Customer Reviews: What Matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth
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on September 21, 2010
This book is primarily written about and for local economies in USA; especially rural economies, its destruction and how it can be saved. While discussing them, he questions the motives, intentions and actions of industrial corporations, the "modern education", the stock market economy without getting vitriolic or sarcastic.
I have to say that initially some of you who will read it, may feel that Wendell Berry is bringing in Religion in this book and you might be put off by it. But I strongly suggest that you put that judgement aside and keep on reading. It will get more and more fascinating. It will also become clear what he means by the Kingdom or God or Greater Economy of which we are just a part. And this greater Economy has an order far more intricate than we can ever know. I love the example of topsoil - the foundation of our food source and how it is being decimated by modern agriculture, erosion etc. The magic of the topsoil is its ability to hold water well and yet simultaneously drain well. And its strength is made up by the life dying into it and by life living in it. Science can never fully comprehend it - it only measures its quantity or quality. Not its full working. Therefore Nature has a certain mystery that we must humbly accept. He calls simple solutions and package deals a myth created by big industrial corporations. Some nice quotes; "We think that shopping is a patriotic act, and a public service. We tolerate fabulous capitalists who think A BET ON A DEBT IS AN ASSET".
He then talks about local cultures, good forestry and good husbandry of our lands and animals. But despite knowing, we continue to massacre our lands with machines and make people obsolete and cause death of local cultures and bring suffering for the people. And the money made is never reinvested in the local communities. Desecration of our mountains in the case of Mountaintop removal for coal is a classic example of destroying our lands, rivers, forests and communities. Nothing is left of those lands and economies but slow and painful death.
He comments on modern education with its specific emphasis on specialization. He argues that industrial economy requires this because it can separate work from its results because it subsists upon divisions of interest and must deny the fundamental kinships of producer and consumer, seller and buyer, nature and artifice etc.
Later he tells us ways to recover and lessen the damage we have done. He gives an account of Menominee Indians in Northern Wisconsin. They manage their forest so well, so much so that in 1854 when they started logging their forest, it contained billion and a half board feet of standing timber. Today after 140 years, it has equal to or more than the standing board feet timber the forest had in 1854.
He sums it up with very logical and valid arguments that there are no simple solutions, and "free trade" is nothing but modern slavery. And the ultimate freedom cannot be achieved without prosperous local economies and good neighborliness.

I had loved his poetry and now I admire him as a caring neighbor who is fighting for the rural America and its people and culture. Copies of this book will become birthday gifts for many I care and love.
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The more I read Wendell Berry, the more I love him, because he says exactly what I've tried to say, only he puts in more eloquently than I ever could. He accurately identifies the problems I've complained about underlying our recent economic doldrums, like vendors who sell promises at a profit and call it "finance," and a near-feudal gap between affluent capitalists and the workers who make their wealth happen.

But Berry isn't satisfied with near-term causes. The recent abusive "Total Economy," in which even our air and water is for sale, stems from a fundamental disconnect between traditional values of neighborliness and community, on the one hand, and an attitude that places monetary worth on everything on the other. We cannot build economic prosperity and phantasms of "growth" on systems that shift debt and despair to the future.

Our problems begin, in Berry's reckoning, with our loss of place, devaluing where we live, and the idea that the land on which we live exists as a consumable resource. When we believe the earth's gifts await our taking, we plunder our own future. When we trust government officials' centralized plans over our own hard-won knowledge of the land we steward, we yoke ourselves to visions that fundamentally don't include us.

Yet this synopsis misses the depth of Berry's insights. Berry keenly and patiently unwraps the official narratives that bind our thinking, showing how our common solutions rely on the same false assumptions that first created our problems. Though his agrarian insights may initially alienate urban readers, as we consider our own stewardship, we realize how culpable we are for our current state, and how responsible we are to the future.

Berry tells the truths we need to hear, even when they sting. He pierces the facades of our simple thinking, showing us the truths that political "rain makers" have struggled to keep out of our view. His writings seem melancholy, but they sing optimistically of the hope that we can still reverse our course. And he provides the hope and vision so many of us have sought for so long.
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on March 25, 2011
Wendell Berry is one of my touchstones and again he didn't fail me in this book. I finished the book saddened however because his thoughts and warnings over the past 20+ years have not been heeded and the effect of Economics on communities and individuals has been much more damaging than he imagined or feared.

I would have given the book 5 stars, but there were a couple of essays that I didn't connect with and I skipped over them. The essays I connected with spoke truth and common sense as always.

"The only true and effective 'operator's manual for spaceship earth' is not a book that any human will ever write; it is hundreds of thousands of local cultures."

