Generating wealth

Without destroying ourselves and our economies . . .

by Allan Savory, reprinted from Holistic Resource Management Quarterly with permission
hile there are many forms of wealth both in the spiritual and material sense, only one form really sustains nations in the long run, and that is wealth derived from biodiversity basically soils and waterways, and their associated life forms. Some 20-odd civilizations taught us this as they destroyed their resource base (and thus all wealth) along with their civilizations.

If we are to create wealth without simultaneously destroying ourselves and our economies, there are certain principles that we must bear in mind:

The only wealth sustaining nations in the long run is derived from biodiversity yet no conventional economic text even mentions the four fundamental processes that sustain biodiversity: water cycle, mineral cycle, community dynamics (biological succession) and energy flow.

No decision can truly be economically sound if it is not simultaneously socially sound. Likewise, no decision can be truly socially sound unless it is simultaneously ecologically sound. Thus, unless an economic decision is socially and ecologically sound it cannot be economically sound in the long run. Currently, few people know how to make economic decisions that are truly sound over time.

Just as floods begin as individual drops of rain, so, too, economies are based on billions of individual financial transactions.

Economies cannot be understood or managed on linear or reductionist lines as conventional economists have always done, and continue to do. Economies function like our ecosystem in wholes and patterns. Thus, it's no secret why economists today are engaged in reactionary management and are certainly not in control.

Agriculture is, in many nations, the largest single business and employer, yet many do not see agriculture as a business. When a nation's agricultural base fails, so do all businesses.

All households and businesses even those that are service oriented at some point tie back to the land and its waterways, and affect ecological health. For example, most businesses use paper and inks as well as detergents and these, in both their production and final disposal, come from and return to the earth with consequences.

Arising from almost every financial transaction there is an effect on the land which is experienced months or years later, and generally far removed from the site of the original transaction. For example, the cotton T-shirt you buy for your child is likely to have been produced from plants grown on deteriorating soils and dyed with chemicals that adversely affect water quality and human health. The pesticide you spray on your lawn eventually ends up in the water system and accumulates in shellfish which in turn are eaten by another family many miles away.

In land- or water-based businesses agriculture, fisheries, forestry, etc. there can be no real profit unless there is a cash surplus above costs after biodiversity has been held constant or increased. Agriculture is said to contribute to the wealth of the United States yet it is consuming biological "capital" at an astronomical rate; eroding soil is America's largest annual export. All these losses should be charged to agriculture along with the greater part of the damage from floods in the Mississippi basin in 1993.

Few of these principles are borne in mind by today's economic planners and even less so by the average citizen who assumes that someone somewhere is going to do something about the situation. That someone, as it turns out, is going to have to be ordinary people like you and me, who jointly engage in billions of financial transactions every day. But we can only begin to turn things around by changing the way we make our decisions which is where Holistic Resource Management comes in.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic theories that created it, all too many Western economists concluded that capitalism was superior, failing to see that capitalism is also in danger of collapsing, and for many of the same reasons particularly the massive and accelerating environmental and social damage it has produced. A number of socially and environmentally conscious economists have begun to develop some exciting new theories. Yet they remain theories, and it may be years before we know whether or not they lead to the success envisioned.

Quite by accident, I think we may have stumbled on part of the solution to our dilemma in the development of Holistic Management and the holistic decision-making process. Once understood and used, the process appears to cater to most of the points made by environmentally and socially conscious economists. And, it provides a way to bring theoretical concepts into daily practice by ordinary people. Holistic Management differs from conventional economic planning and decision-making in these ways:

All decisions are made in whole situations whole farms, firms, households, schools, governments, etc.

There is a single holistic goal formed in each whole situation involving the people's values, which are then tied to production in all forms and to the future resource base (including the land) that will support them. The beauty of this holistic goal is that it covers all forms of wealth material and spiritual.

Since it is human nature to unconsciously allow the costs of production to rise to the anticipated income, we now consciously plan the amount of profit desired and only allow expenses to rise to a preset level. With profit planned in at the beginning, what is tested now are all the actions taken to produce it, to ensure they are (simultaneously) ecologically, socially and economically sound.

Jonathan Swift once said that he who causes two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow where one grew before does more for his country than all the politicians put together. Perhaps now we should say that those who start to make economic decisions that are socially and ecologically sound do more for their country than all the economists put together.

The Center for Holistic Management is a not-for-profit organization working to restore the vitality of communities and the natural resources on which they depend. For more information or subscriptions to the Quarterly, contact: Center for Holistic Management, 1010 Tijeras NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102, 505-842-5252, e-mail: