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Beyond Capitalism and Socialism by Riane Eisler
Roadmap to a New Economics: Beyond Capitalism and Socialism
by Riane Eisler
When thinking of a new economics, let's not think of stocks, bonds, derivatives, or other
financial instruments. Let's think of children. Let's ask what kind of economic policies
and practices are good for children. Let's ask what's needed so all children are healthy,
get a good education, and are prepared to live good lives. More fundamentally, let's ask
what kind of economic system helps, or prevents, children from realizing their great
potentials for consciousness, empathy, caring, and creativitythe capacities that make us
fully human.
Once we address these questions, we can start designing the road map to the economic
system we want and need: one that not only promotes human survival but also full human
We must design such a system, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it
is the economically sensible thing to do, particularly as we move into the postindustrial
knowledge-information era where the most important capital is what some economists
call "high-quality human capital." Indeed, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen
concurs that the aim of sound economic policy must be human capacity development.
This I agree with. But I want to add that for a truly new economic system, we need a
broader definition of human capacity development than a purely economic one. Which
brings us back to the children and to our human capacities for caring, empathy,
consciousness, and creativity.
When children are the starting point for a new economic paradigm, the first step is to go
beyond the tired debate of capitalism versus socialism and all the other old isms. Both
capitalist and socialist theory ignore a fundamental truth: the real wealth of nationsand
the worldconsists of the contributions of people and nature.
Adam Smith and Karl Marx ignored the vital importance of nature's life-sustaining
activities. For them, nature exists to be exploited, period. As for the life-sustaining
activities of caring for people starting in childhood, they considered this merely
"reproductive" labor, and not part of their "productive" economic equation.
In other words, their focus was on the marketfor Smith to extol it and for Marx to
excoriate it. Neither included in his economic model the life-sustaining sectors, without
which there would be no market economy: the household economy, the natural economy,
and the volunteer economy.
The first step toward building a truly new economics is a full-spectrum economic model
that includes these sectors and gives real visibility and value to the most essential human
work: the work of caring for people and for our natural environment.
The move to this comprehensive economic model in turn requires understanding
something else ignored in conventional economic discussions. This is that economic
systems don't arise in a vacuum: they are influenced by, and in turn influence, the larger
cultural system in which they are embedded.
The Failures of Capitalism and Socialism
In the wake of the global economic meltdown that began in 2008 has come an outcry
against capitalism, especially against its latest stage of "neoliberalism" with its massive
deregulation of powerful moneyed interests. Critics point not only to the havoc wreaked
by deregulating banks and other financial institutions but also to the gargantuan size and
power of multinational corporations, the widening gap between haves and have-nots both
between and within nations caused by the globalization of "free markets," and the
decimation of our natural environment by irresponsible business practices. Some argue
that capitalism must be replaced with socialism because historically capitalism has been
unjust, violent, and exploitive of both people and nature.
But this argument reflects yet another old way of thinking that we must re-examine and
transcend: classifying societies in terms of conventional categories such as socialist vs.
capitalist, religious vs. secular, rightist vs. leftist, Eastern vs. Western, industrial vs.
postindustrial, and so forth. None of these categories describes the totality of a society's
beliefs and institutionsfrom the family, education, and religion, to politics and
economics. Since these old categories only focus on particular aspects of a society, they
are useless for understanding what a more equitable, sustainable, and caring system really
looks like.
The social categories of partnership system and domination system reveal the core
configurations of societies that support two very different kinds of relations. The
domination system supports relations of top-down rankings: man over man, man over
woman, race over race, religion over religion, nation over nation, and man over nature.
The partnership system supports the relations we want and urgently need at this critical
juncture of history: relations of mutual respect, accountability, and benefit.
If from this perspective we re-examine the critique of capitalism as unjust, violent, and
exploitive, we see that it is in reality a critique of the structures, relationships, and values
inherent in domination systemsbe they ancient or modern, Western or Eastern, feudal,
monarchic, or totalitarian. 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.
A domination system of top-down rankings has also characterized the two large-scale
modern applications of socialism: the former Soviet Union and China. Both turned out to
be authoritarian and violent. And while they alleviated some economic disparities, they
were hardly egalitarian.
