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

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Sacred Economics traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth. Today, these trends have reached their extreme—but in the wake of their collapse, we may find great opportunity to transition to a more connected, ecological, and sustainable way of being.
This book is about how the money system will have to change—and is already changing—to embody this transition. A broadly integrated synthesis of theory, policy, and practice, Sacred Economics explores avant-garde concepts of the New Economics, including negative-interest currencies, local currencies, resource-based economics, gift economies, and the restoration of the commons. Author Charles Eisenstein also considers the personal dimensions of this transition, speaking to those concerned with "right livelihood" and how to live according to their ideals in a world seemingly ruled by money. Tapping into a rich lineage of conventional and unconventional economic thought, Sacred Economics presents a vision that is original yet commonsense, radical yet gentle, and increasingly relevant as the crises of our civilization deepen.

Sacred Economics official website: http://sacred-economics.com/

About the Imprint:
EVOLVER EDITIONS promotes a new counterculture that recognizes humanity's visionary potential and takes tangible, pragmatic steps to realize it. EVOLVER EDITIONS explores the dynamics of personal, collective, and global change from a wide range of perspectives. EVOLVER EDITIONS is an imprint of North Atlantic Books and is produced in collaboration with Evolver, LLC.

469 pages, Paperback

First published July 12, 2011

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About the author

Charles Eisenstein

31 books645 followers
Charles Eisenstein is a teacher, speaker, and writer focusing on themes of civilization, consciousness, money, and human cultural evolution. His writings on the web magazine Reality Sandwich have generated a vast online following; he speaks frequently at conferences and other events, and gives numerous interviews on radio and podcasts. Writing in Ode magazine's "25 Intelligent Optimists" issue, David Korten (author of When Corporations Rule the World) called Eisenstein "one of the up-and-coming great minds of our time." Eisenstein graduated from Yale University in 1989 with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, and spent the next ten years as a Chinese-English translator. He currently lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and serves on the faculty of Goddard College.

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Profile Image for Miles.
464 reviews151 followers
September 2, 2018
Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics is a radical book penned with a lot of passion and the best of intentions. This treatise on alternative economics serves up some very worthy ideas that are compromised by a handful of the author’s less rigorous tendencies and intellectually insupportable positions. As a whole, the book had a decidedly divisive effect on my psyche.

Even for someone reticent to call anything “sacred,” there is a lot to love about Sacred Economics. Eisenstein is one of many early 21st-century thinkers trying to respond to the negative effects of climate change and globalization, and at many points throughout the book he is spot on with his critiques and possible solutions. He rightly argues that we need a new kind of materialism, one more reflective of our embeddedness in and dependence on Earth’s ecosystems. Attempting to show how the modern world has failed to meet certain human needs even as it has blown others way out of proportion, Eisenstein laments the widespread monetization of human goods and relationships, convincingly linking this phenomenon to the myth of infinite economic growth. He envisions a new future of revitalized gift culture, one that emphasizes degrowth, corporate internalization of environmental costs, peer-to-peer distribution networks, legal protection for “the commons,” and a resurgence of communities that can provide a plurality of meaningful ways for people to spend their precious time on Earth.

"In an economy that deserves to be called 'sacred,' work will no longer be an injury to one’s time or life; it will no longer be a matter of pain and suffering. A sacred economy recognizes that human beings desire to work: they desire to apply their life energy toward the expression of their gifts." (402)

A key component of this vision is decaying currency, an economic concept I am not capable of critiquing properly. Eisenstein claims that usury (interest) is a foundational problem in our financial system because it ensures that those with the most money will always have the most earning potential and that those who need loans will be condemned to forever pay back more than they borrow.

"Is it possible to treat money as a commons in the same way as the land or the atmosphere? Is it possible to reverse the mechanism of interest, which, like the expropriation of the commons, allows those who own it to profit by its mere ownership?" (201)

In an interest-based economy, people are rewarded for hoarding; with the advent of decaying currency, the emphasis will be on giving. A currency that loses value when not in circulation, Eisenstein argues, would stimulate flow of capital and put more money, goods and services into the hands of the most needy. He also champions the rise of variegated local and regional currencies that might eventually replace international ones. These currencies could be backed by natural resources rather than trust in governmental bodies, thus encouraging societies to enrich their ecosystems, which would lead to greater wealth for all. These propositions seem promising in a lot of ways, but I’d want to hear a rebuttal from an educated dissenter before jumping on board.

While Eisenstein excels at the art of sincere and heartfelt cultural critique, he also lacks restraint and intellectual rigor; the unfortunate result is that many of his best ideas become needlessly mixed up in redundant rants and occasional descents into pseudoscientific thinking. The biggest and most obvious problem with Sacred Economics is that it is at least two hundred pages too long. I’ve rarely read a book that repeats itself so often, and never one in which the author quotes one of his own previous works (The Ascent of Humanity, in this case) with such frustrating frequency. Someone urging people toward a new way of thinking about their place in the world, economic or otherwise, should value the time of his readers enough to edit his work down to its most accessible, pointed, and concise form.

Another problem is that Eisenstein is surprisingly sanguine about how easy it will be to transition to this radically new gift-based economy.

"Environmentalists often state that we can ill afford to maintain our resource-intensive lifestyles, implying that we would like to if only we could afford it. I disagree. I think we will move toward a more ecological way of life by positive choice. Instead of saying, 'Too bad we have to leave our gigantic suburban homes behind because they use too much energy,' we will no longer want those homes because we will recognize and respond to our need for personal, connected, sacred dwellings in tight communities. The same goes for the rest of the modern consumer lifestyle…By choice, that is where we will direct our energy." (426)

This is a lovely sentiment, and no doubt descriptive of a small (and growing) number of people alive right now. But it is far from a majority (or even significant minority) opinion. Institutional and personal habits of frivolous materialism, privatization, and socioeconomic rewards for those willing to embrace infinite growth are profoundly entrenched in Western society and proliferating rapidly in other parts of the world; it seems almost laughable that we could arrive at anything close to Eisenstein’s vision without serious violence, environmental catastrophe, or (most likely) a deadly combination of both. I sincerely hope I’m wrong about this, and for a lucky few early adopters that might be the case, but I think our transition toward more sustainable, responsible human communities will be driven primarily by necessity and force rather than choice. Eisenstein’s lack of urgency here undercuts his overall message, allowing the reader to feel like the gifting economy will “just happen” because people will decide to “do the right thing.”

"By the end of our lifetimes, my generation will live in a world unimaginably more beautiful than the one we were born into. And it will be a world that is palpably improving year after year…Fantastical? The mind is afraid to hope for anything too good. If this description evokes anger, despair, or grief, then is has touched our common wound, the wound of separation." (445)

Eisenstein’s assurance of the inevitable amelioration of current woes within our lifetimes is both galling and naive. His repudiation of the skepticism that such claims should rightly bring out in readers is in bad taste, especially when clothed in the language of “oneness”––a common trope in the alternative medicine/New Age world. “If you can’t see the light, you’re just not opening yourself up to it. You are cut off by the illusion of your own individuality.” There is a small kernel of truth in this outlook, but too often it is a tool for legitimizing claims that just don’t hold water. There is no guarantee whatsoever that people will wake up to the reality of our direst problems before it’s too late, and to pretend otherwise is folly.

Frustrating as it is, Eisenstein’s adoption of this stance isn’t surprising in light of his readiness to embrace pseudoscientific ideas and treat them as legitimate references. For example:

"As the age of ingratitude has reached its peak over the past thirty years, the sun’s radiation has apparently changed, and the strength of the heliosphere has decreased significantly. It might be my imagination, but I remember the sun being more yellow when I was a child. And from 2008 to 2010, sunspot activity diminished to unprecedented levels…Could it be that the sun, the epitome of generosity, is entering a turbulent phase mirroring the financial crisis on earth, which is after all a crisis of giving and receiving?" (183, footnote)

Actually, no, it can’t be that at all. There is no evidence whatsoever that human activity exerts any influence on the sun’s radiation, and to suggest otherwise is charlatanism. This kind of idiotic transgression, even minor as it may seem compared to Eisenstein’s overall project, seriously compromises his intellectual integrity.

