on September 2, 2011
Charles Eisenstein's recent book, "Sacred Economics," is the book I've been waiting for. Finally, a brilliant scholar has produced a comprehensive and prescriptive vision for a future that promises to escape the dystopian path humanity is now embarked upon, although not without prompting my caveats.
Lucidly written, the first part of the book explains the increasingly dysfunctional workings of the grow-or-die financial economy in great (and often reiterative) detail. For some, this will be tough sledding because his analysis undercuts the Chicago School of Economics ideology that is constantly beaten into our brains by the mainstream media. The material he integrates is abstract with many independent variables.
He makes crystal clear what some of us have known for a long time about the roots of poverty, climate change, environmental destruction, wealth concentration, the erosion of democracy, and the destruction of the human spirit under corporate rule. He carefully and logically deconstructs the arguments put forward by the spokespeople for the present system.
More importantly, he combs the entire history of the world for ideas and practices that have shown us the way out of the traps set by a money system based on artificial, contrived scarcities and the theft of the commons. In Chapter 17 he puts all these together as a symbiotic interconnected program for a peaceful transition to a stable, sustainable economy in harmony with Nature. If you find the previous chapters to be preaching to the choir (the book is 469 pages long) go directly here and then backtrack to pick up the pieces.
But he doesn't stop here, and that's where I think he begins to get himself in trouble. He questions the "meta-Stories" that we tell ourselves about who we are. I would paraphrase the essential point of his inquiry as, "What underlies the evolution of the present inhumane and ultimately destructive economic system?" He identifies the biblical dominionist vision of human "Ascent", the loss of our sense of universal interconnectedness, the transfer of the wealth of the commons into private property. He counters the view that--as a "rational actor"--man is innately selfish with the proposition that what I do to you I also do to myself. He decries our general neglect of the importance of qualitative experience such as the production and appreciation of beauty
So far so good. But at this point, his moral philosopher self takes over from his scholarly economist self. He proposes the eventual transition to a moneyless "gift economy" free of commodification and quantification. He holds that such economies free us from anxiety about scarcity when we have confidence that our freely given gifts will be returned with gifts that will satisfy our needs. This will strike many as an unrealistically sanguine view of human nature. We are an inherently unpredictable animal capable of schadenfreude or misanthropy unrelated to economic injustice. He goes even further to hold that the material world will come to be regarded as sacred, thus erasing the dichotomy between the material and the spiritual.
I have no need or desire to argue with him about the validity of his philosophical and spiritual insights. What bothers me is that he makes these views central to the goals of his transitional economics proposals--to the point of choosing "Sacred Economics" as his book's title--when his eminently practical proposals for transforming our financial operating system can stand on their own merits in service to a society merely looking for a way out of the traps it has set for itself.
Eisenstein identifies the many current local initiatives that seem to be leading to a self-organizing transition to a reemergence of harmony with Nature. By and large these efforts spring from an educated elite, or from indigenous populations who have retained important connections to Nature. In so doing he neglects the tremendous weight of a seven-billion strong global population dependent on the existing interlocking web of the corporate/government technostructure hell-bent on a lemming-like trajectory. He neglects the fact that the majority of the world's population can feel their subjugation but lack the wit or the conceptual tools to do anything about it. Such people cling in desperation to the known.
Finally, the notion that the material world will come to be regarded as sacred (thus erasing the dichotomy between the material and the spiritual) will be regarded by the billions-strong adherents of the ancient messianic religions as not only a threat to their beliefs but as a proposal for the triumph of secular humanism. Ironically, they will be strange bedfellows with those who--fearing theocracy--hold freedom of religion to be a most treasured tenet of the Bill of Rights. I worry that many who would otherwise be open to his practical proposals will reject them out of hand because of these fears.
Nevertheless, I must confess that I've found personal inspiration in being immersed in the notion of the importance of giving, and that his stress on the miraculous sacredness of our world gives his book a human warmth which it would otherwise lack. With some regret, I guess what I'm saying is--throw out Eisenstein's baby--but drink deeply of the bathwater.
on August 14, 2011
This is an absolutely astonishing book; a must read. We ordinarily don't think of economics as sacred. In a way we often see economics and the sacred as opposites. Perhaps: economics as worldly, and the sacred as otherworldly. As Eisenstein (correctly) asserts, this is part of the problem. Compactly, thoughtfully, and with feeling - Eisenstein shows how the history of economics and of our relationship to money have led us to this moment in history. This moment in history means: a time when the earth is on the verge of multiple ecological crises, and when our economic system itself is similarly on the verge.
Indeed, Eisenstein's work well predicts the current malaise and multiple crises the world is presently undergoing. Most importantly, Eisenstein shows us (and the world) the way through this mess and into a fundamentally more sane, more sound, and more soulful (sacred) economic system.
