New Metrics ‘16 launched on Monday with a sober yet hopeful tone, channeled through the research and work of culture designer Joe Brewer, as he led attendees through a dialogue around what he calls Evonomics - the new evolution of economics.
Brewer began the session by challenging each attendee to share “what makes you feel alive.” No, this was not a means to ‘feel warm and fuzzy’ and ignore the heaviness at hand in today’s society, but, as he explained at the end of the exercise, a way to humanize each other and to provide a context for explaining a new way of looking at economics through the lens of human relationships.
To understand the current definition of economics requires a short study of the history that shaped the field and schools of thought that have prominently shaped culture for the last 200 years. Brewer explained that the laws of economics (supply and demand) assume that the market is at equilibrium - which unfortunately did not and does not account for human values/motivations and therefore cannot accurately interpret/predict/solve current societal needs (environmental destruction, global wealth inequality, etc). Neoliberal economics operates under the assumption that greed is good - and this position captured the landscape of economics through systematic faculty placement in positions of economic academic authority.
Traditional economic theory continues to tell the ‘greed is good’ story. However, when the narrative of economic systems and processes are wrong, humans can destroy themselves. When the narrative is right, we have a chance - to properly and effectively tackle the issues and societal needs of our time so that future generations have the opportunity to thrive.
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“The language that we use (to discuss economics) is language that evolved in prior context for prior purposes,” Brewer asserted. “Our language needs to evolve.”
Analogous to falling in love, shared experiences in addition to verbal communication create a shared framework for functioning. If the experience is reduced to just language, it cannot be fully understood and a shared framework is not possible. To properly articulate current economic needs that take into account ‘what it means to be human,’ Brewer urged that “we seek and invite, request and inquire. Emotional connection becomes the place where we can create shared language. If more of us knew how most of us feel, we would be living a different story.”
So what does this mean for the sustainability/CSR practitioner? On the most basic level - practice authentic compassion and kindness, especially to ourselves. Notice when someone is hurting, and help them to heal. It also means challenging assumptions - something as simple as selecting news sources that don’t align with your political views, or devoting time to understanding another person's perspective/experience.
As our understanding of the human experience and human social dynamics increases, our ability to understand how systems and processes relate to each other increases. Economics is fundamentally ecological - it is embedded into its context and cannot be removed from its relationships. A depth in human relationships and empathy gives an appropriate and more authentic framework to understand societal issues, and this framework can help create new and better solutions that will really work as they reflect a more accurate picture of our most pressing needs.