"Today there are at least five or ten different energy technologies that seem to violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. If you research the field, you will find a sordid history of confiscated research, destroyed careers, and even mysterious deaths of researchers. Whether or not there ever was, or still is, an active conspiracy to maintain energy scarcity, on some level humanity has not been ready for the gift of energy abundance, and probably won’t be ready for some decades to come, until we have entered deeply and thoroughly into the spirit of the gift." (443)

As a matter of fact, if you “research the field” of energy technologies, you will find that every claim of overcoming entropy is compete folderol, and that the real “sordid history” is that of conspiracy wonks trying to convince the world that we could all be living in utopia if the evil men in the corner office would just loosen the global thumbscrews. A real technology that could overcome the Second Law of Thermodynamics would be one of the most lucrative and environmentally significant inventions of all time, making it the precise opposite of a reasonable candidate for suppression by the “powers that be.” Eisenstein’s failure to cull such tripe from Sacred Economics does him no favors, except perhaps to ingratiate him to a wacky minority of readers unwilling to familiarize themselves with even the most elementary and unbending (as far as current evidences goes) principles of physics.

The book includes many other references to pseudoscientific ideas, most notably a variety of alternative medicine practices, which Eisenstein is happy to refer to as if they were the same as any other medical practice (with the possible exception of being more in tune with the “spirit of the gift’). To be fair, Eisenstein isn’t nearly as bad as many other New Agey types, and he even drops the occasional criticism of such views. However, the host of nonsensical ideas that made it into his final draft hurt the book significantly. This is especially tragic given how often Eisenstein is right on the money, so to speak, especially when it comes to the importance of reciprocity and gratitude in flourishing human communities. I’d like to give him a pass with the woo stuff, but I just can’t.

Overall, this is a book that needs to be flensed carefully in order to harvest the interesting and useful elements without getting tied up in unnecessary repetition or downright poppycock. Not something I can recommend in its entirety, but definitely home to a few ideas I will integrate into my personal worldview.

This review was originally published on my blog, words&dirt.
249 reviews5 followers
January 3, 2012
Terrific, even visionary argument that the way we think about economics, and specifically about money, is fundamentally flawed, thus inevitably leading us to bad decisions, bad living and an increasingly damaged planet. Eisenstein traces much of the problem to interest, and the dilemma that "wealth" -- that is, money, the only kind of wealth we recognize -- can "grow" even while it is idle, yet our true wealth that resides in the land, air and water is finite. This all leads us to an artificial sense of scarcity, destructive competition, and the idea that we not only can but must "grow" the economy endlessly.
Eisenstein contends that a gift economy -- one in which money is used as a form of thanks, or even tribute, rather than the embodiment of wealth -- is natural to humans, and indeed how money itself first developed. He says society is already moving back toward this model -- think of wikis and open-source software, for instance. He also proposes more strategies for hastening the transition, including negative interest: requiring money that is idle to LOSE value, rather than to accumulate; he argues that this would help alleviate income inequality.
Eisenstein writes well, and is good at explaining abstruse financial and economic concepts. Still, even readers in sympathy with his goals will wonder how viable they are on a large scale: In Eisenstein's ideal society, for instance, everyone would receive what amounts to a living wage just for existing, thus freeing us to use our talents to the utmost rather than be required to work endlessly to pay off the endless debt that late-capitalist society seems to impose. But you don't have to believe that sort of society is imminent to get a charge out of Eisenstein's tour through the history of money and the madness that is our economic system, or even to see how his ideas might viably be applied to real life in more incremental ways.
Profile Image for Liz.
113 reviews
March 11, 2012
Einsenstein presents new ideas about possible economic futures -- new to me anyway. The move away from the money economy itself isn't new. Nor is the idea to create a new money system -- most students of history could tell you this and then recite a list of examples as long as my arm (and written in tiny handwriting).

I give this two stars because while the book itself is easy to read and understand, it doesn't delve into practical realities -- we will still have jobs people don't want to do and paying people more for those jobs won't help (much). We will still have people who don't care to work as long as their are mindless forms of entertainment designed to keep us from thinking, to keep us preoccupied, to keep us stifled. To implement anything close to the system Eisenstein suggests involves not only economic revolution, but social revolution -- with particular focus on how and what we place value on. I'm in favor of gift-circles and dislike the exchange of money between friends. I support people who begin Time Banks and want to contribute when I can because this is the type of economy I want to support. But I don't see these things as revolutionary enough.
Profile Image for Leland Beaumont.
Author 4 books31 followers
December 15, 2013
Author Charles Eisenstein begins this bold and well written book examining why innovation, labor saving devices, and all of the earth's bounty fail to deliver prosperity to most of the people. “After centuries of technological advances, why do we find ourselves working just as much as ever?” he asks, before observing: “For centuries, futurists have predicted an imminent age of leisure. Why has it never happened? The reason is that, at every opportunity, we have chosen to produce more rather than to work less. We have been helpless to choose otherwise.”

Money is created as interest bearing debt. When the interest rate is greater than zero, the debt always exceeds the available money. Servicing the resulting debt requires constant economic growth. Growing the economy requires transforming something that began as a gift from nature or the community into something that can be sold. Nature becomes transformed into commodities and monetized.

As a result, “A larger and larger proportion of income goes toward the servicing of debt, and when that does not suffice, preexisting assets are collateralized and then seized until there are none left.”

But we are already deeply into overshoot. Financial overshoot is manifest as the aggregate of government, institutional, and personal debt. Ecological overshoot is manifest as global warming, air and water pollution, waste dumps, deforestation, desertification, aquifer depletion, natural resource consumption, depleted fisheries, and other depletions of common resources.

The commons, including land, forests, fresh air, clean water, ocean fisheries, minerals, biodiversity, the genome, and the electromagnetic spectrum, all existed prior to human activities. There is no legitimate right to any private ownership claim to these natural resources. Yet these common assets are continually privatized and monetized to support economic growth. Public goods are privately claimed and sold. Corporations profit at the public’s expense.

Income distribution becomes increasingly unequal. Those who have been able to profit from accumulating money, holding land, or exploiting other commons accrue great wealth. Others are forced to compete for fewer jobs offering unsatisfying work at low wages. The work force is divided into the frenzied and overworked “haves” and the unemployed or underpaid “have not’s”. Well-being suffers for all. The author makes clear: “The more monetized society is, the more anxious and hurried its citizens”

As we dedicated our lives to growing the economy Eisenstein remarks: “Each tree cut down and made into paper, each idea captured and made into intellectual property, each child who uses video games instead of creating worlds of the imagination, each human relationship turned into a paid service, depletes a bit of the natural, cultural, spiritual, and social commons and converts it into money.” The result is the constant erosion of social capital—a trusting relationship among community members that creates meaningful social networks. The author observes: “The commoditization of social relationships leaves us with nothing to do together but to consume.”

Sacred economics rejects the many false assumptions of traditional economics to describe a system that is stable during degrowth, and encourages us to create more of what is truly valuable. Charles Eisenstein presents bold solutions to the systemic problems of today’s economy, while describing how a transition to this sacred economy could take place.

He clearly states: “I will not mince words: in this book I am calling for economic degrowth, a shrinking of the economy, a recession that will last decades or centuries.” Yet, because the assumptions that: 1) growth is good and 2) growth is unlimited are both false, sacred economics enables prosperity during economic degrowth.

His solution is an economic system that integrates these seven features:

1. Negative-Interest Currency— “Because of interest, at any given time the amount of money owed is greater than the amount of money already existing.” Because the interest rate establishes the minimum growth rate of the economy, negative interest rates are needed to allow a decrease in monetization.