In 1984, I visited the Soviet Union as one of two U.S. delegates with Nordic Women for
Peace, which marched on both Washington, D.C., and Moscow to enlist support for
nuclear disarmament. While ordinary Russians lived in overcrowded quarters, often with
two families crammed into a small flat, we were put up in a luxury hotel's royal suite
with gilded furniture and a grand piano in its foyer. And while most Russians lacked even
the most basic consumer goods, we and the Soviet officials hosting us drank champagne
and ate caviar and other delicacies.
Nor did these regimes protect our environment any more than capitalist nations did. In
fact, their record is just as abysmalas evidenced by disasters such as Chernobyl and
Lake Baikal in the USSR and the strip mining, air pollution, and other environmental
calamities of China.
In short, the historic records of neither capitalism nor socialism hold real promise for a
new, more sustainable and equitable economic system. Since capitalism has gained
ascendancy, its failures are more evident. And it is true that at this point, we need to leave
the destructive aspects of capitalism behind.
This does not mean we should discard everything from capitalism and socialism. We
need both markets and central planning. But to effectively address our problems, we have
to go much deeper, to matters that conventional economic analyses and theories ignore.
To construct a more equitable and sustainable economic system, we have to take into
account the larger social contexts out of which economics derivespecifically, the
degree to which these orient to either a partnership system or a domination system.
Economics, Societies, and Values
Economics is above all about values. So to change economics, we must also look at
cultural beliefs about what is valuable or not valuable. And one of the distinctions
between partnership and domination systems is what is and is not considered of economic
In both the Soviet Union and China, socialism was imposed in cultures that oriented
closely to the configuration of the domination system. The core configuration of this
system consists of top-down rankings in the family and state or tribe maintained by
physical, psychological, and economic control; the ranking of the male half of humanity
over the female half, and with this, the devaluation by both men and women of anything
stereotypically considered feminine; and a high degree of culturally accepted abuse and
violencefrom child- and wife-beating to pogroms, terrorism, and chronic warfare.
A close orientation to this configuration can be found in societies that have little in
common when looked at through the lenses of conventional social and economic
categories such as communist or capitalist, Eastern or Western, secular or religious, and
so forth. For example, viewed from the perspective of conventional categories, Hitler's
Germany (a technologically advanced, Western, rightist society), the Taliban of
Afghanistan and fundamentalist Iran (two Eastern religious societies), and the would-be
regime of the rightist-fundamentalist alliance in the United States seem totally different.
But all have the same basic dominator configuration.
Neoliberalism, for example, was part of a regression to a domination system. It can best
be understood as a means of maintaining top-down control. Although neoliberal rhetoric
is about freedom, what this really means is freedom for those in control to do what they
wish, free from government regulation. Neoliberal policies were designed to
reconsolidate wealth and power in the hands of those on top, and its mantra of "trickledown
economics" conditioned people to accept the "traditional" order, under which those
on the bottom have to content themselves with the crumbs dropping from their masters'
opulent tables. The neoliberal promotion of "pre-emptive war" against Iraq also
continued the traditional reliance on violence by dominant groups to impose their control.
And the neoliberals' alliance with the so-called religious Right reinforced still another
core component of domination systems: a "traditional" male-headed family where the
ranking of one half of humanity over the other half is presented as normal and moral, and
children learn early that it's very painful to question orders no matter how unjust.
Moreover, with this ranking of male over female came another distinguishing feature of
neoliberalism: its contempt for the "soft" or stereotypically "feminine," as in their
vitriolic attacks on what they called the "nanny state." Accordingly, a key neoliberal
requirement was that government programs designed to care for people, such as health
care, child care, and aid to poor families, be defunded both in the United States and
through "structural adjustment policies" in the "developing" world. In short,
neoliberalism was really dominator economics.
The partnership system has a very different configuration. Its core elements are a
democratic and egalitarian structure in both the family and state or tribe; equal
partnership between women and men; and a low degree of violence because it's not
needed to maintain rigid rankings of domination.
No society is either a pure partnership or domination system. But the degree to which it is
affects everything: from the society's guiding system of values to the construction of all
its institutionsfrom the family, education, and religion to politics and economics.
