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What Matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth Paperback – May 18, 2010
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"The reasoned and insistent exhortations of a man with a cause who, rather than mellowing with age and wisdom, continues to grow in forcefulness and vision." Booklist
Praise for Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community
"Read it with pencil in hand, make notes, and hope that somehow our country and the world will soon come to see the truth that is told here." The New York Times Book Review
Berry once again carves out a unique position in American social debate: not liberal (he hates big government), not conservative (he hates big corporations), not libertarian (he would balance individual rights with those of the commonwealth), but always sharp-tongued and aglow with common sense.” Kirkus Reviews
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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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