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Book Review of The Real Wealth of Nations

an article by David Adams

The new book by Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations, is an important contribution to a culture of peace. Eisler is best known for her earlier book The Chalice and the Blade, which is more explicit about cultures associated with war and peace. She also has previously published a book entitled Educating for a Culture of Peace. The new book, however, does not explicitly deal with culture of war or culture of peace.

Eisler contributes by promoting a "new economics" and by recognizing the recent efforts by a number of economists to include measures of household work as an important part of a nation's economic output. She convincingly shows that the ignoring of household work by the "old economists" was part and parcel of the sexist double standard of our societies which values the work of men but not the work of women.

She calls for a "caring revolution." An especially valuable contribution is the book's collection of evidence showing that it is profitable for private corporations to provide day-care, flex-time and other arrangements that value household work.

In my opinion, however, there is a serious omission in Eisler's "new economics." Military spending by governments is treated like other spending. Instead, it should be treated as a net loss, draining from the economy labor and materiel that could otherwise be engaged in production of useful goods and services. This approach has been effectively used by the economist Lloyd J. Dumas in his 1986 book The Overburdened Economy and it explains why the the Soviet empire collapsed. By failing to consider this, the Eisler book fails to consider the likelihood that the American empire is headed for a similar prolonged decline and possible eventual collapse.

Eisler's conclusion, that we need to move from "dominator systems" to "partnership systems" has many points of similarity to the United Nations analysis of the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace. A further comparison of these two analytic approaches would be useful.

The Real Wealth of Nations is published by Berret-Koehler Publishers of San Francisco.

DISCUSSION

Question(s) related to this article:


Does military spending lead to economic decline and collapse?,

How can we get to a sustainable, peaceful economy?,

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LATEST READER COMMENT:

Annie Leonard: How to Be More than a Mindful Consumer

The way we make and use stuff is harming the world—and ourselves. To create a system that works, we can't just use our purchasing power. We must turn it into citizen power.

by Annie Leonard
posted Aug 22, 2013

   Stuff activist Annie Leonard: “Consumerism, even when it tries to embrace ‘sustainable’ products, is a set of values that teaches us to define ourselves, communicate our identity, and seek meaning through accumulation of stuff, rather than through our values and activities and our community.” YES! photo by Lane Hartwell.

Since I released "The Story of Stuff" six years ago, the most frequent snarky remark I get from people trying to take me down a notch is about my own stuff: Don't you drive a car? What about your computer and your cellphone? What about your books? (To the last one, I answer that the book was printed on paper made from trash, not trees, but that doesn't stop them from smiling smugly at having exposed me as a materialistic hypocrite. Gotcha!)

Let me say it clearly: I'm neither for nor against stuff. I like stuff if it's well-made, honestly marketed, used for a long time, and at the end of its life recycled in a way that doesn't trash the planet, poison people, or exploit workers. Our stuff should not be artifacts of indulgence and disposability, like toys that are forgotten 15 minutes after the wrapping comes off, but things that are both practical and meaningful. British philosopher William Morris said it best: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

Too many T-shirts

The life cycle of a simple cotton T-shirt—worldwide, 4 billion are made, sold, and discarded each year—knits together a chain of seemingly intractable problems, from the elusive definition of sustainable agriculture to the greed and classism of fashion marketing.

The story of a T-shirt not only gives us insight into the complexity of our relationship with even the simplest stuff; it also demonstrates why consumer activism—boycotting or avoiding products that don’t meet our personal standards for sustainability and fairness—will never be enough to bring about real and lasting change. Like a vast Venn diagram covering the entire planet, the environmental and social impacts of cheap T-shirts overlap and intersect on many layers, making it impossible to fix one without addressing the others.

I confess that my T-shirt drawer is so full it's hard to close. . ...more.


This report was posted on July 15, 2007.

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