There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the economic myth. But from the ecological perspective, there’s no such thing as perpetual growth; it always hits a limit, and there are always unintended consequences. If we have another economic crisis, it will be because no one has effectively tempered the economic myth with the ecological myth.
The latter says that we’re part of a larger system, which you have to participate in rather than dominate. People who perceive the world through this myth are more open to institutional arrangements in which government and industry work together on common solutions. They also tend to adopt measurements of success that relate to resilience and quality of life, not just having more. Companies become more interested in engagement with the rest of the world. Governments, meanwhile, discover they can’t do everything themselves. They don’t have the expertise, for instance, to clean up a major oil spill; they have to enlist industry support. The end result is not regulation of business; it’s regulation with business.
S+B: Would it be appropriate to say that for any given company, there is a golden mean between ecological and economic extremes, and the challenge is to find it?
FLOWERS: I think that’s fair. I would also say that if you look at the bigger picture, the inherent business of business is growth and the inherent business of government is health. That is a productive tension when these myths work together. But if one side becomes too powerful in relation to the other, the system as a whole will become unbalanced.
Reprint No. 00151
- Art Kleiner is editor-in-chief of strategy+business.