The Reality That Is Always Here, Ready for Homo lumens to Discover — Recommended Reading

Gebser, Jean, The Ever-Present Origin (N. Barstow with A. Mickunas, Trans.), 1985, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.  

Click here for chapter one.

When you are ready to dive deep into a multi-cultural, multi-millennia, aperspectival exploration of the three levels of perceived reality, as described in ecosynomic terms as possibility, development, outcomes or light, verb, and noun, I invite you to plunge yourself into the world of Jean Gebser.  A philosopher who lived from 1905 to 1973 in Europe, in this book Gebser provides a very rich developmental picture of human consciousness.  This book is so dense with images, examples, etymologies, and explorations of what it means to be human and the evolution of human awareness that I was rarely able to read more than 2-3 pages in a sitting.  This is probably one of the five most dog-eared and underlined books I have: a reference book that I will have to come back to for many years to come.  Too much to ingest the first time around.

While there are many layers of Gebser’s exploration, I will share here glimpses of his descriptions of the human experience of the three levels of perceived reality in ecosynomics.  This is like the 30-second movie trailer that I hope will excite you to see the full 2-hour movie.  It is worth the effort.

In brief, as my colleagues and I have surveyed people in 94 countries and met with them in a dozen countries over the past decade, we find that people describe their experiences through three different levels of perceived reality.  There is the outcome level of material things, the nouns.  There is the development level of building capacities and relationships, of connecting systems, over time, the verbs.  And, there is the possibility level of potential, of brilliance that is yet to manifest, the light.  In this book, Gebser describes each of these levels in great detail, with examples across many cultures and millennia.  I share a sample of these observations.

Vibrancy is a choice.  “Diaphaneity..is..to render transparent our own origin, our entire human past, as well as the present, which already contains the future” (6-7).  The task is to render transparent what is already here, and not yet visible.  This is the purpose of the Agreements Evidence Maps, to see (render transparent) the underlying agreements that shape our experience and outcomes.  “It transforms space-timelessness into space-time-freedoms, permitting the mutation from an unconscious openness to a conscious openness, whose essence is not ‘being in’ or ‘being in opposition to’ but diaphaneity” (436).

Outcome (noun) level of reality.  “This point-like unity…In the spaceless and timeless world, this constitutes a working unity which operates without a causal nexus…Only in a spaceless, timeless world is the point-related unity a working reality…Because of this spaceless-timeless unity, every ‘point’ (a thing, event, or action) can be interchanged with another ‘point,’ independently of time and place..and of any rational causal connection….Nevertheless, precisely this fact clearly reveals the contradiction in the unity concept, namely, the unconscious discrepancy between the parts (i.e., the points) and the actual unity.  Here man, or a human group, is the protagonist, even though this is extremely well concealed.  Although man fits in and merges with the event, this very merger and fusion give the event a definite direction” (48-49).

Development (verb) level of reality.  “‘Structure’ is understood as an expression of the potential, the possible. As Triptych points out, ‘Structures determine not merely the singular realization, as do formations, but various possibilities of any realization. Today we are interested precisely in the possible, the virtually [and potentially] present, and not merely in the temporally-bound, signal event’… The concept of structure..receives..the qualitative emphasis for sociology which allows space-time-free origin to shine through the qualitative potentiality” (429).

Possibility (light) level of reality.  “‘Possibility’ is a potency or a latent intensity, and therefore a quality…a qualitative character in contrast to the spatial emphasis, measurability, and basically quantitative aspects of three-dimensionality…(like) the ultimate consequences of the nature of the electron–one of the elementary particles which are the building blocks of our world and of the universe–indicate that it is without substance.  This means that it is a transparent structure…This de-substantialization ultimately changes the non-visual nature of even the ‘material’ realm into transparency or diaphaneity” (378).

As Gebser describes in great detail, the point is to acknowledge and transcend the apparent boundaries amongst the three levels of perceived reality, what I have referred to as the grounded potential path — “‘The hidden or the possible of the future’ is valued as present in the supersession of the ‘mere now,’ the qualitative moment” (429).

While it is a difficult read, like carefully laying the foundation for your home, it is well worth the effort on which you can build an aperspectival reality.

Get Real! More Real.

When we look into the world, we see stuff.  Technically we can call what we see “resources.”  There is a big debate about which resources are “real.”  A more nuanced debate asks, “Which resources are ‘more real’?”   Things we can touch.  Specific outcomes — nouns.

