Charles Eisenstein: What Is Wealth?

Recently, author and "de-growth activist" Charles Eisenstein stopped by the Martenson homestead while traveling on business. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Chris sat him down to record an impromptu discussion on the nature of wealth.

As should come as little surprise to Peak Prosperity readers, financial wealth ("money") is just one component -- and given society's current over-fixation with it, its pursuit oftentimes limits our ability to be truly wealthy:

For a lot of people with money, they have wrapped their identity up in it. That is their narrative. They are running around with this narrative that identifies themselves with their wealth. They know on some level that this is fantasy wealth because all you have to do is read any one of a hundred books now on the subject that says money is printed out of thin air, which means it is an idea. An idea that one segment of society, a very small one, gets to just literally make out of thin air. It is like your whole identity depends on what the magician is going to do next. You know deep down you cannot control that.

For a period of time, financial wealth and real wealth,have been the same concept. But then there are all of these other periods of history, again, easy to find, where humans behave like humans. They decide to take the easy road out. To print money out of thin air. To debase the coinage if you were in Roman times. To print the physical currency on paper stock if you were in Weimar times. Or today, the electronic equivalent  -- which is harder to track and feel, so it creates that little undercurrent of dread. It is not like you can see the bank notes piling up in the street, right? So where do you get your clues? They are a little bit harder to track.

That is part of the devious nature of our current monetary system. It is just one-step too complex for the vast majority of people to follow. For the people who can follow it, and I interact with these people all the time. People who are up to their eyeballs, 30 years deep trading, 24 hours a day in their hedge fund. They are the most nervous people I know. They are the ones who are buying retreat compounds with bunkers and beans and all of that stuff, right, because they can imagine a binary outcome. It either works or it does not. That gives them a lot of dread.

The other dread for all the other people just sitting around with wealth is this. Their identity is wrapped up in it and so they have that narrative. What happens if your money goes away? Well, then who are you? 

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Charles Eisenstein (61m:41s)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I always wondered why the editors of the Judeo-Christian Bible entitled the last book of their series, Revelation.  ​Some famous guy once said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive".
It's an unfortunate fact of life, that it takes some of us reductionist types an entire lifetime to come to that same conclusion. Anybody still need potatoes? 

Thank you, Chris and Charles, for calling our attention to our network of relationships with all things.  Our moment-to-moment choices about how to respond to what happens to us in our relationships do indeed determine how we grow or deteriorate.  Your uplifting discussion invites us to attend to and honor our relationships within the fascinating world in which we live.
Your comments about the gut biome and its relationships with our bodies reminded me of an intriguing book titled Brain Maker written by David Purlmutter, MD (  Intended for a lay audience but based on recent scientific findings, it describes the incredible biological world that resides in our guts, and the relationships among these creatures and our health (particularly our neurological health).  Curious PP readers will enjoy this read.

Regarding cannaboids…my mom passed away from cancer last year.  We chose to take care of her at home for her last few months.  During her last month when the hospice warned us that she would be in a great deal of pain, we used a cannabis product instead of an opiate to help her with the pain.  Medical marijuana actually used for medical reasons.  Who would have thought?
When we saw her reaction to the product, we felt a bit guilty that we'd gone and fed our health-conscious and drug-free Mom pot and now she was high all the time.  She was definitely a bit out of it.  But then the hospice nurse wanted to know what it was we were doing, because in their experience, patients at that stage were usually dosed up with so much morphine they were non-responsive, and while Mom was a bit dreamy, she was able to participate in life up until a few days before she passed away.  To them, it was amazing.  We had nothing to compare it to, but if I'm ever in that situation again, that's the route I'll go.

For anyone unfortunate to be in the same situation: Cheeba Chews, CBD version.

Excellent discussion.


Chris, thank you for sharing this chat.  What hit home to me was our culturally understated value of living with and by the seasons.  There is a lot of coverage in the media about our financial season:  from the positives like "in May sell and go away" ; and the collective angst as we all wait an impending financial disaster,  such as the black Mondays in October.  (as a funny side note, my physiotherapist noted that my back needs fixin' in September/October). 
This was my first year growing a humble garden. And it did well, at least much better than I expected.  Nature is forgiving.  Nature takes care of itself.  For me, gardening is finding the right balance of intervention and leaving-alone.  Perhaps like parenting.  The simple pleasures of following and understanding the trajectories of the sun, the effect of trees (both negative blocking sunlight, but also positive increasing moisture & micro-organisms in the soil), the arc of aging in the growth process.

