The Real Wealth of Nations

By Brandie Balken

An interview with futurist Riane Eisler.
-by Brandie Balken
balken_wealthofnations.gifEvery week the all-volunteer hosts of KRCL radio’s RadioActive program tackle the world’s diverse problems, talking with visionary artists, activists and academics who are working to create a just, positive and sustainable world. One of our nation’s foremost visionary scholars and futurists is Riane Eisler. Her classic book, “The Chalice and the Blade,” debunked the myths that frame the so-called war of the sexes. Her latest book, “The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics” offers a new vision for dynamic social reform, challenging us to assess who and what we economically value in our society. Eisler is the president of the Center for Partnership Studies and the author of 11 books. She advocates a gender-holistic world-view and a bold theory of social evolution called Cultural Transformation Theory. Eisler recently spoke with Tuesday host Brandie Balken.

RadioActive: Many powerful ideas are introduced in “The Chalice and the Blade.” Could you re-familiarize us with the Dominator and Partnership models for society?

RE: I ask people to join me in thinking outside the box of conventional categories such as capitalist vs. socialist, religious vs. secular, east vs. west, and so on-because none of these categories are helping us move to the kind of sustainable, equitable and more peaceful world that we so urgently need. And none of these really look at the whole social system. My books have attracted so much attention because they offer new lenses for looking at the world: the partnership and the domination system. The question for the future really is, what kind of social structures support either relations of top-down ranking (man over women, man over man or man over nature, etc.) or the relations that we so need-more mutually respectful, harmonious and beneficial for all? The Partnership and the Domination system describe the configuration of beliefs and structures that support either top-down ranking of domination or these more equitable relations that I call partnership relations.

RA: In “The Real Wealth of Nations,” you talk about creating “caring economics.”  What is the function of an economic system?

RE: We have been almost brainwashed into thinking we are here to serve the economy, right? But the economy should be there to help us develop our highest potential-to help us find a way of making a living that works for all. If you look at the whole span of cultural evolution in all world regions, the earliest cradles of civilization, going back to the first agricultural societies, were more in a partnership direction. There was a shift about 5,000 years ago to the domination system. Particularly today, we urgently need to leave this system behind. The mix of high technology and the ethos of domination and conquest is simply not sustainable. The “conquest of nature” is built into the domination system. That is why the crisis today affects our entire planet.

RA: We feel like we serve our economic system. In truth, the economic system should serve us. But many people are in this reality that says, ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ – we have to do everything to promote free markets. To even shift the conversation seems like a big leap.

RE: Changing the conversation is the first essential step for change. When we moved from feudalism, the normative ideals were obedience and fealty. Then the conversations shifted to ideals of freedom and equality. But that’s not all. You have to change the rules of the game. And people don’t like change. Neither capitalism or communism are solving environmental problems. Nor are they solving chronic poverty. The globalization of capitalism, while it is in some regions creating a larger middle class, is also widening the gap between haves and have-nots, both between nations and within nations. For people to embrace change, you not only have to critique what is wrong, you have to also offer a viable alternative and show that it is effective.

RA: The economic map that we have put together is not telling the full story.

RE: If you have only have a partial picture you can’t really connect the dots. In a domination system, you don’t have a free market. You have monopolies. You have re-concentration of wealth in multinationals. The market, the government economy and the illegal economy are only part of the conventional story. That leaves out the most important aspect of the economy-which are the life sustaining sectors of the household economy. Economists keep telling us we need high-quality human capital-which is produced in households. The volunteer community economy-including environmental activism, including social justice work-is ignored. The natural economy is ignored. As a result, the measures that economists and policy makers draw from-the so-called measures of economic health such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Product (GNP)-are totally crazy.

RA: Right, because they don’t even include these fundamental factors of having a healthy community, happy children, an environment that they can live within…

RE: …and that is really the issue, isn’t it? Without those there would be no workforce, there would be no economy, none of us would be here. If you really look at GDP, you see that it includes activities that actually harm or take life; oil spills are great for domestic product-the clean up, the lawsuit, the expert witnesses, the appeals. Not only do they put negatives on the positive side, they fail to include as productive those who work in the household sectors. They say people working in the unpaid household are “economically inactive.” It’s ludicrous.

RA: You use the example of the Exxon Valdez spill.

RE: Here was this horrible oil spill. It deprived people of their livelihood and health, not to mention what it did to other species. And this beautiful area still has oil there now. You would think measures of GDP would reflect the enormous damage-but quite the contrary. Instead of paying people, [Exxon] mounted one appeal after another. Expert witnesses. Reams of depositions. Thousands of pages. All of this was terrific for GDP. It was all on the plus side.

RA: Let’s contrast that with institutions like early kindergarten, or free health care-and how that shows up as a negative.

RE: It doesn’t show up at all. It’s pathological. It’s reflected in the market. In the United States, professions that don’t involve caregiving, such as engineering or plumbing, are universally higher paid than professions that do-child care, or elementary school teaching. People will think nothing of paying $50 an hour to the person to whom we entrust our pipes-the plumbers. But the person to whom we entrust our children makes $10 an hour. We insist that the plumber be trained, but we don’t insist that all childcare workers be trained-even though we know how profound the impact of good or bad care is.

We are the only industrial nation that doesn’t offer health care. As a result American corporations have been at a major disadvantage. They always warn, “ah, socialism!” But the nations that are in the forefront of moving toward a partnership side, such as Sweden, Finland, Norway – they don’t see themselves as socialists. They talk about being “caring societies.” These nations were very poor at the beginning of the 20th century, but because they invested in caring for people and nature, today they are in the highest ranking of the World Economic Foreign Global Competitiveness Report. Finland is even ahead of the richer, more powerful United States. It’s because they have moved to the partnership side of the domination-partnership continuum. We need to understand what that configuration looks like, and the fact that we can also move in that direction more vigorously.

RA: What has brought them to this place where they have high quality human capital?

RE: Nordic nations are noted for both political and economic democracies. There is not a huge gap between haves and have-nots. The reason of course is their caring policies. Secondly, these are nations where the status of women is much higher. Women are 40% of the national legislature. As the status of women rises, men find that it’s okay to embrace stereotypical feminine goals, activities and values. And the third thing is they are leaving behind dominator traditions of violence. The first peace studies came out of the Nordic world. They are always trying to mediate nonviolent international conflict. That is very different from our dominator configuration, where war is holy, women are subordinate, where there is top-down political, economic and family rankings. We have here an example of something that works.

RA: How do we start to value caregiving in our culture?

RE: What we really need to do is change our consciousness of what is valuable economically. And yes, a caring economics not only pays in human terms but pays in dollars and cents. Changing the conversation is something that every one of us can do. We pay musicians, we pay artists, why shouldn’t we pay for the most essential human work – and give it some visibility and value? 

RadioActive airs live M-F at noon on KRCL 90.9 FM. You can stream the entire interview at

Learn more about Riane Eisler at

This article was originally published on June 28, 2007.