Do you ever wonder what will happen to the world in the next twenty to thirty years? This book will show you. Never has there been a more pressing time in history, and never has there been a book that so clearly shows us how we got here, what is unfolding before our eyes, and most importantly, where might we go from here? This includes, specifically, not just what will happen to our economic system if we are to survive, but what you and I can do starting today to make this more humane and bountiful future come into being.
I don't ordinarily review books, but am moved to do so because this is such a masterpiece of a book.
on September 5, 2011
I read a book a day, run a Body Mind Spirit Book Club, spent half my earnings in book stores, but I have never written a book review until now. If you still don't see how important this book is to me, maybe you should know I wrote off a $20,000 debt someone owed me and asked nothing of him in return except to read this book. And I have to add that I don't really have that sort of money to throw away. This is how bad I want everyone to read it, because on its pages are not words but a vision of hope for the future of humanity.
I will keep this short because the average person don't have time to read too many long reviews. I have no intention to expand on what others have already said about the book. While they had done a wonderful job, I don't think any summary or synopsis will do it justice. The ideas it covered are so radical and with so many ramifications that it will easily be dismissed by most as impractical and over-idealistic if read in snippets. Half way through my reading of it, I was still skeptical if ignorance, social conditioning and resistance could ever be overcome, but every chapter took me one step closer to believing that it's really the answer I had been waiting for. It's a manual for the future ! I have my work cut out for me. Everyone has a part to play and that's why everyone should read it. And like a manual, it has to be read from cover to cover !
on November 4, 2011
Do you want to live in a world where humans treat each other and all of creation as the sacred gifts we are? Read this book.
Do you want to know how to protect yourself from our slow-motion train wreck that is the global debt-based economy? Read this book.
Do you want to obliterate any blocks you might have about money so that we might all share in abundance? Read this book.
Do you want to live your life as your soul intended? Read this book.
Are you prepared to unlearn everything you thought you knew about money? Read this book.
This is one of the most important books I've ever read. There were definitely some parts I didn't agree with at first reading. Some of it felt a little "utopia-ish" or "pie-in-the-sky." But then I got it. Eisenstein has seen not only the world that could be, but the world that IS BECOMING. He is a true modern day prophet. He has looked deeply at economics and discovered an understanding so deep that he has left me in awe.
This book forced me to confront and abandon many of my assumptions about the nature of reality, of humanity, and of myself. If you are like me and some of the book seems a bit unrealistic, I urge you, please keep an open mind until the end. It might just change your life. Eisenstein might just be seeing right into the heart of the world that is emerging in front of us.
on December 25, 2013
If you know nothing about the ways of nature and of human's basically humane nature (the joys of being humane to each other and our yearning for a world that allows us to be more authentically loving with each other) then this is the book for you. It's a basic introduction to our ancient human traditional ways of relating to each other and suggestions for how we can begin to return to them. The work is limited, however, by the author's apparent ignorance of others who have been working in this field for decades. He does not even cite Genevieve Vaughan, for example. If you know something about the gift economy and have some sense of traditional human cultures of respect, you will find her work much more valuable and relevant. For example, Eisenstein "intuited" that elders in other countries expected him to accept refreshments offered to him in their homes--that it would be rude to refuse their hospitality. I don't know about you, but that's just how I was raised, right here in the U.S. of A. If that is your experience, too, you will get more out of the work of Genevieve Vaughan or Heide Goettner-Abendroth.
on September 1, 2011
Fittingly, I received a copy of this as a gift from the publisher. I got a review copy in print but true to his word, the author will let you download a copy for free. A little over half way through the book, he does invite you to support his work and for a moment, you think "a ha!" but then you realize that it's not a catch, it's a new business model, and one which he really believes in. I'm starting to believe in it, too.
One early passage stands out:
"In nature, headlong growth and all-out competition are features of immature ecosystems, followed by complex interdependency, symbiosis, cooperation, and the cycling of resources. The next stage human economy will parallel what we are beginning to understand about nature. It will call forth the gifts of each of us; it will encourage circulation over hoarding; and it will be cyclical, not linear. Money may not disappear anytime soon, but it will serve a diminished role even as it takes on more of the properties of the gift. The economy will shrink, and our lives will grow."
Eisenstein is a visionary and practices what he preaches. The gift economy stands in sharp contrast to the interest-based banking of the last thousand years or so. Taking interest out of the equation eliminates the need to grow the economy just in order to pay off existing debts. He introduces the concept of demurrage in lieu of interest, to keep money circulating instead of accumulating into fewer and fewer hands.
All fascinating stuff, well-reasoned and argued passionately, though I admit to having some questions about how we might get there from here. Shareware works in software development. Wiki-ware works in the cloud. So maybe we'll all be practicing gift economics, too, in the not-too-distant future. (I can't help thinking of the old joke here: you go first!)
In the meantime, it would be great if we could return more aspects of life to the commons and de-monetize those services that used to be freely exchanged with good will and without formal payment.
on March 7, 2015
This is the most difficult and frustrating economics book I've ever read. More difficult than Keynes, but for different reasons. Eisenstein, clearly well read and deeply philosophical, is essentially still an ignoramus on economics. In almost every paragraph his ideas and conclusions are based on conjecture, outright ignorance, or denial of very real phenomena.