Are nouns, enhanced by the dynamic development of the noun over time (verbs), and future possibilities (light) more real?  Are the plain nouns more real, or are the enhanced nouns more real?

Or are the possibilities to which we dedicate most of our creative efforts more real?  Think about the time and energy that goes into building the house you designed, way before you ever lived in the house.  Are the possibilities that we develop over time, into something we can touch, more real?

The Noun Perspective.  When we focus on productivity and wealth, the “real” factors of nouns that are here now can possibly be enhanced by specific verbs and light.  This is the formulation of classical political economics.

The Light Perspective.  When we focus on sustainable growth, the “real” factors for disruptive innovation are possibility, development, and outcomes.

If you are going to get real, which perspective do you take?

Nounifying a Verb

As described in an earlier blog, recent research shows that the mindset of scarcity has a very significant impact on the experience of lack that people have.  The mindset generates the experience.  I have spent much time over the past few years observing the language people use to describe their reality.  I also observe that sometimes these people are conscious of the language they are using, and most of the time they are not.  In the groups experiencing greater scarcity, I find that the language they use leans very heavily on nouns.  To the point where they create nouns out of verbs.  The focus is on the outcomes-things level of perceived reality, and the language of nouns supports and reenforces this level of focus.

I believe that most of this languaging is unconscious.  It is simply an implicit part of the agreements we accept within a given culture: it is the way people talk about their experience.  To understand this phenomenon better, in the field, I ask people about their favorite experiences.  In one group in Mexico City, they talked about how they love the beach.  A noun.  Great! So what is about the beach they love?  They answer, “The sand, water, heat.”   Okay.  So I put a bucket of sand in water with a heat lamp on their desk.  Three nouns.  “Is that the beach you love?”  They look at me surprised, “Of course not!”  I ask, “Then what is it about the beach that you love, if it is not what you told me–the sand, water, and heat?”  “It’s the heat of the sun and sand as they penetrate my skin, and it’s the power in the waves in the ocean.”  “Those are verbs,” I say.  You told me that you loved a noun (the beach), when what you loved was the experience of the verbs.  They agree.  Another suggests the same happened when she said she loved the river, a noun, when in fact she loved the powerful flowing of the river, the verb, not the water sitting in a riverbed, the nouns.

The observation is that we tend to replace the verbs that actually describe the experience we enjoy at the development level of perceived reality, a verb, with nouns.  We take out the “over time” factor, collapsing the experience into an instant–a verb into a noun.  As I have suggested in other blog posts, this invocation of the outcomes-things level of perceived reality by using nouns limits our ability to work with and experience the development level of perceived reality.

In observing lots of groups lately, I find that this “nounifying” of verbs happens unconsciously in many spheres of our daily lives in organizations.  A few examples, from the perspective of the five primary relationships, highlight how widely spread the nounifying is.

  • Self.  We talk about an individual’s capacities, gifts, development, and potential, when we mean the experience of their ability to bring what they are learning to an effort, the  talents they are developing and so uniquely present to the world, their learning over time, and the possibilities in their future that we can see.
  • Other.  With another person, we experience their recognition and support.  Nouns for the actual experience of recognizing and supporting each other over time, not just once.
  • Group.  We see the contribution of individuals to the group, and we look for alignment.  These are both nouns for the ongoing experience of what individuals contribute (a verb) and how we are continuously aligning with each other, an active process, not a one-time event.
  • Nature.   As with the examples I gave above, we talk about mother nature as trees, beaches, oceans, wind, and rivers.  We talk about human nature as education, process, possibility, transformation, and reality.  We even talk about our relationship to nature as nature.  All nouns that try to describe our experience of the interweaving of three levels of perceived reality (light, motion, and matter).
  • Spirit.  Even in our experience of the source of creativity, we use nouns.  We talk about received wisdom, creativity, inspiration, and spirit.  All nouns for a much richer experience of the intermingling of possibility, development, and outcomes.  We experience and love the mystery of the movement among these three levels, and we name it with a noun.

In the book Ecosynomics: The Science of AbundanceI explore the deep implications for many of our hidden agreements that this nounifying of verbs has on our experience of life and the outcomes we achieve.

What other examples of verbs do you see people transforming into nouns by the very language they use?  What effects do you see that this nounifying has on their experience?  Please share in the comments section for this post what you see.

