The Most Revolutionary Act

Diverse Ramblings of an American Refugee

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
Location
New Plymouth, New Zealand
Birthday
December 02
Bio
Retired psychiatrist, activist and author of 2 young adult novels - Battle for Tomorrow and A Rebel Comes of Age - and a free ebook 21st Century Revolution. My 2010 memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led me to leave the US in 2002. More information about my books (and me) at www.stuartjeannebramhall.com

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MAY 8, 2012 9:25PM

Sacred Economics – Life After Capitalism

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sacredeconomics

Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition

Charles Eisenstein

2011  Evolver Editions

(This review is divided into two sections. The first covers Part I: The Economics of Separation, describing the history of money and capitalist economics. The second half covers some intriguing fixes Eisenstein proposes for our broken economic system in Part II: The Economics of Reunion and Part III: Living the New Economy.)

Book Review – Part I

The title Sacred Economics makes Eisenstein’s book sound like a New Age treatise on spirituality. The book is actually about the end of capitalism. It offers an extremely well-researched discussion of the history of money, capitalist economics and the world wide movement for economic re-localization. The main focus of Part I is an exploration of the profound effect money has on human thinking and psychology. Eisenstein is most concerned about the illusion of separateness and of scarcity. Both, he argues, are mistaken beliefs that can be traced back to the privatization of communally owned land, an early consequence of the introduction of money.

Owing to his determination to avoid simplistic clichés about greedy corporate CEOs and amoral banksters, Eisenstein arrives at some startling conclusions. By tracing the western conception of money back to its earliest origins in ancient Greece, he makes a strong case that the money system itself is responsible for rapacious growth and resource depletion, greed and the demise of community.

How Money Destroyed the Gift Economy

The book begins by describing the gift economy that has characterized all primitive cultures. Public gift giving was a major social ritual in all early societies. It was the primary mechanism early human communities employed to satisfy basic survival needs. As civilizations became more complex, gift exchange and barter were impractical over long distances. Thus money was introduced as a common medium of exchange. Because money also represented stored value, it also had a profound effect on our perception of ourselves, other human beings and society.

The Illusion of Scarcity

An early artifact of the introduction of money was the mistaken belief that the basic necessities of life are in short supply. This illusion underpins all western economic theory. In fact many textbooks define economics as the study of human behavior under conditions of scarcity. As Eisentein points out, this is a ludicrous notion in a world in which vast quantities of food, energy and raw materials go to waste He links the illusion of scarcity to the illusion of the “discrete and separate self.” This, in turn, stems from the concept of personal wealth and the privatization of communally owned land. Prior to Roman times, land, like air and water, was considered part of the commons and couldn’t be owned. Under Roman tradition, there was no way for an “individual” (a Greek invention related to the concept of money and personal wealth) to legitimately take possession of common lands. Thus the Roman aristocracy must have seized it by force, just as the English stole the communally owned lands of Native Americans.

During the many centuries our ancestors had access to communal lands for their herds and crops, they enjoyed a sense of interconnectedness and interdependency. This was lost when the wealthy began fencing it off as private property. Many sociologists believe this loss of interconnectedness has left all of us with a fundamental inner emptiness we experience as never having enough.

The Origin of Greed

Eisenstein attributes greed to this illusion of scarcity. He can see no other explanation for the extreme generosity of poor people (according to numerous studies), in contrast to the wealthy. Low income people give away far more money, relative to income, than their rich contemporaries. Studies also show that rich people worry much more about money than anyone else. This, in turn, makes them even more inclined to perceive scarcity when none exists. Einstein talks about the immense anxiety people in rich countries experience over “financial security.” No matter how much they accumulate, it’s never enough.

Debt, Usury and Perpetual Growth

Sacred Economics argues that what economists commonly refer to as growth is the expansion of scarcity into areas of life once characterized by abundance. Fresh water, which was once abundant, has become scarce following its transformation into a commodity we have to pay for.

The fractional reserve banking system, which allows bankers to create money out of thin air – as debt – accentuates the pressure to convert more and more of the commons into commodities. Because the debt and interest created is always greater than the money supply (current global debt is estimated at $75 trillion, in contrast to global wealth of $30 trillion), there is always constant pressure to create more goods and services to repay it. This explains why there are always people willing to cut down the last forest and catch the last fish.

Extreme wealth inequality occurs because economic growth is always lower than the rate of interest. When debtors can’t make interest payments by producing new goods and services, they are forced to turn over more and more existing wealth to creditors.

