by Satya Levine, OLLI staff

Q: How did you discover your interest in your subject and what course of education did you pursue that led you to this point?

A: I became interested in alternative economies as it became clearer to me that our mainstream economic framework could not move us toward a sustainable future. For the past 30 years, as a teacher, consultant, and writer, I tried to find ways to improve the role of business in society through better decision making practices, a system approach to issues, and a stakeholder approach to corporate responsibility. These ideas led me to think more deeply about the context in which business exists, and I have come to the conclusion that the problem is not really business, but rather our economic system. We need a new story about how to provide for each other.

My latest book, Civilizing the Economy (2010) provides such a story. It proposes that the basis for the economy is not property, but people (a civic economy), and that the purpose of the economy is not accumulating things, but making provisions for all. In the course, we will focus on alternative economies that expand on this economic vision.

Q: What are your current projects and areas of interest?

A: In collaboration with others, I am rethinking many of the topics of economics--from the meaning of money to the idea of economic growth. My “hobby-horses,” so to speak, are the meaning of the civic, the legacy of slavery in current capitalism, and localization. Developing local economics involves everything from food to new currencies. The legacy of slavery and the meaning of the civic are more complicated, and totally intertwined. I don’t know all that needs to be said here, but I know that any economic framework that avoids the legacy of slavery will fail.

Q: What is your vision for your OLLI course and what do you hope to have as the high point?

A: There are some great stories to tell, understand, and evaluate. I want people to know there are real alternatives to the current system. We have two guest speakers to tell their stories: Neal Gorenflo from and Allison Cook from The Story of Stuff Project. Other stories will be presented in short lecturers and video presentations. I hope that those who are looking for a story in which they can participate will find one (or more) in this course.

Q: What are some of your recent publications and activities in your field?

A: I continue to teach business ethics at the University of San Francisco’s philosophy department, and to write about business and society. Recently, my book Corporate Integrity (2005) was translated into Chinese, and my latest book Civilizing the Economy (2010) was the inspiration for a recent issue of the Pratt Institute’s magazine, Catalyst Strategic Design Review, on the same topic. I have an essay in that issue, “Designing the Future Economy.” In June, I will attend a conference on the new economy sponsored by The New Economic Institute at Bard College in New York. I think that these events are signs that we are at the beginning of the story of alternative economies, and the next chapters should be quite interesting.