Welcome to Sacred Economics

Welcome to my blog! Herein, I will be reflecting on world affairs through the lens of my book, Sacred Economics, and developing its ideas further than I could within the covers of a book. I hope that your understanding of the concepts of the book will be expanded, and that through your comments and criticisms, that I will be able to clarify and expand my own thinking as well. As well, I intend this blog to offer a forum for discussion and community-building around the ideas of Sacred Economics.

I believe we are entering new territory in economics, a new era in which many standard assumptions and much economic logic is no longer valid. Or, you might say, their invalidity is becoming more obvious. What “new era” am I talking about? It goes by many names: you could call it the ecological era, the end of growth, the advent of human partnership with nature rather than dominance over nature. My book and this blog fleshes out a vision of an economy that embodies a changed relationship to nature, and, even more deeply, a changed conception of ourselves, a changed experience of being human. This shift is both a cause and a consequence of a metamorphosis of our system of money and property.

Both money and property are artifacts of a social agreement, an unconscious story that gives meaning to various symbols. Money, deeds, contracts, financial instruments, laws, and regulations are, on a physical level, nothing be squiggles of ink on paper or bits in computer storage media. What gives them such enormous power is the system of agreements — the story — that embeds them. This story, in turn, is embedded in the deeper myths that define our civilization, our society, even our selves. We are living at a time when these deep stories are breaking down; hence, so is the money system that is contingent upon them.

The book and this blog will context various aspects of economic breakdown in terms of these deep stories: the story of self and the story of the people. The former is the discrete and separate self, a bubble of psychology inside a prison of flesh, a Cartesian mote of consciousness in an inanimate universe, an organism programmed by its genes to maximize reproductive self-interest, the Economic Man of Adam Smith seeking to maximize financial self-interest, a skin-encapsulated soul, a mind separate from matter. This is the old story of the self that is breaking down in our time, as we transition to a new experience of being that is connected, fluid, interrelated, and symbiotic. Similarly, the old story of the people is disintegrating as well: instead of humanity rising to master, dominate, and eventually transcend nature, we are stepping into an understanding of ecological interdependency and a desire for cocreative partnership.

Money as we have known it embodies the old stories, driving separation and community breakdown, and compelling endless exponential growth. As these stories give way to new ones, a new system of money and property begins to emerge as well. While the transition involves a disintegration of much that is familiar, it need not be a violent, revolutionary change. Indeed, the whole mentality of perfecting the world through destroying evil, the basis of so many revolutionary movements, is itself part of an old story. A metaphor of growth and metamorphosis, rather than conquest, better describes the kind of transition we are entering.

For people unfamiliar with my work, particularly The Ascent of Humanity, the forgoing may seem somewhat abstract. You might be confused: “Just where is this guy coming from?” I am not a Marxist nor a subscriber to any economic or political agenda that has a name. I draw from a number of economic visionaries, whose ideas take on new and often surprising dimensions within the context of an ecological society. Among them are J.M. Keynes, Henry George, Silvio Gesell, E.F. Schumacher, Jane Jacobs, Frederick Soddy, Karl Marx, John Kenneth Galbraith, classical economists in the tradition of Smith, Mill, and Ricardo, and a number of newer voices as well. But for the most part, this blog will demand little economic expertise. I myself am not a trained economist. I only dared to write my book heartened by the profound disagreements among economists today. If they understood it so well, then why do they disagree so thoroughly with each other, on even the most basic issues?

Again, welcome to Sacred Economics. I look forward to our dialog and mutual enrichment.

Charles Eisenstein

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About Charles Eisenstein

I am the author of The Ascent of Humanity and Sacred Economics. I am also a public speaker and member of the faculty of Goddard College.
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6 Responses to Welcome to Sacred Economics

  1. Wayne Vriend says:

    Charles,

    I’ve enjoyed discovering your heart and insight. When I take in your words, I feel opened out and invited again to see through my own heart and the heart of the world.

    My question is about something that feels some absent (maybe sweetly so) from your perspective, and it relates to my recent attempts to digest what I’ve been taking in from some respected people and sources in the collapse/transition community (Michael Ruppert, Carolyn Baker, globalresearch.ca, Zietgiest, etc).

