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May 07, 2015
Regenerative Capitalism Seeks Radical Overhaul of Financial System
    by Robert Kropp

John Fullerton, the founder of the Capital Institute, writes that the transition of an “antisocial” global financial system to one aligned with our understanding that “living systems are both sustainable and regenerative” is underway. But is the evolution decisive enough to solve the crises of our age? Second of a three-part series.

When I spoke to John Fullerton, President of the Capital Institute, in 2010, he described for me the transformative ambitions of the think tank he founded in 2009. "The mainstream debate about what's wrong with the economy has been about how to get the economy growing, and not about how to transition it to an economy that is sustainable," Fullerton said. "The aim of the project is to create a global consensus on an economic system that is bound by natural laws and ecological boundaries."

In a recently published 120-page white paper entitled
Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Principles and Patterns Will Shape Our New Economy, Fullerton expands the vision he espoused in our 2010 conversation. He locates the roots of the crisis brought on by a dysfunctional financial system in its adherence to a discredited reductionist view of reality, and asserts that a healthy global system must be based on “the emerging holistic worldview,” in which the relationships among all parts of systems—from the financial to the economy and all the way to the biosphere itself—will be acknowledged.

Needless to say, in the context of such an ambitious treatise, I oversimplify and thus run the risk of practicing the same kind of reductionism warned against by Fullerton. But as the intent of Regenerative Capitalism is not to provide a slate of solutions, but to encourage further discussion on a complex and even revolutionary view of finance, Fullerton himself emphasizes the concept of the age-old human activity of storytelling as central to his argument:

“Our Regenerative story starts with a single core idea,” he writes. “The universal patterns and principles the cosmos uses to build stable, healthy, and sustainable systems throughout the real world can and must be used as a model for economic-system design.”

The historical story, perhaps, begins with the philosopher Descartes, whose reductionist theory posited that understanding of a system can only be discerned by breaking a system down into its component parts. “People who see economies as separate from other parts of society and the biosphere often ignore (or address separately) the harm done to other parts of society and the biosphere,” Fullerton writes. “Most leading business schools, for example, still teach the mechanistic idea that optimizing near-term 'shareholder value' should be a firm’s primary goal.”

Against this antiquated and destructive worldview, Fullerton quotes the naturalist author John Muir, who in his 1911 book My First Summer in the Sierra wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Listing eight interconnected principle that will contribute to systemic health, Fullerton writes, “Integrity, ethics, caring, and sharing lead to socially vibrant communities and healthy economies – while at the same time making perfect practical and scientific sense.”

Of course, the principles espoused by Fullerton do not lead directly to a system that honors the energetic network revealed by contemporary findings in quantum physics and other disciplines. However, Fullerton does describe a number of efforts currently underway within the financial system itself that at least suggest many practitioners are altering their strategies to account for social and environmental justice. Sustainable investment, of course, is one such strategy; social entrepreneurship, micro-finance, and community development institutions are some of the others.

But regenerative capitalism “differs most from current approaches to sustainability,” Fullerton writes, “in that, instead of focusing on social and environmental health using traditional reductionist logic to 'solve problems,' it aims directly at building healthy human networks as the objective, drawing on universal principles and patterns, with 'sustainability' becoming an outcome, a natural byproduct of systemic health. It is like (holistic) healthcare in contrast to (reductionist) disease care.”

The spiritual nature of the regenerative quest cannot be denied. The alignment of the latest findings of quantum physics, for example, with ancient wisdom traditions have been increasingly well-documented ever since Fritjof Capra published The Tao of Physics in 1975. More recently, the investigations into the links between science and spirituality by the quantum physicist
Amit Goswami have emphasized the application of those links to the practice of everyday life, and by extension the political and economic systems we are capable of developing.

“Our goal must be to ground Regenerative Capitalism in both the solid empirical understandings of the laws and patterns of systemic health, and in wisdom traditions that have stood the test of time and which are remarkably aligned with this new scientific understanding,” Fullerton writes. “Instead of the self-serving, command-and-control methods we so often use today, we must seek to align our planning and policy interventions with the self-organizing, self-nourishing, self-regulating characteristics of healthy systems in nature.”

Given the potentially catastrophic consequences of global crises such as climate change and wealth inequality—as well as the undeniable fact that our progress toward solving these crises have been far too slow—perhaps the best we can hope for is a widespread instantaneous enlightenment that the wisdom traditions have always insisted is possible. One hopes that there are many Bodhisattva quietly working within the halls of power. One further hopes that one is up to the challenge of seeking such enlightenment oneself.

Next: At Yale, John Fullerton Presents on Regenerative Capitalism.

Robert Kropp can be contacted at


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