Some books are transformative. For me, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition is such a book.
Author Charles Eisenstein brings a timely and provocative perspective to our monetary system in the West and its global and human impact. I know, economics is a dry subject, but don’t drift off just yet. Eisenstein is that professor, or better yet, mentor, that you wish you had in college. He brings a clarity, humility, and humanity to his writing you don’t often see. Most importantly, he writes in such a way that you come away feeling challenged.
Eisenstein guides you through the history of money from the ancient Greeks to where we find ourselves today: rapacious growth, greed, and loss of community. This 3,000 year journey has been one of gradual separation… socially, spiritually, and culturally. At first, primitive cultures operated out of a simple gift economy. As civilization became more complex and expansive, money became the primary tool of exchange. The separateness we see now is fueled by illusion (most promoted in the economies of the West) that we live with a scarcity of basic resources such as food, land, or water. Buying into this illusion, we are inclined to think along the lines of “what is mine and what is yours,” compete for those goods and resources, and fence ourselves in.
Eisenstein explains what we’ve known for years: economic “growth” is not infinite. It will end, and our debt-based system will collapse under its own weight. He explains: “To maintain the exponential growth of money, either the volume of goods or services must be able to to keep pace with it, the imperialism and war must be able to escalate indefinitely. All have reached their limit. There is nowhere to turn.”
Fortunately, there is a brighter side. In the sections “Economy of Reunion” and “Living the Gift Economy,” Eisenstein tells us how we are at the beginning stage of a global shift (some circles call it “the Great Turning”). He describes this shift in thoughtful and skillful way. He does not lay blame on the “bad guys.” Instead, Eisenstein considers this time in our history as a global people as a child beginning to enter adulthood. The time of receiving the earth’s bounty (without any thought of giving back) is not unlike our young children taking what they need from us and not worrying about having to give back. Then our children become teenagers and adults and all of that changes. Children become adults who, if they’re lucky, begin to understand inter-relationship, independence, and interdependence.
We are finally waking up. It is time to grow up, give back, and help heal Mother Earth. All over the world individuals and communities are indeed responding. And Eisenstein offers a variety of practices, policies, and descriptions of new systems emerging that help us deal better with money. We can develop a new relationship with money. We can use it as a valued “agent” of change.
During this transition, we have choices to make as individuals and communities. We have to think about local currencies, gift economies, negative-interest currencies, the commons, and social dividends.
At Wisdom Exchange, we are committed to being a part of this larger global shift and involved in the change efforts happening in our local communities. Through Art of Hosting gatherings, ALIA, The Shikshantar Center for Rethinking Education, the Money and Life Conference at the Whidbey Institute and our own events and trainings, we have met remarkable people whose lives portend better times and witnessed individuals communities in action. We’ve had conversations with friends and colleagues and strangers who are asking the same questions: What can we do? How can we contribute? How do we feel called to contribute?
We are in conversation now about what kinds of dialogues around money and community we’d like to host and participate in as we enter 2013. If you feel called to be a part of these conversations or would somehow like to offer one of your gifts toward this effort, let us know. We are not asking for donations. We are asking for the gift of your presence. Join us.
If Sacred Economics interests you, be sure to also check out some of Eisenstein’s talks on Youtube, particularly “Living in the Gift”, a two-part video from a 2011 talk he gave in Sante Fe.