2. Elimination of Economic Rents, and Compensation for Depletion of the Commons—Because there is no legitimate claim to private ownership of the commons, private seizure or exploitation of the commons must end and users must pay the public for private use or depletion of the commons. “Generalized, the principle is, ‘The use of anything for money will increase the supply of that thing.’” Choosing to back money by use of the commons will increase the supply of those commons.

3. Internalization of Social and Environmental Costs— “Money as we know it ultimately rests on converting the public into the private” Today, pollution and other forms of environmental degradation generate costs that are usually borne by society and future generations, not the polluters. This unfair private gain from exploitation of public assets must be reversed to discourage pollution and environmental degradation. “Whatever form it takes, an essential purpose of government—maybe the essential purpose of government—is to serve as the trustee of the commons”

4. Economic and Monetary Localization—True cost accounting favors local commerce. “When production and economic exchange are local, the social and environmental effects of our actions are much more obvious, reinforcing our innate compassion.”

5. The Social Dividend—Earth’s bounty and the accumulation of thousands of years of technological advances are public wealth. The benefits must be distributed as a social dividend to increase the well-being of all the earth’s people. “Mathematically, if money is subject to diminishing marginal utility, the optimal distribution of money is: as equitably as possible.”

6. Economic Degrowth—As technology continues to advance we can choose to work less or, more accurately, to work less for money. “Here is a certainty: the linear conversion of resources into waste is unsustainable on a finite planet. More unsustainable still is exponential growth, whether of resource use, money, or population.”

7. Gift Culture and P2P economics—“When every economic relationship becomes a paid service, we are left independent of everyone we know and dependent, via money, on anonymous, distant service providers. That is a primary reason for the decline of community in modern societies, with its attendant alienation, loneliness, and psychological misery. Moreover, money is unsuited to facilitate the circulation and development of the unquantifiable things that truly make life rich.”

Chapter 17 provides a brief summary and roadmap of these transformational ideas. Although these ideas are bold and fundamentally transformational, encouraging transition scenarios are presented. For example:
+ Interest rates have already dropped to near zero.
+ The Alaska Permanent Fund, established in 1976, sets aside a certain share of oil revenues to continue benefiting current and all future generations of Alaskans.
+ Open source software and projects such as Wikipedia make valuable intellectual property freely available to all.
+ Internet sites such as Craigslist displaced billions of dollars in classified advertising while encourage the continuing flow and reuse of goods.
+ Time Banking encourages people to exchange services based on time spent.
+ Disintermediation has reduced the cost of many services such as travel agencies, secondary research, book stores, and music distribution. Many artists, including authors, musicians, movie producers, photographers, and painters create and distribute their works directly to consumers over internet sites.

This book is full of good ideas for transforming the obsolete elements of our economic systems into a truly modern economy. Credible evidence and clear thinking bolsters each argument. The book is well written. Plan to spend time reading and re-reading this book to fully grasp the many ideas it presents.

There are some sections of the book that are too mystical and spiritual for my tastes. Perhaps I am too literal and shortsighted to fully grasp these concepts, the concepts are ahead of their time, or they are based on wishful thinking. I suspended judgment on these sections and enjoyed the many well-presented ideas the book offers.

The author strives to put his ideas into practice; the full text of the book is available online as a gift. Readers are asked to pay whatever they feel the book is worth to them.

Capitalism has had a good run and provided many benefits. So has the steam engine. Although both originated a few centuries ago, the steam engine has long since been superseded by more advanced technologies. Perhaps the time to supersede capitalism with a more advanced and sacred economy has arrived.
Profile Image for Massimiliano.
63 reviews11 followers
April 23, 2017
In his overly long, unbearably redundant book, Eisenstein drowns a few valid concepts - namely, the importance of community, a reversal of pervasive commodification, and a restoration of our connection with the goods and services we buy - in a lukewarm broth of lazy, unscientific ideas. Through a blatantly narcissistic exposition, Eisenstein preaches that modernity = depravity, that the Second Law of Thermodynamics has been repeatedly violated by technologies confiscated by occult powers, and that our poor health pales in comparison with the might of the ancient hunter-gatherer.

I approached this book with vibrant enthusiasm, and shelve it with relief.
Profile Image for Nick Stibbs.
21 reviews6 followers
April 4, 2020
Eisenstein is a contemporary philosopher, who has penned several tomes - after The Yoga of Eating and The Ascent of Humanity, this is his latest book, addressing economic issues. He upholds a spiritual perspective, albeit one which locates spirituality in the heart of matter, expressed through our lives, bodies and relationships on and with the earth. Seeing the body as an expression of soul and not in a dualistic opposition, he continues a tradition going back through Blake, the Hebrew tradition and Tantric philosophies.

Eisenstein's thought echoes Marx in some ways, but (in his writing at least!) he holds no rigid or insurrectionist views on class struggle. His aim, like Marx's, is to bring humanity back to a truer relationship with ourselves, through the framework of economics. He sees the current system, which is a reflection and product of a whole range of philosophical assumptions, as holding us in a distorted and unhealthy paradigm of being. His earlier book, The Ascent of Humanity, available as an e-book and free to read online, goes deeply into different processes of thought and behaviour that led us to where we are now. Like Marx, he eulogises a time of primitive communism, in which he believes gift economies were the common way of passing on goods, and details how we have gradually left that model, through a series of civilisational steps, to arrive at the complex state of financial and social affairs that we now dwell within.

In critiquing the Myth of Ascent and emphasising, sometimes with a rapt delight, the positive aspects of earlier cultures, not just hunter-gatherer tribes, but medieval communities and even more recent pre-modern times, he creates a Myth of Descent. For the Descenders, paradise is always in the rear-view mirror, whether 30 years ago, before neo-liberalism kicked in, or 60 years ago, before television took over, or 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution exploded, or 6000 years ago, before agriculture started to displace more mobile hunter-gatherer tribes.

But to suggest that he lives solely in the past would be unfair, for he is a visionary of sorts, and has a prescription for our current perceived malady. Eisenstein wants to re-invent the gift economy and restore a sense (and reality) of the commons to society - something that has clearly been eroded over a very long period of cultural evolution. Ultimately, I think he would like to see the transcendence of money, though he is not a purist, and acknowledges that at our present time in history, money will continue to play a role for many people. Indeed, as a published author with mounting success (alongside his freely offered e-books) and a family to care for, he would be a hypocrite not to make this concession of pragmatic reality. He speaks of his own experiments with living through the medium of gifts, and details some of the issues that have come up for him - for example, he soon learnt that not all gifts are gratefully received, so advises gift-giving to be directed to those who appreciate the offer. This will be something learnt through experience - every worthwhile experiment has its failures, false-starts and dead-ends. He also encountered some internal resistance when giving gifts, and realised that this showed a sense of insecurity and perhaps attachment, which was counter to the sense of abundance which he was trying to promote and express in the giving of gifts.

One of his fundamental assertions is that gift-giving, particularly in local communities, creates a kind of social glue, differently to the less intimate payment of cash for goods, which dominates largely capitalist societies and creates flow in economies. Gift-giving strengthens relationships in his view and creates a kind of indebtedness which ties people together. It is precisely this belief that demonstrates why gift-economies may not have been so different to capitalist monetary economies, since there was still a weighing up of fairness. It is unclear whether he believes gift-giving would dissolve hierarchical relationships, though this belief might be implied since he sees hierarchy as a manifestation of the Myth of Separation. However, in tribal societies, there was a measure of hierarchy in gift-giving, since those who gave the most gifts were perceived to be the most prestigious. A gift freely given does not necessarily create a tie or debt. A gift given with expectation of return or a karmic boost is a product of a calculating and tactical mind. Of course things do not have to polarise so much, and there may be an element of both in the giving of a gift. In my experience, gifts can be oppressive, when the giver seeks to impose his own taste or direction on a person - rather like unsolicited advice. It all depends how well chosen the gift is for the recipient and how it is given. And when there is an assumption of a tie, the accepting of a gift may come with a heavy cost. In this way, the worship of the concept of community, and the social end of the forming of ties may seem like noble aims, but prone to carry all manner of prescriptive and authoritarian overlays. Ties develop spontaneously or through desire or enforcement (or some combination of the three). The nature of the tie is determined by the manner in which it is formed. In many forums of life there are winners and losers, as skill, effort, practice and vision mean some people jump ahead due to good/wise choices or sustained development. Gift culture would not factor out this dimension of life, but it may mean that the bounty of life is more freely spread amongst populations.

