to try to please these markets by pursuing the policies the bond traders demand: low inflation enforced through monetarist policies of high real interest rates and high unemployment, and policies of fiscal austerity. . . . In essence, this means abandoning the most basic principles of democracy.


As Americans moved off the farm, they became a nation of employees rather than proprietors, becoming wage earners and modernday sharecroppers rather than equity-empowered stakeowners.

That must change.

— J E F F G AT E S 2

ownership rights have long played a major role in defining power relationships in both political and economic affairs. Our present situation is no exception. The central problem of global capitalism may be described in terms of institutional relationships that concentrate the power of ownership in the hands of an economic aristocracy that is delinked from community interests and has no accountability.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781887208031

10. The Rights of Living Persons

Korten, David C. Berrett-Koehler Publishers PDF

Chapter 10

The Rights of Living Persons

The idea that a corporation is endowed with the rights and prerogatives of a free individual is as essential to the acceptance of corporate rule in temporal affairs as was the ideal of the divine right of kings in an earlier day.


Too many organizing campaigns accept the corporation’s rules, and wrangle on corporate turf. We lobby congress for limited laws. . . .

We plead with corporations to be socially responsible. . . . How much more strength, time, and hope will we invest in such dead ends?




human rights secure our freedom to live fully and responsibly within life’s community. We are finding, however, that as corporations have become increasingly successful in claiming these same rights for themselves, they have become increasingly assertive in denying them to living people. For example, as noted in Chapter 9, they use property rights as an instrument to deny the economically weak the most fundamental of all human rights—the right to live—by denying them the right of access to a means of living. The conflict between the person’s right to a means of living and the presumed right of the corporation to the security of its property and profit is perhaps the ultimate confrontation between the natural rights of living people and the rights that the institutions of capitalism have presumed for themselves, but it is only one of many.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781887208031

5. Organism as Metaphor

Korten, David C. Berrett-Koehler Publishers PDF

Chapter 5

Organism as Metaphor

The body is a complex thing with many constituent parts, and to understand its behavior you must apply the laws of physics to its parts, not to the whole. The behaviour of the body as a whole will then emerge as a consequence of interactions of the parts.


No organic being is a billiard ball, acted upon only by external forces. All are sentient. . . . Each is capable, to varying degrees, of acting on its own.

— LY N N M A R G U L I S



as the prologue mentions, a chance encounter with microbiologist

Mae-Wan Ho on a flight from Santiago de Compostela, Spain to London provided the impetus for this book. I was especially taken by a paper she shared with me entitled “The New Age of the Organism,” in which she forecast an emerging shift in the basic paradigm of science from the metaphor of the machine to the metaphor of the self-organizing living organism. She also shared her thoughts on how such a shift in perspective might change the way we think about the design of our economic institutions. By the end of the conversation I was convinced that her insight into life’s incredible capacity to self-organize in ways that maintain the integrity of both the individual and the whole holds a critical key to resolving humanity’s deepening economic and social crises.

See All Chapters

See All Slices