As natural resources, such as fossil fuels, minerals, forests, fish and water, are rapidly converted to commodities, a similar transformation occurs in the social, cultural and spiritual commons. Stuff that was free throughout all human history – stories, songs, images, ideas, clever sayings – are copyrighted or trademarked to enable them to be bought and sold.

According to Einstein, the main reason for the world’s current financial crisis is that we continue to face mountains of increasing debt – yet have run out natural, cultural, social and spiritual capital we can convert to money to repay it.

To be continued, with a discussion of some of Eisenstein’s novel solutions.

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I actually browsed through this book.

Plusses: I like any reference to Mauss's The Gift. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Mauss

Minuses: These things tend to fall into cycles. Around 40 years ago, the notion of eliminating money was popular.

John Sinclair: "3. Free exchange of energy and materials — we demand the end of money!"

http://www.luminist.org/archives/wpp.htm

Pol Pot eliminated money in Cambodia.

Meanwhile, within capitalism, the notion of 'relationship selling' has become popular.
Let me say that it has been at least 8 months since I read the book.

And that it is worth thinking about.

So, I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from reading the book.,
Thanks for the input, Nick. Eisenstein doesn't propose ending money. He proposes to end debt-based money by creating commons-based negative interest currencies. It's a rather complicated concept. This is why I divided the review into 2 parts. I discuss his proposed solutions in part two.
This is fascinating. Thank you Dr. Bramhall for this excellent review......!

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Thanks, Skypixeo. This is another book I really hope people will read. Eisenstein is a strong believer in the Creative Commons and has made it available free on-line at http://sacred-economics.com/read-online/
Looks fascinating. I just ordered it for it for my husband, Daniel Geery./r
Capitalism has been history's cruelest master by far. One need only have an IQ over three digits to be aware of the harm it has done to mans development. It is a disease of the mind that starts with Joe the Plumber talking about “well I have always paid my bills, everyone else should too.” World wide Socialism shall not be achieved without Joes interment in Pol Pot style reorientation camps, that is the ugly truth. Joe is rabid and must be quarantined, and if necessary terminated. It is all very simple, no reading required, only a lot of shooting.
I was trying to remember where/how I read this, and found the following:

http://www.realitysandwich.com/blog/1736
The biggest problem is that they ignore the basics and present the economy to the public as a mystical belief system that is controlled by "economists" that have ideologies that they dictate to the public without making them easy to understand.
Jack, I think we need to be doing 2 things right now: we need to be getting together in groups to decide what the new system will look like (this is the function of the global economic re-localization movement) and we need to figure out how we dismantle capitalism in order to get there (this is the function of the anti-austerity movement). I see some activists moving back and forth between both camps and some participating in both.

I think there is room for both right now. We need to push forward with grassroots movements to create self-sufficient local networks to produce food and renewable energy, as well as publicly owned banks, local currencies and mutual credit systems (more about that in the 2nd half of this review) - as well as revoking corporate charters and passing municipal ordinances limiting the right of corporations to pollute and deplete natural resources.

As the system starts to fail, the corporate elite may find it it difficult to mobilize the resources to stop us. Or they may come after us with a vengeance and try to put us all in camps. At that point we may be left with no choice but to defend ourselves and actively dismantle the capitalist infrastructure.

Most of the Joe the Plumbers in my acquaintance will go whichever way the wind blows.
Interesting point, Zachery. Eisenstein makes the point repeatedly that our modern day concept of money is a collection of mystical comments we have created about it. He makes it seem as if money is a religion, and Milton Friedman et al are its modern high priests.
money is indeed the ultimate double edged sword. live by the sword, die by the sword. it is indeed a mass religion. "affluenza". but it destroys the earth as it converts its subjects. it reminds me of one guys vision, I forget who, of an earth where nothing is left but banks and fully charred land, entirely scorched earth, with the banks having trillions of dollars in their bank accounts. that does indeed seem to be the end game of capitalism.
see also the book "red queen" by matt ridley about evolutionary "race to the bottom" type scenarios which increasingly, it appears capitalism constitutes....
Thanks for letting me know about the Red Queen, vzn. I will have a look at it.
If I remember correctly Einstein said something like, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." In this case a possible alternative might be, "or you're trying to pull a fast one."
Very funny, Zachery. You have made my day.
Money and banking opened up travel for many, even including the wealthy, who wouldn't have been able to travel otherwise (imagine carrying around enough items to barter as you traveled for business or leisure...you wouldn't do it very often if you could avoid it).

