Economy : From Care and Management of “oikos” to a Money Machine at War with the Planet and People.—Dr Vandana Shiva
“Ecology is…the science of the earth, her living beings, her ecosystems. Oikonomia, or Economy, to be true to its name and its roots, should be care and management of the Earth as our home.”
The word ‘economy’ has its roots in the Greek word ‘oikos’, which originally referred to household, house, or family, its daily operations and maintenance. Economy, derived from Oikonomia is thus the management of the home .
Today, we need to see “oikos” both in terms of our particular homes in particular places, as well as the planet as our common home, and the Earth Family as one family of all beings and people on the Earth.
Aristotle referred to “Oikonomia” as the Art of Living. As the Art of living, the economy is aligned to nature’s and society’s life giving processes .
In 1988 Ernest Herschel, the leading German disciple of Darwin derived the new label ‘oecologies’ (from the same root word “oikos”) to refer to the science of the relations of living organisms to the external world – their habitat, customs, energies etc. Ecology is thus the science of the earth, her living beings, her ecosystems .
Oikonomia, or Economy, to be true to its name and its roots, should be care and management of the Earth as our home.
Aristotle referred to “Oikonomia” as the Art of Living. As the Art of living, the economy is aligned to nature’s and society’s life giving processes. He differentiated “Oikonomia” from “Chrematistics”, the Art of Money Making .
Today, the Economy has lost its way. It has gone rogue. It has become a brutal money machine that is destroying the homes of the poor, and our common home. It has become a war against people and the planet.
And it needs to be brought home. It needs to be brought back in service of the Earth in accordance with ecology, the laws of the Earth.
Today Economy run by and for the 1% has been reduced to “Chrematistics”, or money making through a Money Machine. Worse, this reduced construction of “economy” that ignores and destroys the real wealth of nature and society has been elevated to the status of a new religion. The Mechanical Mind combined with the Money Making Machine is sucking out every bit of life, and real wealth from nature and society. It accepts no limits of violence against nature and diverse cultures, against people’s rights and nature’s rights, against nature’s and people’s potential for creativity, for working, for making, for producing. The world the 1% are creating is a world without life based on extinguishing and exterminating Oikonomia, the Art of Living
Wealth is Wellbeing
The original meaning of “wealth” is well being and happiness, not money. And money is not finance, definitely not digital finance which is allowing billionaires to make money out of money, while colonizing local self organized economies
Real wealth is our biodiversity and seeds, our soil and our land, our water and clean air, our food and our health. Our real wealth is to care for the Earth, to rejuvenate her potential through our care. It is not property to be owned and traded for profit, it is not raw material to be used and thrown away as garbage and waste, polluting and degrading the planet.
Real wealth is our real relationships and our real communities.
Commons and communities are beyond the state and the market.They are self organized. They are Autopoietic.
Real wealth is our capacity to create, produce and make what we and our communities need to ensure our well being .Well being is the original meaning of wealth, not money. Work creates wealth. As co-creators and co-producers with nature we protect the Earth’s wealth creating capacities and enhance our own. We create real wealth when we live as Earth Citizens in earth economies, aware of the Earth’s potential to create abundance and her fragile limits which put limits on our activities.
Circular vs Linear Extractive Economies
The circular economy replenishes nature and society. It creates enoughness and well being for all.
They are therefore circular economies that are aware of, and maintain nature’s cycles. All ecological crises are the rupture of nature’s cycles, and the transgression of what have been called planetary boundaries. When we give back organic matter to nature, she continues to give us food. The work in giving back is our work. Giving us food is nature’s complex work—through her soil, her biodiversity, her water, the sun, the air .
In the circular economy we give back to society. Wealth is shared. Wealth circulates .
In real economies, plants grow, soil organisms grow, children grow in well being and happiness.
The circular economy replenishes nature and society. It creates enoughness and well being for all. In the care of the Earth and society, diversity of meaningful and creative work is possible. It is based on nature’s law of return. In nature, their is no waste, no pollution .
