Social Energy

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1. John Ikerd:

"People are not economically useful when they are born; they are helpless infants. They must be nurtured, educated, socialized, and civilized for many years before they reach their full capacity as economically productive individuals. Many of these capacity building functions are beyond the capabilities of individuals. They must be performed by families, communities, and societies. It takes energy to produce productive people, specifically societal or social energy.

Social energy may be defined as the energy expended in maintaining positive, productive, human relationships. Positive relationships require physical and mental energy. Humans, being fallible beings, invariably degrade and deplete the quality of their social relationships through unavoidable mistakes, unintentional neglect, and avoidable abuse – a kind of “social entropy.”

Thus, relationships within families, communities, and societies require energy to maintain, energy to restore, and energy to replace.

An economy that fails to invest sufficient energy in the renewal and regeneration of society is not sustainable, no matter how much physical energy it may conserve, renew, or regenerate, as explained in The Essentials of Economic Sustainability.

Continual renewal and regeneration of both physical and social energy are essential for economic sustainability." (

2. Jessica Gordon Nembhard:

"Curtis Haynes explains social energy as not just sweat equity—where you earn equity because of the work you put in, the in-kind work—but also the other kinds of energies, such as the enthusiasm, caring, and the persistence that you put in to support the business and keep the business going. Social energy is about the quality of social interactions cooperators put in, and the support they provide for the good of the enterprise and for their fellow cooperators. It’s a type of social capital, according to Haynes. So much of the productivity in, and success of, cooperatives and solidarity economy relationships results from that kind of energy and the quality of social relationships, the trust and leadership that are built. It’s not just the money put in or the hours worked but, more importantly, it is about this energy—the connections made with other people, how we work together to solve problems, make decisions, and how and when we take leadership (agency). Understanding that this social energy is just as important as financial contributions is another way to think about “the new system,” and another way to think about how we democratize capital. It’s about enthusiasm, caring, persistence, and concern for community. We need democratic, people-centered, community-based, collective, sustainable economies that produce prosperity for all and protect mother earth." (

More Information

See also John Ikerd's book: The Essentials of Economic Sustainability.