From an Austrian School perspective, it is abundantly clear that he has either not read some of the most fundamental subject matter, or simply rejected ideas from what appears to me a devotion to bleeding-heart-altruistic egalitarianism.
Right out of the gates he denies the existence of natural scarcity, which really only means he doesn't understand the basics of human action using means to attain ends. Then he proceeds to attack the concept of private property. Here we deal more with an ethical discussion but he assumes it an argument he's won, when most of the world is not yet convinced. He moves through usury as unethical, never delving into the time-preference theory at all, and proceeds on to discuss money and negative interest rates as beneficial. Here is where I have the most to argue, because he skipped over the theory of interest as a result of natural and immutable preference for current over future goods. Having any understanding of this concept he would be forced to rewrite the majority of this book. And it continues...
Essentially like all utopian ideas, the tendency is to ask man to behave differently than he does in his natural state, which obviously requires force to be implemented. In the end all forced or command economies as his plans require can only be even attempted on a grand scale through mass suppression of dissent. It is a totalitarian scheme like all the others that came from the late 19th and 20th centuries. I'll quote Isabel Paterson to summarize my view on these schemes:
"Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends."
on November 20, 2013
It was Lewis Hyde's seminal classic, 'The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World,' which peaked my interest in 'gifts' as a medium of reciprocity. Therefore, when I noticed Charles Eisenstein's ideas on structuring society around gift exchange, I knew I had to add 'Sacred Economics' to my library.
Mr. Eisenstein begins with a diagnosis of contemporary society. Through a history of money and its relation to the ego, he traces the past of our current dis-function, charting the assumptions that have led to the twin ecological and economic crises afflicting society today.
He then calls for a transformation of society, through re-introducing the ancient system of gift exchange. The indigenous Northwest Coast Potlatch and Melanesian Kula Ring were utilized as examples of this traditional economic system.
Elaborating on the theme of the gift exchange, Eisenstein introduces four ideas to transform current economics. These include negative interest on savings to eliminate hoarding and spur money circulation, providing social dividends to redistribute money, internalizing the social and ecological costs of production, and preservation of the commons; going so far as to advocate a currency based on the conservation of resources. Following these ideals would usher in a utopia of abundance.
As I read I couldn't help but admire the ideas that Mr. Eisenstein was advocating. However, I admit, I also questioned their practicality. The first premise I questioned was how Mr. Eisenstein upheld the hunter gatherer lifestyle as an ideal. Although it was probably not as short and brutish as Thomas Hobbes described, I doubt it ever was ideal. There have always been conflicts between the self and society, and man and nature. Every culture has attempted to come to terms with these conflicts and one does not need to look far to see how they tried to resolve them, for it is enshrined in their myths.
The second red flag was raised when Mr. Eisenstein spoke of entering an age of utopia. Where had I heard this before? Didn't Karl Marx also elaborate on a future paradise on earth in his 'Communist Manifesto?'
Are Mr. Eisenstein's predictions accurate forecasting or examples of wishful thinking? I might have bought into his theory more if he had elaborated on the pain and suffering which would most likely occur before his 'age of abundance,' but instead he skirted this issue and instead focused on a possible post crises world.
Too many of us still have stakes in the present economic system and it would take a major catastrophe to give them up. For instance, why would I want to give my property back to the commons after all the work I put into it? Maybe I am merely being selfish but I think most people would have to sustain major losses before they started flirting with the idea of 'restoring the commons.'
Still, these and other critiques should not detract from the value of Sacred Economics as a commentary on our current society; and the ideas it offers for a possible way forward. I encourage reading and reflecting on the ideas Mr. Eisenstein offers even with the potential disagreements that one may have.
Finally, why is this book being sold? I doubt Mr. Eisenstein intended for it to be for sale, and readers can find it online for free. Just google Sacred Economics PDF.
on August 27, 2014
I was somewhat disappointed on this book. It covers much ground that I have previously read elsewhere. I find Eisenstein's style of writing to be tedious and long winded. If he wants an academic book then more research based material is needed. If he wants a popular book, then the style of writing needs to be less repetitious and more conversational.
on July 24, 2012
I know it's a clichée and I would rather not say it, but I don't know what else to say: This book changed my life. I read it with Bliss, on every page recognizing the Truth, what I had known but not had words for, what I had felt was right but had not been able to envision. Now, I have finally found out what I want to do with my time, my life.
Here is one thought I am now growing in my heart: If you are someone who has something to invest, don't ask yourself "How can I keep as much as possible for myself", ask "What is the most beautiful thing I can imagine creating for the good of the world". Security and happiness comes not from owning a lot, but from from loving realtionships, from being embedded in in a social community.
So: I am now engaging in starting up a social enterprise with the purpose of offering a loving environment for people recovering after a life crisis - an area I have been gifted with lots of knowledge about!