Economics and Caring
Nordic nations such as Sweden, Norway, and Finland are the contemporary countries that
have moved most closely to the partnership side of the partnership-domination
continuum. They have more equality in both the family and the state; a higher status of
women (approximately 40 percent of their national legislators are female); and concerted
efforts to leave behind traditions of violence (they pioneered the first peace studies and
the first laws prohibiting physical discipline of children in families, and have a strong
men's movement to disentangle "masculinity" from its equation with domination and
Supported by their more partnership-oriented social configuration, these nations
developed economic policies that combine positive elements of socialism and
capitalismbut go beyond both to an economics in which caring for people and nature is
a top priority. These nations have government-supported child care, universal health care,
stipends to help families care for children, elder care with dignity, and generous paid
parental leave.
These more caring policies, in turn, made it possible for these nations to move from
extreme poverty (famines in the early twentieth century) to societies with a generally
high standard of living for all. Today these nations not only rank high in the United
Nations annual Human Development Reports in measures of quality of life; they are also
in the top tiers of the World Economic Forum's annual global competitiveness reports.
Nordic countries don't have the huge gaps between haves and have-nots characteristic of
dominator-oriented nations. While they're not ideal societies, they have succeeded in
providing a generally good living standard for all. They have low poverty and crime rates
and high longevity rates. Their children score high on international tests. And studies
show that workers in these nations are more satisfied and happier than people in countries
such as the United States where the gross national product is higher.
Nordic nations also pioneered environmentally sound industrial approaches such as the
Swedish "Natural Step." And some of the first experiments in industrial democracy came
from Sweden and Norway, as did studies showing that a more participatory structure
where workers play a part in deciding such basic matters as how to organize tasks and
what hours to work can be extremely effective.
Moreover, Nordic nations have a long history of business cooperatives, jointly owned and
democratically controlled enterprises that have included as one of their guiding principles
concern for the community in which they operate. Their cooperatives have also been
heavily involved in renewable energy projects. For example, many Swedish housing
cooperatives are switching to alternative energy sources to help meet Sweden's goal of
oil independence by 2015.
The Nordic nations' success has sometimes been attributed to their relatively small and
homogeneous populations. But in smaller, even more homogeneous societies such as
some oil-rich Middle-Eastern nations where absolute conformity to one religious sect and
one tribal or royal head is demanded, we find large gaps between haves and have-nots
and other inequities characteristic of the domination system.
So we have to look at other factors to understand why the Nordic nations moved out of
poverty to develop a prosperous, more caring and equitable economic system in a
relatively short time. Once we do, we see that what made these nations successful was
their move toward the partnership configuration, which made it possible for them to
become what they sometimes call themselves: "caring societies."
The core components of this configuration are mutually supporting and reinforcing. And
one of its core components, in contrast to the domination system, is equality between the
male and female halves of humanity. So women can, and do, occupy the highest political
offices in the Nordic world. And this higher status of Nordic women has had important
consequences for the values that guide Nordic policies.
In domination-oriented systems, men are socialized to distance themselves from women
and anything stereotypically considered feminine. But in partnership-oriented cultures,
men can give more value to caring, caregiving, nonviolence, and other traits and activities
deemed inappropriate for men in dominator societies because they're associated with
"inferior" femininity. So, along with the higher status of Nordic women, many men and
women back more caring policiespolicies that give value and visibility to the work of
caring for people and nature.
With the ascendancy of neoliberalism and the globalization of unregulated capitalism,
over the last decades of the twentieth century Nordic nations too began to move
somewhat toward more privatization. Nonetheless, they have been able to maintain most
of their caring policies and hence their high rankings in international surveys of quality of
liferanging from infant mortality rates (where the United States by contrast fell behind
every industrialized nation and even behind poor ones like Cuba) to human rights and
environmental ratings.
