Living and thriving through regenerative practices and a sustainable worldview.

Economics

The Nitty Gritty Guide

Check out a new project from Alli and Carlo Manzella, called “The Nitty Gritty Guide – Our Guide To The Good Life“.

The Nitty Gritty Guide

The Nitty Gritty Guide

An excerpt from their site states: “We are a growing number of individuals from various different backgrounds who have come together to share and learn time honored skills, traditional art forms and revive the knowledge that kept our ancestors alive and thriving without the dependency on modern conveniences, imports, petroleum based products, the commercial agricultural system and conventional food.”

These two are interviewing people who are doing work in the areas mentioned above within their local community, in order to spread the word and educate folks about what they’re doing.

Check out their latest interviews here!


Gift Economy vs. Gift ECOLOGY

I’ve been exploring the idea of alternative economies recently, and realized that something kept causing friction in me when it came to discussing the idea of a “gift economy”.

I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew it had something to do with the idea that a gift economy didn’t seem to be capable of reconciling our evolving, flowing, ebbing needs and gifts.

I know that there are many forms of capital and many forms of alternative economies, but when it came to trying to determine the logistics of how a gift economy would actually provide for everyone, I kept finding myself with an inherent desire to keep some kind of balance sheet to prove its worth and efficacy.

It seemed to me that I must be missing something, or that maybe my intellect was “getting in its own way”, until I came across this article.

From Sharing Economy To Gift Ecology

I think that my cognitive dissonance was being caused by the difference in the actual nature, or definition of, “economy”, and how I and a lot of other people define it or see it operating as a Transactional system.

I personally think of a transactional system as one that inherently maintains a series of checks and balances, in order to meet certain needs. But I think that true Gifting doesn’t keep track. And it is actually unconcerned with meeting needs or numbers. It is an act of selflessness, and nothing more, whether it is received in that spirit, or not. There is no expectation.

In nature, everything provides for everything else, just by being what it is. The outputs of one become the inputs of the other and so on. There are no blance sheets. It is a perfect, almost effortless ecology.

And so, looking at it as a “Gift ECOLOGY”, rather than economy, fixed everything for me by viewing it as a web of relationships, rather than transactions, therefore shifting the actual nature and function of it in my mind.
“Economy reduces value into a few focused dimensions, whereas ecology implies a more intricate interplay of relationships that generate diversified — sometimes immeasurable — value.”

I actually saw a video with a member of the organization publishing this article, and he mentioned how, after Hurricane Katrina, the only things left standing were not houses or building, etc., but old oak trees. This was because they had deep, deep roots, that also intertangled with the deep roots of other oaks, sometimes forming chains as long as a hundred miles. He saw this is an example of a Gift Ecology, where the relationships between the trees created immeasurable value, while asking for nothing in return.

I think that this is really what people long for- a sense of deep, rooted connection, coupled with the meeting of needs, and so I would love to see the idea of a “Gift Ecology” take off and eventually make the word “economy” obsolete.


Cutural Capital and Other Forms of Exchange

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the different forms of exchange available in the world.

There’s been a lot of noise about Bitcoin in the past year, and the weather is also getting warmer, which finds me at more swap meets, flea markets, etc. where I tend to barter.

But what has really been nagging at me is all the fuss that is always being generated from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I started to think about all this fuss as capital.

It seems that a whole lot of people want it, which puts it into the realm of commodity, and any business who has ever looked to promote themselves knows that “buzz” is a form of exchange that converts into financial capital. Hell, Google’s building an empire based on Search Results, a form of this kind of capital. I am personally beginning to think that we could eradicate the national deficit if we were to tax all of the invisible, freely-given capital that we give to Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. every day in the form of marketable demographic data and intelligence. But I digress.

What has been the most revealing to me, is how individuals are valuing their Facebook “share”. No, not the “Share” button, but actual share, as in, their slice of the Popularity Pie. People are crazy about this shit. Facebook “Likes”, have become a commodity, as people’s self-worth becomes attached to them. This has been steadily growing to the point that it is a widely accepted practice, and I recognize it as another form of social and cultural capital.

A friend recently forwarded the following link to a list I’m on, which started to take the conversation even deeper.

Scientists link selfies to Narcissism, Addiction & Mental illness

As I read, the following sentence jumped out at me:
“The more likes we get on social media sites the happier we feel. Is this sustainable?

Hmmm.
I realized that this concept goes back to another conversation I’ve been having in the general permaculture community, regarding economic permaculture initiatives.

If the structure or framework that we are working within is unsustainable (the global economy, perhaps capitalism, depends on your views) , then perhaps continuously trying to implement sustainable initiatives within a larger, unsustainable context is not the way to go. That’s like using “holistic” medicine for lung cancer, but still smoking…

I think it’s the same here, but it is within a cultural framework, rather than economic. Our general culture is unsustainable, hands down. It does not sustain or regenerate our emotional/spiritual/mental/physical/generational health. It has largely become saddled to the idea of profit/gain/resource hoarding. The hoarding of resources can include social “capital”, too (Facebook Friends, Likes, etc.).

It has been my understanding that MANY things can abstractly be considered social capital, or commodities. For example, just as Facebook friends can be thought of as a resource for the ego, gossip can also be considered a form of capital when it is exchanged between people and they receive some social/emotional benefit from it (profit).

The idea of being an “expert” or “know-it-all” in social circles, can also be a form of attempting to hoard or exude authority, which in turn, affects people’s social interactions and is a form of control (profit for the ego). Both of these require more and more information, and at some point it becomes unsustainable. It’s not a loop unless you’re going to gossip about yourself, which I’m betting won’t work very long. ;)

So, the way I see it, since our culture nurtures these behaviors through emphasis on media, ego, disconnection and polarization of views/”other-ness”, and rewards us for doing these things in the short term, we are left with what I think is the greatest re-skilling challenge of all: understanding, using, and developing tools of SELF, and also in/with our families/tribes/communities, to navigate the current culture and transform it into a sustainable/regenerative framework that promotes our health and well-being.

If we remove the need or pressure to stroke ourselves so much, then selfies will just feel pointless.

To me, it seems that it always goes back to Culture in the end. It’s the framework we all are trying to live within, since no man (or woman) is an island.

As if by fate, a few days later the following article tumbled into my Inbox and added another layer to the conversation.

8 Forms of Capital – Ethan Roland, Peak Prosperity Podcast

The section concerning cultural capital in regards to New Orleans and Japan during recent disasters is especially relevant to the discussion. I’ve often observed how Americans will pull together immediately after a disaster (Hurricane Sandy), and when there is a general time frame where things are expected to return to normal (Boston Marathon). However, when the effects of a disaster perpetuate indefinitely (poverty), or there is no help on the way (umm… poverty?), they are more apt to cannibalize each other in some form. It seems directly tied to the idea that we are living in a scarcity model, rather than an abundance model or something else, and I view this as cultural (the idea of “bigger, better, more”, “keeping up with the Jones’”, etc.).

How do we assess our cultural capital as a nation, a globally spreading cultural influence, a planet…?

How do we tie that capital to other forms of currency so that we are receiving regenerative returns in other areas and demonstrating a regenerative abundance model? (emotional, spiritual, social, etc.)


Lessons from Hurricane Sandy: infrastructure and resilience

I’ve been thinking a bit about this whole hurricane thing, and as is often the case, it has turned to more permaculture-related thoughts.

When my grandfather was a boy, he had a little kerosene lamp to light his way to bed every night. You see, they didn’t have electricity yet. During Hurricane Sandy, my mother used this very same lamp to read by and navigate through a darkened house.
I find it amazing that in around just one generation’s time, we’ve gone from having no electricity, to being so UTTERLY dependent upon it.

I recognize that this is largely due to the fact that electricity has been built into our infrastructure. Generally, we don’t put wood-burning stoves in new homes or apartment buildings. We think of fire as a potential hazard, even if we cherish the warmth of a fireplace enough to make electric versions of them.

All of this brings me back to my grandfather. In his childhood, they had a lot less “infrastructure”, but stronger social relationships. I’ve had a lot of discussions about alternative infrastructure, how to strengthen it, getting off the grid “in order to be self-sufficient”, etc.
But none of those are really the same as talking about the idea of infrastructure ITSELF as being a crutch or a potential obstacle to resilience.

Back in the day, my grandfather’s community, in a town next to where I still live, had a very important discussion. These people were very hard-working folks who believed very much in the church as center of community, and in helping your fellow person out. These people also invented the very first insurance company in the U.S., and the idea of “insurance”, and this was almost a scandal inside the church.

Why? Because they recognized that it had the potential to “relieve” folks of the moral responsibility of helping their fellow community members, since insurance would step in and do what had traditionally been done by people: re-build houses after a fire, loan resources, etc. In the end, it was decided that they would only make “insurance” available to “heathens outside of the church”, in order to not make their own people complacent and apathetic. Obviously, the idea grew past those boundaries, and we now have a nationwide epidemic of insurance fraud and a litigious court system. Our good natures are now actually HAMPERED by insurance liability in many cases. Which is exactly the kind of thing that they were worried about. Oops.

My point is this: is infrastructure that is not based in social relationships, but rather, in contracts, actually an impediment to resilience, both physically and morally?


Food Co-ops Toolkit

A simple guide to setting up food co-ops. :)

http://www.sustainweb.org/foodcoopstoolkit/


Support 'Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act' to help decentralize food system

http://www.naturalnews.com/035214_local_food_farms_jobs.html#ixzz1op3dOqMu

Sunday, March 11, 2012 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Federal food policies that distribute billions of taxpayer dollars every year to subsidize the growth of commodity crops like genetically-modified (GM) corn and soy are largely responsible for the dismal state of food quality and health in our nation today. But Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.) have introduced a new bill known as the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act that would help decentralize the food system and promote diversified, small-scale farming operations capable of meeting the growing demand for clean, fresh, local foods.

At least $12 billion a year is currently allocated to subsidize industrial-scale agriculture systems like pesticide-ridden GM crop mega-farms, and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that hold tens of thousands of animals in filth. Meanwhile, only about $100 million a year is allocated to support local food programs that grow and distribute fresh, clean food.

But all this can change with the passage of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which will provision more money from the Farm Bill for small-scale, organic farmers, and help bring more clean, local food into public school lunchrooms. And since hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill, which will establish federal food policy for the next five years, are already taking place, now is the time to contact your congressmen and urge support for the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act.

"American consumers want access to healthy, fresh foods and farmers should be able to sell it to them," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.) about the bill. "Local and regional food systems help the communities where farmers and consumers live growing the economy and creating jobs while improving public health and nutrition."

You can read the entire Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act by visiting:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:S.1773:

Investing in local food systems will help reverse the obesity, chronic disease epidemic in America
Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are among the top chronic conditions that afflict millions of Americans today, many of whom consume a steady diet of corn- and soy-laden processed foods that are artificially inexpensive because of federal food subsidies. And while more and more people are learning the truth about processed foods and seeking out healthy alternatives, federal policies make it difficult for small-scale farmers to earn a living and provide healthy food for their communities.

“For too long, funding provided by the United States’ most far-reaching food and farm legislation has primarily benefited agri-business and large scale industrial-scale commodity farms that aren’t growing food,” writes Kari Hamerschlag on the EWG blog. “Instead, they’re growing ingredients for animal feed, fuel and highly processed food — at a high cost to our nation’s health, environment and rural communities.”

The federal government has no place interfering in agriculture in the first place, but if it is going to redistribute taxpayers’ money into the food system, it needs to promote the systems that lead to improved nutrition and better health — small-scale, diversified farms.

To learn more, visit:
http://www.ewg.org/local-farms-food-and-jobs-act

To contact your congressmen and urge support for the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, visit:
http://action.ewg.org

Sources for this article include:

http://www.ewg.org/local-farms-food-and-jobs-act

http://www.ewg.org

http://www.farmbillfacts.org/agenda-2012/farm-bill-timeline


Holistic Management International – Free Resources to Help You Grow

This is a great website with some good free downloads.
Check it.

http://holisticmanagement.org/free-downloads/

HMI is proud to offer a series of packages for our practitioners, students, and supporters. We offer four free download packages: Introduction to Holistic Management, Holistic Financial Planning, Holistic Grazing Planning, and Kids on the Land. Each download packet comes with a Readme inventory file that details the contents and applications of each document. Details on each packet are provided below.

1. Introduction to Holistic Management: This package contains our 130 page Introduction to Holistic Management Manual, a special edition of HMI’s bi-monthly newsletter In Practice, the case study publication A New Environmental Intelligence, a full-sized full color version of the Holistic Management decision model, and a pocket-sized version of the Holistic Management decision model.

2. Holistic Financial Planning: This package contains our 59 page Holistic Financial Planning Manual, a financial planning worksheet, a large-sized annual income and expense worksheet, and a financial monitoring control sheet.

3. Holistic Grazing Planning: This package contains our Holistic Management Grazing Planning Manual, an electronic version of the holistic grazing planning worksheet, a livestock production worksheet, and the Holistic Weed Management worksheet.

4. Kids on the Land: This package includes our 8 page Guide to Starting Kids on the Land and six separate how-to manuals for conducting a Kids on the Land programs. These six manuals are designed by grade-level. The first begins with Kindergarten and they progress sequentially to Grade 5.


