David Korten

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David Korten
Born 1937
Longview, Washington
Occupation Teacher, institutional systems analyst, environmentalist, activist, and author
Alma mater Stanford University Graduate School of Business (MBA, Ph.D.)
Genre Localized economies, ecological economics, environmental economics, alternative energy, living economies, sustainability, climate change
Spouse Frances Fisher Korten

David C. Korten (born 1937) is an American author, former professor of the Harvard Business School, political activist, prominent critic of corporate globalization, and "by training and inclination a student of psychology and behavioral systems".[1] His best-known publication is, When Corporations Rule the World (1995 and 2001). In 2011, he was named an Utne Reader visionary.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

David Korten was born in Longview, Washington, in 1937 and is a 1955 graduate of its R. A. Long High School. He received a master of business administration and Ph.D. from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He said: "My early career [after leaving Stanford in 1959] was devoted to setting up business schools in low-income countries—starting with Ethiopia". He served during the Vietnam War as a captain in the United States Air Force, undertaking U.S.-based teaching and organizational duties;[1] and for five and a half years was a visiting professor in the Harvard Business School. While at Stanford in the 1950s, he married Frances Fisher Korten, with whom he now lives on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington.

Career and main body of work[edit]

David Korten in conversation with Silver Donald Cameron about his work

Korten served for five and a half years as a visiting associate professor of the Harvard University Graduate School of Business where he taught in Harvard's middle management, M.B.A., and doctoral programs.

He also served as the Harvard Business School adviser to the Nicaragua-based Central American Institute of Business Administration. He subsequently joined the staff of the Harvard Institute for International Development, where he headed a Ford Foundation-funded project to strengthen the organization and management of national family planning programs.

In the late 1970s, Korten moved to Southeast Asia, where he lived for nearly fifteen years, serving as a Ford Foundation project specialist and, later, as Asia regional adviser on development management to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which involved him in regular travels to Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.[1]

Korten has written that he became disenchanted with the official aid system and devoted his last five years in Asia to "working with leaders of Asian non-governmental organizations on identifying the root causes of development failure in the region and building the capacity of civil society organizations to function as strategic catalysts of national- and global-level change".[1] He formed the view that the poverty, growing inequality, environmental devastation, and social disintegration he was observing in Asia also was being experienced in nearly every country in the world, including the United States and other "developed" countries. He also concluded that the United States was actively promoting—both at home and abroad—the very policies that were deepening the resulting global crisis.

He returned to the U.S. in 1992 and has assisted in raising public consciousness of the political and institutional consequences of economic globalization and the expansion of corporate power at the expense of democracy, equity, and environmental protection.

Korten is co-founder and board chair of the Positive Futures Network, which publishes the quarterly YES! Magazine. He is also a founding board member, emeritus, of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, a former associate of the International Forum on Globalization,[3] and a member of the Club of Rome.

The Great Turning[edit]

Korten's 2006 book The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community argues that the development of empires about 5,000 years ago, initiated unequal distribution of power and social benefits to the small portion of the population they controlled. He also argues that corporations are modern versions of empire, both being social organizations based on hierarchies, chauvinism, and domination through violence.

The rise of powerful, advanced technology combined with the control of corporate- as well as nation-based empires is described as becoming increasingly destructive to communities and the environment. Korten postulates that the world is on the verge of a perfect storm of converging crises, including anthropogenic adverse climate change, post-peak oil production decline, and a financial crisis caused by an unbalanced global economy. This will precipitate major changes to the current economic and social structure.

Korten believes that these crises will present an opportunity for significant changes that could replace the paradigm of "Empire" with one of "Earth Community". Although recognizing the potential that the opportunity may not be seized, Korten hopes that this opportunity will result in the emergence of an "Earth Community", based on sustainable, just, and caring communities that incorporate the values of mutual responsibility and accountability, and he advocates toward that.


Author John Michael Greer has critiqued the book in another direction,[4][5][6] noting that "[i]n place of the sloppy and richly human realities of politics and culture in the world we actually inhabit, The Great Turning offers up a one-dimensional morality play in which Empire and Earth Community are the only options, and the choice between them is a choice between absolute evil leading to planetary suicide, on the one hand, and radiant goodness leading straight on to utopia on the other. Third options and moral ambiguity apparently do not exist in Korten’s cosmos." Greer writes that, "[i]n Korten’s view, what makes the tactics of today’s neoconservatives wrong is not that these tactics are morally despicable in themselves; they’re bad solely because the neoconservatives are using them on behalf of Empire, and they become good when proponents of Earth Community take up the same tactics and use them instead." Greer concludes that, "[w]hat it means is that the constructive resources politics might provide to the difficult future ahead are precisely those foreclosed by Korten’s apocalyptic politics, with its demonization of his opponents and its insistence on the unique rightness of his own political stance."


  • Planned Change in a Traditional Society: Psychological Problems of Modernization in Ethiopia, 1972, Praeger Publishers
  • People-Centered Development: Contributions Toward Theory and Planning Frameworks, with Rudi Klauss, 1984, Kumarian Press
  • Bureaucracy and the Poor: Closing the Gap, with Felipe B. Alfonso, 1985, Kumarian Press
  • Community Management: Asian Experience and Perspectives, 1986, Kumarian Press
  • Getting to the 21st Century: Voluntary Action and the Global Agenda, 1990, Kumarian Press
  • The Post Corporate World: Life After Capitalism, 2000, Berrett-Koehler Publishers
  • When Corporations Rule the World, 2001 (Second Edition), 1995 (First Edition), Berrett-Koehler Publishers
  • Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World is Possible, 2004 (Second Edition)
  • The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, 2007 (Second Edition), Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006 (First Edition), Kumarian Press, Bloomfield
  • Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth – A Declaration of Independence from Wall Street, 2010 (Second Edition), 2009 (First Edition), Berrett-Koehler Publishers
  • Globalizing Civil Society, 2010, ReadHowYouWant

See also[edit]


External links[edit]