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The Real Wealth of Nations

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Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations provided the first, most influential and lasting explanation of the workings of modern economics. But with his focus on "the market" as the best mechanism for producing and distributing the necessities of life, Smith's concepts only told part of the story, leading to flawed economic models that devalue activities that fall outside of the market's parameters of buying and selling. The real wealth of nations, Riane Eisler argues, is not merely financial, but includes the contributions of people and our natural environment. Here, Eisler goes beyond the market to reexamine economics from a larger perspective--and shows that we must give visibility and value to the socially and economically essential work of caring for people and the planet if we are to meet the enormous challenges we are facing.

Eisler proposes a new "caring economics" that takes into account the full spectrum of economic activities--from the life--sustaining activities of the household, to the life-enriching activities of caregivers and communities, to the life-supporting processes of nature. She shows how our values are distorted by the economic double standard that devalues anything stereotypically associated with women and femininity; reveals how current economic models are based on a deep-seated culture of domination; and shows how human needs would be better served by economic models based on caring. Most importantly, she provides practical proposals for new economic inventions--new measures, policies, rules, and practices--to bring about a caring economics that fulfills human needs.

Like her classic The Chalice and the Blade, The Real Wealth of Nations is a bold and insightful look at how to create a society in which each of us can achieve the full measure of our humanity.

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CHAPTER 1: WE NEED A NEW ECONOMICS

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Jim Cross graduated at the top of his applied computer science class. But he hasn’t found a job in California’s prosperous Silicon Valley, once the golden Mecca for high-wage technology jobs. While sales and profits in the region have been skyrocketing again—an average of more than 500 percent over three years—employment has actually declined.

In Nigeria, Marian Mfunde has just buried her second baby. Like her first son—and millions of African children every year—her five-month-old daughter died of hunger. Marian herself is sick with HIV, which she contracted from her husband before he left to seek work in the capital, and was never heard from again.

In Rio de Janeiro, nine-year-old Rosario Menen sleeps on the street. She lives in terror of rats, rapists, and the police squads that periodically evict and brutalize street children. Like thousands of Brazilian girls and boys, Rosario has no place to go and no one to care for her.

In Riyadh, eighteen-year-old Ahmad Haman just joined a fundamentalist terrorist cell. In his native Saudi Arabia, his financial prospects are dim.1 Population in the Middle East has tripled in the last fifty years, to 380 million in 2000 from 100 million in 1950—and today close to two-thirds of those 380 million Middle Easterners are under age twenty-five, and jobs are scarce.2 Even in his oil-rich nation, Ahmad finds the promise of a heavenly afterlife with seventy virgins if he blows himself up in a suicide bombing more promising than his earthly future.3

 

CHAPTER 2: ECONOMICS THROUGH A WIDER LENS

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Today, millions of people no longer accept suffering and injustice as just God’s will or the result of mysterious, unalterable, economic laws. All over the world, people are alarmed about the health and environmental effects of industrialization seemingly run amok. They’re concerned about trade globalization rules that are lowering wages and worker protections earlier taken for granted in the West. They’re aware that half the world still lives in poverty and hunger, and that even in the wealthy United States the gap between rich and poor is growing. They recognize that there’s something very wrong with cutting funds for school lunches for millions of poor children while corporations get million-dollar subsidies and the super-rich get big tax refunds. They demand an end to accounting practices that enable corporate officers to enrich themselves at the expense of employee benefit plans and shareholder investments. In short, they decry uncaring economic policies and business practices, and want more caring ones.

 

CHAPTER 3: IT PAYS TO CARE—IN DOLLARS AND CENTS

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The SAS Institute, the world’s largest privately held software company, is a highly successful business. It’s also a business that demonstrates the benefits of caring policies and practices in dollars and cents.

SAS is a leader in family-friendly policies. It has the largest on-site daycare operation in North Carolina. Its cafeteria has high chairs and booster seats for children so they can eat with their parents. The company pays the entire cost of health benefits for employees and their domestic partners. Workers are only required to work a seven-hour day, and employees get unlimited sick days, which may be used to care for sick family members.

SAS’s corporate headquarters in Carey, North Carolina, has a swimming pool, track, medical facilities, counseling services, and live music at lunch. Employees enjoy a thirty-six thousand square foot company gym with workout rooms and classes, an area for yoga, and two full-length basketball courts. Outside are fields for softball and soccer. A masseuse comes in several times a week, and employees can discuss their workouts with the company’s wellness coordinator. The company even washes employees’ gym clothes.

 

CHAPTER 4: THE ECONOMIC DOUBLE STANDARD

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Sometimes we don’t see what is in plain sight. This is particularly true when it comes to beliefs and values we’ve inherited.

In the Bible, we’re told that when King David had his famous affair with Bathsheba, he had her husband sent to the front lines, where his rival was conveniently killed. But instead of being punished for adultery and murder, David continued to reign.1 On the other hand, under biblical law a girl accused of not being a virgin would be taken by her father to the city gates and slowly stoned to death.2

The Bible also tells us that men could sell their daughters into slavery as servants or concubines and that marriage itself was a sales transaction. In Genesis, we read that Jacob worked seven years to get Laban’s daughter Rachel for his wife, and when Laban gave him her older sister Leah instead, he had to work another seven years to finally get the woman he’d bargained for. Another famous biblical story tells of how Lot offered his little daughters to a mob to be gang-raped—and instead of being punished, was chosen by God as the only moral man in the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah!3

 

CHAPTER 5: CONNECTING THE DOTS

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There’s an old parable about three blind men and an elephant. The first blind man felt the animal’s trunk and said it’s a leathery snake. The second blind man felt its leg and said it’s a tree. The third blind man felt its tail and said it’s a rope. It’s such an old parable that it’s become a cliché. But it graphically describes a basic obstacle to fundamental economic and social change.