The basic reason is that these nations continue their massive investment of resources in
caring for people and nature. Indeed, these nations contribute a larger percentage of their
gross domestic product than other developed nations to caring international programs:
programs working for fair economic development, environmental protection, and human
Making the Invisible Visible
All this takes us back to where we started: the need to restructure economic systems in
ways that go beyond the old capitalism vs. socialism debate. To effectively address our
growing economic, social, and environmental problems, we need a new economics. We
need a system that leaves behind the dominator elements of capitalism and socialism,
preserves their partnership elements, and is governed by economic structures, policies,
and practices that give visibility and real value to caring for ourselves, others, and our
Mother Earth.
A first step is recognizing that the exclusion of caring and caregiving from mainstream
economic theory and practice has caused enormous, and unnecessary, human suffering.
Indeed, the systemic devaluation of the activities that contribute the most to human
welfare and development lies behind a kind of economic insanity that is reflected in, and
perpetuated by, conventional indicators of productivity such as GDP (gross domestic
product) and GNP (gross national product).
These measures of "economic health" actually place activities that harm life (like selling
cigarettes) and the profits derived from those activities (like the medical and funeral costs
that result from smoking-related illnesses and deaths) on the plus side. Yet they give
absolutely no value to the life-sustaining activities of both the household economy and
the natural economy. So an old stand of trees is only included in GDP when it's cut
downwhereas the fact that we need trees to breathe is ignored. Similarly, the caring and
caregiving work performed in households is given no value whatsoever, and economists
speak of parents who do not hold outside jobs as "economically inactive"even though
they often work from dawn to late at night.
Some people will say that this household workwithout which there would be no
workforcecannot be quantified. But the reality is that it is already being quantified.
Thanks to the activism of women's organizations worldwide, many nations now have
"satellite" accounts that quantify the value of the work of caring for people and keeping
healthy home environments that has traditionally been considered "women's work." For
instance, a Swiss government report shows that if the unpaid "caring" household work
were included, it would make up 70 percent of the reported Swiss GDP! Yet none of this
information is found in conventional economic treatisesbe they capitalist or socialist.
The devaluation of this work is further reflected in the fact that, in the market economy,
professions that involve caregiving are paid far less than those that do not.
So in the United States, people think nothing of paying plumbers, the people to whom we
entrust our pipes, $50 to $100 per hour. But child care workers, the people to whom we
entrust our children, according to the U.S. Department of Labor are paid an average of
$10 an hour, with no benefits. And we demand that plumbers have some training, but not
that all child care workers have training.
This is not logical. It's pathological. But to understand, and change, this distorted system
of valuesand to effectively address seemingly intractable problems such as poverty and
hungerwe again have to look at matters that are only visible once we recognize the
configurations of the partnership system and the domination system.
Economic Policy, Poverty, and the Hidden System of Gendered Values
Many people, including politicians, think it's okay to have big government deficits to
fund prisons, weapons, and warsall stereotypically associated with men and "real
masculinity." But when it comes to funding caring for peoplefor child care, health care,
early childhood education, and other such expendituresthey say there's not enough
If we look back just a few hundred years, we see this devaluation of the "feminine" in
stark relief. At that time, Western culture still looked like some of the most repressive
societies do today. The norm was an authoritarian structure in both the family and the
state. Wars and religious persecutions were chronic. And women and anything associated
with them were so devalued that some theologians seriously doubted that women have
immortal souls.
There has obviously since then been movement toward the partnership systemalbeit
against enormous resistance and periodic regressions. But the gendered system of
valuations we inherited is still extremely resistant to changeso much so that when men
embrace traits considered "soft" or "feminine" they are tarred with derisive terms such as
"effeminate" and "sissy." Another symptom of this devaluation of women and anything
associated with them is that discrimination against the female half of humanity is still
generally seen as "just a women's issue"to be addressed after more important problems
are solved.
So while politicians often say their goal is ending, or at least decreasing, poverty and
hunger, they hardly ever mention a staggering statistic: women represent 70 percent of
those in our world who live in absolute poverty, which means starvation or near
starvation. Also ignored in conventional discussions of poverty is that globally, women
earn an average of two-thirds to three-fourths as much as men for the same work in the
market economy and that most of the work women do in familiesincluding child care,
health and elder care, housekeeping, cooking, collecting firewood, drawing and carrying
water, and subsistence farmingis not remunerated.