    Your mention of the ‘usual bogeymen of peak oil’ as well as these words;

    ‘While the transition involves a disintegration of much that is familiar, it need not be a violent, revolutionary change. Indeed, the whole mentality of perfecting the world through destroying evil, the basis of so many revolutionary movements, is itself part of an old story. A metaphor of growth and metamorphosis, rather than conquest, better describes the kind of transition we are entering;’ seem to touch on your own digestion of the coming changes.

    Can you say more about the push pull feeling that is stirred up when we try to alarm ourselves and others into action?

    • Certainly. I remember when I used to spend time on those websites. I had to ask myself why. I was reading it a lot, but was I actually doing anything differently? There was definitely an addictive quality to it. It confirmed my inner knowing of a wrongness in the world, but as far as actual action went, the effect was actually disempowering. It looked like there was little I could do but wait for doom to unfold, or to martyr myself.
      In general, I find alarm to be pretty ineffective as a motivator. What is more effective is to inspire people to do what they in their hearts really desire to do. Part of that is to convey a world-story in which their actions are significant. On a deep level, the collapsist story partakes of the same invisible world-defining stories, myths, and ideologies as the dominator story does. Miraculous healing is possible, both on a personal level and a collective level. Miracles happen as part of a transition between worlds. What was once unthinkable becomes commonsense.
      Anyway, I am certainly aware of all that stuff about peak resources, the power elite, and outward into the more extreme conspiracy theories. I don’t ignore that stuff, but instead place it within a larger framework.
      Charles

  2. Zach says:

    With respect to your observation of the inability of many economists to agree on even the most basic issues, I don’t think this phenomenon emerges from honest intellectual disagreement. Certain interest groups with wealth and power infiltrate the university system to establish think tanks, professorships, and other engines of intellectual activity with the express purpose of propagating theories and research that promotes their narrow self interests.

    A prime example of this was news that broke a couple weeks about about Florida State University accepting a special grant of $1.5 million dollars from Koch industries. Rather than a no-strings-attached gift, however, this funding came with the condition that FSU establish a “free-market political economy” program, and that representatives of the Kochs’ foundation be given the right to review applicants and reject and accept professor candidates based on their own private criteria. It is a sad state of affairs when powerful interest groups use their political influence to slash public spending on education, and then swoop in with private funding with seemingly generous offers to bolster schools’ ailing balance sheets… for a price.

    I think this type of arrangement has proliferated in the past 40 or so years, after the infamous Lewis Powell memo to the chamber of commerce, advising them to fight back against the social and economic gains of the 1960s by establishing a well funded network of ideological warriors to establish think tanks and gain footholds in universities and the media.

    That reality should not obscure the fundamental truth that even the intellectually honest economists, who truly have the public interest at heart, work within a field that has reduced the complexity and needs of human existence into abstract mathematical formulas based on absurd assumptions that don’t even begin to describe the basic realities of life on earth. Despite their best efforts, they fail to recognize the complete failures of modern capitalism in addressing humanities basic present needs, let alone paving the way for a more beautiful (or even simply livable) future. Your research, insights, and exploration of this field are most welcome!

    • Yes. One of those “absurd assumptions”, perhaps the most foundational one, is that all things can be reduced to a number, called “value”. This is the economic version of the ambition of Leibnitz and other 17th-century philosophers to convert all things to number.
      I think soon, people will be paying less and less attention to economists.
      I’m glad you appreciate my work, Zach. I’m wondering how detailed an economic argument to make in these posts. If I go into enough detail to convince an economist that I am not a crank, then I’ll bore everyone else!

  3. Zach says:

    I think economic illiteracy is one of the primary obstacles people have to understanding why the world looks the way it does and how it could be better . I don’t think you should hesitate to go into serious detail; you generally do a good job breaking down concepts into ideas people who have not studied much economics can understand. I noticed in a couple other posts you used terms such as marginal efficiency of capital and some others that may be unfamiliar to some people. I don’t think you should shy away from that, but put things in context, define them for lay readers, and make them accessible to those new to the field.

