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Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics

Charles Eisenstein is the author of the book Sacred Economics, which was released in summer 2011. Ian MacKenzie loved the book so much he flew out to film Charles and create this short film to spread his message.

MY FIRST INTRODUCTION to Charles Eisenstein came through a 1-hour talk he gave to the Santa Fe Time Bank called Living in the Gift. His ideas resonated with me and helped me to understand how our money economy causes separation within our communities.

What intrigued me the most is the idea that money cuts ties between people; when a money transaction occurs, both parties walk away untethered, with no obligation to each other. This is where the breakdown of community happens. I can see this in my own life — when someone does something for me, I feel an obligation to pay them back, and the sooner I can do that the better I feel, like a weight is being lifted off my shoulders.

Charles talks about how in a gifting economy, this immediate “payback” doesn’t happen, and the payback might not even happen directly to the person who provided the good or service. Instead, the accountability occurs when the act of gifting is witnessed by the community, and the receiving party will pay the gift back within the community at some point. This is what ties the community together. In our money economy, we don’t want that tie to anybody; we just want to pay off our “debt” in the quickest way possible and be on our way.

In a gift society, if you have more than you need, you give it to somebody who needs it…that’s where security comes from, because if you build up all that gratitude people are going to take care of you, too. And if there are no gifts, there is no community, and we can see as society’s become more monetized that community has disappeared. People long for it but you can’t just have community as an add-on to a monetized life. You have to actually need each other. ~ Charles Eisenstein

Based on Charles’ book, filmmaker Ian Mackenzie created this short film as his way of providing a gift through talent, to help spread the message:

After reading Charles Eisenstein’s book Sacred Economics, which speaks eloquently about the return of the “gift economy”, I felt compelled to gift back. The best way I knew how was to use my filmmaking skills to share Charles’ work, and spread it to communities around the globe. His vision of “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible” is the salve that so many of us need at this time, in the age of great transition. My hope is this film catalyzes those who work with passion and dedication to live this world right now.

About Sacred Economics

Excerpted from the video page:

Sacred Economics traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth.

Today, these trends have reached their extreme — but in the wake of their collapse, we may find great opportunity to transition to a more connected, ecological, and sustainable way of being.

Read Sacred Economics

In keeping true to the spirit of gifting, Charles has provided the entire text online for free. A hard copy can also be purchased here.

Following the premiere of the short film on March 1 at noon EST, a Q&A session will be held. You can attend or read about it here.



About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • Turner

    I never really thought about it that way before. So any act of paying something back only serves to cut ties? How could we change a personal debt to one owed society?

    • Ian MacKenzie

      Think of it like: indebtedness = relationship.  So it’s better to be indebted to your community, because they are indebted to you. You will actually need each other, rather than simply surrounding ourselves with transactional relationships.

  • überlin

    It’s great that people are talking about this stuff, but I think the idea of a “gift society” is a little naive. Douglas Rushkoff’s Life Inc includes a far greater understanding of the way the money system is, and way more practical ideas for improving the situation.

    • Ian MacKenzie

      The full depth of Charles ideas can’t be conveyed in a 12 minute video… I highly recommend reading the entire book – it’s online for free here

  • Guest

    “In a gift society, if you have more than you need, you give it to somebody who needs it…that’s where security comes from, because if you build up all that gratitude people are going to take care of you, too.” 

    Kind of like how Obama takes from the 49% who pay federal taxes and gives it to the 51% who don’t pay taxes so he builds up all that gratitude  and people are going to take care of him come voting time.

  • Natalie

    You state that the nature of our economy is transactionally based, in which people exchange and then part un-tied, thus leading to a “breakdown of community.” Is our society’s economic system really to blame for our modern world’s lack of community? I am much more inclined to think the deterioration of community is a result of increased technology, and a consequent decline in real social interaction. Also, even in a “gift society,” you state that “when someone does something for me, I feel an obligation to pay them back, and the sooner I can do that the better I feel, like a weight is being lifted off my shoulders”… even/fair exchange is still occurring, just not up front. Why, then, are simultaneous economic exchanges any different? At the end of the day, individuals want to maximize their own utility and well-being, and the idealized “gift economy” operates under this principle; however, it requires the accountability and integrity of all individuals, which unfortunately, on a large scale, is purely quixotic.

  • Happens Again

    Ah yes, some of man’s biggest accomplishments have been given to us by the great “gifting societies” throughout history. Such as penicillin, electricity, the eradication of polio, air travel, open heart surgery, iPads, and the internet…..oh wait…. 

    • Alexander Lee

      That is a fantastic comment, and it makes me feel better that I am not the only one with respect for the production of human values.

  • Ivan Ivković

    It’s astonishing how more and more evident this is.

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