This is by no means to say that only women suffer economically from our domination
heritage. Men also suffer, and this is particularly true of the men at the bottom of the
domination pyramid. Yet women are still the most oppressed, the "slaves of the slaves,"
as John Lennon wrote.
Even in the rich United States, woman-headed families are the lowest tier of the
economic hierarchy. In addition, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate of
women over sixty-five is almost twice that of men over sixty-five.
The fact that worldwide poverty and hunger disproportionately affect women is neither
accidental nor inevitable. It is the direct result of political and economic systems that still
have a strong dominator stamp. For example, the fact that older women are so much more
likely to live in poverty than older men, even in an affluent nation like the United States,
is not only due to wage discrimination in the market economy; it is also largely due to the
fact that these women are, or were for much of their lives, caregiversand this work is
neither paid nor later rewarded through social security or pensions.
Again, this is not to say that economic inequities based on gender are more important
than those based on class, race, or other factors. These inequalities are all inherent in
domination systems. But a basic template for the division of humanity into "superiors"
and "inferiors" that children in dominator families internalize early on is a malesuperior/
female-inferior model of our species. And this template can then be applied to
ranking race over race, religion over religion, and so forth.
Economics through a New Lens
When societies move toward the partnership side of the partnership-domination
continuum (and it's always a matter of degree), women and the "feminine" are not
devalued. And this benefits not only women but also men and children of both genders.
We have empirical evidence of thisalthough once again it is ignored in conventional
economic and social analyses.
The study "Women, Men, and the Global Quality of Life," conducted by the Center for
Partnership Studies, compared statistical measures from eighty-nine nations on the status
of women with measures of quality of life such as infant mortality, human rights ratings,
and environmental ratings. We found that in significant respects the status of women can
be a better predictor of quality of life than gross domestic product.
Other studies also verify this relationship between the status of women and a society's
general quality of life. The World Values Survey is the largest international survey of
attitudes and how they correlate with economic development and political structure. For
the first time, in 2000 this survey focused attention on attitudes about gender. Based on
data from 65 societies representing 80 percent of the world's population, it found a strong
relationship between support for gender equality and a society's level of political rights,
civil liberties, and quality of life.
There are many reasons for a correlation of the status of women with a higher or lower
quality of life for all. One, of course, is that women make up half of any population. But
the reasons go much deeper, to the still largely unrecognized and undiscussed dynamics
of domination systems. Here are just two examples:
Dominator Male Preference:
In some world regions, the ranking of males over females is so ingrained that parents
(both mothers and fathers) not only deny girls access to education and give them less
health care but also often feed girls less than boys. These practices obviously have
extremely adverse consequences for girls and women. But giving less food to girls and
women also adversely impacts the development of boys.
It is well known that children of malnourished women are often born with poor health
and below-par brain development. So this gender-based nutritional and health care
discrimination robs all children, male or female, of their birthright: their potential for
optimal development. This in turn affects children's and later adults' abilities to adapt to
new conditions, tolerance of frustration, and propensity to use violencewhich in their
turn impede solutions to chronic hunger, poverty, and armed conflict, and with this,
chances for a more humane, prosperous, and peaceful world for all.
Dominator Intra-Household Resource Allocation:
The above is just one consequence of something else left out of conventional economic
analyses: the patterns of intra-household resource allocation characteristic of domination
There is empirical evidence across diverse cultures and income groups that women have
a higher propensity than men to spend on goods that benefit children and enhance their
capacities. How much higher this propensity is was shown by Duncan Thomas in his
report "Intra-Household Resource Allocation." He found that in Brazil, $1 in the hands of
a Brazilian woman has the same effect on child survival as $18 in the hands of a man.
Similarly, Judith Bruce and Cynthia B. Lloyd found that in Guatemala an additional
$11.40 per month in a mother's hands would achieve the same weight gain in a young
child as an additional $166 earned by the father.
Of course, there are men even in rigidly male-dominated cultures who give primary
importance to meeting their families' needs. Typically, however, men in these cultures
are socialized to believe it's their prerogative to use their wages for non-family purposes,
including drinking, smoking, and gambling, and that when women complain, they are
nagging and controlling. As Dr. Anugerah Pekerti, chair of World Vision, Indonesia,
notes, many fathers seem to have no problem putting their immediate desires above the
survival needs of their children.
