SACRED ECONOMICS: A PROFOUND RECONCEPTUALISATION OF MONEY
March 24th 2013
I have just finished reading one of the most profoundly important books I have come across. Charles Eisenstein’s “Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, & Society in the Age of Transition” offers more answers to the economic and societal ills we face than anything I’ve read before.
The book is available in the normal way through web booksellers, but it is also available free at http://sacred-economics.com/about-the-book/
It’s basic concept is that we need to reshape money to be consistent with the fact that the things of the greatest value are the gifts we give to and receive from each other. Money, as currently organised, and particularly, lent or borrowed at interest, is inimical to the development of a gift culture – in fact it destroys it – and in the process, destroys community.
Eisenstein offers seven clear and practicable elements of a money system that serves, rather than undermines, human benefit.
1. Negative interest currency. In this system, money, like all else, loses its value the longer it is held onto. Negative interest forces money into circulation rather than being accumulated and kept out of circulation.
2. Elimination of economic rents. Owners of land, property, patents etc. pay tax on their holdings. No-one should be able to profit from merely owning a thing without producing anything or contributing to society.
3. Internalisation of social and economic costs. Pollution, and other forms of environmental costs must be borne by the polluter, not the general society or future generations.
4. Economic and monetary localization. In local economies we know personally the people we depend upon. Main Street will be revitalized by authentic local businesses.
5. The Social Dividend. Technological advances have made production of the quantifiable neccesities of life easy. These advances should become the common property of all humanity. The proceeds of 2 and 3 above should be shared among all citizens equally as a contribution to covering life’s necessities.
6. Economic degrowth. As production is no longer necessary to fuel economic growth, we will not need to work so much for money (especially with the social dividend). We will be freed to exercise creativity and indulge in beautiful work without having to earn money from it.
7. Gift culture and person to person economics. There will be an ever-increasing use of gift-based and open-source production. What used to be paid for will be given away. Mutual credit systems will be set up without the intermediation of banks and financial institutions.
He goes on to show how each of these elements have operated in a range of times and places, including the present. He also deals with a wide range of objections and difficulties that might be felt by people as they contemplate a system where money is no longer their security, but their reciprocal relationships of need to other people.
I want to quote two medium length passages that epitomize for me the vision he is holding out, first for the economic realm and then for art.
“Earlier in this book I described the disconnection and loneliness of a society in which nearly all social capital, nearly all relationships, have been converted to paid services; in which distant strangers meet nearly all of our material needs; in which we can always “pay someone else to do it”; in which the unspoken knowledge I don’t need you pervades our social gatherings, rendering them vacuous and dispensible. Such is the pinnacle of civilization, the end point of centuries of increasing affluence: lonely people in boxes, living in a world of strangers, dependent on money, enslaved to debt – and incinerating the planet’s natural and societal capital to stay that way. We have no community because community is woven from gifts. How can we create community when we pay for all we need?
Community is not some add-on to our other needs, not a separate ingredient for happiness along with food, shelter, music, touch, intellectual stimulation, and other forms of physical and spiritual nourishment. Community arises from the meeting of these needs. There is no community possible among a group of people who do not need each other. Therefore , any life that seeks to be independent of other people for the meeting of one’s needs is a life without community.” (Chapter 22, page 419-20).
“Money can buy songs, but not a song sung specifically to you. Even if you hire a band to play in your home, there is no guarantee, no matter how much you pay, that they will sing to you and not just pretend to. If your mother sung you lullabies, or if you have ever been serenaded by a lover, you know what I am talking about and how deep a need it fills. Sometimes it even happens at a concert, when the band isn’t just putting on an act but is actually playing for that audience, or really, to that audience. Each such performance is unique, and its special, magical quality vanishes in recording. “You had to be there”. True we may pay money to attend such an event, but we receive more than we pay for when the band is truly playing to us. We do not feel that the transaction is complete and closed, that all obligations are cancelled out, as in a pure money transaction. We feel a lingering connection, because a giving has transpired.” (Chapter 22, page 423).
For me, this book “reaches the parts the others haven’t reached”. It fills the gap between the anger, hurt, and confusion expressed in so many places, as focused by outbursts of dissent as the “Occupy” movement, and a viable and inspiring way forward. What Eisenstein persuasively argues is that the road towards the new economy and the new society need not be accompanied by collapse, chaos, and pain. Each element of the new way of thinking and acting that we can incorporate in our lives will bring quick, and deep, gain to our lives, enriching rather than depleting them.
I would be delighted to hear the reactions of anyone else who reads this important book.