One of the attractions of communism is the aspect of generosity, sharing and mutual cooperation that it entails. Certainly, at its best, a libertarian socialism or anarcho-communism can deliver fruitful results and work well in many smaller communities, though not always. There is the issue of motivation - if one person is gathering lots of fruit and distributing it in a spirit of love, why should the others move to gather their own? Fundamentalists would say that the system would naturally stir all to motivation, but this is clearly not going to be the case. We all choose our level of participation. Marx's dogma, 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs', is a beautiful piece of idealism, but rather assumes that everyone will tow the line according to his perfectly balanced equation. If only life were that simple! The nature of the community depends on its members, how well they gel together and how much effort they are prepared to put into the system. People find their own level of existence that they are happy with, depending on their motivation, ability, priorities and so on. Meritocracy does seem to be part of life, and social concern may be an aspect of that - people are inclined to varying degrees to be considerate towards one another. The sick need care, the hungry need feeding, the elderly need support, the damaged need healing, the depressed need encouragement. Until the point that people totally reject help (and sometimes beyond that point), they should be helped by those who feel motivated to help them. We should not be cynical about altruism, but neither should we be prescriptive. As with all gifts, the best offerings come from the soul, deeply felt and genuinely given, rather than done because of religious doctrine, social obligation or state coercion.

In primitive times, people tended to belong to a particular village or tribe, and that was the end of the story for some. There would have been a degree of mobility between different groups, but not much (unless there was an invasion or merger), therefore an individual was bound to the customs, laws and relationships within his given tribe. The evolution of culture led to highly complex and hierarchical civilisations being forged. and whilst some freedoms and enjoyments may well have been lost, there would also have been gains in terms of the opportunities created through mass organisation and collaboration. Of course, these civilisations were guided and dominated by elites, who tended to enjoy the cream of the spoils of the society, but the transition to a more democratic and liberal culture has meant that some of the benefits of material and intellectual wealth have been distributed more widely amongst populations, whilst elites are more diverse. This is not to say that capitalism has solved all problems - indeed, our increasing scientific knowledge, power and population numbers are leading to all kinds of crises, on social, health and environmental levels, quite putting aside the long-standing tension between avaricious bankers and struggling peoples (with a varying body of a comfortable, but often complacent bourgeoisie between the two). However, we are free to question, to travel, to progress (or regress), and create in ways that previous generations mostly did not enjoy. Our freedom is relative, and there are certainly all manner of restrictions in various contexts, and accumulations of wealth and power in some families and businesses means that there are partial blocks to the exercise of our freedom. But nothing is set, and the democratic matrix is potentially a transitional stage to a more complete freedom.

Eisenstein himself identifies one of the shadows of the rising interest in gift culture, (as evidenced through the success of the global network, Freecycle) in the tendency for them to be set up by middle class do-gooders, who don't need to practice gifting to survive, but use it as a complement to their other economic transactions and a way to cut some corners. Many people will use Freecyle as a convenient way to get rid of unwanted goods, saving them the hassle of having to take them to a local skip. He thinks these people will often lose interest and move on to a different fashionable hobby. Eisenstein is probably right that gift-culture does attract middle-class, as well as bohemian demographics - a sign that those with a degree of education are able to see the possibilities and benefits of such activity. Indeed, it is often those people who populate formalised latter-day gift economies in the early stages, with poorer demographics pouring in, once they hear of it. It may also arise in a more spontaneous manner in less cerebral communities - indeed, gift culture has always been with us in one way or another - birthdays, Christmas, or just the handing down of clothes and toys. Eisenstein's aim, I think, would be to extend the practice, beyond families and other close intimates, to a wider culture, thus breaking down more social boundaries.

He is clearly very well-intentioned, and as he makes explicit in the title, sees the practice as imbued with a spiritual quality, which beyond the mere distribution and exchange of goods that 'the dismal science' facilitates, seeks to re-establish a new sense of connectedness to humanity, moving it out of a self-serving, narrow individualism, and into a more ecological sense of embeddedness in a community of beings, with shared destinies and mutual concerns. His primary aim seems to be human happiness and the achievement of a new level of relationship through a shift in our perceptions, which promises to resolve all manner of problems we are currently creating through our beliefs and resultant actions. I wonder whether, in his clear step to the left (and probably more libertarian left, though he does speak of wanting to move taxation towards funding the re-establishment of the commons in society), he may be repressing other elements of human nature, which contemporary capitalism, with all its problems, actually honours. Whilst these may not always be perceived as beautiful or sacred - the sometimes/often greed of humanity, our lusts, waywardness, desires, competition and so on - it may be wise to acknowledge them in constructing any economic model, whilst also allowing our more gentle and altruistic aspects to blossom and flourish too.

Eisenstein seeks to create a world beyond money, but we should examine why we use money and what use it has. Money is a symbol and a tool. It is a means of ascribing subjective and shared value to goods and services. An apple has value since it feeds me. A massage has value since it soothes me. A helping hand has value since it supports me. We need not put a numerical figure on these things, nor draw relative comparisons with other goods, but we internally appreciate or dislike experiences. There is the cliche that 'time is money'. What is being said here, beyond describing the urgency of business people to further their bank balances, is that time has value, and the decisions we make to 'spend' our time are important, and something which we often weigh up and apportion in terms of what we want to experience. Time is clearly sometimes a variable in economics, as witnessed by the charging for time with a therapist or interest charged on a loan. So too is effort spent accumulating a skill (those with high qualifications and good working records often charge more). Another factor is the way a good or service is perceived in a society. We agree that we value bankers (despite people's protests) by using banks, and until we make a different choice, they will continue to be rewarded exponentially. On top of these are economic considerations such as supply and demand, availability of labour and raw material and so on. All these variables add up in combination to create a composite value which is set on a good or service, though even that is not fixed, since prices may appreciate or depreciate depending on conditions. Some things may be of such depth and wonder that we could never and would never ascribe a set value to them. They are indeed priceless. My feeling is Eisenstein would like us to shift our social experience more and more to this realm - somewhere beyond thought and judgment, where the price-tags become invisible, time ceases to rule our perception, scarcity is not an issue, and there is a spontaneous flow - a current of energy - where gifts are set in motion, with skill and consideration, and the network of humanity comes alive with a spirit of generosity.

In a pantheon of values and modes of behaviour, gift-giving may represent one of the gods, but we would be foolish to leave the others out of the temple of economics. The left (in its various manifestations) is keen to assert that it is the system that determines behaviour, but it might be truer to say that it is both - humans construct systems, which then influence behaviour as well as vice versa. We have indeed constructed and been born into a system (both external and internal) that prioritises self-interest and a perception of self as an individual being, and this is certainly a mode of possibility as a human. There have also been systems that have sought to subsume the individual in a tyrannical mass, which have actually served the needs of a group of individuals at the top - witness fascism and to a certain extent, forms of communism. Other systems emphasise our commonality and equality, but find it hard to move with any gusto because those perceptions will repress other drives and insights in a flattening consensus. There are many modalities on offer for humanity to experience.