When economies are circular, every living being, every place, is the centre of the economy, and nature and society evolve and emerge from multiple self organized systems, like the trillions of cells in our body.
Circular economies as living economies are by their very nature biodiverse, spanning from the intimate and local, to the global and planetary .
Just as self organized systems evolve in and through diversity, self organized economies are diverse. However the economic paradigm based on a linear one-way extraction of resources and wealth from nature and society has promoted systems of production and consumption that have ruptured and torn apart these cycles, threatening the stability of the natural and social world.
The dominant model of the Economy no longer has its roots in Ecology, but exists outside and above Ecology, disrupting the ecological systems and processes that support life in the natural and social world. The unchecked conquest of resources is pushing species to extinction and has led ecosystems to collapse, while causing irreversible climate disasters.
Similarly, Economy, which is part of society, has been placed outside and above society, beyond democratic control. Ethical values, cultural values, spiritual values, values of care and co-operation have all been sidelined by the extractive logic of the global market that seeks only profit. Competition leaves no room for cooperation. All values that arise from our interdependent, diverse and complex reality have been displaced or destroyed. When reality is replaced by abstract constructions created by the dominant powers in society, manipulation of nature and society for profits and power becomes easy. The welfare of real people and real societies is replaced with the welfare of corporations. The real production of the economies of nature and society is replaced by the abstract construction of capital. The real, the concrete, the life-giving gives way to the artificially constructed currencies, artificial fertilizer, artificial food, artificial intelligence …
“The linear extractive economy … has no place for the care of nature and community. It leaves nature and society impoverished …”
The linear extractive economy is based on extraction, commodification, profits, and the creation of waste and pollution by the rupture of natures cycles of renewal. It has no place for the care of nature and community. It leaves nature and society impoverished, be it extraction of minerals, or extraction of knowledge through Biopiracy, or extraction of “genes” through genetic mining, or extraction of data through “data mining”, or extraction of rents and royalties for seed, water, communication, privatised education and health care. It creates poverty, debt, and displacement. It creates waste—waste as pollution, wasted resources, wasted people, wasted lives. It creates a world without work, but imagines that people without work will all be “consumers “ of junk food, junk clothing, and junk communication. It is this extractive money machine which has led to the rise of the 1 % and disposability of the 99% .
The Money Machine
The money machine is a linear, extractive, violent machine—it extracts resources, minerals, soil fertility, water from the earth. It mines and pirates genes from seeds and life forms. It is now “mining data “ from our farms, our relationships, our lives. It transforms every commons into a commodity—to be sold for profit. And it is through constantly enclosing the commons that sustain life and create real growth, it creates “growth” measured as money making, not growth in life well being and happiness .
The money machine guzzles real resources, real people as “inputs” and turns them into commodities for trade, and waste to be dumped—wasted nature, wasted people.
Commodification of Life and Enclosures of the Commons
The money machine is based on enclosures of the commons, and their conversion into private property for trade and commerce.
For the money machine, trade and profits come first—nature and people are an impediment that must be removed.
The money machine displaces and destroys creativity, and production, and local economies and makes all economies subservient to global trade controlled by the 1%. Globalisation as trade rules imposed on the world is necessary for the money machine.
The money machine was put in place over the last 500 years as colonial powers stole the wealth of communities, and enclosed the commons. Colonisation as a project began with Chistopher Columbus, the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel of Spain, and Pope Alexander. It continued with the creation of the East India Company, the first corporation that ruled the world.
The corporate construction was vital to the economy as empire and empire as Economy. As William Bolts wrote in 1772, nearly two centuries after the creation of the East India Company, “ company is nothing more than a despotic oligarchy of merchants who had usurped the status of sovereigns” (pg 52 in Shashi Tharoor, “An era of darkness “ ). It has taken diverse forms over the past five centuries, but the principles of wealth accumulation through violence, piracy, colonisation and enclosures of the commons persists. In an earlier age the wealth grab was through the violence of colonial conquest. Now it is the structural violence of the money machine in the hands of 1% who use sophisticated abstractions and constructions, privatisations and enclosures of the commons to appropriate of the real wealth from the earth and from real people.
