Friday, February 13, 2009


Wendell Berry has been prophesying needed changes in our economy for years. Let's listen.

PROPHETIC VOICE. Listen to the prophetic voice of Wendell Berry in The Art of the Commonplace. The following is from the essay titled “Two Economies.” Berry contrasts little human economies with the Great Economy. He reasons for an economy as big as the Kingdom of God. Hear Berry’s always interesting, provoking reflections pierce the fragile underpinnings of our [once] “prosperous” economy.

COMPREHENSIVE AND COMPREHENDING. “The whole thing that troubles me about the industrial economy is exactly that it is not comprehensive enough, that, moreover, it tends to destroy what it does not comprehend and that it is dependent upon much that it does not comprehend. In attempting to criticize such an economy, we naturally pose against it an economy that does not leave anything out, and we say without presuming too much that the first principle of the Kingdom of God is that it includes everything; in it, the fall of the sparrow is a significant event.”

MYSTERIOUSLY CONNECTED. “Another principle, both ecological and traditional, is that everything in the Kingdom of God is joined both to it and to everything else that is in it; that is to say, the Kingdom of God is orderly. A third principle is that humans do not and can never know either all the creatures that the Kingdom of God contains or the whole pattern or order by which it contains them.”

SEVERE PENALTIES. “To say that we live in the Kingdom of God is both to suggest the difficulty of our condition and to imply a fairly complete set of culture-borne instructions for living in it. The difficulty of our predicament, then, is made clear if we add a fourth principle: Though we cannot produce a complete or even adequate description of this order, severe penalties are in store for us if we presume upon it or violate it.”

ORIGINATING VALUE. “We participate in our little human economy by factual knowledge, calculation, and manipulation; our participation in the Great Economy also requires those things, but requires as well humility, sympathy, forbearance, generosity, imagination. Another critical difference is that, though a human economy can evaluate, distribute, use, and preserve things of value, it cannot make value. Value can originate only in the Great Economy.”

WHEN WINNERS LOSE. Berry envisions our small human economies as a smaller wheel turning in sympathy (even synergy) with the larger wheel (the Great Economy). “Then, because in the Great Economy ALL transactions count and the account is never closed, the ideal changes. We see that we cannot AFFORD maximum profit or power with minimum responsibility because, in the Great Economy, the loser’s losses finally afflict the winner.”

MAXIMUM WELL-BEING, MINIMUM CONSUMPTION. “Now the ideal must be ‘the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption,’ which both defines and requires neighborly love. Competitiveness cannot be the ruling principle, for the Great Economy is not a ‘side’ that we can join nor are there such ‘sides’ within it. Thus, it is not the ‘sum of its parts’ but a MEMBERSHIP of parts inextricably joined to each other, indebted to each other, receiving significance and worth from each other and from the whole.”

MINUTE PARTICULARS MATTER. “It is the Great Economy, not any little economy, that invests minute particulars with high and final importance. In the Great Economy, each part stands for the whole and is joined to it; the whole is present in the part and is its health. The industrial economy, by contrast, is always striving and failing to make fragments (pieces that IT has broken) ADD UP to an ever-fugitive wholeness.”

From Art of the Commonplace, originally published in Home Economics: Fourteen Essays

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