They’re Just not Jaded by Charles Eisenstein
The story of economic growth over the last centuries is the story of a conversion on non-monetized forms of wealth—I call them natural, social, cultural, and spiritual capital—into monetized goods and services.
Natural capital refers to the wealth of the land, the soil, the water, and the living world. Its conversion transforms forests into board-feet of lumber, ecosystems into strip mines, earth into commodities, oceans into seafood production facilities, and ultimately, all of these into money.
Social capital refers to the practices and skills by which human beings care for one another. Its conversion transforms these into paid services: cooking, child care, entertainment, healing, communication, play, and many other functions are now things we purchase. A few generations ago, all were part of a social commons, carried out in informal systems of mutual aid, gift, and reciprocity within families or communities. Some call the process of their loss “deskilling.”
Cultural capital comprises music, literature, art, ideas, and everything else that has become intellectual property. Just as the original land commons was progressively enclosed into private holdings, so also is the cultural commons enclosed into separate fiefdoms separated by paywalls. Meanwhile, it has migrated from common currency into the hands of professionals and experts.
Spiritual capital refers to important human virtues and capacities like attention, humor, imagination, creativity, kindness, generosity, common sense, initiative, self-confidence, and trust. Their monetization is sometimes direct, as when the manufactured images of television and movies supplant the self-created images we call imagination, or when the fake adventures of video games supplant the self-discovery of challenging real limits. More usually though, it is indirect. Passive, depressed, alienated, lonely people are pliant consumers.
The conversion of natural, social, cultural, and spiritual capital into money is driven by economic forces so deep that they are rooted in the nature of money itself; money, that is, in its current incarnation as interest-bearing debt. Its design compels it ever to grow, and thus, the non=monetized commons ever to shrink.
Economists and politicians celebrate this process and call it economic growth. But in a deeper sense of the word, really it should be called economic conversion.