A Municipal Bank In San Francisco? City Explores Revolutionary New Model

From:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/municipal-bank-san-francisco_n_1074600.html

San Francisco Municipal Bank

First Posted: 11/ 4/11 04:45 PM ET Updated: 11/ 7/11 02:17 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO — On a typically foggy San Francisco morning, a few hundred protesters stood on the sidewalk in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of California’s Market Street location in an effort to bring the wheels of high-finance capitalism to a grinding halt.

At their front, liberal city supervisor and mayoral hopeful John Avalos stepped up to the makeshift podium, a beat-up red megaphone pressed to his salt-and-pepper beard, to give one of the trademark rabble-rousing stem-winders that have earned him his status as the de facto progressive candidate in this month’s contest.

If Avalos knows one thing, it’s how to work a sympathetic crowd. Ringing up one applause line after another, the candidate hammered easy targets like the Wall Street bailout and tax cuts for the wealthy.

But one line in particular stood out. “San Francisco needs to look into starting its own municipal bank,” he said. “We need to stop doing banking with the very people who wrecked the economy.”

The assembled crowd, a motley assortment of union workers, mask-wearing anarchists and everyday people feeling trapped by high unemployment and a dour economy, erupted in a rapturous roar of support.

For the creation of a local government commission.

To study an obscure form of banking.

That a politician could so easily get an angry mob to instantly rally around an idea so inherently complicated is indicative of either his oratorical skill or the timeliness of the idea, or both.

As a rallying cry, “off with their heads” it’s not; but a municipal bank may be just the thing to kick-start San Francisco’s economy out of the doldrums. Or it could become a black hole sucking millions of dollars from the budget at a time when the city can least afford it.

The idea of creating a local municipal bank has been around for a long time. It was a demand of the 1975 San Francisco Community Congress, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors commissioned a Legislative Analyst Report at the bequest of supervisor Matt Gonzalez on the issue in 2001.

Only two totally government-owned banks exist in the United States, neither of which are under the jurisdiction of an individual city. Around the world, a handful of cities (Berlin and Jakarta, for example) have been …

Read entire article…


How To Start A Food Co-Op or Cooperative Business

Added to the Community – Social, Economic, Urban Planning, etc. section:

“How To Start A Food Co-Op”  – From the Cooperative Grocer’s Network (2010)
“How To Start A Cooperative” – From the USDA Office of Rural Development, a guide that outlines the process of organizing and financing a cooperative business. (1996)


The Occupied Wall Street Journal

http://occupiedmedia.org/

The Occupied Wall Street Journal

"This might be the one protest where, if asked why you were there, you could reply, 'Are you fucking kidding me?' and that would actually be understood."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-wellington-ennis/occupy-wall-street_b_997423.html
The Endgame of Occupy Wall Street Is Critical Mass
Posted: 10/6/11 09:37 AM ET

What is surprisingly unique about the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, and supporting actions across the country, is the broad immediate support without an immediately stated objective. With so little coverage and a yet unspecified goal, major unions lent their support, supportive occupations cropped up nationwide, and the numbers in Liberty Park are growing despite NYPD crackdowns.

Unlike anti-war marches, Tea Party gatherings, or other well-worn modes of protest, the notion of an in-person response to Wall Street’s unchecked looting of the economy apparently did not need much explaining. That is because many Americans have been living with painful awareness that their hardships in recent years are related in a myriad of ways to reckless trading, predatory loans, and manifold illegal banking practices, all perpetrated by the same executives still receiving multi-million dollar bonuses whose guilt is trumped by the notion that their companies are Too Big To Fail.

None of these many abuses by financial institutions collectively referred to as Wall Street are new information. It’s not like people just flooded the streets upon hearing that Bank of America is trying to tack on another surcharge, just after laying off over 30,000 employees, just after widespread manipulation of their loan business was deemed not criminal, by their own accord. (No, that move by B of A was just easy pickings for Democrats trying to remember their purpose.)

It’s not like Americans did not wait while the federal government negotiated good-faith interest-free loans to keep huge banks and firms afloat, at the price to taxpayers, many of whom were struggling to stay afloat themselves under variable interest or inflated mortgages foisted upon them by said financial giants. It’s not like financial regulations weren’t proposed to Congress, with larger reforms left by the wayside, and in the final decision by the Federal Reserve on the Durbin Amendment of the Dodd-Frank Finanical Act, credit card companies somehow get to charge more for debit swipes than they had even hoped. Bank lobbyists paid off, in more than one sense.

