This review first appeared in The Canadian Friend.

Life, Money and Illusion: Living on Earth as if
We Want to Stay, by Mike Nickerson. New Society
Publishers, or Seven Generations Publishing, 2009.

Reviewed by Margaret Slavin

I have found Life, Money and Illusion, at 442 pages,
to be just the crash seminar I needed to finally connect
the dots between the economy and ecology.

Among resources on Nickerson’s website www. you will find a couple of shorter
books for sale, Planning for Seven Generations, and
Change the World I Want to Stay On, as well as Guideposts
for a Sustainable Future - a multimedia discussion kit
and a mini-course which could be useful for eco-study

We live in a society which still believes that economic
growth is good and that environmental devastation is
regrettable but necessary. Our task is to de-legitimize
this common wisdom. To occupy it. Humans explored
our planet very much like a child grows and explores.
We are like children who have become adults but now
the earth is full, we have accumulated enough stuff
and enough wealth. Continuing to grow is unhealthy
and ultimately fatal.

Right now the destructiveness of this growth
is demonstrated dramatically on the world stage in
collapsing economies and also in the pollution of
our air, water and soil. These two destructive forces
feed one another and cross poignantly when they pull
us into war: “Once the morality of profit and loss
replaces that of fairness and compassion, financing
wars becomes totally rewarding.... If there is no enemy
financiers can fund a rebel movement and build it up
to the point where its threat becomes real. If a country
doesn’t want to borrow money for war, there are ways
around this for financiers: opposition parties can be
funded, revolutions financed and, if necessary, leaders

Cuts to social services, plus the burgeoning
inequity between the highest-paid and the rest of
us, demonstrate personally and locally that current
measurements of the Gross Domestic Product do
not measure the well-being of people, but rather the
well-being of money. One statistic which floored me
is that less than one percent of “investments” refers to
anything concretely productive. All the rest is gambling
- “trafficking in money” - the creation of debt, driven
by the perceived necessity of growth.

Yet the first item on Nickerson’s list of Things to
Do as we face into the future, is to enjoy ourselves:
“Life-based activities are things we can do because
we are alive. They include, for example, appreciation,
empathy, friendship, love, art, music, dance, sport,
parenting, looking, listening, smelling, touching,
tasting, thinking, meditating, scholarship and service.”
Instead of wearing out and needing to be replaced,
life-based activities grow stronger with use.

In an account remarkably free from partisan
rhetoric he traces the development of industrial
society and the rise of corporations. I found the
writing engaging, and the conclusions inescapable.
Nickerson acknowledges the way denial takes over and
makes it difficult for us to look at a future as fraught
as the one we face now. However, he maintains a tone
of optimism and direction. We humans are “hugely
capable. We can easily master living on this bountiful
planet and thereby enable successive generations to
live here for millions of years to come.” We are resilient
and creative.

Money, he notes, was not an evil or an inherently
oppressive discovery, but sensible and useful. We
remain in need of a means of exchange. Debt-driven
money, however, has placed us all in an impossible
position. No policy can be life giving if it degrades
our environment and/or excludes the disadvantaged.
Nickerson quotes Gandhi: “Take care first of the least
among you.”

The last sections are rich in suggestions for
shifts in Canada’s tax laws, monitoring of health,
accounting for unpaid and voluntary work, and
much more. Nickerson encourages us to use what
he calls our “strong institutions” of government and
legal systems, to tip us away from mutual destruction
to mutual provision. The author himself has worked
extensively on the effort to change the measurement
of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the Genuine
Progress Index (GPI) which would have us monitor,
for example, the amount of pollutants released into
the environment and expenditures which are truly
constructive, rather than the clean-up costs from oil

“We do not lack the ability to transform our
world. The problems we face are understood and most
of their solutions are known. Transformation will
proceed with remarkable speed once the balance of
legitimacy tips toward long-term well-being.”

Margaret Slavin,
Peterborough Allowed Meeting,