Democracy is lost unless we re-structure our economies, and re-structuring our economies requires a new operating system based on different values. That’s what empathy provides, not in its “thin” form as a vague appreciation of peoples’ feelings, but in its “thick” form that commits everyone to foster the wellbeing of others, and do no harm.
At present, our economic systems afford us only the narrowest view of human potential. They deny us the ability to see people for what they truly are. We define others not by what they have but by what they lack. Rather than examine what they can offer, we categorize vast swaths of our society by what they need. And the harm that is done to others through poverty, inequality and pollution is dismissed as a trade-off against economic efficiency and growth. If empathy is the ability to understand the perspectives of others and use that understanding to guide one’s actions, then it’s safe to conclude that our current economies inculcate the opposite.
What would change if the economy was re-structured with empathy at the center? First of all there would be a different set of priorities: