The Real Wealth of Nations

Eisler, Riane. The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2007. 318 pp.
 
Economics—a word that strikes fear in the hearts of some, confusion in the minds of many, and concern in the souls of most worldwide today. In The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, Riane Eisler calms our fears and demystifies our confusion, while demonstrating how dominator economics have cost us and how partnership economics can help us cultivate the real wealth of our nations—our people.
 
During the over 20 years since she first published her international bestseller (now in 23 languages) The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future (1987), Riane Eisler has applied her cultural transformation theory to a range of social questions:
  • to sex, spirituality, and the body in Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body (1996);
  • to education in Tomorrow's Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century (2000) and Educating for a Culture of Peace (2004);
  • to daily life in The Power of Partnership: Seven Relationships that will Change Your Life (2002).
As Eisler has focused her dominator-partnership lens on a different aspect of our society in each book, she has used her interdisciplinary, social systems perspectives to help us understand the dominator systems we have created so far and to offer a road map for creating partnership systems.
 
In her latest book, Eisler focuses her dominator-partnership lens on economics as a social system. Her comprehensive analysis offers a big-picture perspective that is often missing from economic discussions as she lays bare the flawed fundamental assumptions of our current dominator economic systems and reveals ways that partnership economic systems might help us create the world we long to inhabit.
 
Although most of us have learned to think about economics as a battle between capitalism and socialism, Eisler demonstrates how neither the capitalist free market (envisioned by Adam Smith) nor the scientific socialism (envisioned by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) could be realized due to their shared inheritance of dominator beliefs, structures, and habits. Smith's capitalism assumed that competition would counter self-interest, but the evidence of ruthless business leaders historically and today belies that erroneous assumption.
 
Eisler also reveals core fallacies of capitalism as a dominator economic model. For example, what we value is determined by supply and demand; scarce goods and services are more valued than abundant ones. However, this ignores the fact "that current economic policies and practices often artificially create scarcities" and that so-called "demand is largely determined by cultural beliefs about what is and is not valuable." (p. 16)
Similarly, Marx and Engels’ vision of an egalitarian socialist economic system could not manifest in the midst of dominator values that emphasize hierarchical control. According to Eisler, what is missing is that neither capitalist nor socialist theory recognized "that a healthy economy and society require an economic system that supports optimal human development" and adds that "the ultimate goal of economic policy should not be the level of monetary income per person, but developing the human capabilities of each person." (p.148)
Eisler proposes a new "partnerism" economic model to replace both capitalism and socialism—one that recognizes "the essential economic value of caring for ourselves, others, and nature” (p. 22). She explains that developing partnerism will require fundamental changes in our economic measurements, institutions, and rules and outlines seven steps toward creating this new “caring economics”:
  1. Recognize how the cultural devaluation of caring and caregiving has negatively affected economic theories, policies, and practices.
  2. Support the shift from dominator to partnership cultural values and economic and social structures.
  3. Change economic indicators to assign value to caring and caregiving.
  4. Create economic inventions that support and reward caring and caregiving.
  5. Expand the economic vocabulary to include caring, teach caring economics in business and economics schools, and conduct gender-specific economic research.
  6. Educate children and adults about the importance of caring and caregiving.
  7. Show government and business leaders the benefits of policies that support caring and caregiving. (p. 43)
Eisler also offers examples of how caring economic policies make good business sense. One such example is The SAS Institute, the world's largest privately held software company whose corporate headquarters feature the largest on-site daycare center in North Carolina, a swimming pool, track, medical facilities, counseling services, and a host of other employee benefits such as a 7-hour day, unlimited sick days, employer-paid health insurance for families and domestic partners. However, SAS is also living proof of how caring economic policies quite literally pay since the company has experienced "nearly twenty consecutive years of double-digit growth." (p. 47).
The book is rich with such vivid examples of both the costs of dominator economic systems and the benefits of partnership systems. Eisler's vision further clarifies the importance of the work of others concerned with global development and economic sustainability such as Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown. Eisler demonstrates how dominator economics are unsustainable and how partnership economics contribute to sustainability.
In the end, Eisler's social systems perspective engages readers as active partners in redefining economic power from domination and disempowerment to partnership, nurturance and empowerment. Our dominator economic systems are clearly ailing. Eisler's Real Wealth of Nations serves like an organ transplant to revitalize the suffering patient, replacing the twisted mind of our dominator economic systems with the beating heart of care-based partnership systems.
-----May 2009
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