These are the conversations worth having. 

On the other side of the coin : 
This is an interesting podcast revolving around the idea, that past predictions of collapse have not materialized. It is worth a listen, even if it challenges your point of view.

Time is my wealth.  If I am not working a 5 to 4 job, I have time to increase my net worth, tax free.
Every dollar earned is a dollar taxed.
Every hour worked for numero uno, no tax.
Yesterday I installed an hf radio, today a rainwater catchment system.
Total tax paid , probably $4. (Fuel, and sales tax on an item.)

I listened to the entire show that you presented and am still digesting it Gemel. It is difficult to ignore my bias against Stephan.  He is just too cock sure of himself and beside,  he tried to challenge my belief in the supporting  foundations of Reality.
His analysis will prove to be embarrassingly fascile. He is at a stage of life where he is so deeply immersed in the illusion that he is blinded by his testosterone. I have been there. I would thank you not to remind me.

However,  I can say that they are confusing Ideals with on the ground reality. They dismiss the 2005 oil peak with a flip of the hand, confusing price with barrels of oil supplied. OK they understood that one converts oil energy into food energy,  but they failed  to understand the significance of why we are drilling deeper and further than ever before. Because we must.  It is not some technological masterpiece,  it is an act of desperation. And it often fails. (Deepwater horizon).

The entire discussion was a rant about how things should be, not how they are. 

And besides,  not once did they mention the Limits to Growth curves, nor Cold Fusion, nor le Grange 4 and 5.

I thought that they were setting up straw men. They didn't tackle the substance of our predicament,  the exponential function. 

I don't have time to listen to a 1+ hour podcast right now, but based on the title I will bring up the subject of logical fallacies.
Main one:  Because someone predicted something would happen and it didn't, that thing will never happen.

This forms the core of about a dozen articles and authors on peak oil that I've read just in the past six months.  It fails on several fronts.

An analog of it is this: Someone told me that I will someday die, but they were wrong and I haven't, therefore I never will.

It's a pretty substandard line of reasoning.  Instead one might legitimately suspect that the forecasting ability of the person was questionable as a starting point.

But one has to be very careful about using very old "predictions" or statements as the basis for one's current reality.  Just look at all the foolishness that the medical field has spouted over the years.  Do people now conclude that doctors therefore must have everything wrong today as a result of having some things not entirely worked out 50 years ago?

Lesser one:  Ignoring inconvenient facts

Here are a few of those inconvenient facts:


  • The world found only 14% replacement for the oil it burned in 2014
  • Hundreds of individual oil fields have gone past peak never to recover
  • New finds are deeper and smaller (and therefore more expensive) than in the past
  • What we call "oil" has shifted over the years and now includes biofuels, natural gas liquids, condensate, and refinery gains.  Apples to apples, the world has not produced more oil since 2005 despite spending ~$4 trillion attempting to do exactly that.
Logical fallacies and belief systems are adulterous partners.  When it comes to defending the belief of the 'exceptional human species' it is quite common to discover that comes with a passionate refutation of the idea of energy limits.  


Because deep down, our food foraging ancestral genes know the truth.



To me the trends are pretty clear, in terms of barrels of actual crude produced, annual discoveries, how much shale costs, and so on.  We will end up in a world of less fossil fuel energy.  The oil majors are more or less now in run-off mode.  This should be big news, but it isn't.
They didn't mention discovery trends, or ever-more-expensive oil.  They also didn't differentiate between transport fuel and electric power.

In this video, the Hirsch Report issues weren't even mentioned - specifically, the issues surrounding sunk costs for our long-lived infrastructure that relies on cheap oil.   It will take time to transition our infrastructure away from oil; the longer we wait, the harder the transition will be.  The guys in the video talk at length about "not valuing human life" by reducing fossil fuel use - yet they assume a transition during a time of shortage will be a relatively painless affair.  "Oh price signals will handle that."

They didn't mention infrastructure issues.

Given that hand-waving, I don't think they really understand how price signals work in the oil market, and how long an infrastructure transition will take - and how many people will die in the interim.  They have this (Ayn Rand) view of how the world and markets work, but it struck me as a Dr. John theoretical version rather than a Fat Tony realistic version.

Bottom line: I don't think they truly understand the costs of letting the "free market" run us at 60 mph into the brick wall.


Thank goodness we have people like you and Arthur to counter such Hogwash. I found Chris Nelder's new podcast a very nice breath of fresh air in the discussion:

I enjoyed how the topics meandered wherever your interests lay, and being able to enjoy the back-and-forth of thoughts between two intelligent, thoughtful people. 