Innovations Integrating the Three Levels of Perceived Reality

To the verb-noun innovations we saw in earlier posts, the possibility-light level adds an additional dimension of potentiality, opening up even greater choice, freedom, and flexibility for responding to the conditions and demands life presents.  Said another way, if what is possible is not visible, and if there is no sense of how capacities and relationships can develop over time – that is, if one is stuck in a noun-things perspective, or even a verb-development perspective – then the options for how one responds are limited.  The innovations I will now share illustrate how some groups and individuals are able to hold all three perspectives together and what they can accomplish by operating at all three levels as part of their work.

Groups that operate at all three levels take a distinctive approach when looking through the four lenses.  They think first about what they would like to achieve. Then they consider what resources would support them in achieving that objective and how to develop those resources over time, so that they can have what they need when they need it.  In organizing human interaction, these groups look for, recognize and invite in the potential they see in the people they work with and in their relationships.  They choose the capacities and relationships to be developed over time and in this way are able to bring out the best at any given moment.  Finally, they think about value in terms of their vision of what is possible, including the benefits to be enjoyed by both the people within the group and those who interact with it as the result of the development of their capacities and relationships.

This three-level approach both envisions abundance and takes the steps needed to bring it into reality.  In addition, it avoids the “costs of scarcity” experienced at the things-noun and development-verb levels that are not experienced when simultaneously engaging all three levels together.  I will share some examples I have found in the next posts.

Innovations at the Things-Noun and Development-Verb Levels

A huge shift in the abundance experienced in groups can come from working with structures and processes on multiple levels.  To help make this innovation visible, I will remind you that at the things-noun level, one only thinks about what one has.  At this level, groups perceive that they either have resources or they do not, and this perspective makes the resources seem scarce.  People then organize their interactions around the work with those scarce resources.  They find value in having the resources and exchanging them for other resources they also value, but there are “costs of scarcity” associated with operating only at the things-noun level.  For example, by not thinking about the development of resources, organization, and value over time, people operating only at the things level pay higher prices for last-minute purchases, are not prepared for new opportunities, have lots of redundant processes, and feel underappreciated, leading to higher rates of burnout.  Yet that is all that is available when the things-noun perspective is all there is.

In contrast, at the development-verb level, people approach resources, organizing, and value in a very different way.  They think about both how much resource they have and how they can grow or enhance that resource  over time.  In organizing their interactions, groups holding this perspective think about how group members can build their capacities and strengthen their relationships over time.  They also think about the value the development of those capacities and relationships will have, both for those within the group and for those who interact with it.  The “costs of scarcity” experienced when groups operate only at the noun-things level do not occur at the resource-development level, because the benefits of abundance created through resource development have been included.  We can see this dynamic clearly in the innovations I will now describe.

 

Firms of Endearment

In 2007 the authors of Firms of Endearment selected 30 companies that met the criteria for a high level of humanistic performance.[1]  Their success criteria included healthy relationships with employees, customers, investors, partners, and society.  The authors defined a “great” group as “one that makes the world a better place because it exists, not simply a company that outperforms the market by a certain percentage over a certain period of time.”[2]

The authors organize the descriptors of great groups by stakeholders:

  • Employees.  A happy and productive work environment motivates, values, and rewards employees.
  • Customers.  Honoring the legal and unspoken emotional contract with the consumer strengthens the relationship.
  • Investors.  Investors value the financial and emotional relationship with the group.
  • Partners.  A mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship with business partners brings synergies to both.
  • Society.  Communities appreciate the group’s values and outcomes, welcoming them where they operate.  Creating value with government leverages the strengths of both.

I placed these descriptors on a heat map in the figure below.  A glance at the heat map shows groups that live deeply in the verb-to-noun levels.[3]  This is where everything on the heat map is in green, the areas of a high index of success.  The area in yellow needs lots of attention, and the low-index area in red is critical.  This correlates with the experience of living in the inner-to-middle circle of harmonic vibrancy, as captured in the first figure. These firms have found greater, more sustainable success by being healthy at both the noun and verb levels.

The authors discovered that these groups working at the verb and noun levels outperformed the companies in the classic Good to Great study by a ratio of 3.1 to 1 over ten years, a 1.7-to-1 ratio over five years, and were on par in financial performance over three years.[4]  None of these companies overlap with the eleven companies in the Good to Great study, because the two studies defined success at different levels.  The Firms of Endearment have shown success at the verb-noun level, while the Good to Great groups have shown success at the things-noun level.