Most present-day societies, whilst embodying a religion of self in some ways, have also kept an ideal of romantic love, which very much seeks to reconnect individuals in a shared bond. The socialist aspects of capitalist states are designed to mitigate the dog-eat-dog atmosphere of the drive to profit and financial success, and whilst there are certainly all kinds of problems with pollution, inappropriate development and so on, both the UK and US have a fairly new tradition (the past 100 years or so) of national parks, embraced and encouraged by many of the elite who have their own environmental concerns, which have preserved large areas of wilderness for common use. There is certainly a tension between our more greedy and placid selves (along with all the other opposites that humanity ranges between), and it is right that battles are fought - for example, when developers seek to progressively take over parts of life that should be kept as sacred spaces, whether green-belt areas, national parks, ancient homes, or indeed pools of small business activity which might be ruined by encroachment by wealthy corporations. But at the same time, we shouldn't completely restrain the drive to build and achieve - humanity thrills to innovation and success, and it is a cynical and repressive spirit that resents the unfolding of the new and excellent. It seems a fact of life that every new movement of humanity will face a regressive challenge, and every revolution meets a counter-revolution, seeking to put the brakes on. The environmental and romantic movements (sometimes fused as one) are often conservative in character, looking back to hallowed golden ages, and are loathe to tamper with what has worked or is perceived to have worked well for millenia or longer.

Eisenstein, in an earlier book, The Yoga of Eating, is very clear that there is no single diet that suits all individuals. After experimenting with a variety of different dietary systems, he came to the conclusion that which diet an individual was suited to depended on where they were at in life, as well as their own physiological needs, and advises people to learn to listen to their own inner authority, rather than the outer directives of books and gurus. I wonder whether politics is much the same. For some, it may suit them to live in a hierarchical society, bound by fixed rules and caught in a narrow religious tradition (the Lord is in his castle, the peasant in his field, and all is well). For others, a liberal consensus will suit their stage of development, where freedom rules and people live in relatively diverse bubbles, allowing some to become incredibly rich, and others to scrape along the bottom in a laissez-faire meritocracy. Furthermore, other people may feel more comfortable in a shared, ‘one-for-all and all-for-one’ communism, which allows them to dissolve much of their individual destiny into an intermingled ecology of people. Some may want to live in small tribes as hunter-gatherers, roaming wide areas of wild land, whereas others may want to live in huge cities, rubbing against millions of others and importing food from other areas. It may even be true that some are psychologically drawn to systems of severe oppression and cruelty, where they are under the thumb of a dictator, or indeed to enforce such a rule on others. Just as sado-masochism is partly chosen by many adults, many may say they want to exit oppressive situations, but be addicted to the drama. There are no fixed rules in life and we live in an open space where we are free to explore all possibilities.

It really does cut both and all ways. We are Janus-faced, looking backwards and forwards, outwards and inwards, upwards and downwards. As gift-givers and desiring beings, we are both concerned for the wider context and our own lives. We flourish where our needs and desires are one, and synergy occurs when those needs/desires are met in harmony or at least mutual satisfaction with others (though not necessarily all). Our individuality and autonomy as entities is real, but not absolute, and located in relationships of interconnectivity and co-influence, forming networks which themselves are part of an unknowable but holistic existence, which we are partly reflections of and partly shapers of. The cliche goes, Life is a Gift, but truly, life cannot be held down to any singular definition; if anything, life is an opportunity to experience, and the giving of gifts is one of those possibilities.
Profile Image for Lisa.
42 reviews
April 29, 2013
I absolutely love this piece: while the end result is highly idealistic, the ideas and approach within are nevertheless applicable on a local scale today and should be strived towards. Eisenstein is remarkable in his approach to the topic of economics and optimistic in his view of what we could become as a people. By stripping back all of history to come to a general understanding about the generative nature of economics and then rebuilding it in a way that exemplifies the possibilities and necessities for a brighter future, he takes on an arduous task that most would turn away from due to the gargantuan nature it entails. This book has changed the manner in which I approach my daily life and the interactions that entail.
Profile Image for Mark Findlater.
24 reviews
March 4, 2014
There is no question Eisenstein is smart but his writing is immature and his eulogy is aimed hard at the converted and by definition they need no conversion.

The history of money was fascinating, the economics simple, the ideas beautiful, the potential infinite, Eisenstein's dreams fantastical and the research, proof points and hard science, lacking.

It would be easy to dismiss the ideas as impossible, but if there is one great takeaway it is that through a little introspection you will realise how much of what you have come to believe you need - you do not need and how through gift and community you stand to become richer. Eisenstein presents this (and all) ideas without straying too far into the spiritual/religious realm which I am sure would have been easy for him to do and would have further turned those of us off that were not already bought into his ideas.

Why only 3 stars? It's not particularly because of a lack of depth, a mega load of thought has gone into this opus and whilst I'm not calling it a straw man, we need people to throw ideas out there or we'll just keep living the wrong way. It's not because it is preachy, the tone is well balanced, friendly and avoids judgement. In part it is because it is too damn long and self referential (some sort of reading based NLP?) A lot it is because it lacks ambition. Huh? It lacks the punch, the persuasion and the arguments to appeal to the masses and a groundswell in this relatively small audience is not going to bring about the changes Eisenstein says are unavoidable/imperative over the next century (or we will witness an entire world collapse). And hey, 3 is a good number, Goodreads labels 3 as "liked it" which I did.
Profile Image for Perri.
1,283 reviews48 followers
February 23, 2018
Money is like the taboo topic of our time. Seems like so much of how we define ourselves and others are wrapped up in how much we're worth materially. I've always been fascinated with our shared magical belief that green pieces of paper have worth and even stranger today, that taps from computers add and subtract numbers to bank accounts. Eisenstein leads us through a brief history of economics and how we reached this point in time. He's not scolding or nostalgic for a return to an earlier time. But he believes the times of an economy dependent on exponential growth and consumption must end to protect the finite resources of the Earth. He outlines proposals for how things can change. Some seem far fetched to me, but what was refreshing was the overall hope filled message of the book. The book was reader friendly for those of us not schooled in economics and there were even bits of humor.
This was a whole new way for me to think about money/the economy.
Profile Image for Chris.
135 reviews1 follower
June 21, 2012
In the opposite of Mr. Eisenstein's writing style, I will keep this succinct. Largely a Buddhist vision of money and exchange, Sacred Economics does offer some interesting and hugely important insights into the possible future of the global economic system. An important read for the chapters on negative interest and the backing of money with the things we wish to preserve.
Profile Image for Eileen.
Author 2 books7 followers
July 10, 2013
Charles and I wrote our books concurrently, without awareness that we were both exploring the same concepts. What a pleasure it was to discover a kindred spirit, and to consciously work with Charles to "build a field" of awareness around these ideas. Beautiful book; beautiful man. I highly recommend this one!
Profile Image for Mahiro Yamakawa.
37 reviews3 followers
October 31, 2022
I have been contemplating about money for a while. I have now realized the expansion of self that accompanies giving/serving. When I treat my wound, I don’t expect anything thing in return from my scraped knee. I treat it because it is part of “me” In the same way, if I treat others and the world through giving, the others and the world becomes part of me. This is what belonging is. And I think we are all craving this belonging, unfortunately, as the book describes, the age of separation and scarcity(which is an illusion) deprives ourselves from this realm. I also felt this. I knew I wanted to give but I also must sustain myself.

That was when Llewellyn told me about this book and wow, so much insight.

It laid out the innate fucked-up-ness of our current economics, political changes that aligns with the sacred economics that author dreams, and finally personal actions and philosophy one can take.

First, the whole idea of “growing economics” is unsustainable and making the world leas beautiful. This is because in order to “grow” economic, they must turn things that are gift from universe into commodity. Ex) land, natural resources, childcare, health care. Water is the most growing beverage industry😂. Soon enough, however, we will run out of things to turn into money as these things by nature is finite.(Although one can delay the inevitable peak by forcing “developing” nation into this formula. Furthermore, rich will get richer by using money to make more money. Ex) Owning land. Shit will eventually hit the fan, and the author thinks that shit is getting very close to that fan, you can already smell it.

Despite the world getting “richer” than ever. We are being deprived of life. If the growth of money really were driving the technological and cultural meeting of new needs, then wouldn’t we be more fulfilled than any human before us? We have bigger houses but small families; more convenience’s but less time. We have more degrees but less senses; more experts, but more problems.