In the essay "Economy and Pleasure" Berry the effect of Economics under the guise of altruism still has the same ruinous effect on communities and individuals. "This work has been done, and is still being done, under the heading of altruism:Its aims, as its proponents never tire of repeating, are to 'serve agriculture' and 'to feed the world'. These aims,as stated, are irreproachable;as pursued, they raise a number of doubts. Agriculture, it turns out, is to be served strictly according to the rules of competitive economics. The aim is 'to make farmers more competitive' and 'to make American agriculture more competitive'. Against whom, we must ask, are our farmers and our agriculture to be made more competitive? And we must answer, because we know:Against other farmers, at home and abroad. Now, if the colleges of agriculture 'serve agriculture' by helping farmers to compete against one another, what do they propose to do to help the farmers who have been out-competed? Well, those people are not farmers anymore, and therefore are of no concern to the academic servants of agriculture. Besides, they are the beneficiaries of the inestimable liberty to 'seek retraining and get into another line of work'.

In the essay "An Argument for Diversity" Berry describes how the best use of things in our lives should be determined. "If we wish to make the best use of people,places, and things, then we are going to have to deal with a law that reads about like this:AS the quality of use increases, the scale of use (that is,the size of operations) will decline, the tools will become simpler, and the methods and the skills will become more complex. That is a difficult law for us to believe, because we have assumed otherwise for a long time, and yet our experience overwhelmingly suggests that it is a law, and that the penalties for disobeying it are severe."
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on March 12, 2015
I LOVE Wendell Berry. I enjoy reading his literature.
I'd recommend his writings to anyone concerned about the environment, local economy and the general future of our world.
Amazing. I like when writers make you THINK
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on December 23, 2012
There are two parts to this review, the content of the book and the physical quality of book I received:

Content- I'm fairly new to reading Wendell Berry, and this book has served as a good introduction to his thoughts on community life through the years. There are recent essays, and those from several decades ago. Berry is a brilliant critic of modern economic and community life. He holds a mirror up to American society and demands that we look at ourselves more critically, with a hope that we might be renewed.

Physical quality of the book I received - I'm not sure what happened with this printer, but the book I received was actually cut wrong. Pages were not fully cut apart, requiring me to actually read with a knife in hand to separate pages. The book itself was not even cut in the shape of a rectangle with right-angle corners, but a slight parallelogram. The text is printed at a slight angle on the page. It's not unreadable, but I wonder what happened to quality control at this printer...or if they even cared.
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on February 26, 2012
Book was in fine shape; just as offered. Wendell Berry's words are treasures. He offers much to think about in regard to what is really important and valuable in today's society. This book should be read by everyone, particularly every businesswoman and legislator.
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on December 3, 2013
Excellent book that clearly defines a lot of what's wrong with our economy and by extension our society. Berry draws parallels between an unhealthy ecology and an unhealthy economy and discusses how the two are linked.
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on July 28, 2013
Wendell Berry speaks with a clear voice about the cause of many problems we face today. And his solutions to those problems are common sense ones. Unfortunately, he does not have the ears of society's power brokers. The wealth he advocates is one of community, relationships, caring for the health of one's surroundings, and the peace to be found in the simple joys of life. We would all do well to listen.
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on November 18, 2013
This is one of the most important books I've read. Some much understanding of our world, I'm surprised he hasn't been executed by corporate world. So many great ideas and quotes to reinforce my own thoughts. "Make a living, not a killing." How different would we be if we had leadership that supported this. Maybe people wouldn't need drugs and alcohol to get through the week. I have high lighted 10- 20 % of some chapters. Only one other book has showed me this clear thinking Zinn's Peoples History of The United States. Berries info is more applicable to everyday. It's so good I can overlook his use of biblical references on occasion. I have one other Berry book I've just started. My kindle will have a Berry section before I'm done.
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on October 30, 2013
Upon finishing this book, I read it a second time and expect to read it again in the future. Wendell Berry writes with the simplicity, modesty, and common sense of the dedicated farmer he is and with the wisdom of the Judeo-Christian and other religious and literary traditions in which he has steeped himself over many years of reading, writing, and teaching. Some readers, myself included, may feel that his agrarian, ecological ideals have little chance of full enactment in our world driven by capitalistic theory and corporate compulsions. Yet these ideals provide him a high vantage point from which to recognize and cogently dissect the shortcomings and dangers of our present economic and political system. To get a better idea of the richness and cogency of the book, try reading first the introduction by economist Herman Daly and then the last chapter, "The Total Economy." Then start over.
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