Riane Eisler sets out to develop a new economic system in The Real Wealth of Nations, an economic system that adequately values the most essential human work: the work of caring for ourselves, others and the Earth. Eisler says that a new economic model is needed because, “Failing to include caring and caregiving in economic models is totally inappropriate for the postindustrial economy, where the most important capital is what economist like to call human capital: people.”
She develops a new economic map that includes six economic sectors, household economy, unpaid community economy, market economy, illegal economy, government economy, and natural economy. According to Eisler, the first sector, household economy, is not just a unit of consumption, as traditionally defined in economic texts. “It is, and has always also been, a unit of production. Its most important product is, and always has been, people.” The second sector, the unpaid community economy includes volunteers working for charitable and social justice groups as well as some aspects of the barter and community currency economy. The third sector, the market economy, is the focus of conventional economic analysis and indicators. The fourth sector, the illegal economy, includes drug trade, sex trade, arms trade and other activities in the hands of crime syndicates and gangs. The fifth sector, government economy, makes the policies, laws, and rules governing the market economy and provides public services, either directly, or by contracting them out to private enterprises. Eisler states that, “Present government policies are often uncaring of the mass of people, channeling funds to the wealthy.” The sixth sector, the natural economy produces resources out of which the market economy maintains itself. The current economic theory assigns value based on supply and demand, scarce items and services being more valuable that abundant ones. Eisler asserts that, “A much more sensible, and realistic, standard for what is given economic value is what supports and advances human survival and human development.
Eisler makes the moral argument that, “there is 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.” In the United States, the top one percent of the population owns forty percent of the nation’s financial wealth. The top ten percent owns eighty-five to ninety percent of stocks, bonds, trust finds, and business equities, and over seventy-five percent of non-home real estate. While the bottom eighty percent own only nine percent of financial wealth, and a large number of Americans have zero assets or even negative wealth due to debt. Eisler states that a caring economics can meet our basic human need at an individual level by providing for the material sustenance and meaningful work and lives, on an organizational level by providing competent and creative people, on a social level by providing caring values and policies and on an environmental level by protecting natural resources.
Eisler argues that in order to develop a sustainable economic system we must recognize contributions of the life-sustaining activities of household communities and nature. That partnership beliefs and institutions that value care and caregiving must drive this system. The rules, policies, and practices of this system must support human development, creativity, equitable relations, mutual responsibility, and concern for nature and future generations. Technological applications must be driven by an ethos of caring and partnership. The measurement of economic productivity must exclude activities that harm people and nature, and include essential non-market life-supporting activities. We must develop economic structures that are participatory and equitable, designed to support mutual accountability and benefit. Human needs and capacities must be nurtured and our natural habitat must be conserved. A top priority must be investing in developing the high quality human capital needed for the postindustrial age. It must be a system that can help us meet the social, economic, and ecological challenges we face.
Eisler points out the absurdity of our current system in which we pay plumbers, the people we entrust with our pipes, fifty to sixty dollars and hour, but we pay childcare workers, the people we entrust with our children, an average of ten dollars an hour. Eisner states that, “this is not logical. It is pathological. But to change it, we have to look beyond areas traditionally taken into account in economic analyses.” Eisner’s book provides an excellent roadmap to developing an economic system where we value our children more than our pipes.