Monday, June 18, 2012

Author John Ikerd Reveals the Essentials of Economic Sustainability

"The Essentials of Economic Sustainability reflects a lifetime of learning experiences, 70-plus years; but the specific motivation for writing it came fairly recently. In the spring of 2011, I was invited to present a series of lectures at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China. The topic was “Post-Modern Economic Development,” which is essentially equivalent to sustainable economic development.  I would have only ten hours of class time to present and discuss the essential principles and concepts. The class would be presented in English, but many of the students would have limited English language capabilities.

I have been writing about and teaching the basic principles of economic sustainability for decades, including another book from Kumarian press, Sustainable Capitalism. I knew I would have to modify my presentations to make my message understandable and acceptable to students in a non-capitalist country. I would need to limit my presentations to the bare essentials and present them without relying on the usual references or context of the U.S. economy and society. I would have to rely on my Chinese interpreter and teaching assistant to provide me with an appropriate context and relevant examples.

My Chinese sponsors assured me my students would be able to read basic English, although many would not be able to speak or fully understand spoken English. They suggested I prepare a PowerPoint presentation so the students would be able to follow my verbal presentations. In addition, I decided to write a very basic provisional text that students who could read English would be able to download from the Internet to reinforce my lectures. That text eventually evolved into The Essentials of Economic Sustainability.

My teaching experience in China proved to be very personally and professionally rewarding. My students were extremely receptive to my message of economic sustainability. I had been told “Chinese students do not ask questions,” but simply sit and listen. After the first nine hours of class, spread over two weeks, we closed with an hour-long spirited discussion, with questions as well as comments from the students. The sponsors said they could not have been more pleased.

I had contacted Jim Lance of Kumarian Press before I went to China asking if Kumarian might be interested in publishing the book. I told him the book would not contain any references or culturally specific examples, as I was writing it to be easily translated into other languages for use in other countries. I would provide suggestions for finding culturally appropriate references and examples and would provide a set of discussion questions at the end of each chapter. I suggested the book might also be useful as a provisional text in a wide variety of classes in the U.S., since instructors could add their own topic-specific references and examples. The individual reader could call upon his or her own experiences and could search the Internet for relevant references. With appropriate references, examples, and class discussion, the book could also serve as the main text in a full-credit academic course at about any level, from advanced high school through graduate school.

This would be a very different kind of book. I didn’t have much hope of finding a publisher. I was fully prepared to post the book on the Internet to be downloaded by anyone who might find it useful. To my surprise, Jim expressed immediate interest in the project and accepted my conditions for publication, with very few revisions. He did insist on an annotated bibliography, which I think will be very useful for English language users. After my successful teaching experience in China, I believe the book has real potential for individual readers, discussion groups, and formal classes in both English and non-English speaking countries in the so-called developing and developed areas of the world.

I have since used the book in a wide variety of circumstances, ranging from a 15-minute TED-type presentation to a full-credit block course in Economic Sustainability at Maharishi University of Management in my new hometown of Fairfield, IA. I could not be more pleased with the results. I have never written nor read another book that has been as versatile or useful in communicating the basic concepts of economic sustainability. I still recommend my Sustainable Capitalism book for those who want to teach courses in economic sustainability within the context of the American economic and political system. It also is an excellent supplemental text for a variety of courses. However, I believe The Essentials of Economic Sustainability has far more versatility for those who are willing participate in a “collaborative learning” process by choosing their own references and coming up with their own examples.

To assist readers in the collaborative learning process, I am providing Kumarian Press with copies of PowerPoint presentations I have used in classes, both text and visuals for my TED-type presentation, and a link to the wiki website for the class I co-taught at Maharishi University. The site includes the course syllabus, links to supplementary materials, and actual answers of students to the questions at the end of each chapter.

I would appreciate feedback from anyone who reads the book or uses it in a discussion group or classroom setting. I will ask Kumarian to post any additional teaching/learning aids that readers may provide, giving appropriate credit to individual contributors. I hope you enjoy my new book as much as I have enjoyed creating it." -John Ikerd

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