Transitioning to Holistic Economics


The Story:

A shallow and limited view of ‘economics’ has produced a view of the Earth as a place filled with resources to be exploited in a process of never-ending growth. This has led to unsustainable levels of consumption by a relative few along with an enormous and growing disparity in wealth and economic opportunity between the rich and the poor. Reconciliation requires a ‘holistic economics’ or economics of the whole world system. From a whole-systems perspective, it makes sense to narrow these differences and establish minimum standards of economic well-being that support everyone in realizing their potentials. Economic balance and fairness calls for a new level of social consciousness and maturity whereby wealthier people and nations voluntarily simplify the material side of their lives and shift increasing amounts of energy into psychological, cultural, and spiritual development. Balance also calls for investment in sustainable development for developing nations. A holistic economics means that the well-being of the Earth and future generations is an integral part of economic thinking. A new economy is emerging as globalization is balanced with intense localization and the building of resilient communities with local food supplies, local currencies, local histories and hopes for the future, and much more.

The Story in Action

We are shifting from an economics that views the world around us as resources to be exploited to an economics that views the Earth as a single, living system evolving across generations and that requires our conscious attention and participation as Earth stewards. This represents a profound shift in how we regard the world and ourselves, individually and collectively. Expressions of this story in action include:


Gus Speth: The Environment and Economy in Conflict

In his book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, Gus Speth asserts that today’s environmental reality is linked powerfully with growing social inequality and the neglect and erosion of democratic governance and popular control. Speth examines how these seemingly separate areas of public concern are intertwined and calls upon citizens to mobilize spiritual and political resources for change.


Charles Eisenstein: Sacred Economics

Charles Eisenstein describes the emergence of a Sacred Economics.


Nipun Mehta: Designing For Generosity

Nipun Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace (formerly Charity Focus), an incubator of projects that works at the intersection of volunteerism, technology and gift-economy. What started as an experiment with four friends in the Silicon Valley has now grown to an global ecosystem of over 350,000 members that has delivered millions of dollars in service for free.


David Korten: The Great Turning

David Korten says, “The old economy of greed and dominion is dying. A new economy of life and partnership is struggling to be born.”


Paul Hawken: The New Great Transformation

Paul Hawken speaks about the “new, great transformation.” (this is a highlight, the full video is available here)


Michael Norton: How to Buy Happiness

At TEDxCambridge, Michael Norton shares fascinating research on how money can, indeed buy happiness — when you don’t spend it on yourself. Listen for surprising data on the many ways pro-social spending can benefit you, your work, and (of course) other people.


Alpha Lo: Gift Circles

Alpha Lo speaks about gift circles as a way of social and economic transformation


Articles & Reports

  • National Indicators and Social Wealth, Center for Partnership Studies (December 2012). “Across the world, scholars and governments are creating and using measures of economic success and social well-being that go beyond gross domestic product. This promising trend is gathering steam; additional reports on indicators and systems have been identified since the release of The State of Society in 2010 (appendix D). While there are now many more indicators of individual and societal well-being, there is an urgent need for the creation of social wealth measures that focus on the critical matter of human capacity development and take into account the economic value of care work as well as indicators of the status of women and communities of color and their contributions to society and the economy”
  • Synthetic Overview of the Collaborative Economy, P2P Foundation (April 2012). “Two main agents of transformation guide this work. One is the emergence of community dynamics as an essential ingredient of doing business. It is no longer a matter of autonomous and separated corporations marketing to essentially isolated consumers, it is now a matter of deeply inter-networked economic actors involved in vocal and productive communities. The second is that the combined effect of digital reproduction and the increasingly ‘socialized’ production of value, makes the individual and corporate privatization of ‘intellectual’ property if not untenable, then certainly more difficult , and in all likelihood, ultimately unproductive. Hence the combined development of community-oriented and ‘open’ business models, which rely on more ‘social’ forms of intellectual property.”
  • Alan AtKisson, Life Beyond Growth, ISIS Academy (2012). “Life Beyond Growth” is intended to be an annual publication that will update decision makers and members of the general public on the status of the current debate, as well as policy shifts, related to the issue of economic growth, happiness, and well-being.
  • Principles for a New Economy, New Economy Network (April 2012). The principles are designed to guide the actions of all economic actors and organizations whose decisions and actions affect, or would be affected by, the transition to a New Economy.
  • Gift Circle Principles, Opencollaboration’s Blog (April 2010)
  • The Great Transition: A tale of how it turned out right, New Economics Foundation (October 2009). This report by the New Economics Foundation in the UK argues that “nothing short of a Great Transition to a new economy is necessary and desirable, and also possible.”
  • The Green Transition Scoreboard – 2018 Report (pdf)


Video & Audio


  • Global Footprint Network is a nonprofit research organization whose programs are designed to influence decision makers at all levels of society and to create a critical mass of powerful institutions using the Footprint to put an end to ecological overshoot and get our economies back into balance.
  • The Gift Economy Wiki is dedicated to gift economies and ways to promote the spirit of abundance.
  • ISIS Academy brings a whole-systems perspective and diverse tools to explore practices for sustainability.
  • New Economics Foundation is an independent think-and-do organization based in the UK that inspires and demonstrates sustainable economic well-being.
  • is building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.
  • The Worldwatch Institute delivers insights and ideas that empower decision makers to create an environmentally sustainable society that meets human needs.
  • Service Space is an all volunteer-run organization that leverages technology to inspire greater volunteerism.
  • Shareable is a nonprofit online magazine that tells the story of sharing, covering the people and projects creating a shareable world, with how-tos for implementing sharing practices.
  • Beyond Growth views economic growth as unsustainable, and explores how we can deconstruct our economic system and rebuild it for the 21st century.