Author doesn’t view money as innate evil, or human as innately greedy. He rather points out the system that foster these type of things. He therefore gave several political changes to develops humanity into the next stage. Just like how a baby and a child is dependent to caretaker and takes more than they give. We as humanity were a baby and took all that earth and nature gave and more to grow. But as child becomes adult, he learns to love. We must transition from viewing earth as “mother” to “lover” I don’t want to get into this part too much as it was bit complicated and short review can’t do it’s justice. One idea he gave was to make money to depreciate, just like everything else in the world. This with combination of negative interest rate will discourage holding of money and encourage movement of money.

On the personal note, there was so much I want to take away as I continue with this life thing.
-Money shouldn’t be used to make more money
Because enterprises that explicitly seek to build community, protect nature and preserve the cultural commonwealth should not produce financial positive return.

-Anything I learn to do for myself or for other people, without paying for it; any utilization of recycled or discarded materials; anything I make instead of but, give instead of sell; any new skill or new song or new art I teach myself or another will reduce dominion of money and grow a gift economy to sustain us though the coming transition.

-When money tries to buy beauty, love, knowledge, connection, and so forth, either the buyer receives counterfeit, or the seller, having sold the infinitiely precious for finite sum, is exploited.

-Lack of community leaves us with hole in our heart
And the economy we have today does not encourage community. As when every economic relationship becomes a paid service, we are left independent of everybody we know and dependent, via money, on anonymous distant service providers.

Man, there is no way I can write out every important points of the book as that will just be turn into shitier recitation of this book. In the meanwhile, I will seek out every opportunity I have to give and also receive gift and see what kind of congnitive shift I will have.
Profile Image for David.
227 reviews33 followers
April 21, 2017
I was first introduced to the work of Charles Eisenstein through the website Reality Sandwich, brainchild of Daniel Pinchbeck. In fact, I think the passage I read was an excerpt from this book! The entirety of Sacred Economics is hosted in bits and pieces on Reality Sandwich, so if this piques your interest you can check it out at no charge. Following that introduction, I read Eisenstein's book "The Yoga of Eating" which I really enjoyed, and helped me make the decision to read Sacred Economics.

Sacred Economics tells the story of humanity's relationship to money and gifts throughout the ages, and puts forth Eisenstein's vision of the next greatest economic structure, along with what a hypothetical transition to this type of gift society would look like. Which, according to him, we are experiencing right now (this book was published in 2011). The history of how we developed our current relationship with money is enlightening, as is the explanation of how some of the more complicated facets of economy work. I have to admit that a lot of the book was a bit over my head, which means that it will reward multiple readings for me.

Eisenstein's idea of a more ecological and humane economy includes concepts such as the social dividend, negative-interest currency, local currencies, internalization of ecological and social factors, economic degrowth, reconnection with gift culture, etc. It certainly runs counter to the mainstream media's idea of what should happen to our economy. I really enjoyed his ideas, and hope to see some of them come to fruition, although I can't claim that I understand enough about modern economics to be able to debate any of these points. At any rate, it is a really well-written book (Leaps and bounds over "The Yoga of Eating"! Great improvement Eisenstein!) and I suggest anyone who has an interest in the subject to at least check out his writings online at his website or Reality Sandwich.
Profile Image for Divish Gupta.
14 reviews8 followers
June 25, 2018
Certainly the most profound book I have ever read. You can disagree with what he says, but he will compel you to think and introspect deeply. A must read for those who feel something is wrong with the mainstream idea of development.

Charles fundamentally believes that we are born into gratitude and are basic desire is to give. This is contrary to the mainstream belief that we are motivated by self-interest. He explains in detail what is wrong with the existing systems and how money is designed to drift us towards mindset of separation which serves none of us, not even the rich.

He is an extremely optimistic person and paints picture of an ideal world which I feel is possible. He proposes idealistic but concrete solutions. Even if you do not agree with the large-scale systemic shifts, the book has ample advice on what you could do differently in your own life to live it more fully.

Personally, I largely believed in these principles/ideas even before reading the book and hence it was easier for me to accept most of his ideas. This might not hold true for everyone. But still, this book deserves to be read.
Profile Image for Avory Faucette.
196 reviews88 followers
November 16, 2021
It’s hard to overstate the impact reading this book has had on me this year. Though Eisenstein is synthesizing concepts that others have shared before him (it’s easy to see the influence of emergent strategy, alternative economists, P2P movements, Native cosmologies and practices, Black cooperative economics, feminist and queer ecology, etc.) the way he frames sacred economics structurally really helps to answer the fears readers may have about moving away from current economic systems while also proposing a future that seems both very far away AND theoretically possible.

In approaching the topic both economically and spiritually / metaphysically, Eisenstein shows how many of the stories wrapped up in what he calls the overarching Story of Ascent present a false picture of humanity and our relationship to the planet. In Part II, lays out a series of economic changes that won’t work on their own (including internalizing costs, demurrage, etc.) but as an interrelated system could actually be globally feasible. Given the masssive challenge of implementing these challenges, which would require people with actual power to read and internalize these concepts, I admit to skepticism around a policy-first approach, and wish Eisenstein had more directly addressed the effects of thousands of years of horrific racism on the human psyche, because his policies do require a certain degree of bias elimination to implement. I also wish that, given the strong emphasis on local community and relationship, there was some treatment of what happens when an individual really doesn’t fit in their local community. Since the recommendations to some extent reverse globalization, I found myself with questions about travel, segregation, and entrenched values.

Those limitations acknowledged, I do appreciate the practicality of part II, because I’ve long felt a sense of “I’m anti-capitalist, maybe even anti-money, but what the hell is the alternative?” This book doesn’t shy away from answering that question, and the answer isn’t “return to a state of nature” or “eliminate technology.” The recommended approach is gradual and allows for some of the conveniences of modern life. At the same time, the longer we wait, the more dramatic the change becomes, and I certainly hold fear in 2021 that there isn’t time to educate policymakers and gradually implement these changes before climate change kills even larger swathes of humanity.

Where I really found personal impact was in Part III, when Eisenstein talks about personal ways to implement sacred economics and addresses common fears about the idea of gifting over charging, even in the context of our current system. As I was reading, I kept waiting for this content, since for much of the broader economic ideas there’s a “this will only work when the system changes” caveat. I found the writing in Part III had a profound effect on my natural scarcity thinking and security fears, and opened me up to the idea of authentic gifting (especially in the context of not hoarding wealth, allowing money to flow, and building relationships through gift exchange) as a different kind of security. One of the key concepts here is that exchange of gifts builds relationship and interdependence. While I understand intellectually that extreme independence and hoarding wealth are bad, I also have struggled to prefer relationship and community given past experiences of “gifts.” Eisenstein makes it clear that not everything we call a gift actually is one in his terminology, and that some of our fears of “giving things away” come from harmful practices around gifts. Part III challenges the reader, but also doesn’t expect extreme, dramatic, sudden change. There is an acknowledgement that this is a process, and that we live in a present system. Eisenstein incorporates a lot of the beliefs I hold and teach that have been transformational in my life already, such as the false nature of “guarantees,” the importance of learning to receive as part of generosity, and living in the present rather than overplanning for the future.

I would recommend this book very broadly (and have!) but I especially hope it makes it into the hands of those with wealth, power, privilege, and a seat at the policymaking table. I also find myself wishing for more digestible versions of these principles that are easier to share, and will definitely be incorporating some of the key ideas into my own work for this purpose. If you are extremely resistant to anything “woo” or “spiritual” you may struggle with this book, but my 72-year-old atheist father is loving it, so have an open mind!
Profile Image for Joyce.
200 reviews
June 8, 2022
This book kind of blew my mind. I picked it up because a Goodreads friend rated it highly, and I became curious -- How could economics be sacred? When I got the book, I was quite intimidated. It looked so big and heavy, and such a "heavy" topic. I didn't think I would get through it, but, surprisingly, I did. Not that I read every page, but I did read enough that I surprised myself how much I did read.