Great conversation.
I have been studying CBD oil/endocannabinoid system and think it holds enormous promise as food and medicine.  

Cannavest (…no affliation) has plans to start flying in by jet juiced hemp from Europe.  Very high in omega 3 fatty acids.  But what a huge carbon footprint.  We need to change our laws obviously so it can be grown here legally.

I did want to point out a misnomer by Chris, who called the child with epilepsy cured while she still takes a daily dose.  Just my pet peeve, but actually the medicine is only palliating her condition.  A cure means she no longer needs to take the medicine at all.   A subtle, but profound difference. 


Also, even CBD oil from industrial hemp does have THC and depending on the person the effect can be quite strong.  At a recent conference I attended, individual single dose samples of CBD oil were being handed out by the manufacturer.  I spoke to 7 people who tried it and within 2 hours, 6 of the 7 reported feeling slightly to very stoned. The 7th person just felt mellow.  It was not a pleasant experience for many.  

The science around the endocannabinoid system is in its infancy and quite likely there is huge genetic and epigenetic variablilty to its metabolism. …Yet another reason to change the laws to make research on this plant easier to pull off. 


And you better believe modern big pharm is looking for ways to manipulate the endocannabinoid system.  

Here is one example:

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2015;231:95-128. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-20825-1_4.

The Potential of Inhibitors of Endocannabinoid Metabolism for Drug Development: A Critical Review.

Fowler CJ1.

Author information



The endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol are metabolised by both hydrolytic enzymes (primarily fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MGL)) and oxygenating enzymes (e.g. cyclooxygenase-2, COX-2). In the present article, the in vivo data for compounds inhibiting endocannabinoid metabolism have been reviewed, focussing on inflammation and pain. Potential reasons for the failure of an FAAH inhibitor in a clinical trial in patients with osteoarthritic pain are discussed. It is concluded that there is a continued potential for compounds inhibiting endocannabinoid metabolism in terms of drug development, but that it is wise not to be unrealistic in terms of expectations of success.


2-Arachidonoylglycerol; Anandamide; Cyclooxygenase-2; Drug development; Fatty acid amide hydrolase; Monoacylglycerol lipase; Pain





Charles and Chris started out talking about the different forms of capital.  Charles pushed toward the more radical (for modern times, not long term history) rethinking of how we work together.  Gift economy demonitizes our exchanges.  The more this happens the less power goes to the 0.1%.  The essence of being human has been lost in the reductionistic  mindset of our time.  It is IMHO impossible to be human without being in relationships with others.  Chris spoke of the flows of being human. I hope that the concepts of social capital are a stepping stone and not a stopping point to more human micro societies that are each of our daily lives. The more we do this the less we will measure by the numbers and the more we will enjoy the unmeasurable.

Help me out there; I'm having trouble with that.
If my friends and I stay home from a concert to sing our own songs, our money will still flow from our pockets to the economy, just through some other channel(s) than the tickets and corollary costs. It's not "no longer in the economy" unless we're hiding it under the mattress.

If we stay home because we're too broke, that's a different discussion. Either way, our own songs are creating value that didn't exist before.

If I ride my bike more and drive less, I'll spend less on gas but more on bike parts, accessories and services.

If I do more of my own cooking, I'll spend less in restaurants but more on fancy ingredients and cookware. Mauviel here I come!

If I make some of my own clothing, I'll spend less in the fashion stores but more in the fabric stores. Ditto for mending.

If I buy used garments from a thrift shop, I probably won't save a nickel because it's so easy to buy extras when things seem cheap.

And so it goes … when I "save" money in one pocket, it flows out from another. Money is seldom out of the economy for long.

Here I am in my yacht sipping a Port, eating smoked salmon, listening to radio for any distress signals, typing on a tablet on the Net. My yacht is snug, warm and dry. It can take me near anywhere in the world using glass fibers and plastic. My journey will be guided by satellites.
Do you have any idea how rich I am?

One of the things I am always getting into trouble for, because it is not politically correct, is that I am very proud of my People and have a huge respect for our achievements. And I feel Very Protective to my culture. 

If that offends then we had better pass like ships in the night. But know this. You will be last on my list.

I must, of cause, envelope this product of the illusion with it's proper context. The past does not exist and what I see Now is a Creation of the Divine. Which does not decrease my gratitude one iota.

I wonder what You will show me tomorrow?

Charles Eisenstein: What Is Wealth?

Oh, I like this discussion, thanks to all