Rewriting the Economic History Books

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What would the father of modern economics and capitalism say? Source:

A little over a year ago, I was on a Sydney – Los Angeles flight. At just under fifteen hours, it’s one of the longest non-stop aero-treks in the world. I was coming back from visiting friends in Australia and slowly headed back home after what only be called a violent tourism binge: Vancouver, Seattle, Hawaii, Sydney, Melbourne, and back to Sydney. This present flight was helping me get back to Vancouver (via L.A.), then onto Calgary, before going back home to Montreal – yes, the jet lag was something. Needless to say, at this point, I was looking forward to abstaining from airport terminals, luggage conveyer carrousels, and “helpful” airline employee for the foreseeable future.

As I boarded and took my window seat, I worried about who would end up sitting next to me. The middle seat was empty: good start. In the aisle seat, a seemingly reasonable man sat down. Perfect: neither a crying baby nor a chatty-looking salesperson. Given the long term flight relationship we are about to enter, we introduced each other and proceeded with polite small talk. He’s a Professor at McGill University (in my hometown of Montreal). Small world I thought – as I was looking forward to getting back home. I went on to find out more about his field. He told me about his latest project: a book about the relationship between the economy, the environment and sustainability. I was sharing a plane ride with the co-author of Right Relationship, Peter G. Brown.

It’s not every day you get to sit next to an insightful thinker like Mr. Brown. So I inquired further about his book. After realizing what it was about, I needed a fair chunk of the fifteen hours to think about my discussion with the professor. I promised to read his work and stay in touch. Once I hit terra firma at LAX, I couldn’t help but think about how my abundant air travel was extremely unsustainable. As I schlepped to my next connection, I decided to take a break from travelling and paying for airline fuel costs.

What is the book about? Together with his co-author, Geoffrey Garver, Peter Brown explains how our global business system is essentially depleting the earth from the very things that we need in order to survive. It gives a big-picture snapshot of how our habitat cannot keep supporting us. The deterioration of the environment you say? We know! Yes, we know it’s a problem. But how do we fix it? We are realizing that we must move towards a more sustainable lifestyle. However, with all our unsustainable habits, where do we start? It’s almost as if life is designed for us not to be environmentally smart. Right Relationship tackles these questions by evaluating the economy as the main mechanism of human activity. There are so many problems and no unified direction. And that is exactly it: we don’t have a road map. Governments, organizations, and companies are all trying to implement systems and initiatives – but there’s no global formula.

The book talks about a model, a new step-by-step approach to solve the real problems. It’s almost as if we need to rewrite the books. Bingo! That’s it’s: a way to redesign our economic system – the same system that created the habits, behavior, and culture that caused environmental deterioration. Brown and Garver boldly propose a drastic change of our economic and business theory; including relearning and re-teaching everything to the next generation of decision makers.

You might need to revise some of these editions. Source:

One of the many interesting concepts discussed is how we have learned to calculate costs, revenues, and profits in order to make economic decisions: macro and micro. But now, we must learn to add the true environmental costs to the equation. Economics tells us that growth, profitability, and revenue is limitless. But resources and the planet are not. Right Relationship goes on to outline four steps that can one day become the formula for this transformation: grounding and clarification, design, witness, and nonviolent reform. As far as providing a theoretical foundation for an alternative economic approach, Right Relationship is on the right track.

Granted, the book proposes ideas that can potentially rattle our conceptions and demand unreasonable adjustments. Is it too much, too big, and too outlandish? How do we even wrap our heads around it? How will traditional capitalism process it without spewing out error messages? How do we change everything we know about how we have learned to prosper? Enter the psychological barrier that exists after reading the book and trying to imagine its ideas being applied in actuality.

Also, changing our approach to economics would demand a complete reversal of our present system. It would be like trying to change science or medicine. But science gets proven and disproven continuously – through research, debate, and experimentation. Why can’t economics be subject to drastic revisions as well?

Finally, the sheer size of the book’s proposed change is daunting: a new global economy? It can sound impossible. However, the economic models we know today also had humble beginnings and advanced grand ideas. And that didn’t stop them from catching on. Who knows? One day, scholars will be teaching the evolution of economics in universities and after talking about Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, they will need books to refer to in order to explain how we were able to change the way we did business and solve the environmental crisis of the 21st century. Right Relationship might become one of those books.

Right Relationship, Building a Whole Earth Economy – By Peter G. Brown and Geoffrey Garver // Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.