The war against the poor
Poverty is not the original state of nature or earth centred economies of local communities . The dominant economic program creates poverty, the economy of the 1% punishes the poor.
The poor are poor because 1% have grabbed their resources and wealth. Peasants are getting poorer because the 1% are promoting an industrial agriculture based on purchase of costly patented seeds and chemical inputs, which traps them in debt, and destroys their soil, water, biodiversity, and their freedom.
Small farmers are getting poorer because vertically integrated corporations are stealing 99% of the value they produce . They are getting poorer because “free trade “ promotes dumping, destruction of livelihoods and depression of farm prices .
The people of the South are getting poorer because the 1% impose profit making privatisation policies for health and education, transport and energy through the World Bank and IMF.
The war against Nature and Women
Women and Nature are made colonies in the dominant economic paradigm of capitalist patriarchy- based convergence of two forms of violence—the power of patriarchy, and the rule of money. Economy of the 1% is patriarchal and anti women.
As Ronnie Lessem and Alexander Schieffer indicate: “if the fathers of capitalist theory had chosen a mother rather than a single bourgeois male as the smallest economic unit for their theoretical constructions, they would not have been able to formulate the axiom of the selfish nature of human beings in the way they did” (Ronnie Lessem / Alexander Schieffer, Integral Economies, Ashgate/Gower, Farnham, U.K, 2010).
Think of the billions of women whose care and work sustains society and the economy whose work and contributions are not counted, and whose burden increases as the 1 % appropriates all resources and wealth, leaving women to sustain families and communities with fewer resources. But it is also patriarchal in its assumptions and instruments, and in its impact on real people living in real economies. The Big Money Economy is based on the rules on the economic system excluding women and their work, and rewarding those who exploit the earth, women and working people .
Most work in the world is done by women. As I have written in Staying Alive, and Most Farmers of India are Women, women do most of the work, but are not counted. More significantly, most of the work women do is in what I call the sustenance economy, and Maria Mies, Veronika Bennholdt Thomson and Claudia van Werlhof call the subsistence economy (Maria Mies / Veronika Bennholdt Thomson “The Subsistence Perspective”). Genevieve Waughan calls the “gift economy” (For Giving, A Feminist Criticism of Exchange, Plain View Press, Australia, 1997) and Riane Eisler calls the “caring economies” (Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Fransisco, 2007). These real economies that ensure well being are not in the imagination, nor the calculus of the 1%.
Ecology, economics and gender are all intimately connected to the construction of ‘home’ as a metaphor.
The household was originally the metaphor for the Economy
Before the emergence of modern patriarchal models of ‘economies’, it was assumed that national economic affairs could be conceived as mere extensions of the housekeeper’s budget. Similarly, ‘oecologie’ suggested that the living organisms of the earth formed a single economic unit resembling a household or family living intimately together.
With ‘home’ as the metaphor for both ecology and economics there was no hierarchical divide between domestic production and commodity production for exchange and trade. Neither was there a divide between nature’s economy, the sustenance economy and the market economy.
Modern economic models however, reconstituted the metaphor of home—it was no longer the model for economic organization. The home was effectively separated from the economy and made economically invisible. The home was also redefined as ‘the absence of economy’.
As a result, the division of labour between the genders was also mapped out homologously—with females projected into the household, and males projected out into the economy. When the economy was an extension of the household, both areas had the participation of both genders. The removal of the economy from the household in reality led to the division or separation of the economy from the household on the basis of gender.
At the social level, this led to what Maria Mies has called the ‘housewifisation’ of the domestic economy. According to patriarchal economic models, production in and for the home (and for need) is counted as ‘non-production’. The transformation of value into dis-value, labour into non-labour, knowledge into non-knowledge, is achieved by two very powerful constructs—the production boundary and the creation boundary.
