Quaker World

Toward a Life-Centered Economy

As a young Friend, I care deeply about the state of the world and what we can do to reduce climate change and rebalance our economy. I recently read Toward a Life-Centered Economy by John Lodenkamper, Paul Alexander, Pete Baston, and Judith Streit, and it left me feeling deeply inspired about the future.

This short volume is the twelfth “focus book” from The Quaker Institute for the Future, a spirit-lead research organization working to “envision a global future in which humanity is in right relationship with the commonwealth of life.” The book explores the mindset of unlimited growth, which drives our current global economic system, along with the impending repercussions of that mindset on our global ecosystem. Further, this book spells out the inability of our ecosystem to support our current intense patterns of human consumption, and it offers advice about what we can do to change humanity’s impact.

The book is a quick read – just 116 pages – and it is conveniently broken down into five parts. Chapter One explores how we use our time and, more specifically, how we might begin to prioritize our quality and experience of life as more valuable than constantly striving toward monetary and material wealth. Chapter Two considers what exactly a Life-Centered Economy might look like and what values we can develop to support it. Chapter Three introduces meaningful actions that we can take to contribute to a Life-Centered Economy, simple actions such as carefully choosing the products we have in our homes. Chapter Four explains how a transition from a Money-Centered Economy to a Life-Centered Economy might happen. Lastly, Chapter Five summarizes and motivates actionable changes that a person can start right now. I felt slightly intimidated when I began this book, as the authors introduce terminology such as “collateralized debt obligations” and “genuine progress indicators,” but by the end of the book, I felt empowered to speak on these subjects.

Though this book doesn’t speak explicitly about Quaker faith or the Religious Society of Friends, the spirit of Quaker thought is embedded throughout. It encourages you as a reader to simplify your household, lessen your consumption, choosing products that promote global equity, and rejoice in community and stewardship as you carpool to work or create a community garden.

I have heard a number of Friends calling themselves “bad Quakers” for not doing more to align their lives with Quaker thought and testimony. I would not use that term for these Friends, but I think many of us sometimes put ourselves in that category because we might be neglecting many of the practices outlined in this book, such as composting, taking public transportation, ensuring that our clothes are second-hand or Fair Trade, and just buying fewer things overall. However, the point of this book is not to outline all the things we are doing wrong, but rather to inspire us collectively to make meaningful changes in our own lives, our communities, and our world.

To shift toward a life-centered economy, we must go beyond merely examining our own daily choices; we must also encourage others to do the same; and we certainly should keep putting pressure on large corporations to change their practices. Considering how much greed and consumption exists in the world, it might seem nearly impossible for humanity to move completely into a life-centered economy. However, Toward a Life-Centered Economy insists that all social change starts with you, the individual. This makes small actions feel effective and the overall goal of the journey feel achievable. Reflect on your unhealthy habits, the ones that might be putting a strain on yourself and the ecosystem. Inspire yourself and those around you to make changes toward a life-centered economy. And, if those tasks seem too daunting, at least read this book! The power is in your hands.

Catie Polley, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

Catie Polley is a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, studying for her Master’s in Sociology. She earned her bachelor’s degree last semester after completing an undergraduate thesis on “A Quaker Approach to Inclusive Research.” This thesis was inspired by the work of The Quaker Institute for the Future.

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.