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Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review: Agenda for a New Economy

“Agenda for a New Economy” by David Korten is on-message. The “best for last” item on his agenda is returning the function of money creation to the government, where it belongs, where people think it is but it isn’t. This is the message I have been staying on since last fall when I read “The Web of Debt” by Ellen Brown. As a loud cheerleader for “The Web of Debt,” I see my role as one to compare the two books.

Our Green Party Book Club selected Korten’s book, in part because it is only about 200 pages, compared to 470 for Brown’s. I was pleased to find out Korten’s book was available on the Kindle reading device. I had to order Brown’s book on Amazon.com, but it was well worth it.

I would say that Korten’s book is a more general overview of our economic crisis from a political perspective, while Brown’s book goes into more detail about economics, but she does it in a way that’s easy to understand. Korten states that he does not try to explore the specific ways that Wall Street swindled us. While I agree that simplification is the solution, I appreciate Brown’s explanations so we have an idea of what we’re up against. You can use her book as a reference, looking up hedge funds or derivatives in the index, and get a description of it in reasonably plain English. Korten’s book does not have an index, but the Kindle allows me to search for words if I need to.

Korten’s book was rushed to press in time for the Obama inauguration. He is a prolific writer; in other words, he cranks out a lot of books. The sections on pirates and patriarchal empire were a rehash from his earlier book “The Great Turning,” which I also read and recommend. He cites Brown’s book in his new book, and I was very pleased to see that. I guess I see the two Korten books as a gateway or table of contents to other great books. It was in the bibliography of “The Great Turning” that I found “When God Was a Woman” by Merlin Stone and “The Chalice and the Blade” by Riane Eisler.

Both “Agenda” and “Web” cover history. Actually, “The Great Turning,” at 359 pages, has a comprehensive history of 5,000 years of empire in Parts 2 and 3 of the 5-part book. “The Web of Debt” has a comprehensive history of economics woven throughout, particularly in the first 4 of 6 parts. “Agenda” may have enough history to whet the appetite for new readers.

In terms of writing styles, I feel that Brown has more of an aura of objectivity. Korten comes off a little more opinionated at times; making me feel fired up but also a little agitated. Brown’s more dispassionate analysis can be calming in times of crisis. She keeps it interesting though, with an underlying theme that the Wizard of Oz was really about economics, and stories of financial intrigue. For me it was a real page-turner. I guess where I’m at right now, far beyond anger, I just want the facts so I can draw my own conclusions. Maybe she rips the bad guys as much as he does, it just doesn’t seem like it because it’s part of a bigger story. I do like how Korten wants to shrink the Gross Domestic Product and just shut down Wall Street altogether.

And I did note some things in Korten’s book that I didn’t see in Brown’s. He points out how the world now has the UN and the Internet, encouraging tools which we didn’t have before. He realistically acknowledges the widespread problems being caused by population growth. He recommends urban density, mass transit, and local food production, all parts of what I call “the Green Party Vision.” He includes a 2084 vision, writing as a time traveler to a more optimistic, utopian, less cynical future. He includes a speech he would like President Obama to give, but he prefaces it by saying that he harbors no illusion that Obama will actually deliver it, given all the campaign contributions Obama has received from Wall Street. (I liked that.) Korten points out that the Founding Fathers needed to be pressured by the public even after the revolution to make this the democracy it is today, and that the public needs to pressure Obama even after he has won election. Korten also adds some words of encouragement, assuring us that we are making progress if we have taught anybody about these things, or if we have helped to put like-minded people in contact with each other.

Likewise Brown had a lot of things that weren’t in Korten’s book. A couple important things that come to mind are the basket of commodities to measure foreign currencies, and how to monetize, or cancel, the federal debt without causing panic or inflation.

So bottom line, I recommend both books, depending on how much time you have. Korten gives a good agenda, but so does Brown in her final chapter. I feel that Korten plays an important role in calling attention to Brown’s work, and builds upon it. But as for me, I have a fondness for the original groundbreaking text. While I give Korten a definite thumbs-up, I still regard Brown as the definitive economics pioneer.


At Tue Mar 24, 12:11:00 AM CDT, Blogger Tom Cleland said...

So far it sounds like the Geithner plan for toxic assets is going to reward the risk-takers that got us into this mess. The stock market shot up today, which to me is a sign that it's probably bad for the people. Obama would not accept Geithner's resignation. I wouldn't either, but I would demote him and press him for information under Brown as Treasury Secretary, and I would keep Korten around as an advisor.


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