A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Money Isn’t Everything: Exploring the 8 Forms of Capital

By Chris Hewitt

I was at a family gathering over the Easter holiday recently when I overheard a relative talking to my son. He said, “Remember that you have to get a great job and make tons of money before you can do good things for the world. Money is the most important thing in life.” I felt the need to jump in, to say something—but my son is 15; he should be able to handle himself.

“Isn’t happiness more important than money?” he asked, almost condescendingly. I quietly beamed with pride, mostly because this proved that my kids have been listening to me. I have been talking a lot about the 8 Forms of Capital model that I was recently introduced to, which has come out of the permaculture movement. When most people hear the word capital they think about money, but that’s just financial capital.

Ethan Roland, principal and lead designer of AppleSeed Permaculture based in High Falls, NY, is co-author of the book Regenerative Enterprise, which puts forth a holistic framework for abundance: the 8 Forms of Capital. I have known about social capital for some time now (mostly because I have intentionally been trying to build this type of capital up for years). According to Roland, “A person or entity who has ‘good social capital’ can ask favors, influence decisions, and communicate efficiently. Social capital is of primary importance in politics, business, and community organizing.”

In addition to financial capital and social capital, there are six more types put forth by Roland: intellectual, spiritual, material, living, cultural and experiential. Each type of capital is as important, if not more important, than money. Financial capital is our primary tool for exchanging goods; it can also be used to oppress people, or liberate people. But value comes in many additional forms.

In fact, at the next big event that we host for our Satisfy Hunger campaign, we plan to allow people to pay with any of the eight forms of capital. Instead of paying with dollars for entry, a guest can pay with Currents (another form of financial capital), a song or piece of art (cultural capital), a plant or some fresh water (living capital), an eye-opening fact or piece of knowledge (intellectual capital), a shiny stone or piece of silver bullion (material capital), an anecdote (experiential capital), a blessing or meditative ohm (spiritual capital), or with the favor of some volunteer hours (social capital).  

When we start to think about capital like this, it’s possible to see that we’re all wealthy—that we are all surrounded by abundance and we each have a lot to offer to our community and to each other. It’s just a matter of valuing the many forms of capital.

Judy Wicks, a founding mother of the New Economy, writes about a man who she spoke on a panel with. A well respected city council representative, he announced to the audience, “Before you can do good, you must do well,” advising that people should make lots of money before they do good things for their community. When it was Judy’s turn to speak she said, “I don’t believe you need to separate doing good from doing well, but can actually do well while doing good. In fact, I believe that the separation of making a profit from doing good has caused most of the problems in the world. And really, it’s the combination of making a profit with doing good that provides perhaps the most effective way to create a peaceful and healthy world where everyone can proft. When we have livelihoods that do good in the world, we can be a philanthropist every day of the year.”