And, it’s not like President Obama hasn’t trotted out some fine rhetoric of late, angling the ongoing Republican obstructionism to fuel his re-election campaign as it gears up. Yes, it’s math, not class warfare. But, if this were a metaphor of head to head competition between classes — namely, the top 1% Super Rich that owns 40% of the wealth versus the 99% rest of Americans — then Obama would be like a goalie, constantly swarmed by the offensive John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, Darrell Issa, bank lobbyists, and Goldman Sachs alumni in his own ranks. The Super Rich Team will continue to score point after point on Obama, because despite his considerable skill set, it’s like he’s playing at the company picnic, and really, you just don’t make your bosses look bad when they underwrite your existence.

Obama is looking for $1 billion to fund his re-election campaign. That may seem extraordinary, but after the disastrous Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs. FEC, it is a given that there will be even more spent against him in anonymous corporate money. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS have announced plans to raise and spend record amounts, over $300 million in outside ads running across the country in the 2012 races.

Obama is not going to get one billion dollars from $5 donations, no matter how many email blasts. Obama and his team have been currying favor like a schoolboy with Wall Street throughout this administration because they are waiting for the pay-off in their campaign coffers. The slap on the wrist following the financial meltdown was more drying their hands like a bathroom attendant so they can get back to work making important deals without consequence.

While the financial meltdown and ensuing bailouts came before Obama, the lack of reform or accountability does not win him any gratitude from either side, it only serves as precedent that selling bundled crap mortgages to old people goes unpunished. In fact, it is richly rewarded. Obama’s deference and endless capital to the banking industry has long made it clear where his priorities are. His jobs plan is well-intentioned, but probably a drop in the bucket and a few years late. For all the bitter clamor over health care reform, it’s quite likely that it will be deemed impermissible by the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas can’t wait to sit silently through the arguments before he punts our healthcare system back to the wolves that employ his wife, Ginni.

As the crowds grow, this will become Obama’s next oil spill. How long will he let Occupy Wall Street go on before addressing it as more than just a policy point to support his agenda? Many loyalists will defend the intentions and constraints on Obama, but this much is painfully clear: The President must act now. Because if he does not get in front of this parade, it’s about to surpass him.

If Obama really does aspire to be like President Lincoln, then he must recognize that his country is rent apart and it requires a true leader to keep our union from collapsing under debt and looted public services.

Because when people show up at the gates of their oppressor, the response is not: “What do you want? Can you bullet-point it for me?” You know what this is about. Our country has been decimated over the past three years, with continual revelations of financial impropriety, concerted fraud, and executive compensation the amount of a small nation’s GDP. This might be the one protest where, if asked why you were there, you could reply, “Are you fucking kidding me?” and that would actually be understood.

To dispel media misconceptions, here’s what Occupy Wall Street is not: it’s not another Tea Party, a corporate PAC-backed stab at populism consisting of right wing extremists. It’s not just young people in attendance, even though younger generations have more to lose anyway, and many are already crippled with student debt and no job possibilities. (Admittedly, younger people are better suited to sleep in inconvenient places and be fine with that. The kids call this “crashing,” which should not be interpreted as a roughhousing sort of thing.)

Occupy Wall Street is not anti-capitalism. We don’t live in capitalism. Capitalism is supposed to be merit based and left to the market — consumers — to decide where innovation and service is found. What has been foisted on us again and again is not a fair and open market. Massive companies spend huge sums to avoid paying taxes altogether. They then spend money to back politicians that will be friendly to them, in terms of regulations and tax breaks or pressure on rivals. This is a system of massive corporate welfare, where the biggest corporations pay the least to the country that allows them to prosper, while they spend their excess money in hopes of making more money through lower taxes, government jobs, or loosened environmental restrictions. Election cycles ensure ongoing opportunities for candidates to be wooed with money or threatened with ads. The more they spend on the race, the more indebted candidates become to their backers. Those that become elected repay their backers with loose oversight, no-bid contracts, and even accept their donors’ legislation pre-written. We don’t live in capitalism — that’s favoritism.

And most importantly, Occupy Wall Street is not one political party or part of a spectrum. This grassroots movement is fundamentally removed from both parties, because both parties accept vast fortunes from Wall Street to not rain on their parade. The reason abuses have thrived is because of the cost of running for office. Most people’s political persuasion or identity is based on their own sense of what’s just and fair. The nuance of foreign policy or civil liberties is lost when people are losing their homes due to manipulative mortgages from banks that have faced no discipline or reform and have been given federal money to loan to people which they still sit on.

Yet, it will take a political solution to retake our country from the Gollum of Wall Street. There’s no way any of these banks or brokers will willingly accept reform measures, even after taking trillions of taxpayer money following their own colossal fuck-ups. Wall Street execs thrive on extracting more and more profit per sale, and get off on boardroom backstabbing. Do you expect them to respond to people of all types camped outside their offices politely? The only thing they care about is if the market goes down.