Before anyone begins to judge the companies in both of these studies, let us be clear that we do not know what practices the companies actually have.  They might be working at a higher level than depicted in the studies.  All we know is what the authors saw through the lenses they used, which focused on verb-noun levels.  Other well known surveys find similar verb-noun-level results, such as the “Great Places to Work” survey highlighted annually in Fortune magazine.  “Great Places” assesses trust in management (the group), pride in the job (the self), and camaraderie with other employees (the other), all noun-verb level characteristics.  And, noun-verb level groups outperform noun-level groups, with the “Great Places” study finding that their “100 Best” outperformed the S&P 500, a barometer of stock market performance, by two-fold between 1998 and 2009.[5]


 [1] For more on the Firms of Endearment study, see (Sisodia, Wolfe, & Seth, 2007).

[2] For a complete description of the companies selected, see (Sisodia, et al., 2007).

[3] The descriptions in the two figures are directly from the book Firms of Endearment (Sisodia, et al., 2007, p. 21).

[4] These data from the authors’ study are provided in (Sisodia, et al., 2007, p. 17).  For the Good to Great study, see (Collins, 2001).

[5] For more detail on the “Great Places to Work” survey and the financial performance of the 100 Best, see (Burchell & Robin, 2011; Edmans, 2011).

 


Organizing the Why, How, and What of Satisfying Needs Now

As I discussed in a previous post, the development-verb level of organizing focuses your attention on the development of capacities and relationships over time, allowing you to step further into the potential seen at the possibility-light level.  The development-verb level does not, though, satisfy the needs for which you organized in the first place.  While you are able to experience greater harmonic vibrancy, as you come together at the light and verb levels, it is at the noun level that needs are met specifically.  The “met need,” in the here and now, is the domain of the things-noun level.

To get to the things-noun level, you filter out the time dimension that is so important at the development-verb level.  Remember that, at the verb level, you have already filtered out the potential that is so important at the light level.  As you transform the verb level into the noun level, you are choosing that specific point in space-time where verbs overlap to meet a specific need.  Earlier I used the examples of the piece of bread and my daughter’s dress.  If the verb that brings either one in front of me shows up too early or too late, or in the wrong place, then it remains a verb, rushing towards landfill and back to its original energetic light-form.  If, however, the verb of the bread or dress intersect in space-time with the verb of my life in a particular way, then both verbs are transformed, at that instant, into a noun that satisfies a need in both verbs.  The verb becomes a piece of bread, a noun, that satisfies my hunger, and it satisfies the baker, who made it to exchange with me for resources he needed.  To get to the noun, we filter time out of the verb, making a choice for the moment in space and time that best satisfies the needs.  It is at the noun level, through this transformation, that an exciting transmutation happens in the light energy, where it passes from one form to another.  The bread passes from grain energy into human blood.  The dress passes from fiber energy into the radiance of the beautiful human.

As you filter potential out of the why of harmonic vibrancy at the light level, you find the leveraging of abundance in the system at the verb level.  As you filter time out of the verb-level why, you find the noun-level why of need satisfaction.  I will now show you how to manifest light all the way from possibility through probability into the directly observable satisfaction of concrete needs.

How do you satisfy these needs, at the noun level of organizing?  Through competition.[1]  Competition results from filtering out time from cooperation.  At the verb level, we were working together, in cooperative-competition, as individuals with different goals for ourselves.  At the noun level, we are in the same point of space-time, working towards the same need.  In this space-time we work at cross-purposes to achieve the same need-satisfier.  At the noun level, the agreements we make are very specific and concrete in their description.  They are manifesting the here-now.  Thus, the individual signs a contract with a very specific job description, clarifying exactly what is expected of the individual’s actions and outcomes, in the here and now.  This has very positive effects in clarifying what is expected right now in the contribution one can make in one’s “doing.”  This also simplifies the finding of someone who can “do” what is necessary to make the contribution right now, independent of the individual’s development process (verb level) or deeper potential (light level).  This also has very negative effects, as the person’s potential and development are contracted into a very specific and limiting dimension, as put forth in the job description.  In this noun level of agreements, your relationship to the other is equally concrete, specific, and contracted.  When you see the other and their specific actions, at the noun level of organizing, you see the need for clarity in roles and responsibilities, who will do what, with what authority.  Your relationship to the group also needs concrete specifics.  This leads you to the need for clarity in who is responsible for the actions of what people and what resources – the need for functional hierarchies.  If you are contracted into a specific, concrete contribution to the group, then you want your responsibility for the group’s outcomes to be equally limited and specified.  You do not want to be made responsible for outcomes you cannot influence directly, under your contracted job description.  The functional hierarchy also necessitates a clear outcome for the hierarchy, often labeled as the group’s mission.  The mission, at the noun level, is very different than the why for organizing at the noun, verb, or light levels.  The mission here is usually a noun description of the specific need that the overlapping verbs are designed to satisfy.  You do this to meet the need of this group in this way.  Period.

