Beyond the green economy

Summary of:

Ole Bjerg and Charles Eisenstein: Conversation on the origin of money

Every anthropologist knows that barter was not the origin of money. It's only economists who think that money started in barter. The idea of barter says something about human nature. It says that human beings naturally want to maximize their own self interest. That is one of the fundamental principles of economics. But that's not how societies worked before money. They were gift societies. In these societies, generosity was encouraged by social relations. The more I gave, the more people would want to take care of me too. Altruism and selfishness were not distinct in the way that they are today. Economic life reflected spiritual teaching, saying as thee give so thee shall receive. And part of the transition we are trying to make to day is to re-awaken that part of human nature. Today our money system suppresses that in many ways. The things that really moves our hearts - the things that we want to contribute to our planet - ecological healing, social justice, etc. Those are gifts that we want to give, but there is not a lot of money in those things. And the money are in the things that are driving us over the cliff.

We live in a world of abundance. There is a shortage of money, not a shortage of food. But money is not limited by anything, except our agreements. How much of our fossil fuel consumption goes to anything that serves human wellbeing? Not very much. Economy deals with things that can be measured. We have more than ever of the things that can be measured, but the things that we cannot measure are very scarce: intimacy, community, connection to nature.

We want to expand the concept of economy to encompass other spheres of life that we do not normally think about in those terms. Change the parameters of economy to be in line with nature. We are very pleased that we are having this even at CBS. This is a rather unlikely event at CBS, and at the other hand, this is the place to have this kind of conversation.

What we have been trying to do for the past forty years is to try to change people, saying consume less, fly less, recycle - and it hasn't worked. No, let's start changing money. If we see the problem with the world as people, the greedy CEOs and bankers and business people, then we are being blind to the real root of the problem. The consciousness that we are moving into is affecting everybody, including people in business. We should reconnect to the original purpose of business which is not to extract the maximum possible, but a way of giving something to the world. In indigenous cultures, possessions were a burden. If you had too many bananas they would go bad. It was better to give them away. Money is not like that. Money does not decay over time.

The politicians are still pretending that the days of high growth will come back. We are still pretending that the debts can be paid off and that we can grow our way out of the crisis. It has not yet become undeniably obvious to most people that the system is doomed.

We live in a narrative that says that our universe is composed of a bunch of standard building blocks, and outside of ourselves there is no purpose in the universe. That's what science told us. Our hearts protest against that. We experience a world that is alive and where there is meaning and purpose. The religion actually agrees with science and says yes, matter is just a bunch of dead building blocks. But then there is this other thing outside of matter, and that's the source of sacredness or spirit. That ideology is a poison that's killing the planet, because we are treating this planet as if it were not sacred. What I am talking about when I use the word sacred is returning to a perception of the world and everything in it as sacred, as unique, as special. Sacredness is a matter of seeing the uniqueness of everything, and the totality of the connections of everything. Technology should no longer be a matter of imposing our will on nature and conquering nature, but instead understanding what wants to happen and participating in the ongoing development of nature.

Watch the talk on video