It appears that an environmental and social collapse is inevitable if the world does not move beyond the standard choices of capitalism and socialism. The U.S. think tank Capital Institute argues that "both systems are unsustainable, even if flawlessly executed, and that economists need to look to the “hard science of holism” to debunk outdated views held by both the left and the right. Jan Smuts, who coined the term “holism” in his 1926 book, Holism and Evolution, defined it as the “tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts”. For example, in the case of a plant, the whole organism is more than a collection of leaves, stems and roots. Focusing too closely on each of these parts, the theory argues, could get in the way of understanding the organism as a whole.
The Capital Institute report, titled Regenerative Capitalism, emphasizes that the world economic system is closely related to, and dependent upon, the environment. “The failure of modern economic theory to acknowledge this reality has had profound consequences, not the least of which is global climate change,” it says. The consequences of this economic worldview are vast and far reaching, encompassing a host of challenges that range from climate change to political instability.For example, the current capitalist system has created extreme levels of inequality, the report says. This, in turn, has led to a host of ills, including worker abuse, sexism, economic stagnation and more. It could even be considered partly responsible for the rise of terrorism around the world, the report claims. In other words, this inequality has become a threat to the very system that is creating it. Without radical change, the report warns, “the current mainstream capitalist system is under existential threat”.
What is needed now, the Capital Institute argues, is a new systems-based mindset built around the idea of a regenerative economy, “which recognizes that the proper functioning of complex wholes, like an economy, cannot be understood without the ongoing, dynamic relationships among parts that give rise to greater wholes”. This holistic approach flies in the face of a great deal of long-held beliefs. For example, while decision makers usually focus on finding a single ‘right’ answer, holism focuses on finding balanced answers that address seemingly contradictory goals like efficiency and resilience, collaboration and competition, and diversity and coherence. Taken from this perspective, holism wouldn’t approach global economics from a capitalism-or-socialism perspective, but rather from a capitalism-and-socialism perspective.