Contribution to GTI Roundtable "On Economism"

John Cobb, Jr.

In this brilliant essay, Richard Norgaard is opening up what is clearly a timely and urgently needed discussion. Many authors have recognized the religious character of the dominant economic thinking and its displacement of traditional religions in shaping human convictions and behavior. There has been considerable consensus on the general understanding of what we hope will replace this economism. But we have barely begun to discuss how we can move from the current economistic world order to the integral ecological one toward which Pope Francis, among others, now calls us. Norgaard initiates a serious, insightful conversation in a way that invites broad participation.

I deeply hope that this approach will prove realistic and fruitful. I confess that my expectation has been that economism will lose its hold on the global system only as it destroys itself, or as it is destroyed by its catastrophic consequences. So I have thought that what is most relevant is to do what we can to reduce dependence on the global system wherever that is possible. This reduction will make possible some experimentation in local life that has a chance to influence whatever can be constructed out of the global wreckage.

This is not a pretty picture. I hope humanity can do better. That Norgaard leads us to consider more gradual transitions that do not involve massive catastrophe is a hopeful sign. I trust that discussions of that possibility, on the one side, and of how local communities may extricate themselves from the global system to improve their chances of survival, on the other, will overlap and complement each other.

The community of thinkers who address themselves to real world problems instead of advancing academic disciplines is small. The tasks before us are enormous. It is important that we are well guided in selecting foci of work. Norgaard is a leader in this challenge to whom I am deeply grateful.

John Cobb, Jr.
John B. Cobb, Jr., is Professor Emeritus of the Claremont School of Theology. He is the author of Is It Too Late?: A Theology of Ecology (1972) and the co-author, with Herman Daly, of For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (1989).

Cite as John B. Cobb, Jr., contribution to GTI Roundtable "On Economism," Great Transition Initiative (December 2015),

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