Yet traditional economic theories, capitalist and socialist, are based on the assumption
that the male head of household will expend the resources he controls for the benefit of
all family members. Not only that, development aid programs still allocate enormous
funds to large-scale projects in which women have little or no sayand from which poor
women and children derive few if any benefits. Even microlending or "village loan"
programs that largely target women generally provide only minimal amountsoften at
exorbitant interest rates. And the bulk of large bank loans go to businesses owned by
male elites or to male "heads of household."
Indeed, it is well known that much of the humanitarian government aid from developed
to developing nations winds up in the hands of elites who deposit it in Swiss banks, build
mansions, and otherwise line their pockets with it. Even when funds go directly to the
poor, these too often end up in the pockets of men who use them for themselves rather
than for their families. The effect of this on the general quality of life is not hard to see.
I want again to emphasize that what I'm reporting is not intended to blame men for our
world's economic ills. We're dealing with a system in which both women and men are
socialized to accept the notion that one half of our species is put on earth to be served and
the other half to serve, and that mothers, but not fathers, must subordinate their needs and
desires to those of their families.
This economic double standard, and with it the subordination of the stereotypically
feminine to the stereotypically masculine, not only hurts women, it hurts us all. It hurts
men in a myriad waysfrom the psychological pain of having to disassociate themselves
from the "feminine," including their own mothers, to the economic and political
consequences of devaluing and subordinating women and anything associated with them.
Domination, Our Environment, and Technology
Even our environmental crisis is largely a symptom of the distorted values inherent in
domination systems. We're often told that the scientific-industrial revolution that began
to gain momentum in the eighteenth century is to blame for the havoc we're wreaking on
our natural life-support systems. But the "conquest of nature" worldview goes back much
We've inherited an economics based on the premise that man is entitled to control both
woman's and nature's life-sustaining activities. In Genesis 1:28, we read that man is to
"subdue" the earth and have "dominion ... over every living thing that moveth upon the
earth." In Genesis 3:16 we read that man is to rule over woman, who is to be his
I want to emphasize that this notion of male control over nature and woman was not
introduced in the Bible. We already find it millennia earlier. For example, the Babylonian
Enuma Elish tells us that the war god Marduk created the world by dismembering the
body of the Mother Goddess Tiamat. This myth superceded earlier myths about a Great
Mother who created nature and humans as part of nature through her life-giving powers
with a story where the violence of a male deity brings forth the world. It not only signals
the beginning of a period when female deities, along with women and anything
associated with them, were subordinated; it also signals a shift to a domination system in
which masculinity is equated with domination and conquestbe it of women or of
Domination systems have always despoiled nature. This goes way back to a time of
massive climate change when prehistoric herders created scarcities that, in turn, fostered
relations based on domination.
Using a large computerized database correlating information on climate change over
thousands of years with archaeological data, geographer James DeMeo mapped these
changes in the great desert belt he calls Saharasia (extending roughly from North Africa
through the Middle East into central Asia). He found that what was once a garden of
plenty gradually became a barren, cruel land. But climate change was only part of the
story. When the land grew drier, farming became impossible so herding became the
primary technology. And, as vegetation became ever sparser, human agency itself
became a cause of desertification.
Trees were felled to open up more grazing land. As trees and plants disappeared, there
was even less rain, as happens when forests are decimated to our day. As herds
overgrazed more pastures, soils became even more barren.
In this ever harsher environment, habits of domination and exploitation became routine.
Some groups began to fight others for access to grassland and water, and as men
increasingly relied on brute force for a livelihood, women lost status and power.
Gradually, raiding and killing spread from deserts to more fertile areas. The nomadic
tribes of the wastelands began to encroach on the more fertile areas, first in occasional
incursions and later as conquerors who imposed their rule.
As cultural historian Brian Griffiths notes, everything was now geared to conquest and
controlof women, "inferior" men, and the land. And this conquest mentalityof
nature, women, and other mencontinues to this day.
