Editorial : Kingdom Economics

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 59, Advent 2011

A prominent Irish journalist, reflecting on Ireland’s presidential election, said that the Irish people feel totally powerless to effect real change in their lives now because of the bail-out of their banks by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. He felt the country had been bought like a chattel.

What a tragic comment! After the massive struggle for hundreds of years to rid Ireland of foreign oppression and win freedom, the Irish have found themselves now almost totally enslaved to a monetary system controlled in foreign capitals.

They have sold themselves cheaply for a few blankets and shiny trinkets! Ireland had an economic boom in the 1990s and few thought it would ever stop. They borrowed and went on a ten-year consumer binge, spending freely. Now they have paid for it with their very soul.

What would happen to the New Zealand psyche if we woke up one morning to find that we had had to be bailed out by foreign interests? The New Zealand economy is built on the same shifting sands as was Ireland’s. We are borrowing to stay afloat. We are the same size as Ireland. We are following many of the same prescriptions.

As in Ireland during the 1990s, the gap in New Zealand between rich and poor is growing. Here too the rich keep getting richer. The NBR ‘rich list’ published earlier illustrated this. The country’s wealthiest 151 individuals and families now have a combined wealth of a whopping $45.2 billion, up $7 billion on last year. The Government’s entire tax take during 2010 was $50.7 billion, barely more than the ‘rich list’s’ combined worth.

In comparison, the average New Zealander’s wage rose 1.9 percent in the year to March 2011 (Statistics New Zealand). The median annual income in New Zealand was $529 per week, or $27,500 per year.

CW Economics

What to do? Catholic Worker economics have usually been sneered at as being idealistic and unattainable. Yet there is much about them that makes terrific sense in a world which has finite resources and has rediscovered sustainability. On a manageable local scale, they make eminent sense. Peter Maurin’s ideas of locally owned, locally produced, locally worked small enterprises and farms is a model that resonates with many today. Just ask at the farmer’s markets on a Saturday morning!

EF Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful, long an iconic testament in CW circles, has as much to offer now as it did when it was written in 1977. And the Tobin ‘Robin Hood’ Tax makes sense too – a small tax on each small cross border financial transaction. It is manageable and relatively painless and could accumulate a fund which, wisely used, really could attack some of the planet’s major crises – climate change, hunger, pollution of air and waterways, among others.

Jesus proposed a way forward economically and socially for the human family when he walked the earth. Honour God by looking after one another. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, protect the weak. Then the radical bit – love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, forgive those who persecute you. Be gentle, be kind, act justly. These are not beyond the reach of ordinary human beings. They provide a divine plan for living – now, in this modern age.

We live at a time of almost total dominance by empire – economically by corporate capitalism; politically by the empire of the US and its allies. Jesus taught at a time of almost total dominance by the empire of Rome. Every facet of his life was influenced by the occupying power. People would have scorned his attempts to change their way of thinking to Kingdom economics and the Reign of God, not Caesar. I’m sure the power-brokers laughed at him and his ragged band of followers. Talk about tilting at windmills!

Like Jesus, we need to sow seeds of hope and radical change if we are to emerge from the current crisis. It is a crisis fuelled largely by rampant financial speculation, gross materialism, war and greed. Our times require a radical shift in emphasis and values. Jesus still provides the model and the teaching.

And 2000 years on, people worldwide still celebrate his ideas and seek to implement them.

Jim Consedine

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