Real financial overhaul will only happen if we reclaim our elections. We need real campaign reform, and we need to elect the people who will enact it. We do that through running and winning in primaries, where the party’s pick usually prevails with the most money. We innovate low budget campaign strategies to support candidates not backed by Political Action Committees, fronts for corporate money. We do it through becoming the media and covering these candidates where we live and across the country. And it starts in the streets. Where else is there but the streets?

America was born in the streets. Our first president was sworn in on the steps of Wall Street, where Congress convened for years. The framer’s dream of escaping monarchy is being eclipsed by the wealthiest 1% and their insatiable assault on anything the government provides to the public.

How can we not occupy Wall Street? Wall Street occupies US.


Sacred Economics

holymoneybig.jpg 

This week, with some of the RS team off the grid at the annual Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nevada, we’ll be presenting highlights from the archives. The following article first ran on Reality Sandwich on February 22, 2010, and is a adapted from the introduction to the upcoming book Sacred Economics. The purpose of the book is to make money and human economy as sacred as everything else in the universe.  

Today we associate money with the profane, and for good reason. If anything is sacred in this world, it is surely not money. Money seems to be the enemy of all our better instincts, as is clear every time the thought “I can’t afford to” blocks an impulse toward kindness or generosity. Money seems to be the enemy of beauty, as the disparaging term “a sellout” demonstrates. Money seems to be the enemy of every worthy social and political reform, as corporate power steers legislation toward the aggrandizement of its own profits. Money seems to be destroying the earth, as we pillage the oceans, the forests, the soil, and every species to feed a greed that knows no end.

From at least the time that Jesus threw the moneychangers from the temple, we have sensed that there is something unholy about money. When a politician seeks money instead of the public good, we call him corrupt. Adjectives like “dirty” and “filthy” naturally describe money.  Monks are supposed to have little to do with it: “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

At the same time, no one can deny that money has a mysterious, magical quality as well, the power to alter human behavior and coordinate human activity. From ancient times thinkers have marveled at the ability of a mere mark to confer this power upon a disk of metal or slip of paper. Unfortunately, looking at the world around us, it is hard to avoid concluding that the magic of money is an evil magic.

Obviously, if we are to make money into something sacred, nothing less than a wholesale revolution in money will suffice, a transformation of its essential nature. It is not merely our attitudes about money that must change, as some self-help gurus and “prosperity programming” teachers would have us believe; rather, we will create a new kind of money that embodies and reinforces our changed attitudes. Sacred Economics describes this new money and the new economy that will coalesce around it. It also explores the metamorphosis in human identity that is both a cause and a result of the transformation of money. The changed attitudes of which I speak go all the way to the core of what it is to be human: they include our understanding of the purpose of life, humanity’s role on the planet, the relationship of the individual to the human and natural community; even what it is to be an individual, a self. This should not be surprising, since we experience money (and property) as an extension of our selves; hence the possessive pronoun “mine” to describe it, the same pronoun we use to identify our arms and heads. My money, my car, my hand, my liver. Consider as well the sense of violation we feel when we are robbed or “ripped off,” as if part of our very selves had been taken.

A transformation from profanity to sacredness in money, something so deep a part of our identity, something so central to the workings of the world, would have profound effects indeed. But what does it mean for money, or anything else for that matter, to be sacred? It is in a crucial sense the opposite of what sacred has come to mean. For several thousand years, increasingly, the concepts of sacred, holy, and divine have referred to something separate from nature, the world, and the flesh. Three or four thousand years ago the gods began a migration from the lakes, forests, rivers, and mountains into the sky, becoming the imperial overlords of nature rather than its essence. As divinity separated from nature, so also it became unholy to involve oneself too deeply in the affairs of the world. The human being changed from a living soul to a mere receptacle of spirit, a profane envelope for a sacred soul, culminating in the Cartesian mote of consciousness observing the world but not participating in it, and the Newtonian watchmaker God doing the same. To be divine was to be supernatural, non-material. If God participated in the world at all, it was through miracles — divine intercessions violating or superseding nature’s laws.

Yet, paradoxically, this separate, abstract thing called spirit is supposed to be what animates the world. Ask the religious person what has changed when a person dies, and she will say the soul has left the body. Ask her who makes the rain fall and the wind blow, and she will say it is God. To be sure, Galileo and Newton appeared to have removed God from these everyday workings of the world, explaining it instead as the clockwork of a vast machine of impersonal force and mass, but even they still needed the Clockmaker to wind it up in the beginning, to imbue the universe with the potential energy that has run it ever since. This conception is still with us today as the Big Bang, a primordial event that is the source of the “negative entropy” that allows movement and life. In any case, our culture’s notion of spirit is that of something separate and non-worldly, that yet can miraculously intervene in material affairs, and that even animates and directs them in some mysterious way.

