5 min read

Welcome! What is Embodied Economics?

Welcome! What is Embodied Economics?

Welcome to Embodied Economics! It means so much to me that you are here.

Quick note on what to expect: this will be an irregularly cadenced circular (aka blog), but likely two, or more, posts a month. I will attempt to learn enough coding to add a comment function to this Ghost site...but in the meantime, feel free to be in touch with me at: hello@denisehearn.com with any thoughts — I'd be delighted to hear from you. Ok, onto the good stuff!


Economics is everywhere. We live in an economic society, characterized by an economic culture. Almost everything that we need to survive and thrive as humans comes to us through the market or the state and is guided by economic policy. Money, of course, but also food, housing, healthcare. Jobs. Literature, music, arts. Education. Transportation. Energy.

But economies existed long before the formal discipline of economics. And before economies, there were simply humans — arranging themselves and their families, tribes, and trading exchanges through place-based customs and traditions, as varied and unique as each of us.

When we speak of ‘the economy’ today, we speak of a seemingly esoteric concept understood only by ivory tower economists, market analysts, and central bankers. But ‘the economy’ is simply the collective contribution of billions of human bodies and brains — building and creating from our shared knowledge and natural commons. It is, simply, “the cumulative result of the way you live your life, and the way everyone around you lives theirs.”

The economy is also built from the bodies of billions of animals (80 billion are killed each year for meat consumption) and billions of pounds of raw materials excavated every year for the production of energy, consumer goods, coinage, and more. To maintain a standard American lifestyle, each person requires an average of 40,630 pounds of minerals each year, including copper, iron, coal, petroleum, manganese, and salt, among others.

Economics, for too long, has forgotten these physical realities. It has ignored precisely what it is to be human. To be human is to be a living, embodied person, embedded in nature and a complex tapestry of relationships. Embodied Economics aims to center what has been ignored, and it starts by recognizing the Forgotten Five of economics: the body, care, nature, interconnectedness, and power.* These five core themes will emerge again and again in this blog.

THE BODY

We all arrive in the world in bodies — a commonality that we've used, instead, to separate. We’ve assigned false hierarchies to different bodies and sought to transcend the body altogether with the rationality of the mind. But the economy, itself, is the cumulative energy and contribution of billions of bodies. An economic system organized around the shared needs of bodies would be radically different.

CARE

Bodies are born, become injured, get sick, need care and nurture, and eventually die. Care work, despite being the foundation of every other form of “productive” economic value, is still uncounted in formal economic analysis (like GDP). Those who provide care (typically women — particularly women of color) continue to be undervalued in the economy: women's unpaid care work is estimated at $11 trillion globally, every year. How could we reimagine the value of care?

NATURE

We see ourselves as separate from, as opposed to embedded within, the natural world. Long-term species survival depends on the preservation of our habitat, recognizing ecological limits, and tending to nature as an extension of ourselves. Indeed, we are nature. What rights — economic and otherwise — should nature have?

INTERCONNECTEDNESS

Human bodies, natural ecosystems, and the economy are all complex adaptive systems; yet,we have mistakenly applied linear, mechanistic thinking to complex systems, yielding ineffective economic policy. How can we, instead, apply systems-thinking at all levels of scale, to yield stable and democratic economies that account for the vast and complex interdependencies inherent in our systems?

POWER

Traditional economics does not account for power, viewing all humans as rational actors in a neutral, free market (know as rational choice theory). This does not square with human experience, where asymmetries of power are a determinant of market participation and opportunity. What would an economics of partnership ("power with"), as opposed to an economics of domination ("power over"), look and feel like?**


Now imagine these became the Foundational Five — the baseline of how we assessed and understood what our economic systems could become? Each of the five pillars is a prism by which we might hold ideas to the light of evaluation and collective dialogue.

Imagine an economy that does not artificially supersede the most important, embodied human needs, but which embraces them — an economics that both describes the world as it truly is (not as we imagine it to be in overly simplistic models), but which also points us towards the world we could become. An economy that fosters dignity, sufficiency, and connectedness (instead of exploitation, excess and want, and separation). An economics that doesn’t hurtle us forward toward the sixth mass extinction event…

Embodied Economics is my ongoing inquiry into the forces that shape economic systems — the meta-narratives (which I’ll call, the “Big Stories”), the market structures, and the policies which define our reality. How we construct monetary and economic systems are as much a function of how we want to trade, as they are an expression about our cultural, philosophical, and even religious and spiritual views about who we are as a species and our relationship to the cosmos.

There are many existing thinkers, movement leaders, wisdom keepers, and new economic experiments that have paved the way. I will draw from and amplify those who have laid the foundation for these concepts. There is no individual knowledge — it comes to us through relationship, our shared human project. I also will explore concepts from diverse fields like biology, cognitive science, psychology, sociology, and civic design, among others, and will incorporate voices from artists, poets, and faith and wisdom traditions.

If this all sounds too lofty (which it most certainly is), I hope you’ll bear with me. Better yet — join me! I would love to hear what is resonating or what's missing. What new experiments and models are inspiring you? My hope and commitment is that this blog will leave us feeling more connected and courageous to do our part in visioning and cultivating a better world, one small step at a time.

In the meantime, here is a preview of what you can look forward to in upcoming posts:

  1. A three part series on Profit (what it is, how it is derived, how it might be reimagined)
  2. An interview with Indy Johar, the co-founder of Dark Matter Labs
  3. How the scientific definition of ‘Life’ has a lot in common with the idea of Economic Value

Thank you for joining me. I am truly excited to begin.

Denise


*Many of the concepts in Embodied Economics (particularly the Forgotten Five) have evolved over the past year in conversation with my two dear friends and collaborators: Katrine Marçal and Michelle Meagher (who both have brilliant books I highly recommend!). This blog will be in my voice going forward, but their thinking has shaped mine in a foundational way — much more than I can do justice to here. I am deeply grateful.

**See Riane Eisler's foundational work on systems of domination and partnership (author of The Chalice and the Blade).