The what of organizing at the noun level focuses on the group structures and individual incentives at this very concrete level of manifestation.  The group structures transform from the verb level of “chartered” groups to incorporated groups.  When time is filtered out of the charter a group seeks to serve, what remains is the group’s body, its corpus, thus the term corporation.  This body, the corporation, is designed to serve specific “needs.”  At the noun level, some groups are structured for profits, thus they are called “for profits,” also referred to as businesses.  Business is an odd term, as if its charter is to be busy.  Other groups are structured, at the noun level, for helping others in ways “for profit” motives will not.  They are often referred to as “civil society,” “non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or “non-profits.”  This is also an odd term, meaning that they do not distribute profits to private investors, rather to their direct investors, which in their case is society at large.  Because of their “good works,” they often do not have to pay taxes, which is also odd, as it distinguishes them from “for profits,” which might also do “good works” and pay taxes.  This is less a commentary on who should pay taxes and more a commentary on the rather arbitrary definition of charters and regulations at the noun level.  Yet other groups are structured, at the noun level, to regulate, tax, and redistribute the wealth of the activities of others.  They are often referred to as governmental organizations, which do not pay taxes.  Thus, at the noun level, there are three basic organizing structures for serving specific needs.

Noun-level organizing structures are often depicted with organizational charts that show straight-line responsibility hierarchies, with ever-expanding levels of responsibility for specific areas of the group.  This is the integration of the systemic, process view of organizing at the verb level, filtering out time.

At the noun-level, organizing of the incentives of individuals filters out time from the verb-level of development and relationships.  The residual of this filtering is what economics refers to as labor, the bodies available with a given set of skills to do work.  This is what is seen at any given moment in the development of human beings.  This is the realm of employment, a contract for bodies to make a specific contribution to the group’s needs.

While the noun-level of organizing is the predominant ideological form, it comes with significant costs.  In addition to the costs at the light and verb levels, a focusing narrowly at the noun level of organizing leads to the loss of knowledge and relationship.  By focusing narrowly on labor as a body with skills, learning and development of the individual are lost.  It becomes very easy and normal to make decisions that dismiss, neglect, and minimize the value of knowledge gained from the experience humans have in an activity over time.  Technically this knowledge gained over time is referred to as intellectual capital, a capital that can be used in the future, as I showed you in the chapter on resources.  In the course of human interaction, you meet people and make relationships.  The web of relationships you weave is the network in which you express your light in the world.  This is the group of people with whom the verb flows.  When you ignore the relationships people have, you miss the possibility and the flow possible in those relationships.  Technically these relationships which sustain a group are known as social capital.


[1] The word competition means, in classical Latin, “to strive together.”  It has emerged since the early 1600s, in modern French, to mean “to be in rivalry with another.”  This evolution suggests competition is striving together for the same scarce value, thus requiring that we be rivals, since we want the same thing of which there is not enough for both of us.

What You Have of Value

Verb to noun

To transform the development-verb level of value to the things-noun level requires filtering out time.  You bring the flow of the verb to a particular moment in space and time, to the here and now.  As one flow overlaps with another, you have a moment that satisfies a need, at the noun level.  In filtering out time, you bring the value at the verb level of access to development and relationship into the specific satisfaction you receive from it right now – its utility for you.  Out of the verb level of value exchange, you find the moment of exchange, where you set the specific value you can agree to in the exchange, which you refer to today as the price.  In the moment of exchange, you filter out time from the verb mode of exchange, the value exchange inquiry, to find a mode that captures and retains that value, what is referred to today as money or the currency you use.  It is interesting that currency is a noun denoting the verb of a current.  In the transformation of the verb to noun, you also filter time out of who influenced the resource dynamics around the distribution of the value in the exchange to see what residual remains in the stock being exchanged.  You see here that the verb to noun transformation of filtering out time brings you to the present of what is available here and now.

