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American futurist predicts spiritualization of the economy

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Jan Krikke
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American futurist predicts spiritualization of the economy

The American futurist Lawrence (Larry) Taub is not an economist, but his book "The Spiritual Imperative: Sex, Age, and Caste Move the Future" predicts a gradual transformation of the current economic system into alternative social structures that has features of both anarchism (in the sense of self-organizing entities) and cooperative communities (similar to the Kibbutz model). Making this possible and even inevitable is a gradual change in human values leading to what he calls a "spiritualization of the economy."

Claiming that the current economic system will be replaced is arguably setting a low bar. OECD countries today have some $300 trillion in public debt. This means there are also creditors who are owed $300 trillion. Note the correlation between growing debt and the growing wealth gap in recent years. In 2010, some 300 billionaires owned as much as the poorest 50% of the world's population. Today, some 80 billionaires have the same ratio of wealth. Plotting this trend on a chart into the next 10 or 15 years leads to an inevitable conclusion: if we don't change course, at some point one billionaire would own as much as the poorest half of humanity. He or she (most likely a he) would be a modern-day Pharaoh.

Let's ignore the opportunity cost of this massive debt, just like economists and policy makers habitually do. How many economists offer a plausible model that gives us a sense of what the economy will be like in, say, twenty or thirty years, when our (grand) children will have to eke out an existence on this fragile planet. Taub doesn't need an economic model to give us a likely scenario. He looks at underlying trends in culture, technology and gender to reveal how human values changes, and with them economic and social structures and organization. Using three models - Sex, Age and Caste - Taub confronts us with a simple truth we have seen time and again in history: what seems logical, practical, moral or even desirable today may not do so in the future.

Taub mentions slavery as one of many examples. Up to the 19th century, slave owners felt no moral compunction to owning the body and soul of other men and women. Slaves were part of the "economic model" of their days; they helped with the calculus that built western empires. But then, says Taub, something changed. In the mid-19th century people started to question the ethics and morality of the slave trade and slave ownership. There was a growing consensus that slavery contradicted evolving notions of morality, ethics and humanism. In a few decades, humankind made a moral jump and abolished slavery. Ending slavery, as Taub shows, was an inevitable evolution of humankind, a spiritual imperative.

In the foreword to the Japanese edition of Taub's book, the famed Japanese economist and efficiency guru Masanori Kanda said Taub was Alvin Toffler, Peter Drucker and John Kenneth Galbraith all rolled into one. The truth is that Taub is in a league of his own. Toffler's macro-historical model sees humankind moving from an agricultural to an industrial and finally to a post-industrial society. That's fair enough, but Toffler uses just one (economic-technological) parameter to plot the future. The same can be said about Drucker, Galbraith and other macro historians from Marx to Paul Kennedy and Samual Huntington. Taub does not use one but three parameters. He doesn't just give us a road map, he gives us a GPS. We can not only anticipate what will happen, but also where and approximately when.

[FIGURE 1] The four basic castes of the world

The Four Castes of the World
The Four Castes of the World
(Image by Larry Taub)
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Copyright Larry Taub

The center piece of Taub's macro history is the Caste Model, based on the earliest form of psychological profiling known to humankind. Taub used the Caste Model to explain that our current values and identity are based on our work. We define ourselves (and others) by the job or skill set we have -- teacher, trader, plumber, artist, etc. When people first meet, one of the first questions they ask is: "What kind of work do you do?" Work defines our "station" in life. It wasn't always like that. 200 years ago, your family name defined your identity and status in society. In still earlier times, your tribe defined your identity. Taub uses the four broad Indian castes (four generic archetypes of human nature) to explain the changing identities and values in human history and that there is a place and time for each of them.

The Caste Model shows that the world is in the midst of the Worker Caste Age. In most countries, workers and worker ethics and values rule the roost. The worker-caste elite, consisting of the top executives of the largest corporations, both high- and low-tech, that dominate half of the world's economy, are the world's ruling elite. (Even self-made billionaires commonly pride themselves on their "hard work".) The Worker Caste Age, which replaced the previous Merchant Caste Age, started in the late 19th century (with the socialist uprisings and later revolutions) and will culminate in the Far East. China and its "Confucian cousins," Japan and Korea, will form the world's dominant economic-political union in the next few decades. "Confucio", as Taub calls it, is most in tune with the Worker-Caste type. The rise of Confucio may also herald the end of "democratic capitalism" as we know it.

Unfortunately for Confucio, its place in the sun will be short-lived (and it may very well be "old" before it is "rich"). The Worker Caste Age brings material benefits and basic material needs to people around the globe, but the hyper-materialism of today also damages the human spirit - and the planet. Taub: "The Worker Caste Age has led to indiscriminate production and consumption, unlimited industrial growth and waste of non-renewable resources. Our Worker Caste Age cities are overgrown, impersonal, complicated, and stress-inducing. They breed crime, high rents, ugliness, congestion, smog, accidents, speed, greenlessness, poor public transportation, noise, urban-rural imbalance, lack of decent housing for the poor, and homelessness."

The Caste Model makes clear that the accumulation of extreme wealth, which started in the previous Merchant Caste age, is still rampant. Scorched-earth competition values individual and corporate wealth over the common good and solidarity. The methods of the two ages may be different but the aims are the same -- wealth at all cost, rights without obligations, and destruction of the social fabric come what may.

The "spiritual backlash" against materialistic Merchant and Worker Caste excesses is well under way -- in both good ways and bad. We see people questioning democratic capitalism, the rise of economic nationalism, and demanding devolution of centralized power. We also see millions of people turning to yoga, meditation, and "mindfulness" in a journey of self-discovery. And we see other signs of humankind evolving in the animal-rights movement and increasing ecological consciousness. Moreover, as Taub's Sex Model makes clear, we see the growing influence of women.

[FIGURE 2] The Caste Model

The Caste Model
The Caste Model
(Image by Larry Taub)
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Copyright Larry Taub

Taub's Sex Model is, like the Caste Model, a macro-historical model. In prehistory, most societies tended toward sexual equality. This changed with the patriarchal revolution around 4000 to 2000 BC. Since then societies, as we know them today, have developed along patriarchic lines. The male-dominated system went unchallenged until the 19th-century suffragettes, especially with the new Feminist Revolution in the 1960s. While naturally less violent than Caste struggles, women engaged in a battle against centuries of female oppression, and with great effect. (In a subtle dig at outspoken "conservative" women Taub says, "Even women opposed to feminism have been influenced by it.)

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Journalist, former Asia correspondent for various publications, author of "The Corridor of Space".
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