    I think that reduction into numerical abstraction is actually one of the main things that turns people away from learning more about economics. Basic economics courses are very number and jargon heavy and fail to engage students with the fundamental questions of how we live that economics really addresses. I read a lot of economics related material, and recently I was discussing various things with my friend, who just graduated UC Berkeley with a political economy undergrad. I was shocked by how little her classes had actually connected the material with fundamental questions about how the world works. She had a development economics class where they would focus on narrow statistical analysis of such questions as what happens when you give textbooks to students in poor villages. That’s not irrelevant, but poor countries are not poor because they were cursed with an intractable textbook deficiency. Focusing on such abstract details completely misses the basic point about how rich countries developed and how financial capital uses state power and the bretton woods institutions to impose policies on poor countries that are the opposite of all proven development methods, but serve to maximize the ability of foreign capital to extract wealth.

    I think it’s important for everyone to understand fundamental economics, but in a way that connects it back to reality and makes it meaningful and relevant our lives, which you do exceptionally well. You should definitely experiment with how deeply you can explore theories in that way. The direct, personal relevance is key. People probably are not interested in crises of capital, in liquidity trap monetary policy, in Keynesian stimulus or the Laffer curve in those terms. But if you can explain such things within a framework of how these phenomena contribute the the world crisis and how much more beautiful alternatives are, its much more engaging.

    What you did with your second post, having a detailed version and a lite version, might also be an excellent option, if that doesn’t require too much additional time to write. Having a two tiered structure for posts that could benefit from it would allow you to summarize ideas and theories up in the most simple terms for those who don’t want to get over their heads, while people with more familiarity with the subject would enjoy the full depth of exploration.

  4. Colin MacKenzie says:

    I thought you might be interested in Castoriadis’s take on the West’s myth, world view, or, as he calls it “social imaginary signification” which is the “complex web of meanings that permeate, orient and direct the whole life of a society”. He calls our Western imaginary “the unlimited expansion of ‘rational’ mastery.” In his view, all creativity or discoveries are transformed so as to be meaningful within this socially constructed project. For example, those of us who question this unlimited, unsustainable control and destruction of the physical and social worlds and who try out different ways of living in the world can be labelled unemployed, lazy, sponger, communist or whatever. B has found this to his cost.
    Capitalism is the child of this expansion of production and consumption, while technology and science are in the service of mastery and expansion. Money and lack of money is used to control us even as it’s convenience tempts us.
    Lately peoples have risen up in revolt against dictators who have curtained their freedoms and rights but we we under the heel of dictators within ourselves. None of us ie free from the commands of rational mastery to which we have been conditioned since birth. It is only those possessing internal personal autonomy who can question their own acts and beliefs. There are , perhaps, three groups of people in our society. People like you Charles who have both the courage and the degrees of independence to “put into question”, into objectivity the rules that they have, up to then, lived by. A second group are those who profit through greater prestige and power in the society in the thrall of this myth. They do not realise that they are just robots, puppets of the imaginary as they advance its mastery over themselves and the world. They rationalise their destructive arrogance with slogans such as “the trickle down effect”. Thirdly, there are the vast majority of us who are afraid to alter our way of life, fearful of even the idea of questioning it. After all it brings some physical comfort, it provides us with an identity and role (writer, engineer, salesperson, etc.). We feel our personal selves are threatened by people like Charles.
    Some how we have to find ways to empathise with ourselves and each other, to recognise our fears of loss, of the unknown, of responsibility. We have to find our biological and social selves beneath our social conditioning and to strengthen these selves so that we, too, can question our conditioning and become more independent, autonomous thinkers and doers. We will not all agree on the answers we find or on the ways to live in the future but it will be then that the truly creative debates and liberating acts can begin.
    Finally, I want to say that I agree with a lot of Charles’ writing though I am less optimistic than he seems to be. Charles considers that we are near a transition time as the world’s resources petter out. Many of us believed that in the early 70s with “Limits to Growth”. We humans have an uncanny ability to create and adapt our creations to continue along the same old paths. I think, too, that the elephant in the room is the increasingly unsustainable population growth. Many of this population want to lead the comfortable “exciting” lives they imagine us having. The twin forces of population density and climate change are what will engineer change and it could be nasty brutal and cruel with unpredictable outcomes.
    Colin

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