And, this is one of those books that really have the ability to change how you look at something that you have lived with your whole life -- in this case, money. I hope that a lot of people will read this book and that it has an effect on our collective relationship with money. If you can't get the book, Google the title, as the author has made it available online for free. The basic concepts were presented in a very down to earth and understandable way, but they were also backed up with some more complicated specifics. I have to admit that I did skip over some of the specifics.

The author sees a transition in our economy to one that I would personally love to see and be a part of, but at the same time, I can't help but wonder if this vision is a bit too naive or optimistic.

I borrowed this book from the library network in my state, but I am going to request my library to get a copy of this, as the ideas are important for everyone to think about. I wish that I could do justice to the ideas in this book, and share some of the inspiring messages.
January 13, 2016
I bought this book at one of his lectures...where I was actually blown away. Listening to him it was like someone had taken every really important thread I had been following for the last twenty years and woven them together into a coherent narrative. I suppose it is the application of buddhism to political economy..and doubtless others have said more interesting things than I can come up with here, but definitely recommended reading.
Profile Image for Chelsea Lawson.
285 reviews28 followers
October 20, 2019
What is, or what do we want our purpose to be on this earth? Does money, as the greatest tool that we have created to organize human activity, help to serve this purpose? If not, how can we rewrite the rules of money to better reflect our objectives? And how do we hasten and ease the transition to those new rules?

These are the questions Eisenstein covers in Sacred Economics, on both a societal and individual scale. In short, our purpose is to leave the world a more beautiful place than we entered it, through our relationships and how we choose to spend our time and resources. That conclusion, and the rest of the ideas in this book, rest on two premises/philosophies:

1. The connected self - we are all connected to each other and the earth, and the more we help each other thrive, the better off we each are. It is therefore in our best interest to preserve and enhance the world around us.
2. Gratitude - life is a gift. The magnificence of nature, the accumulated knowledge and creations of generations before us, and the care and investment we receive to make it through infancy and childhood are all treasures that we did not earn. It is therefore our primal desire to preserve and enhance the world around us.

Our monetary system has led us astray from pursuing our purpose. The key problem is interest-- we create money with the promise of creating more of it, in an endless path of growth and debt, which comes at the expense of the commons and of community. Another issue is that money in today's world has no carrying cost, so it doesn’t circulate as well as we would like it to.

From that starting point, Eisenstein makes a series of policy and individualized proposals. Some are drastic and transformative, such as debt-forgiveness, negative interest, and a social dividend. Others are more subtle, like volunteering, supporting local businesses, and repairing instead of replacing old goods.

The book had a major impact on me and I hope more people check it out.
Profile Image for Brian Griffith.
Author 6 books223 followers
September 25, 2020
I want to give Eisenstein great marks for his courage to dream and his massive determination to figure out a better kind of economy. I think his vision of a gift-based, community-rich, environmentally restorative, human-potential driven future is basically what humanity needs. I even believe that these dreams will be realized to some extent in the decades to come, and I wish him every success. But the systemic changes in how money should work seem highly abstract. I couldn't see how they would really work or what I might personally do about such things. He explains why charging interest is inevitably inimical to human welfare, and why property itself is an artificial social construction. Then he proposes alternatives such as negative-interest economics, de-growth, or local and complimentary currencies. The proposal of living by gifts was something obviously good, but I suppose it's up to each individual to try that approach a step at a time. I was left, as I probably should be, with attempting to answer Eisenstein's questions for myself.
Profile Image for Gwen.
155 reviews7 followers
August 29, 2019
Fascinating and helpful. I've really struggled with the cognitive dissonance of being a leftist finance nerd - many of the thoughts here had me saying "RIGHT. THAT'S what I've been trying to figure out."

Many things here to think about. I blitzed through it but I'm going to have to re-read many times, and discuss. One of the concepts that hit me hard was professional services in a gift economy presenting an invoice of their costs, and allowing the service consumer to write in their own value add (or value discount). Fascinating and excellent. I'm looking at starting an accounting business aimed at diverse populations and I think this is something I'm going to need to do. Somehow. It's going to take a lot of figuring out.

I've already started recommending this book to others. I have the feeling I'm going to be gifting copies to people for Christmas.
Profile Image for Freja Friborg.
32 reviews
August 9, 2017
This book was really amazing for me to read, it put words on so many of the feelings that I have had through time but had difficult to explain! And it gives and amazing positive and possible future ahead for our world and economic system! A clear down to earth explanation of what we can do! I would recommend everyone to read this book and be inspired!
Profile Image for Tuncer Şengöz.
Author 6 books227 followers
April 1, 2017
Genel olarak beğendim. Armağan ekonomisi, Çürüyen para, büyümenin kontrol altına alınması (kontrollü küçülme?) fikirlerine genel olarak yatkınım. Kitabın son bölümlerindeki tekrarlar okumayı güçleştiriyor.
Profile Image for Jayant Nahata.
8 reviews21 followers
May 8, 2020
It was an experience in itself. I always found something odd in our economic structure with questions in my mind popping up - like ''why does GDP not take into account home-makers job'' or ''Isn't economic structure of today hastening environmental destruction'', ''isn't environment vs economy a fundamental contradiction''. This book touches on so many aspects I couldn't encounter, in my 25 years of education in the best of institutes and with such clarity. Thanks to the author. Must read for all.
Profile Image for Türkay.
426 reviews38 followers
January 24, 2018
Negatif faize (Demüraj) bağlı olarak, Servetin dağılımındaki bozukluğu düzeltme, çürüyen para kavramıyla biriktirmeye dayalı ekonomik yapıyı değiştirme fikirleri çok iyi. Ancak, sistemin işleyişi konusunda öneriler bölümünde (3. Bölüm) zayıf kalmış.
Profile Image for Nick.
109 reviews1 follower
June 30, 2021
Our money is inherently antisocial. Transactions are reimagined to promote interdependence, community, mutual trust, and mutual well-being. Find ways to leave money out of it.
Profile Image for RS Rook.
409 reviews9 followers
January 29, 2023
TL;DR I didn’t like it. It did make me think, kind obsessively, not so much about the economics though. I had to get those thoughts out, honestly don’t recommend anyone trying to read the rant below. Or this book. But you do you.

When I first picked up this book I had no idea who Charles Eisenstein, but pretty soon into starting this book I began to think “this guy’s probably into QAnon now”. So I decided to do some digging into what this guy is up to now… and I was not quite spot on about him being full QAnon, he is definitely aQ-adjacent conspiritualist. But there is also a lot of . . . other stuff going on with this book.

So a few things in the text lead me to believe this would be the kind of person likely to be attracted to Q or other conspiracy theories.

For one thing, the book is riddled with Apophenia and a tendency to view everything as ultimately connected (what he calls “synchronicity” or “Interbeing”).

For example, there is a footnote in which he connects the activity of sunspots to the 2008 financial crisis. It’s one of those things that would make sense in literary analysis, like it’s feasible that an author might create metaphorical parallels between what is going on astronomically with what is going on economically. Not so much a connected phenomenon in the real world. Effectively, this means that he interprets reality as if it were fiction. This led me to believe he doesn’t view fiction and reality as being wholly separate things.

After reading more of his work, I have to say what is going on here is a lot more complicated than just being a bit looney, which was admittedly my first impression. Eisenstein has an interesting philosophical perspective underlying this. He has this sort of, manstrological (sometimes known as Jungian) conception of the importance of the “universal truths” that can be found in myths. But it isn’t just that he believes myths contain a metaphorical explanation of reality but in fact that myths create reality. Teleologically speaking, myths or stories exist in order to bring into being the reality they describe. In a limited capacity, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds. After all, if you tell a story about yourself as being ambitious then you may be more likely to pursue opportunities, likewise if you are an incel and tell yourself a story about your unloveability and how women are selfish for not settling, you will likely end up engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors which confirm that view of the world. But like, telling yourself that eating natural foods and practicing yoga is going to prevent you from getting tetanus better than vaccines can is not like that.

