Quick Thoughts & Resources on Rethinking the Economy
Someone recently asked some good questions on Facebook about the economy that allowed me to jot out some quick thoughts and point to some excellent resources that I've benefited from over the past year or two.
The questions, from a local pastor, were:
What do you think when I say the word "economy"? What is economy? What about God's Economy?
Here are the places my mind went....
The economy is one of the ways -- along with the public sector, households, the commons, and more -- through which we meet needs, manage exchange, handle resources, and (increasingly) pursue self-interests.
There are many economies, rooted in different stories, pursuing different goals. The Exploring Economics website helps us unpack these intellectual roots and presuppositions that we typically take for granted. Take a look. They unpack the ideas behind ten major schools of economic thought: Neoclassical, Behavioral, Austrian, Post-Keynsian, Ecological, Complexity, Feminist, Marxist, Evolutionary, and Institutional. The big point: despite how Econ 101 likes to teach it, there isn't just one economic orthodoxy. Economics is historically situated and highly pluralistic, rooted in all manner of cultural value systems and vested interests.
Economies are a primary determinant for the wellbeing of bodies, neighborhoods, nations, and ecosystems. Economies are an ongoing reverberation between ideas and systems, deeply entangled with themes of money, land, and the good life, among others. The economy is arguably the most important tool for and leverage point within every issue of injustice. Shifting the common story(ies) through which we understand and collectively create these economies is deep lever for beginning those transformations.
To suggest "God's Economy" is to suggest a particular story. I've appreciated the way the World Council of Churches has attempted to lean into that story through framing it as an "Economy of Life." You can't find a theological idea or book of the bible that doesn't have it's economic component (a good example here).
This effort to reframe the economy, long locked in reductionist and debunked neoclassical and neoliberal ideologies (not to mention the colonial and racist milieu within which much capitalist thought and production was formulated...I've heard the phrase plantation capitalism recently), is generating powerful alternatives.
Kate Raworth's work is a fabulous standout. I cannot more highly recommend her seven ways to rethink the economy and the book where they are unpacked, Doughnut Economics.
Another effort from the UK is Reframing the Economy. They suggest two basic stories we should tell more often to begin shifting the way people think about the economy, how it functions, and what it's for:
Over the last forty years, our government has become a tool of corporations and banks, prioritising the interests of the wealthy rather than giving equal weight to the needs of everyone. We need to reprogramme our economy so that it works in the interests of society rather than just in the interest of corporate elites.
A good society makes it possible for everyone to lead a meaningful
and fulfilling life. Yet, our society is currently focused solely on profit,
and people are forced to chase money rather than happiness. The
laws and policies that we make lay down tracks that determine where
the economy takes people. Right now, our economy is built around
profit rather than being built to get people to their true needs.
I'm also loving Jessica Gordon Nembhard's book Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. We're in deep need of listening closely to non-Western and non-white peoples about their vision for and practices of economy.
Our discipleship--our confession that Jesus is Lord and our commitment to practice his way of being--changes the story we live by. It changes our desires, our vision for the good life, our sense of identity and worth, and the ways we relate to all those around us. Because the economy is rooted in social story and because it is a dominant means through which we relate (albeit often indirectly) to others and to creation, discipleship cannot help but lead us to rethink the economy, to want to participate differently in it, and ultimately find ourselves compelled to transform it.