Noun

At the noun level of value, you experience value as the satisfaction of a perceived need.  This noun is a projection of the shifting verb into a moment in space and time.  This means that it is a choice of where and when to have verbs overlap.  This is a very special instance in space-time, where the energy in the flow of light potential is completely contextualized, and then shifts form.  This is very different than saying that the scarce thing was there and you decided whether you wanted it or not.  From this perspective, choice is drastically limited, as it completely misses the choice in when and where to have two verbs overlap, and only asks if the somewhat arbitrary overlap that we encountered works.  Need satisfaction is the utility you receive from satisfying a perceived need.  This is the realm of utility maximization, as described amply in the economic literature.

Value of exchange

To determine the value of exchange, at the noun level, you integrate the flows of the related verbs, at a specific moment of overlap, in space-time.  This gives you the supply-demand curves of economics.  Supply and demand curves express the rate of change (the derivative) of the value one experiences in the exchange.[1]  Over different prices, the rate each overlapping side is ready to accept and provide changes.  This holds for both the supply and demand sides.  In economic terms, supply and demand determine the price paid for factors of production (land, labor, capital).[2]  This is the noun-level description of value.  The father of modern economics, Adam Smith, suggests the price is a measure of utility, “Nearly all actions of life are governed, at least in part, by desires the force of which can be measured by the sacrifice which people are willing to make in order to secure their gratification: this sacrifice may take many forms…But in our world it has nearly always consisted of the transfer of some definite material thing which has been agreed upon as common medium of exchange, and is called “money.”…Thus then the desirability or utility of a thing to a person is commonly measured by the money price that he will pay for it.”[3]  More significantly, for our exploration of the agreements that guide human interaction, I note that microeconomics starts at the price question, delving into the behaviors of individuals in markets.[4]  This means two things, at this stage.  First, much time and energy has been dedicated to understanding how individuals arrive at a shared understanding of the value of exchange at the noun level – the agreed price.  Second, the microeconomic description of value focuses on the noun level, leaving out the light and verb levels of the human experience of the value of exchange.

Mode of exchange

My colleague Orland Bishop observed that, “Once human beings lose the capacity to give value to something, they have lost the sacred.  They are pursuing something (money) on the planet that others (the Federal Reserve) have said is valuable.”[5]

As time is filtered out of the verb level of the mode of exchange of inquiry in the value exchange, you come to the space-time moment of the exchange itself.  This is where the needs of both parties are potentially satisfied.  The mode you use for this exchange is money.  Money is an instrument that allows the exchange.  Money has a long history of its many, constantly evolving forms, from in-kind exchange to more liquid forms such as the currency you use today.

Interestingly, money is the most taboo topic.  A perceived relationship of scarcity to value, as it expresses in scarcity-based relationships to money, is responsible in our experience for most divorces, family breakups, and community dissonance.[6]  In the scarcity worldview, one’s perceived inner value is an inward projection of one’s accumulation of monetary wealth, a noun.  A projection of a noun is a smaller noun, one’s intrinsic value, which one projects back into the world, unconsciously, as static scarcity.  This is supported by a culture of acceptance of the rules of value generation and exchange as given.  The monetary structures and processes supporting this view of money are defined by scarcity.

Distribution of value in exchange

At the noun level of value, who gets what in the distribution of the value in the exchange focuses on the stock.  At this level, who has something in their stock receives value.  Entering the distribution question from the transformation of light into verb into noun is relatively straightforward.  Entering it from a scarcity-based perspective of the noun is not straightforward.