Eisenstein takes this concept to a much broader level. One of the things that triggered off “conspiracy nut/culty vibe” in my brain as I was reading was Eisenstein’s liberal use of the royal “We”. He often goes on these tangents about what “we” know to be true, where it isn’t entirely clear who this “we” is referring to. Sometimes this is presented as opposed to what “they” are telling us, but for the most part the emphasis here is on the “we”. It also corresponds to these sections of the book that I initially thought were ego-maniacal predictions of the future. He goes off a lot on what the world post-money will be like (and he seems thoroughly convinced of its inevitability). As I have become more familiar with his philosophical/spiritual framework, I now realize these sections are less predictive than they are an attempt to manifest that reality through storytelling. I can understand at least, why someone with a similar framework might find this book resonant. I personally do not share this framework and found much of the book to be nonsensical as a result. Think of it like someone reading a book on Christian-based economics, except they are not Christian and also have never even heard of Christianity and that’s kind of the headspace I was in.

This concept of stories holding power also expresses itself as a distrust of what Eisenstein views as any kind of “narrative” espoused by experts or normative authorities, and again this isn’t always an irrational thing. It is true that governments, large corporations, etc. do spin their own narratives to reach a particular end. To an extent, it makes sense why someone who believes as deeply in the power of stories as Eisenstein does would find the narratives of powerful people kind of threatening.

It does lead him to reject legitimate science in favor of a lot of ridiculous quackery. In this book he claims that there is some conspiracy against scientists who have discovered energy production which defies the second laws of thermodynamics. I don’t know where he got that information from, but it’s preposterous. He cites Ellen Hodgson Brown’s book “Web of Debt”—a book which implies the existence of a secret, ancient cabal of international bankers bent on total domination of humankind. Brown is also enthusiastic about how Hitler’s government stuck it to those bankers… I hope I don’t have to explain the implications there.

Here are some selections from the section on Bill Kauth, which I think bear examination.

“Bill Kauth, founder of the Sacred Warriors and other organizations, is an internationally known social inventor and a rich man, though not in any conventional sense. He owns very little: an old car, some personal possessions, as far as I know no financial assets. Many years ago, he tells me, he took a personal vow he calls “income topping,” pledging never to earn more than $24,000 in a year.”


“Bill’s vow was a deeply personal vow, which he didn’t share with others until, decades later, he gave me permission to write of it. I thought initially that it would have been more powerful for him to share it, but upon further reflection I changed my mind. The essential energy of that vow will radiate from him whether or not he articulates it to others.”

So this guy made a super secret personal vow that he would never make more than 24k per year, that he only told Eisenstein about… and I mean just told him.

So, sandwiched between the above paragraphs is a section about how people should stop being so cynical about distrusting the motivations of people or when things might be too good to be true (including a bizarre tangent about the self-doubt Eisenstein has about his own motivations). Also this little gem of a sentence popped up:

“Bill Kauth was trying to find a way to tap into the considerable dynamism of multilevel marketing while eliminating the “greed factor,” and he says income topping was the only thing that showed any promise.”

I don’t know if you have ever talked to anyone trying to rope you into an mlm pyramid scheme, but one of the go-tos is inevitably “I know this looks like a pyramid scheme, but—“. I'm not going to get into Bill Kauth, that's a whole other rabbit hole without clear answers, but I think what strikes me the most about this is that here we have this guy, who is suspicious of modern medicine, anti-vax, a germ theory denialist, telling the reader not to be so cynical about potential MLM schemes. Like what?

This is where the book starts to feel cultish in a lot of ways. Eisenstein’s conception of a gift economy is one in which the atomization caused by the monetary system is eliminated in favor of close-knit, personal connections of mutual aid. He admits (though not until the end of the book) that this isn’t possible without the corresponding obligation this place on everyone to both give and receive. But what he fails to address is how such a system could easily foster resentments, interpersonal disputes, biased-based exclusion, and less freedom for individuals to establish boundaries with those they depend on. He acknowledges that community requires obligations, specifically, the obligation to conform to the values of the group, which in this case includes generosity and reciprocity in gift-giving. He cites a story about an Indigenous hunter being killed for failure to share the fruits of his hunt, on the basis that this hunter’s stinginess violated the norms required for the gifting society to function. He does not see this as a problem. It should be noted that in 2020 he wrote an article which compared the portrayal of unvaccinated people in the media to the demonization of Jews during the Holocaust. So, you can see how unvaccinated people might be seen as refusing to conform to the values of the group (indeed, many people were calling unvaccinated people “selfish”). So to be frank, this fear that unvaccinated people would be persecuted to the point of genocide feels like projection. . . because on some level, Eisenstein sees this as an expected response to non-conformity.

This work seems on the face to be optimistic, to a utopian level. But there is also an undercurrent of nihilism. Along with a fetishization of Indigenous peoples (in a footnote he describes the “childlike and primal” nature of their generosity) because they represent to him, some kind of idealized “natural state” of man from the distant past, before everything went wrong. By everything this seems to be a combination of capitalism and technological advancement). He longs for a time in the future when we will go back to living in small, isolated, self-sufficient communities where we are really able to care for each other (and also where we don’t have to care about strangers so much…). He lowkey longs for an apocalyptic collapse that will allow the world to “reset” into his version of society.

So, what we have here, is a man who believes he can effect reality by crafting his own narrative, prioritizes in-person, human-to-human interdependence, without a really solid sense of boundaries between reality and fiction, much less between people, strongly distrusts conventional sources of knowledge in favor of dissenting positions that happen to support his own worldviews, encourages his readers to not follow their own cynicism in the face of multi-level marketing schemes, and finds living in an isolated community appealing. I’m not saying it’s inevitable that this guy will end up starting or be heavily involved in some sort of cult or cult-adjacent marketing scam, but what I will say is that if that does happen, I wouldn’t be surprised by it.

I’m going to end this here, because this review is too long already. I did not proofread it and I was day-drinking while writing it. I make no apologies and I am not interested in any debates with people who are fans of this book. It is not my intention to convince anyone of anything, if you have your thoughts about this author and this book that’s fine. Personally, it gave me the heebie jeebies and I needed to get that out. Have a nice day, I will now do my best to forget having ever read this. The end.
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October 27, 2014
I’m halfway through Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition, and I couldn’t wait to share a little of what it’s about. This is one of the few books I think should be required reading for every college student. Given the economic crisis we have been facing for well over two centuries, it is highly important that we stop, yes stop, and really think about the origins, purpose, and impact of the monetary system on our lives, and indeed the plant.

This book answers these and other questions:

What is the origins of money?
How does money function in the economy?
What is the real value of money?
How does money grow?
What are the positive and negative effects of money?
How much money is enough for any one person or family?
What causes some people’s addiction to money?
What is the role of inflation?
What is the role of banks in a monetary system?
We should all know the answers to these questions, and because we don’t, the lives of most people, and the planet itself, are shortchanged and negatively impacted by the monetary system that we take for granted, and rarely question.

Eisenstein devotes the first half of his book to explaining what money is and how it functions, but here’s a pretty good summary from the book:

"Money is merely a social agreement, a story that assigns meaning and roles. The classical definition of money — a medium of exchange, a store of value, a unit of account — describes what money does, but not what it is. Physically, it is now next to nothing. Socially, it is next to everything: the primary agent for the coordination of human activity and the focusing of collective human intention.”
Our defunct and corrupt monetary system must seriously be challenged if we are to survive on this planet. Our monetary system is not just a political issue, it’s a life issue.

When I finish Sacred Economics, I will post about the recommendations Eisenstein makes for changing the monetary system. But if more people don’t start studying and discussing this topic, nothing will change for a very long time.
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