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Time to Ditch Our Profit-Hungry Corporate Economy: Here's What the Future Could Look Like Instead

Marjorie Kelly's new book explains how we can create a "generative economy" that is focused on sustaining life rather than extracting profit.

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MK: The first thing we have to recognize is that there is a diversity of ownership design that are ecologically beneficial. You know we live with the monoculture of ownership design right now -- publicly traded companies control roughly two-thirds of global GDP and so we are used to thinking of corporate design as a single thing and it's easy to think, "well what's the other single thing that will replace it?" But I don't think it works that way. In a more living economy there is going to be biodiversity, there is going to be different forms for different purposes, so there isn't a single answer to your question, but I can point to some of the best models.

You can look, for example, at community-owned forests in Mexico and other developing nations. These are places where often indigenous people will have control of the forest. They tend to the trees, they build furniture, they do some sustainable harvesting -- and so they have an incentive to keep that forest healthy and stop people who might try to do illegal logging. Deforestation as we know is a contributor to global warming. And so when you put governance in the hands of people who are rooted in place, you begin to see that self-interest and the interest of the whole become one and the same.

So that is just one model. Then you have community-owned wind farms. In Denmark there were wind guilds that jumpstarted the whole wind movement -- these were individual people who came together and invested together to get some wind farms going. And they jumpstarted the whole wind industry in Denmark. And now Denmark generates 20 percent of its electric power from wind, more than any other nation, and people credit it to the wind guilds.

Conservation easements are another model. And this is why I talk about ownership and not just corporations. I used to think the idea was to redesign corporations and we do need to do that, it's important, but we have to remember that the corporate form itself is an industrial-age model. And so a lot of the ownership that I think we're going to want is going to not involve corporations at all.

One example is distributed solar. Instead of having an electric plant that is centralized, corporate-owned, we can have solar on our rooftop owned by individual houses with some kind of collective maintenance and things like that. You can bypass corporations entirely and go to more direct community ownership. So with conservation easements, if you want to protect land from development, you can buy it outright but that's very expensive. A cheaper way to do it is to put a conservation easement on it. What that does is it allows the land to remain in private hands and yet be protected in perpetuity, from development.

Ownership is not really a single thing, it's a bundle of rights, very much like a bundle of twigs and you can separate out different strains of ownership and distribute them in different ways. So development rights on land is one kind of ownership that you can separate out and you can sell it to the state or a conservation organization and then the covenant that says "this land will never be developed" becomes attached to the property deed. It's a very different way of creating change then going to the government and trying to create a law that five or 10 years from now someone could come along and undo.

The wonderful thing about property if we can begin to turn it to our advantage, is that it's a very permanent arrangement and it's highly protected in our culture. So if we can begin to use property rights and law in our interest, which we can, it's another avenue.

 
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