From the scarcity-based perspective, the seemingly obvious is that who ever has it gets it.  This brings in the question of who has it, which becomes a necessary question of ownership.  While each school of economic thought has the only “right” answer to who owns what, their solution depends completely on the primary relationship they feel to be most important.  For example, in the individualist economics of free markets, the relationship to self comes first.  The individual owns things.  From this perspective, the obvious solution is that whoever has something gets the value generated from that something.  This school of economics suggests, from a theory of surplus, that owners of land are paid rents, owners of labor are paid wages, and owners of capital are paid profits, that which is left over after paying rents and wages.  An innovation that results from this understanding emerged with the perspective on capital describe in the previous chapter on the big questions of resources.  If you have capital, then you can use it to generate more capital.  This is money making money on its own.  Nestled into this example is an assumption of who receives a fixed amount or a variable amount in the exchange.  Typically, rents are paid to owners based on a fixed, negotiated contract over a specified period.  Likewise, wages are paid to labor on a fixed, negotiated contract over a specified period.  These are both fixed, which benefits the land owners and labor, so that they are not at the whims of the manager.  This also allows them to determine whether they are willing to exchange what they have with the managers under the negotiated, relatively risk-free conditions.  The manager has a completely different kind of agreement to value distribution.  The manager’s agreement is variable, based on the net amount of value generated – the value left from what was generated after rents and wages are paid.  This gives the manager the incentive to maximize the value generated, while minimizing the cost of rents and wages, thus promoting efficiency in achieving effectiveness.  Much has been learned from this school.  And, it is not the only school that teaches you something.

The distributive question provides the formal description of what is happening at the noun level of value.  You have an experience of a need that is satisfied here and now.   The formulation is now very simple.  You exchange something (X), thus the formalization of the value experienced at the noun level is:

Value(noun) = X

This formulation shows that whoever has more at the noun level, satisfies more needs at the noun level, and thus perceives more value.  This puts a premium, at the noun level, in having the value – wealth comes from having.  This is the economic formulation of wealth.


[1] For an early description of supply and demand curves, refer to (Marshall, 1890, p. 150).

[2] According to Harvard economist Mankiw, “The price paid to any factor of production – labor, land, or capital – equals the value of the marginal product of that factor…” (Mankiw, 2008, pp. 408-409).

[3] This quote comes from Adam Smith’s famous forging of modern economics, in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Smith, 1976, p. 151).  It is curious, from an ecosynomic perspective of light, verb, and noun expressions of value, that most economists today refer to Smith’s work as “The Wealth of Nations,” erasing the initial eight words of the title describing Smith’s perspective on “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of..”

[4] Economists Heilbroner and Thurow start their explanation of microeconomics, clarifying that “The micro point of view brings us immediately to look into the question of prices” (R. Heilbroner & Thurow, 1994, p. 174).  Likewise, economists Samuelson and Nordhaus write, “microeconomics studies individual prices, quantities, and markets” (Samuelson & Nordhaus, 1995, p. 382).

[5] This insight is from Orland Bishop (Teague, 2010d).  It is currently perceived that money has to be scarce to be valuable.  This is exactly the opposite of the human experience of flow being what is valuable, not the limiting of flow.

[6] This observation on money and life was made by psychotherapist Aaron Kipnis (Teague, 2010b).

Resources as Nouns — A Choice of Scarcity or Abundance

The noun is the thing that is here-now that you experience.  At the things-noun level, a resource is real when you can touch it.  You can see water, bread, a dress, people, and products.  You use the resources that you have of land, people, and money to do things.  These are the factors of production of economics.  These resources are nouns, because they exist here and now.  You can count them.  You can use them now for an activity.  The more you have, the better off you are, because you have more options for what you can do.  Success comes from how much you have.

As you filter out time from the verb, the noun of the relationship to self, other, and group is what you can do now, right here, which is called the factor of production of labor in economics.  A “factor of production” is the economic term for the resources used to produce goods and services.[1]  Labor is the amount of doing that can get done in a specified period.  It is what is left after you filter out potential and development from the self, other, and group.[2]

The noun form of the relationship to nature, the process of manifestation, that which is available in this moment, is referred to as land, in its raw, natural form or nature elaborated into something else.  It is nature devoid of the infinite potential of light, and the manifestation of interdependent flows over time.  Land is the second economic factor of production.

The noun form of the flow of spirit, the source of creativity, is what economists call capital, the third factor of production.  Capital is the noun residual of the verb inflows and outflows resulting from the creative acts, which are in themselves manifestations of the infinite potential of light.[3]  Another way of seeing this is that people make investments in the future value they see in light-possibility creativity, using currencies to exchange among the flows of creativity in the form of resources, ending up with a positive, net result of more flow in than out of currency, which is capital available for future investment in creativity.


