Book review – Sacred Economics

Eisenstein is a well known writer and philosopher in the transition movement towards a sustainable society. He writes beautifully and I listen to his podcast (A New and Ancient Story) where he interviews inspiring change makers. He is famous for popularizing the concept of the gift economy.

His most famous book is “Sacred Economics”, which came out in 2010, in the wake of the great financial crisis. Last week, I finally got around to read it. I got the updated 2020 edition, which feels fresh and updated to current events, including the financial and monetary response to the covid pandemic.

The book is divided into two parts, one part analyzing the current economic system and how it drives the ecological mess we are in, and a second part with his proposed solutions.

The first part is great. He describes how economics trumps ecology in the current political system and how our money is based on interest-laden debt which necessitates growth. He mingles big-picture patterns with everyday examples, to illustrate the current monetary system and he peels back to see upon which assumptions and values it was built. It is a joy to read, even though the topic is terrifying: How debt-based interest-growth money forces us to convert more and more of our lives and the living world into money and products.

The second part is weaker, but still worth reading. Here, Eisenstein proposes another monetary system, which would lose value over time, like scrip-currencies that have been used in crisis times in the past. He loosely describes that the new money would be based on the health of natural ecosystems, but he does not explain how. He also shares many examples of how to reduce the power of the market by doing things together in commons.
I think that the real value of the second part of the book is that it is thought-provoking, not that his proposals are “the one solution”. The book invites us all to imagine alternatives, which is the first phase of any revolution or reformation. The dominant powers claim that “There is no alternative” to capitalism, but this book invites us to one of many alternatives. (Another excellent book that invites our imagination even more explicitly is “The Dawn of Everything”, by Wengrow and Graeber.)

Eisenstein leads by example. The book is published under a Creative Commons license, and is free to read as e-book on his website. He trusts us all to share knowledge and resources to build a better world together, and to give a donation if we have gotten value from it.
I think it is brave of the publisher (North Atlantic Books, Berkeley) to allow the author to give away the same product as they are selling to make a living. I dream about sharing my next book for free as an e-book and with a price for a paper copy.

To conclude: It is completely free to read this book, so why not?