Gift giving destroys wealth. The problem is, gift giving is not designed to increase wealth. It is designed to distribute it (and all the sentiment that goes along with that). Gift giving is quite popular in Eastern cultures, and it doesn't appear to be on the decline.

Poor people are more empathetic than rich people. Why? Because they have to be. In countries like Mexico where there is no Social Security, they still have a social safety net. That net is the family/extended family, and that is why their culture, among other reasons, values family so much - they have to.

I know you're anti-capitalism, living on your commune with your green party brethren, but capitalism and socialism have always existed, and they always will. In fact, both need to exist for the other to work.

The world is running out of helium. This is not a perceived scarcity. It is a real one. The best way for helium to have the most benefit to the most people right now is for helium to exist in a capitalist model. This will conserve what remains and also encourage people like those who are looking to mine space for the elements and minerals which are more scarce here on Earth (the moon's surface is shitty with helium, as it turns out).

For health care, capitalism, with the exception of a few, select areas, works horribly in the capitalist model, because the goal of health care is health, not profit/surplus. So, while the helium market should be set up in a capitalist model, the health care market should be put into a socialist model.

All things artificial have positive effects and negative ones as well, and even those things which are natural sometimes have both effects.

You can either try to suppress the entire thing (which, once Pandora's Box has been opened, is impossible, so I have no idea why people would try), or you can recognize the good and the bad of it, and encourage the former while discouraging the latter.

The problem with money/capitalism is that once a person reaches an unnatural surplus of money (since some surplus, like enough to make it through a rough winter, is a good thing), they are able to let their less pleasant personality traits come to the surface (sloth, gluttony, jealousy...I think someone has listed these out previously...I'll have to look it up, though).

Why? Because people want. They will always want, and money has the power to satisfy their wants. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Money is simply the vehicle which drives corruption today. Once it's gone, if it's gone, another will be there to replace it, just like a drug kingpin is immediately replaced upon his/her death.

Until people learn how to achieve balance, we're stuck. Given that it is in our nature to be out of balance and fight for either Yin or Yang, I'm not sure we'll ever complete this cypher.

I always love your sentiment and where your heart is at, but this is one area where I consistently think you're wrong (and, I understand you didn't write the book, but you're obviously an advocate of it).
No MalcolmXY, you are incorrect. I am not really an advocate of this book. I am an advocate of negative interest currency, and this is the only book I could find that provides sufficient background on the origin of money and capitalist economics and the psychology of money for people to understand why negative interest currency is an extremely helpful remedy for recession, depression and deflation.

I think Eisenstein is extremely naive in believing the corporatocracy is going to let us do all the things he proposes without swatting us down like flies. I think we should try, though - and when the corporate elite try to shut us down, we need to be prepared to dismantle their political/military infrastructure.

Just a point though on the scarcity of helium - Eisentein is talking about the scarcity of food, energy, shelter and other basic human needs. Despite what the economic textbooks tell us, this stuff has never been in short supply. The problem is that the monetary supply f***s with the way they are distributed. They may be in short supply by 2030, with growing population, resource depletion and climate change. But they aren't now.
The things you mentioned which are non-perishable - if they're going to be in short supply by 2030, then they are in short supply now.

I don't know about you, but I plan to live beyond 2030, if I can help it. Also, while I don't have my own, I know plenty of my family and friends who have children, and if things start running out in 2030, then it is definitely an issue of scarcity for them.

And, helium is incredibly important for MRIs, computer processors, and a host of other important devices, because it can be cooled to 1 degree Kelvin (1 degree above absolute zero).

Now, if you would like to talk about the financial industry, specifically, then I'm with you. Those assholes are simply crooks whose crimes have not yet been made illegal.

Corporations? Yep...they suck as well, but how can they not? We've set up a structure where an entity with no conscience is given all the rights we have, has none of the responsibilities or liabilities that we have, is beholden to no government or laws (and has no loyalty to any either), and just for kicks, we made them immortal.

Permanent corporations are about the dumbest idea ever created. We engineered vampires. Did you really expect they weren't gonna suck our blood dry?

I'm fully with you on those two things, but if we had strong enough leadership in this country, this could be dealt with. Unfortunately, every branch of this government has been bitten by the undead, and they're all slowly (some faster than others) turning into the same thing.

Either the people are gonna have to get out their pitchforks and torches and burn down the Count's castle, or him and his kind are gonna keep gnawing at our necks.

It's 1 part bullshit and 2 parts ignorance and apathy. Unfortunately, I can't do anything about 2/3 of the problem. I am willing to deal with the other 1/3, but not until the rest of the issue has been dealt with (i.e. people pulling their heads out of their asses)