This is what Ariel Salleh’s refers to as an ’embodied materialism’ in her book Ecofeminism as Politics as:
“giving historical significance to ‘othered labour’, that unnamed class of hands-on workers who catalyse natural processes so enabling life-on-earth to flourish. Unless radical politics is grounded in the experience of this global labour majority … it will simply reinforce the instrumental culture that treats the earth and its peoples as an endless economic resource.”
We would add that today’s Big Money is also anti nature. It is based on a paradigm of hyper anthropocentrism, of the continued assumption that nature is dead matter, and domination, conquest and control over the earth through violent tools and technologies is the “civilizing” mission of the men with Big Money. It is anthropocentric since it is based on owning life though patents, privatization and enclosures of the commons, and the hubris of trying to engineer the planet through geo-engineering. And its roots lie in Colonialism.
Just as the construction of the mechanical mind creates separations and divisions from and within nature, erasing the diversity of intelligences, the construction of the Economy as a money making machine erases the contributions of nature and people. I have called these nature’s economies and people’s economies, to differentiate them from the globalised market economy under corporate control which is the only economy seen and counted.
The laws of Gaia are the basis of life on earth. They precede production, they precede exchange, and they precede the market.
The laws of Gaia are the basis of life on earth. They precede production, they precede exchange, and they precede the market. The market depends on Gaia. Gaia does not depend on the market. Both the earth and society come first. They are sovereign and autonomous. They cannot be commoditised, and reduced to the market.
Nature has been subjugated to the market as a mere supplier of industrial raw material and dumping ground for waste and pollution. It is falsely claimed that exploiting the earth creates economic value and economic growth, and this improves human welfare. While human welfare is invoked to separate humans from the earth and justify her limitless exploitation, all of humanity does not benefit. In fact most lose. Pitting humans against nature is not merely anthropocentric, it is corporatocentric. The earth community has been reduced to humans, and humans have been further reduced to corporations as legal persons. Corporations then reshape part of humanity as consumers of their products and part of humanity as disposable. Consumers lose their identity as earth citizens, as co-creators and co-producers with nature. Those rendered disposable lose their very lives and livelihoods.
The dominant economic model is anti-people and anti-workers. It robs people of their creativity and meaning, their significance and rights, and reduces them to inputs into an industrial process and an economy of the 1%.
This is how the Economy of the 1% has been created. It is an economy where fictions and constructions displace reality, where the super rich crush nature and people, engineer life, our imagination and our democracies to turn their money making into a perpetual motion machine which they think is unstoppable. But in the destructiveness of the machine, is built its own destruction. There is no business on a dead planet. Their are no “markets” and “consumers” in a society of disposable people.
The war against the future
Future generations can see that the money machine based on greed has declared a war against the future. That is why they are striking. That is why they have started the Extinction Rebellion.
The Satyagraha For Life as a common movement of diverse communities and peoples of all cultures, colours, ages, genders has just started.
Their power will bring the economy home to the Earth .
And we, as humanity, will ReBegin, to sow the seeds of Oikonomia—the Art of Living.
Originally published as: My message on World Environment Day , 5th June , 2019.
Read more in Oneness vs 1% by Dr Vandana Shiva and Kartikey Shiva, Women Unlimited, 2018 and the Forward in The Extinction Rebellion Handbook, “This is not a Drill“ Penguin , forthcoming)
This article is reprinted by kind permission of Dr Vandana Shiva: “In Gratitude for a Legacy of Freedom”. You can read the original article here on Dr Shiva’s “Jivad—The Vandana Shiva Blog” [click here]: and follow Dr Shiva’s social media on Twitter @NavdanyaBija [click here].
Dr Vandana Shiva is an Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and anti-globalization author. Dr Shiva, currently based in Delhi, has authored more than twenty books. You can learn more about Dr Shiva’s work through her Navdanya.org website [click here].