It is hugely ironic and hugely significant that the one thing on the planet most closely resembling the forgoing conception of the divine is money! It is an invisible, immortal force that surrounds and steers all things, omnipotent and limitless, an “invisible hand” that, it is said, makes the world go ’round. Yet, money today is an abstraction, at most symbols on a piece of paper, but usually mere bits in a computer. It exists in a realm far removed from materiality. In that realm, it is exempt from nature’s most important laws, for it does not decay and return to the soil as all other things do, but is rather preserved, changeless, in its vaults and computer files, even growing with time thanks to interest. It bears the properties of eternal preservation and everlasting increase, both of which are profoundly unnatural. The natural substance that comes closest to these properties is gold, which does not rust, tarnish, or decay. Early on, gold was therefore used both as money and as a metaphor for the divine soul, that which is incorruptible and changeless.

Money’s divine property of abstraction, of disconnection from the real world of things, reached its extreme in the early years of the 21st century as the financial economy lost its mooring in the real economy and took on a life of its own. The vast fortunes of Wall Street were unconnected to any material production, seeming to exist in a separate realm.

Looking down from Olympian heights, the financiers called themselves “masters of the universe,” channeling the power of the god they served to bring fortune or ruin upon the masses, to literally move mountains, raze forests, change the course of rivers, cause the rise and fall of nations. But money soon proved to be a capricious god. As I write these words, it seems that the increasingly frantic rituals that the financial priesthood uses to placate the god money are in vain. Like the clergy of a dying religion, they exhort their followers to greater sacrifices while blaming their misfortunes either on sin (greedy bankers, irresponsible consumers) or on the mysterious whims of God (the financial markets). Soon, perhaps, we will blame the priests themselves.

What we call deflation, an earlier culture might have called, “God abandoning the world.” Money is disappearing, and with it a third property of spirit, the animating force of the human realm. At this writing, all over the world machines stand idle. Factories have ground to a halt, construction equipment sits derelict in the yard. Yet all the human and material inputs to operate them still exist. There is still fuel, there are still raw materials, and there are still human beings in abundance who know how to operate the machines. It is rather something immaterial, that animating spirit, which has fled. What has fled is money. That is the only thing missing, so insubstantial (in the form of electrons in computers) that it can hardly be said to exist at all, yet so powerful that without it, human productivity grinds to a halt. It is as if God had forsaken the world. Even beyond the mechanical realm, we can see the demotivating effects of lack of money. Consider the stereotype of the unemployed man, nearly broke, slouched in front of the TV in his undershirt, drinking a beer, hardly able to rise from his chair. Money, it seems, animates people as well as machines. Without it we are dispirited.

We do not realize that our concept of the divine has attracted to it a god that fits that concept, and given it sovereignty over the earth. By divorcing the soul from the flesh, spirit from matter, and God from nature, we have installed a ruling power that is soulless, alienating, ungodly and unnatural. So when I speak of making money sacred, I am not invoking a supernatural agency to infuse sacredness into the inert, mundane objects of nature. I am rather reaching back to an earlier time, a time before the divorce of matter and spirit, when sacredness was endemic to all things.

My understanding of sacredness is secondary to my feeling of sacredness, or to put it better, to the feeling of being in the presence of the sacred. I cannot define that feeling, nor need I define it, because I am sure that you have felt it as well. In the presence of the sacred, we are moved to the very core of our being, we feel reverence and awe, humility and amazement, and a profound sense of gratitude. Even though, intellectually, I know that I am in the presence of the sacred all the time, only rarely do I actually feel its fullness. When I do, I feel like I have returned to a home that was always there and to a truth that has always existed. It can happen when I observe an insect or a plant, hear a symphony of birdsongs or frog calls, feel mud between my toes, gaze upon an object beautifully made, apprehend the impossibly coordinated complexity of a cell or an ecosystem, witness a synchronicity or symbol in my life, watch happy children at play, am touched by a work of genius. Extraordinary though these experiences are, they are in no sense separate from the rest of life. Indeed, their power comes from the glimpse they give of a realer world, a sacred world that underlies and interpenetrates our own.