At our level of technological development, this ethos of domination threatens not just one
region but our entire ecosystem. Already in 2005, the U.N.-sponsored Millennium
Ecosystems Assessment reported that over the past 50 years human activity has depleted
60 percent of the world's grasslands, forests, farmlands, rivers, and lakes. Emissions from
cars and power plants are responsible for higher temperatures that are melting polar ice so
fast that glaciers on Greenland are slipping into the ocean twice as fast as they were just
five years ago. Polar bears are drowning. And scientists warn that rising seas may engulf
coastal cities in just a few decades.
Almost every day another study details the insanity of our present course. But the plunder
of nature, now aided by powerful technologies that cause terrible harm in a matter of
years, or even months and days, continues unabated.
Yet none of this is inevitable. It can be changed.
Endings and Beginnings
The mix of high technology and an ethos of domination is not sustainable. Therein lies
the danger. But the upheavals and dislocations of our time also offer an opportunity for a
fundamental social and economic shift.
It's not only that the old economic modelsboth capitalist and socialistcame out of the
industrial era and we're rapidly moving into the postindustrial era. The current economic
meltdown and the meltdown of the ice caps are not isolated events: both are symptoms of
the domination system reaching its logical end.
We must build economic structures, rules, policies, and practices that support caring for
ourselves, others, and nature in both the market and nonmarket economic sectors. At the
same time, we must accelerate the shift to partnership cultures and structures worldwide
so that anything stereotypically considered "soft" or "feminine"such as caring and
caregivingis no longer devalued.
Market rulesboth locally and globallymust be changed to reward caring business
practices and penalize uncaring ones. To make these changes we must show that this
benefits not only people and nature but also business.
Hundreds of studies show the cost-effectiveness of supporting and rewarding caring in
the market economy. To give just one example, companies that regularly appear on the
Working Mothers or Fortune 500 lists of the best companies to work forthat is,
companies with good health care, child care, flextime, parental leave, and other caring
policieshave a higher return to investors.
On the national policy level, we already saw how in Nordic nations caring policies played
a major role in their move from dire poverty to a high quality of life for all. Other
examples abound, such as reports of the enormous financial benefits that have come from
investing in parenting education and assistance (as shown by the Canadian Healthy
Babies, Healthy Children program) and investing in high-quality early childhood
education (as shown by follow-up studies of the U.S. Abecedarian Project).
There are many ways of funding this investment in our world's human infrastructure
which should be amortized over a period of years, as is done for investments in material
infrastructure, such as machines and buildings. One way is to shift funding from the
heavy investment in weapons and wars characteristic of domination systems. Another is
through the savings a society gains when it no longer has to pay the immense costs of not
investing in caring and caregiving: the huge expenditures of taxpayer money on crime,
courts, prisons, lost human potential, and environmental damage. Taxes on financial
speculation and other harmful activities, such as making and selling junk food, can also
fund investment in caring for people and our natural habitat.
Good care for children will ensure we have the flexible, innovative, and caring people
needed for the postindustrial workforce. Both psychology and neuroscience show that
whether these capacities develop largely hinges on the quality of care children receive.
Educating and remunerating people for caregiving will help close the "caring gap"the
worldwide lack of care for children, the elderly, and the sick and infirm. And it will
eventually lead to a redefinition of "productivity" that gives visibility and value to what
really makes us healthy and happyand in the bargain leads to economic prosperity and
ecological sustainability.
Economic systems are human creations. They can be changed. We must build a political
movement to pressure policymakers to make these changesor change the policymakers.
We must see to it that our world's governments make a massive investment in parenting
education, paid parental leave, and innovative measures such as tax credits for caregivers
and social security credit for the first years of caring for a child (as is already done in
We can all be leaders in building a social and economic system that really meets human
needsnot only our material ones but also our emotional and spiritual ones. The sidebar
next to this article describes the six foundations needed for a truly new economic system.
If we join together, we can build these foundations and create a future in which all
children can realize their great potentials for consciousness, empathy, caring, and
creativitythe capacities that make us fully human.
Riane Eisler is a systems scientist and cultural historian, president of the Center for
Partnership Studies, and author of the international bestsellers The Chalice and the
Blade and The Real Wealth of Nations. See
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass

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