Riane Eisler’s Roadmap to a New Economy

Fernando Ibarra and Elifarley Cruz recommended the following article, by Riane Eisler:

* Roadmap to a New Economics: Beyond Capitalism and Socialism

It’s a call for a Caring Economics.

Just a few excerpts to give you an idea of the scope and tonality of her contribution, we recommend reading the whole article.

See especially the last section setting out her foundational principles.


“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 creativity — the 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 promotes not only human survival but also full human development.

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 nations — and the world — consists 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 market — for 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 need for new measurement tools:

“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 included in GDP only when it’s cut down — whereas 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 work — without which there would be no workforce — cannot 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 treatises — be 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 values — and to effectively address seemingly intractable problems such as poverty and hunger — we again have to look at matters that are only visible once we recognize the configurations of the partnership system and the domination system.”


“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 models — both capitalist and socialist — came 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 the 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 caregiving — is no longer devalued.

Market rules — both locally and globally — must 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 for —that is, companies with good health care, child care, flextime, parental leave, and other caring policies — have 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 happy — and 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 changes — or 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 Norway).

We can all be leaders in building a social and economic system that really meets human needs — not 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 creativity — the capacities that make us fully human.”

Foundational Principles for a Caring Economics:

“Progress in building any one of these foundations will set in motion progress in all the others in an interactive dynamic of change.

Foundation 1: A Full-Spectrum Economic Map. This map includes the household economy, the unpaid community economy, the market economy, the illegal economy, the government economy, and the natural economy.

Foundation 2: Cultural Beliefs and Institutions that Value Caring and Caregiving. These beliefs and institutions orient to the Partnership System rather than the Domination System and include a shift from dominator to partnership relations in the formative parent-child and gender relations.

Foundation 3: Caring Economic Rules, Policies, and Practices. These government and business rules, policies, and practices encourage and reward caring and caregiving; meet basic human needs (both material needs and needs for human emotional and spiritual development); direct technological breakthroughs to life-sustaining applications; and consider effects on future generations.

Foundation 4: Inclusive and Accurate Economic Indicators. These indicators include the life-sustaining activities traditionally performed by women in households and other parts of the nonmonetized economy, as well as the life-sustaining processes of nature, and do not include activities that harm us and our natural environment.

Foundation 5: Partnership Economic and Social Structures. These more equitable and participatory structures support relations of mutual benefit, responsibility, and accountability rather than the concentration of economic assets and power at the top.

Foundation 6: An Evolving Economic Theory of Partnerism. This economic theory incorporates the partnership elements of both capitalism and socialism, but goes beyond them to recognize the essential economic value of caring for ourselves, others, and nature.”

Source: The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, by Riane Eisler. Berrett-Koehler, 2007.

1 Comment Riane Eisler’s Roadmap to a New Economy

  1. Hazel HendersonHazel Henderson

    Hi Michel and Riane :

    Great summary article , Riane !

    Michel : Riane and I have been friends and colleagues for over 20 years . Riane serves on my Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators ( with the Calvert group, updated regularly at http://www.Calvert-Henderson.com ) and on our Ethical Markets Media Advisory Board as well.

    Cheers. Hazel

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