Monday, February 9, 2009

ECONOMICS AS IF PEOPLE MATTERED

This is a watershed moment that will shape economic justice for the rest of the 21st century


TRYING TO UNDERSTAND AND RESPOND. The American housing and financial crisis and emerging global depression have been on my mind a lot lately. Like many, I am paying attention to various news media sources as well as reading independently in order to try to understand and form caring responses. I'm also trying to integrate what I learn with what I continue to discover in the Bible about justice in the marketplace and Good News to the poor.

A LAMENTABLE MARKETPLACE FIASCO. I was alarmed that oil market speculation artificially drove up oil prices in 2008. I have grieved over the irresponsible risks taken in the housing market that precipitated the initial financial crisis. I am sick over the level of unbridled greed demonstrated in the financial sector both before and after the Fed stepped in with American taxpayer dollars to bail out banks, insurance firms and investment brokerages. Now, I am very concerned about the manner in which public money is being used to address and resolve these continuing crises in the face of an emerging global economic depression.

WHAT DOES IT DO TO THE POOR? I'm trying to form my understanding and responses to this crisis and the various proposed cures to it through the question I ask of all economic, social and political policies: "What does it do to the poor?" It is the poor, ultimately, who will be hit hardest by the fall-out of irresponsible risk and unbridled greed. And it is the poor in America and around the world who can either be more permanently relegated to the margins or equitably included in the reformulation of economic standards in the days ahead. I get no sense from the proposals of stimulus and bail-out that poor neighbors are being fairly considered in the immediate mix or in the long-term scenarios of restructuring.

BEYOND CONSUMER ECONOMICS. Today, I pulled from my bookshelf a study guide titled "Who Is My Neighbor? Economics As if Values Mattered." I am reading it again in light of the current economic crisis and emerging global depression. The good folks that publish Sojourners magazine (http://www.sojo.net/) published this resource in 1994. Essentially, it is a robust, 180-page compilation of articles from Sojourners magazine regarding the call to Biblical justice and equity amid prevailing American and global economic behavior at macro and micro levels.

AS IF PEOPLE MATTERED. The "Who Is My Neighbor?" resource offers a critical, multi-dimensional challenge to consumer economics. It demonstrates Biblical principles regarding values- and Kingdom-based economic activity. It also offers a wide range of creative, alternative marketplace responses. I recommend this study guide for both personal and small group use. Though it is 15 years old (I am sure it has been revised and updated since then), it's focus and content is apropos to what's happening in America and the world right now.

IF THE WORLD WERE 100 PEOPLE. Yesterday, a friend shared with me a factoid that's been around awhile but struck me as freshly interesting in the current economic milieu. The factoid goes like this:


If the earth's population was condensed to a village of 100 people, with
all of the existing rations remaining what they are now...
- 80 of those people would live in substandard housing
- 50 would suffer from malnutrition
- One person would have a college education
- Nobody would own a computer
- 1/2 of all the wealth would be in the hands of 6 people
- 6 people would all be Americans
EVEN IF ONLY PARTLY RIGHT. I know this UN-data-based factoid is out of date and has been fairly challenged, but even if it's only partly right, it is staggering and can't be dismissed. Revising some of the data and massaging the numbers still reveals massive disparities. It leaves lots of issues to be considered.

THREE OBSERVATIONS. Here's my response to "If the world were 100 people" in light of the current economic crisis:

(1) Here we are in America collectively worrying about how much of the 1/2 of the world's wealth we (a) have lost due to unbridled greed and (b) how much more we're going to lose before things turn around "for us."

(2) We don't seem to be worrying about how much our financial sector's carelessness has, does, and will impact those 50 malnourished world neighbors.

(3) And we--our leaders, that is--do not appear to be thinking about opportunities this financial/economic crisis offers for rethinking and restructuring for the sake of justice, equity, and clean, renewable energies for the future. In the rush to stimulus and bail-out, the presumption is that "the way things were" was good for us and that if we can just get back there we'll be okay. I think that's misleading on both ends.

A WATERSHED MOMENT. It seems to me, we are at a watershed moment out of which much of the economic landscape for the rest of the 21st-century will be shaped and impacted. There are both short-term survival issues and long-term justice issues at stake. One does not have to be sacrificed for the other. But both must now be fully and fairly considered.

LIVE THE PRINCIPLES FOR THE FUTURE. In one form or another, economic stimulus and financial bail-out will continue to occur. At the same time, important hearts and minds work must be engaged. Let's see if we can impact this equation with our lives. Let's see if our personal choices and behavior can, in fact, collectively impact the whole. And even if it doesn't seem to impact it significantly at the moment, let us live the principles and promise of the Kingdom as neighbors in anticipation of what, ultimately, shall be.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

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