[1] The leading economics textbook by Harvard professor Mankiw defines factors of production as “the inputs used to produce goods and services” (Mankiw, 2008, p. 394).  An interesting predecessor to this neo-classical term comes from James Maitland in the early 1800’s, who called them “sources of wealth” (c.f., Roncaglia, 2006, p. 167).  Nobel laureate Samuelson suggests that “Land—or, more generally, natural resources—represents the gift of nature to our productive processes…Labor consists of the human time spent in production…Capital resources form the durable goods of an economy, produced in order to produce yet other goods” (Samuelson & Nordhaus, 1995, p. 8).

[2] In his now-classic text on the histories of great economic thinkers, in its seventh edition, economist Robert L. Heilbroner reminds us of the evolution of the very question of land, labor, and capital.  “The Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation – indeed the whole world until the sixteenth or seventeenth century – could not envision the market system for the thoroughly sound reason that Land, Labor, and Capital – the basic agents of production which the market system allocates – did not yet exist.  Land, labor, and capital in the sense of soil, human beings, and tools are of course coexistent with society itself.  But the idea of abstract land or abstract labor did not immediately suggest itself to the human mind any more than did the idea of abstract energy or matter.  Land, labor, and capital as “agents” of production, as impersonal, dehumanized economic entities, are as much modern conceptions as the calculus.  Indeed, they are not much older.  Take, for example, land.  As late as the fourteenth or fifteenth century there was no such thing as land in the sense of freely salable, rent-producing property.  There were lands, of course – estates, manors, and principalities – but these were emphatically not real estate to be bought and sold as occasion warranted…The same lack of salability was true for labor.  When we talk of the labor market today, we mean the great network of job-seeking in which individuals sell their services to the highest bidder.  There simply was no such network in the precapitalist world.  There was a vast hodgepodge of serfs, apprentices, and journeymen who labored, but most of the labor never entered a market to be bought and sold…Or take capital.  Certainly capital existed in the precapitalist world, in the sense of private wealth.  But although the funds existed, there was no impetus to put them to new and aggressive use.  Instead of risk and change, the motto was “Safety first.” (R. L. Heilbroner, 1999, pp. 27-28).

[3] Economists Heilbroner and Thurow ask, “How were the factors of production put to use prior to the market system? …There were no factors of production before capitalism.  Of course, human labor, nature’s gifts of land and natural resources, and the artifacts of society have always existed.  But labor, land, and capital were not commodities for sale.  Labor was performed as part of the social duties of serfs or slaves, who were not paid for doing their work.  Indeed, the serf paid fees to his lord for the use of the lord’s equipment, and never expected to be remunerated when he turned over a portion of his crop as the lord’s due.  So, too, land was regarded as the basis for military power or civil administration, just as a county or state is regarded today – not as real estate to be bought and sold.  And capital was thought of as treasure or as the necessary equipment of an artisan, not as an abstract sum of wealth with a market value.  The idea of liquid, fluid capital would have been as strange in medieval life as would be the thought today of stocks and bonds as heirlooms never to be sold” (R. Heilbroner & Thurow, 1994, p. 15).

Converting Resource Verbs to Nouns

To move from the development-verb level of probability, flow, and relationship to the things-noun level of here and now, I filter out time.[1]  A noun comes into existence when values or verbs overlap to satisfy a need.  When the fibers rushing from the earth through human hands to land fill are seen and taken off the hangar by my daughter, then, at that moment, they become a dress.  Otherwise, the fibers are simply a form of energy being transformed, from sun to minerals to nutrients to silk to fabric to landfill to minerals.  Likewise with the grains rushing from the earth through human hands to land fill.  If they are seen, at a very particular moment in time, they become a piece of bread.  Otherwise they are grains, dough, or stale bread, none of which I want to eat.  The noun expresses when the verb of the fibers or the grains meets the verb of my life at the moment of a “need.”

The point is to realize that most moments in the life of a verb are not recognized as a noun.  It is only when the verb meets another verb in a very particular way that the verb becomes recognized as a noun.  This makes the noun a very special case of the verb.  This deeper understanding comes from seeing that it is the specific overlapping of verbs that brings nouns into being.

To filter out time – to convert a verb into a noun – you look at the changes to the resource over a specific period of time.  As I shared before, this means to add the inflows and subtract the outflows over the same time.  This tells you what is in the stock of the resource at this moment.


[1] To the technically comfortable, to filter out time, we simply integrate the inflows and outflows over a specific period of time.  This simply means that we take what we had at the beginning of the time period, add what came in, and subtract what went out, to end up with the new level of the resource.