Like a window opening suddenly to admit a rush of fresh air into a stale and dismal cell of choicelessness and powerlessness, The Chalice and the Blade made an immediate and powerful impact with its promise of achievable social change via a partnership orientation at all levels. Eisler’s additional writing since has created a valuable canon of partnership literature aimed at educators, parents, school systems, activists, researchers and the general reader.
Now comes The Real Wealth of Nations, tackling the ominous gaps in our mental map of what economic theory is all about. An economy is more than the market, the government, and the military, says Eisler, eventually citing chapter and verse from a long list of other scholars to create a very persuasive case. A complete picture of a national and global economy must include the whole range of vital caring and caregiving activities—mostly undervalued, undercounted, and either severely underpaid or totally unpaid; and mostly performed (surprise!) by women—that take place in the community and in the home.
Eisler, a meticulous cross-disciplinary researcher, presents a good deal of cheering evidence to fortify her recommendations. What we spend to maximize the value of so-called human capital, for example (i.e., caring for and educating our children and youth), should be considered not a burdensome expense but a capital investment, insists the author; and as such, it should be amortizable over twenty years—the time frame for nurturing a generation of healthy, high-performing human beings. To back that up, she presents research outcomes showing that, e.g., early childhood educational interventions produce a 200 percent return on investment, and that actual companies that have adopted a comprehensively caring orientation to their workforce more than recoup their considerable investment in health care, exercise facilities, onsite child care, parental leave, and so forth, with better motivated employees, lower turnover and training costs, and higher productivity. The cases cited come from enlightened regions like the Nordic nations, where social policy is light-years ahead of nearly everyone else’s; but even in the USA, where the publicly funded social safety net now consists of way more holes than netting, there are already numerous companies profiting over the long term from this kind of investment in caring and caregiving.
In fact, the phrase “caring and caregiving” must occur about a thousand times in the ten chapters of this book (the final chapter is called “The Caring Revolution”), and evidently that’s no accident. By the time you get to the last page, you can no longer imagine a serious policy or planning environment in which the phrase “caring and caregiving” is not heard continually as an intrinsic component of the discussion. Indeed, that is precisely Eisler’s point.
Later, when in a discussion of the uses and abuses of technology, Eisler mentions Buckminster Fuller (and the notion that technology is mainly about brains and hands), I had that warm “aha!” feeling. She goes on to discuss technologies in terms of their outcomes: technologies of life support (farming, weaving, construction); technologies of actualization (music, art, education, child care, representative democratic politics); and technologies of destruction (from the first warrior knife to the latest bacteriological warhead). In attempting to reverse the existing trend toward investment in the third type at the expense of the first two, says Eisler, we will need a new set of political-economic guidelines; this new school of thought she proposes to call “partnerism.” The idea is so appealing, I may have to abandon my principled opposition to “isms.”
For about the price of a good vegan (or steak) dinner, you can order The Real Wealth of Nations in hardcover. This is one time when I wouldn’t wait for the paperback edition. Your alarm will buzz again at the usual time tomorrow morning. As you open your eyes on another day of global warming, tribal and regional conflict, and general transnational chaos, it will feel wonderful to have Eisler on your team, sharing her straightforward prescription for planetary rescue: a lot more serious, high-level, long-range attention to the crucial economic role of caring and caregiving, and a thoroughly partnerist orientation, starting right now. Today.