One of my most recent and sustained developing interests has been in the area of economics. More and more I have found issues in this realm to thoroughly occupy my mind, especially when it comes to addressing the needs of the poor. From a Christian perspective this no doubt takes a slightly different route than it would among non-Christian economists because my concern is fundamentally driven from a belief and understanding about the created order whereas a secularist approach probably comes from a simple desire to achieve balance in a presently extremely unbalanced world. I make no apologies for the direction I choose and my commentary will be fused with my Christian belief.
All the same the observations I make refer to secular as well as Christian responses to the present economic challenge (as well as response to the Western economy in general). This is because, unsurprisingly, across the board there seems to be a dissatisfaction with the way things are and a persuasion that things need to change. This finds voice especially in the outcries expressed through the media at huge bonuses handed to bankers, and at the swindling of expenses by MPs. Enough commentary has probably been done on WordPress alone to fill several volumes and so I do not intend to make further judgment on these matters here, I simply point to them to indicate the attitude that permeates public opinion.
Most recently I have noticed a book entitled Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet by Tim Jackson – which, incidentally, I came across by flicking through a copy of the Big Issue. It seemed appropriate that an article about this book appeared in a magazine sold to help support the homeless and those hard-done-by. I haven’t really noticed what the general thrust of the publication is before but this has made me somewhat penitent of my usual attitude of buying a copy if I want to “be nice” to the Big Issue man, then throwing it away when I next get it out of my bag (confession time).
I may read the book. It seems to do what it says on the tin, and according to reviews doesn’t seem to do too bad a job of it, perhaps weighing in a little heavier on the diagnosis than on the proposed solutions. You can preview it on Google Books of course, at http://books.google.com/books?id=jarKLCDcePYC&dq=prosperity+without+growth&source=gbs_navlinks_s
What has also interested me ever since about this time last year, is Christian response to the economic situation in light of the Bible. Of particular note among recent efforts to outwork Christian principles within a secular economy is that of Kim Tan, author of the recently published The Jubilee Gospel (which I am presently reading), who has had some sort of key role in the establishment of what is known as the Transformational Business Network which seeks to work in the developing world not through the means of aid, but rather through the means of resourcing and supporting enterprises in those countries so that they can begin to have their own sustainable economic environments which they will be able to operate themselves. A quick survey of their website(http://www.tbnetwork.org/home/index.php?flag1=1) seems to show that they are doing rather well.
I don’t doubt that this sort of move would begin a process which could radically reshape the global economy. Perhaps my view is over-simplistic, but it seems that where we have “developed” countries (which operate with a centralised system) providing largely only aid to “developing” nations, the latter will in a way also be subject to the moving and shaking that goes on in the centralised systems of the nations that are providing that aid. However, if you empower that country to begin to operate sustainably under its own economic model and terms, you withdraw its dependency on the former, monolithic systems which, as we’ve seen over the last year, are no less susceptible to damage for all their size.
I also have in my list of books to read a book by Kim Tan and Brian Griffiths called Fighting Poverty Through Enterprise: The case for Social Venture Capital which (from my brief glance) fairly straightforwardly outlines the purpose behind the Transformational Business Network through an analysis of present-day statistics and case studies.
If you’re wondering where this present argument is leading, the answer may be “not very far” at this stage because, as you can see, I have a fair bit of reading to do. I’m also not an economist and so all the reading I can do can only stretch as far as my spare time and my understanding will allow. However my heart is deeply interested for the sake of the poor and those who have suffered as the rich have got richer. Having had my own share of financial pressures in my time – pressures which were comparably microscopic compared to those of many who struggle in this nation alone – I have seen enough to be concerned that the treacherous imbalance of society (which as we know is not purely economical but also social) might somehow begin to be turned on its head through whatever means we might have within our grasp.
I was challenged earlier today when another man from church was sharing with a group of men that were gathered for breakfast, from Romans 12, and verse 18 where Paul exhorts “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (NASB) Maybe it was the way he said it, but suddenly the words “if possible” rang out with new meaning and emphasis: if there is any remote chance, any slim possibility that I can see in a situation, for peace to be brought into it and lived in, then I should work to achieve that peace. And if you know anything about the Bible and the way that Jews thought from way back, “peace” would not merely have been about being friendly; the term shabbat which we know as “Sabbath”, together with the idea of shalom, encompassed ideas of social, economic and spiritual peace and rest – a holistic peace which touched every area of human experience.
So this is what I’m going after. I’m interested also in the Jubilee as a concept in which, essentially, a national but de-centralised (or rather non-centralised as it was never central in the first place) economic system which allowed for growth and development was nevertheless “capped” and kept from growing out of control, through the regular redistribution of wealth through the cancellation of debts and restoration of property to original owners. In it too was fundamentally written the idea of rest with each Jubilee year being prescribed as a year of rest (which of course would have happened alongside the usual Sabbath years – a year of rest every seven years – also prescribed for the nation). As a whole economic model now it is obviously impossible to introduce, but its values and principles could and, according to the conviction of Kim Tan and others, do still prove to be useful.
So, apologies for the inept conclusion to this present discourse. Watch this space, as I shall hopefully keep my blog updated from time to time with my findings and feelings about this whole issue. Ultimately what I hope to achieve is to find some new and creative ways in which Christians (well and any concerned citizen) can seriously get involved in this activity of redressing the balance for the good of humanity.