What is this “home that was always there, this truth that has always existed”? It is the truth of the unity or the connectedness of all things, and the feeling is that of participating in something far greater than oneself, yet which also is oneself. In ecology, this is the principle of interdependence: that all beings depend for their survival on the web of other beings that surrounds them, ultimately extending out to encompass the entire planet. The extinction of any species diminishes our own wholeness, our own health, our own selves: something of our very being is lost. We can feel this sense of loss directly, as an emotion, as well as indirectly through the multiplying health crises of our time. This book will draw from ecology to help describe a sacred economy. For example, in the planetary ecosystem there is no such thing as waste: the waste of one creature is the food of another, creating a sacred gift circle. For an economy to be sacred, it must be the same.

If the sacred is the gateway to the underlying unity of all things, it is equally a gateway to the uniqueness and specialness of each thing. A sacred object is one-of-a-kind; it carries a unique essence that cannot be reduced to a set of generic qualities. That is why reductionistic science seems to rob the world of its sacredness, since everything becomes one or another combination of a handful of generic building blocks. This conception mirrors our economic system, itself consisting mainly of standardized, generic commodities, job descriptions, processes, data, inputs and outputs and, most generic of all, money, the ultimate abstraction. In earlier times it was not so. Tribal peoples saw each being not primarily as a member of a category, but as a unique enspirited individual. Even rocks, clouds, and apparently identical drops of water were thought to be sentient, unique beings. The products of the human hand were unique as well, bearing through their distinguishing irregularities the signature of the maker. Here was the link between the two qualities of the sacred, connectedness and uniqueness: in their uniqueness, objects retain the mark of their origin, their place in the great matrix of being, their dependency on the rest of creation for their existence.

In this book I will describe a vision of a money system and an economy that is sacred. In other words, I will describe an economy that is no longer separate, in fact or in perception, from the natural matrix that underlies it. I will describe a reunion of the long-sundered realms of human and nature. The human economy will no longer be something separate from nature; it will be an extension of nature that obeys all of its laws and bears all of its beauty, wholeness, and enchantment.

Within every institution of our civilization, no matter how ugly or corrupt, there is the germ of something beautiful: the same note at a higher octave. Money is no exception: its original purpose is simply to connect human gifts with human needs, so that we might all live in greater abundance. How instead money has come to generate scarcity rather than abundance, competition rather than sharing, is one of the threads of this book. Yet despite what it has become, in that original beauty of money we can catch a glimpse of what will one day make it sacred again. We intuitively recognize the exchange of gifts as a sacred occasion, which is why we instinctively make a ceremony out of gift-giving. Sacred money, then, will be a medium of gifting, a means to recreate the gift economy of a hunter-gatherer or village society on a planetary level. A sacred economy will be an economy of the Gift.

Sacred Economics describes this future and also maps out a practical way to get there. Long ago I grew tired of reading books that criticized some aspect of our society without offering a positive alternative. Then, I grew tired of books that offered a positive alternative that seemed impossible to reach: “We must reduce carbon emissions by 90%.” Then I grew tired of books that offered a plausible means of reaching it, that did not describe what I, personally, could do to create it. Sacred Economics operates on all four levels: it offers a fundamental analysis of what has gone wrong with money; it describes a more beautiful world based on a different kind of money and economy; it explains the collective actions necessary to create that world and the means by which these actions can come about; and it explores the personal dimensions of the world-transformation, the change in identity and being that I call  “living in the Gift.”

The economic crisis we face today is just one of many crises that are converging upon us all at once: crises in energy, education, health, water, soil, climate, politics, and the environment. My previous book, The Ascent of Humanity, traced the origin of each to a common root, millennia old, that I call Separation. Their convergence is a birth crisis, in which we are expelled from the old world into the new. Unavoidably, these crises invade our personal lives, our world falls apart, and we too are born into a new world, a new identity. This is why so many people sense a spiritual dimension to the planetary crisis.

I dedicate all of my work to the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible. I say our “hearts”, because our minds tell us it is not possible. Our minds doubt that things will ever be much different than experience has taught us. You may, as you read the forgoing encomium to a sacred economy, have felt a wave of cynicism, contempt, or despair. You might have felt an urge to dismiss my words as hopelessly idealistic. Indeed, I myself was tempted to tone down my description, to make it more plausible, more responsible, more in line with our low expectations for what life and the world can be. But such an attenuation would not have been the truth. I will, using the tools of the mind, speak what is in my heart. In my heart I know that an economy and society this beautiful is possible for us to create, and indeed, that anything less than that is unworthy of us. Are we so broken, that we would aspire to anything less than a sacred world?

 

Image by brionv, courtesy of Creative Commons license.