Review: Sacred Economics – Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition

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Charles Eisenstein

5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond 5 Stars, an Integrative Pioneering Work,August 13, 2011

Sacred Economics is the second book in the new Evolver Editions imprint, following Jose Arguelles Manifesto for the Noosphere. Other books in the first season include What Comes After Money, The Secret Tradition of the Soul, The Four Global Truths, The Electric Jesus, Star Sister, and Nothing and Everything.

I read a lot, and the one word that really describes this book is “integrative.” The author describes, in three parts, what is wrong with what he calls the “economics of separation,” today’s money and financial network economy that lacks soul or spirit; its alternative, the “economics of reunion” in which all forms of transaction have memories, gifts and reciprocal gifts and localized forms of exchange rule, and economics is fully integrated with society to produce social and cultural dividends. The third and last part closes the circle with a hundred-page discourse (double-spaced large print, this is not a hard book to read) on how to live within the new economy in which gifting, community, and beauty are integrated.

Throughout the book the author evolves his core point: money is “hard” and nurtures external diseconomies, including grave destruction of cultural and social intangible value-gradually the author builds up to his conclusion, that beauty is a tangible value, that relatedness is a tangible value, and that in the past century or two we have stripped so much value from what it means to be human as to have become less than human, less than we can be.

This is a Unitarian book, a truth and reconciliation book. Early on I make a note:

QUOTE (XVII): “What is this truth that has always existed? It is the truth of the unity of connectedness of all things, and the feeling is that of participating in something greater than yourself, yet which also is oneself.”

The author goes on to make it clear that any loss of diversity, animal, vegetable, or mineral, is a direct deprivation of humanity and the ecology of life.

One subtlety that jumps out at me early on is that a gift economy is actually a stewardship economy because the gifts are constantly in motion, and therefore the brief time that one has a gift in hand before passing it on, can and should actually be considered a time of stewardship.

Greed comes from scarcity, the author tells us, and he goes on to discuss how the concept of scarcity is contrived, false, and dangerous to all of us.

I find a new and very exciting waste fact chain.

QUOTE (25): Consider the food industry, which exhibits massive waste at every level. According to a government study, farm-to-retail losses are about 4 percent; retail-to-consumer losses 12 percent, and consumer-level losses 29 percent.

He then goes on to discuss the additional waste inherent in using agriculture for biofuel, and using oil-based mechanization instead of labor-intensive farming, the latter would increase both employment and agricultural productivity.

I do the math: 45% waste. That is remarkably consistent with an excellent Price-Waterhouse-Coopers study, “The Price of Excess,” which found that 50% of every health dollar in the USA goes toward waste.

The ensuing discussion on waste-including planned obsolescence, gadgets used rarely, McMansions, weapons-is very satisfying and supports his core point: there is no scarcity of resources on Earth, only a scarcity of compassion and justice among those making decisions about the distribution of resources and about the future of society.

This book is full of insights. There are new ideas for me across every page, so this book is not just integrative, it brings forth a fresh perspective, it creates new knowledge.

One example: economies of scarcity demand that those things that previously were free (e.g. village child care) be made scarce and then sold. Imagine all those people living on two dollars a day (bad) and now imagine all that they are getting from one another outside the money economy (good). I stopped reading and spent time on this one insight.

There is a great deal of Zen in this book. The author provides an endlessly provocative questioning of how we spend our time and how we spend money and how we think about our life goals-he ends up suggesting that we just “be,” that we just “play,” and imagine how that would feel.

This is not a book that Libertarians will love for its critique of property-as much as I myself have thought that I was leaning toward Libertarianism, mostly in reaction to a very large, very expensive, very corrupt federal government and out of control banks and corporations-this book focused on how individual sovereignty is the first step toward separation from the whole and the first step toward inalienable rights to destroy, own, and direct irrespective of the common good. Taken to its logical conclusion, in a closed system, property creates poverty. Heavy thought. For the first time, I am confronted with my own internal dichotomy-loving liberty in the ideal on the one hand, and loving communion on the other. At the same time, later in the book, I find that the author and Libertarians, particularly Ron Paul, are very much on the same page with respect to refusing to allow banks to create money and requiring up to 100 percent reserves.

The entire book is about “true cost” or what Herman Daly calls “ecological economics,” Paul Hawkins “natural capitalism,” others the “triple bottom line.” Central to the author’s call for our redirecting government back into the business of stewardship of the commons, is the belief, which I share, that ALL costs-both tangible and intangible-my own analytic matrix includes political-legal, socio-economic, ideo-cultural, techno-demographic, and natural-geographic-must be investigated, publicized, and integrated into all deliberations.

Chapter 12 on Negative-Interest Economics is completely new to me and certainly warrants being circulated on its own as a stand-alone item. This is for me a totally absorbing and very educational read. I begin to grasp the brilliance of imposing penalties on money that is not in motion, and although I am a fan of Open Money and alternative currencies, the author brings all of this to life is a very fine manner. More to the immediacy of the moment, he ties negative interest money directly into the current debt crisis, and clearly charts a path by which we can gradually (hence non-violently) draw down the concentration of wealth and get money in motion where it matters most: in the hands of those who are not uber-wealthy. This is a chapter that needs multiple readings. It provides a logic for sustainable economics that I have not seen elsewhere, and that strikes me as being “root” to our future coding. As the author describes the book in a latter chapter, it reverses the dynamic we have today, where it is profitable to deplete the commons, while restoration of the commons is not profitable, and only attractive to the altruistic.

The last third of the book is this age’s version of an operating manual for spaceship earth, but also a deep philosophical retrenchment of the wisdom of the indigenous peoples whose centuries old deep knowledge has been nearly destroyed by centuries of religious dogma, feudal corruption, and predatory corporatism. Among the many chapter here two short ones, on nonaccumulation and on a new materialism, capture the essence of the paradigm shift. We are one, in one no one lacks for anything. The intangible values of beauty, knowledge, love and time are again infinite, and the tangible of our daily bread is also infinite. As one TED speaker said so brilliantly recently, “God is what happens when people are interconnected.” Yes.

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Aug 13

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