Replace Wall Street’s Phantom Wealth with Main Street’s Real Wealth – Interview with David Korten

Posted: March 18, 2009 in reflections, society
Tags: ,

Interview with David C. Korten,
author of “Agenda for a New Economy: from Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth,”
conducted by Scott Harris

Editor’s note:

The following Between The Lines interview is an excerpt from Scott Harris’ program “Counterpoint” on WPKN Radio, which was recorded and produced before the stimulus package passed in Congress and congressional debate began on President Barack Obama’s proposed budget.

Listen to the full interview:
 in-depth MP3 interview (31:05)

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with David C. Korten, founder and president of the People Centered Development Forum, and author of the critically acclaimed books “The Great Turning” and “When Corporations Rule the World.” His new book is titled, “Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth.” Here, Korten explains why he believes the current U.S. financial crisis has exposed the critical need to redesign the dysfunctional and dangerous architecture of the U.S. economic system.

korten1DAVID KORTEN: Obama’s got a great dilemma; he was handed a huge mess, but what we’re not getting is any real discussion of how did we get into this? Why are we in it? Is restoring the system to its previous function really an answer given the larger picture that clearly is a failed financial system that was running out of control and getting it back running out of control isn’t going to help us. And then the larger frame, which gets almost no attention and connection with the stimulus and bailout packages that our existing economic system has been also failing environmentally and socially. It’s been pushing the most wasteful forms of consumption and it is also absolutely designed to increase inequality in a nation and in a world that is increasingly suffering social fragmentation and breakdown because of the extreme gap in wealth between the very rich and the very poor.

We really need to expand the discussion and to begin focusing solutions on really deeper transformational changes in the economic system and the whole underlying idea of what the purpose of our economy is and how we can restructure it, starting of course, with the system of finance, which is the driving system.

BETWEEN THE LINES: David, the essential message I took from your book is that this financial crisis has exposed the critical need to redesign the dysfunctional and dangerous architecture of the U.S. economic system and its institutions. And I wonder if you would address the whole notion that we are now in a once-in-a-generation moment in history, where the underpinnings of this system are exposed like they are — in tatters and it is a chance to rethink it and rebuild it.

DAVID KORTEN: Absolutely. The timing is everything in addressing these issues. And we are at a moment of readiness because there is just universal outrage at Wall Street, which is the heart of the problem. People are very eager to get some basis of understanding of why things are going wrong, and some sense of hope that they can be fixed, that we need to look way beyond the current solutions.

I’ve built much of my analysis on the distinction between Wall Street, which is kind of the metaphor for financial institutions that exist simply for their own profit, and the benefit of their managers vs. Main Street, which tends to be comprised of smaller businesses that are locally owned by people that live in a community and have an interest in the health and well-being of the community and its environment. So they’re not simply in it for the money. Of course, one of the things that the government officials should be aware of is as they try to restore these banks, is that the banks still got their same managers who are for the most part, whose only real agenda is to maximize their own salaries, their own paychecks. The system no longer is even devoted to maximizing returns to shareholders. It’s narrowed its focus even more.

As you step back, Wall Street, the power that it has, is its control over the issuance and the allocation of money in a society in which most everything we do depends on money. So, we’re held hostage to its greed and interests and it’s time to move beyond that, to recognize that Wall Street is a pathological, criminal syndicate devoted to essentially stealing from the rest of society.

BETWEEN THE LINES: How do we spark a popular discussion and debate on the future of our economic system? As we were talking about before, it seems to be just a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have this debate. In your view, what do we have to do as citizens to move this debate along?

DAVID KORTEN: Well, there are kind of two fronts. One is banding together to rebuild local economies and local communities. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, which I serve on the board of, is an organization that is very much at the forefront of that.

The other is just simply expanding the conversation, getting these deeper issues and the alternatives out there into the public discourse. So part of that is through independent media, doing exactly what you’re doing with your program, and many other independent news and talk shows are doing through our valuable independent media.

And of course, another reason I wrote this book, “Agenda for a New Economy” is to provide a vehicle around which people can engage that conversation.

Read David C. Korten articles and commentaries online at his website:

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  1. Rita says:

    Thanks for the interview. I saw David speak at the Seattle Green Festival last weekend. He was very inspiring and his talk was well received.

    I write a boomer consumer blog called The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide at


  2. […] Replace Wall Street’s Phantom Wealth with Main Street’s Real Wealth – Interview with Dav… ( […]

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