Heart’s Guidance: An Economic Imagination, Part II
January 21, 2014
by John Bloom
As an organ, the human heart plays leading role in maintaining human life forces. And, it works in a fully integrated system. It is an arbiter between the intense circulatory exchange in the fine capillaries at the extremities and need for constant vortical movement as the blood moves through the heart’s chambers. Blood, exhausted after delivering its nutrients along the way to the periphery, returns to the heart-lung center to be revitalized—a systolic, diastolic rhythm of constant exchange. There is no part of the human organism that is not permeated through circulation, and just about any stoppage in that circulation has significant health consequences. I am certainly not the first to use the circulation of blood as simile for the circulation of money. This is an illuminating but partial picture. Circulation is meaningless without the management capacities of the heart, its sensitivity to our inner and outer-facing nerve-sense system, and the forces of our metabolic system. Simply put, the heart embodies interdependence, serves as guide and guardian, harmonizer for human life, and thus supports our capacities to think and act. This complete and unalterable interdependence has much to tell us about economic life.
How the heart models service is in stark contrast to dominance of self-interest, a concept intractably nestled in the modern evolution of economic thinking. Self-interest as currently fostered and practiced has become debased from the moral, and I would say religious, framework that says that it is in your self-interest to be interested in and help others. As economic experience has become ever-more embedded in the materialism and consumerism of the marketplace, interest in the other has converted into competitive fear of the other. Money is the measure of man; thus, I am better the more I can extract from the system for myself. This is a powerfully destructive thought.
It is fascinating to me to consider that the heart is naturally moral. It does not deny one part of the body over another unless it needs to allocate healing resources for an interim period. It does not judge, it simply recognizes need and responds. It seeks sufficiency, and its actions are all guided by the impulse to restore balance—all for the purposes of circulation and meeting the needs of the whole throughout a very diverse organic system. Many natural systems are like this. Nature is moral, but somehow we have allowed the anti-social power of money to corrupt this moral element in human nature. It doesn’t feel right. Just as self-interest gives the lie to how truly interdependent we are, money supports the illusion of independence and serves as a measure of fittest in the Darwinian notion of survival. If the money was won through competition, what was lost along the way? These are not propositions of the heart. They are propositions of the head; rationalizations for historical patterns, and cynically, justifications for essentially immoral behavior in the financial marketplace. The heart does not speculate, it anticipates and regulates, not as an exercise in control, but rather in service to the whole.
So what is capital, and how does it serve in the heart imagination? One could say that capital is the materialization of spirit, spirit brought into matter through economic activity. This may seem a stretch, but consider the following. Economic life evolves from the work it takes to transform natural resources into practical goods. Of course, the transformation is not magical, rather it is often hard won through trial and error, through the application of physical and mental creative powers. The invention and evolution of the plow, or any machine for that matter, demonstrates the additive, transformative power of applied consciousness across generations and geography. A second development is how these powers are harnessed and organized for efficiency and production through the further application of intelligence. This applied intelligence in combination with the production of goods and services is what gives rise to capital.* Capital is to the economic realm what intelligence is to the individual. Since intelligence is not material, that is, it has no physical substance, it is by its nature non-objective. Its value appears as practical activity in the world. Capital is spiritual, while its value, its measure, derives from its application at a specific time and place.
The role of capital in the heart economy is like that of oxygen to the human heart. Oxygen is carried through the blood even as that stream is also collecting the carbon dioxide waste, which it returns to the world through breath. This self-regenerative system is the key to the imagination of a heart-centered economy.
I offer this imagination as a starting point for changing how we think about and live our economic life through our daily transactions. Can we see that we are part of a great circulation? Can we see that we are part of both the destruction and regeneration of natural systems, and that in our economic world we are never separate from each other, from wealth or poverty of resources, even though we have been conditioned to think that way? If, in our own body system, we were to establish “political” boundaries and protect them as we do, we would die an instant death. Boundaries are important, just as cell membranes are important. They are permeable; they protect, and contain, but in the end it is the circulation that is the most vital. And it is the workings of human heart, the servant of the circulatory system that demonstrates the wisdom we need to transform money, the financial system, and economic life. Not only by, but also from the heart we can learn how the world can support our lives as we work consciously to support others’.
* This essay is inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s insights into economics. In his 1922 lecture cycle, now published under the title Rethinking Economics: Lectures and Seminars on World Economics, he goes into great depth on how these two essential capacities, labor and intelligence, create value.
John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.