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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.

The economy was bound to tank. Not just because greedy corporations rigged the system or because government helped grease the wheels for them. But because the dominate way that we've come to do business -- profit at the expense of all else -- is simply incompatible with the planet we're living on. It's an economy that Marjorie Kelly would call "extractive."

Kelly, a fellow at the Tellus Institute and co-founder of Business Ethics magazine, wrote the just-released book, Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution (Berrett-Koehler, 2012) that helps provide an antidote to the extractive, money-at-all-costs economy. She calls it the "generative economy," and her book is proving to be a great contribution to the growing New Economy movement.

"Our minds have been so colonized by the paradigm of industrial-age capitalism that we've lost the ability to imagine other ways of organizing an economy," she writes.

"My sense is that there is an alternative, and that the reality of it is farther along than we suppose. When we can't see this, it's because we've left no room for it in our imagination. If it's hard to talk about, it's because it doesn't yet have a name. I suggest we call it the generative economy. It's a corner of the economy (hopefully someday much more) that's not designed for the extraction of maximum financial wealth. Its purpose is to create the conditions for life. It does this through its normal functioning, because of the way it's designed, the way it's owned -- like an employee-owned solar company."

Kelly's book takes readers across the U.S. and across the world to examine communities and businesses that have flipped the traditional corporate model on its head, providing us with working examples of the transformation we are headed toward if we want a sustainable economy. "Emerging ownership models are new members of an older family of designs that include cooperatives, employee-owned firms, and government-sponsored enterprises," she writes. "In the UK, these include the John Lewis Partnership--the largest department store chain in the country--which is 100 percent owned by its employees and has an employee house of representatives in addition to a traditional board of directors."

Kelly talked to AlterNet about her vision for transforming our economy, the long road we'll need to travel to get there, and the brightest lights that can help guide us along the way.

Tara Lohan: In a lot of circles the word 'corporation' has become a dirty word -- does it have to be like that?

Marjorie Kelly: No, certainly not. It's important to distinguish between different kinds of corporations. The real problems lie mostly with publicly traded companies which have built-in pressure from Wall Street for maximum short-term earnings. There are a few companies that are publicly traded companies that manage to escape that, but outside of that arena, there's actually a lot of good companies.

TL: So what separates out these good companies -- what are they doing differently?

MK: I point to five elements of design -- or I call them design patterns for generative ownership. What I'm trying to do in the book is distinguish between extractive ownership and generative ownership. Extractive ownership is ownership that is designed to generate maximum financial wealth in the short term. But generative ownership is aimed at serving the needs of life. Serving the needs of life is what economies have been about for thousands of years -- creating food, shelter, clothing -- this is what economies are for. In the recent time period, like post-war, we've completely lost our way and now it is all about finance.

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