Today, thousands of experts are analyzing our economic, social, and ecological problems from their particular perspectives, disagreeing on what lies behind them. But just as an elephant can’t be understood by only describing some of its parts, it’s not possible to understand what lies behind our global problems unless we take into account the whole system.

As noted in chapter 2, we can’t change economic systems by just focusing on economics. Economic systems are embedded in larger social systems. To effectively change dysfunctional economic policies and practices, we need an understanding of their larger social matrix.

 

CHAPTER 6"THE ECONOMICS OF DOMINATION

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Some people see capitalism as an ogre that insatiably demands inequality and exploitation. They blame capitalism for all our ills, pointing to corporations that pollute our planet and disregard the welfare of employees, host communities, and even their shareholders. But it’s not capitalism that’s the ogre; it’s the underlying dominator beliefs, structures, and habits we’ve inherited.

It’s true that predatory capitalist practices cause great harm. But long before capitalist billionaires amassed huge fortunes, Egyptian pharaohs and Chinese emperors hoarded their nations’ wealth. Indian potentates demanded tributes of silver and gold, while lower castes lived in abject poverty. Middle Eastern warlords pillaged, plundered, and terrorized their people. European feudal lords killed their neighbors and oppressed their subjects.

In all these precapitalist societies, the idea that “common people” could be equal to their “betters” was inconceivable. Economic exploitation was just a fact of life—as was the misery of the masses, whose only hope, they were told, was a better afterlife.

 

CHAPTER 7: THE ECONOMICS OF PARTNERSHIP

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Our ideas and stories are the blueprints for our future. Of course, ideas and stories don’t arise in a vacuum. They come out of particular times and places. In the eighteenth century, a powerful idea gained momentum. People began to believe that the human yearning for a better life on Earth can be realized.

For most of recorded history, whether Eastern or Western, the vast majority of people were poor, and as they had been taught to do, accepted poverty as their inevitable lot. None other than Aristotle had declared that everyone is born to his or her station in life: slaves are meant to be slaves and women are meant to be subordinate to men. “From the hour of their birth,” he wrote, “some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”1 Later, the Church taught Christians that suffering is God’s punishment for our evil, selfish nature. As for poverty, had not the Gospel of Matthew quoted Jesus as saying, “Ye have the poor always with you.”

But as the industrial revolution gained steam in Europe, so did the possibility that the world can change. Indeed, the world was changing rapidly, as new ways of work and life were replacing the old.

 

CHAPTER 8: TECHNOLOGY, WORK, AND THE POSTINDUSTRIAL ERA

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When Czech playwright Karel Capek coined the word robot in 1920, devices that act, work, and think like humans were fantasies. Now robotics and other forms of automation are realities. Robots are routinely used in manufacturing in the United States, Japan, and other industrialized nations. Automated devices process millions of Internet sales, handle banking and other business transactions, answer customer phone calls, sort and evaluate military intelligence, monitor stock deals, and perform thousands of other functions that until recently were done exclusively by people.

Humanoid robots like Star Wars’ lovable R2D2 and 3CPO were also not long ago science fiction creatures. Now they too are becoming realities. In the United States, a Carnegie-Mellon University team developed a mobile robotic companion for the home that uses natural language voice commands and provides information from the Internet, like weather and television schedules.1 Even robot dogs are on the way. Cynthia Breazeal at the MIT media lab is putting together a computerized dog that reads pedometers and bathroom scales to gather information about weight, activity, and eating habits. The robot dog will help people lose weight by monitoring their daily food intake and exercise levels and warning them not to eat forbidden foods.2

 

CHAPTER 9: WHO WE ARE AND WHERE WE ARE

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Ryan Hreljac was six years old when his first-grade teacher in North Grenville, Canada, told his class that children in Africa were getting sick and dying because they had no clean water. Ryan decided to start raising money to help. He did extra household chores to earn his first $70, and then enlisted others to raise the $2,000 needed so that in 1999 a water well could be drilled near the Angolo School in Northern Uganda. Since then, with the support of nonprofit organizations such as WaterCan and Free the Children, the Ryan’s Well Foundation has raised over $1 million to help build 196 wells in ten countries serving over 350,000 people.1

When Clara Hale died in 1992 at the age of eighty-seven, she had taken care of over eight hundred children: children with AIDS, children of drug-addicted mothers, children no one wanted. At first, she cared for abandoned children in her little Harlem apartment, where within six months she had twenty-two babies, all with HIV. As time went on, with the support of local officials, she was able to acquire a brownstone. There, she and her staff continued to put into action her credo that all children need and deserve love.2

 

CHAPTER 10: THE CARING REVOLUTION

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As Gandhi said, we shouldn’t mistake what is habitual for what is normal. We were not born with unhealthy habits. We had to learn them. We can unlearn them, and help others do the same.

Many of our economic habits were shaped by a warped story of human nature and an economic double standard that gives little or no value to the essential work of caring and caregiving. The measures of productivity we habitually use include market activities that harm our health and natural environment while assigning no value to the life-supporting activities of households and nature. The money that central banks create and circulate bears little relation to any tangible assets.1 Quarterly corporate reports fail to factor in the health and environmental damage a company’s products or activities cause. Government policies, too, are often based on fantasies rather than realities, as dramatically shown by the George W. Bush administration’s denial of the urgent need to take action against global warming.

We have a choice. We can keep complaining about greed, fraud, and cutthroat business practices. We can put up with the daily stress of unsuccessfully juggling jobs and family. We can tell ourselves there’s nothing we can do about policies that damage our natural environment, create huge gaps between haves and have-nots, and lead to untold suffering. Or we can join together to help construct a saner, sounder, more caring economics and culture.

 

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