alternative economics

This is something that is just appearing on my field of vision, largely via Ched Myers and the Bartimaeus community of which he is a part. It’s not just about economic justice, it’s about a whole different economy entirely; an economy of grace. Ched Myers has written a booklet about it called A Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics.

Peg Rosenkrands of the Bartimaeus community has developed a program called ‘Moving Money’ that essentially helps people move towards a more graceful type of economy, based on ideas like jubilee and redistributive justice. It’s quite revolutionary stuff. It’s actually part of a wider movement, dubbed ‘Sabbath economics’, a network of activists, theologians and economists.

But is it just a hopeless pipe-dream? Maybe. But then, doesn’t everything about the Christian story sound like a hopeless pipe-dream?

Plus this very kind of thing has already been lived out before, and here’s an example. In Arundhati Roy’s interview on Enough Rope in 1994, she talked about redistributive economics. I remember being seriously impressed by this response, as to me it demonstrated an integrity that is rarely seen. Particularly the part I’ve highlighted in bold.

ANDREW DENTON: One of the things about winning the Booker, of course is – and all those sales – is suddenly, to use your words, you have money spewing at you, and you decided to give a lot of that away. Now, that probably is a lot harder to do than it is to say. What are the mechanics of actually giving money away?

ARUNDHATI ROY: The fact is that it’s a very delicate operation to give money away, ’cause you can also destroy initiative. It’s like the World Bank can come in and throw money at some, you know, joint forest management program, not realising that it’s just been siphoned off by the corrupt…you know, the big fish that come to feed at the source. So it’s a very, very, very delicate operation, and one that you have to do politically and carefully.

The first thing is that I understand that for one person to be rewarded with money in the way that I am, for whatever it is that I’ve done, whether it’s a book or whatever it is, it’s somehow a manifestation of there being something very wrong with the world. You can’t, you know…nobody deserves to have so much when so many have so little. So the first thing is to see it as a political thing. You know, not as your money, but as something that is there as a political thing, and then see how to use it, you know, carefully and slowly and quietly, without making a song and dance about it. And I have seen it damage, you know, movements and people and initiatives. So you’ve just got to be very careful about it. I think that’s the fundamental thing. And also, always at the scale of operations in that place, you know? So if you go somewhere and you see that, OK, look, this is a great group of people doing wonderful work. It would be great for them to have a computer or it would be great if they could just pay their activists a little bit of money every month just to keep, you know, ends…to make ends meet, and things like that.

So, you know, A, you can’t do it alone – you’ve got to do it with a group of people and you have to do it with people who have the same political commitment and understanding. And you have to also understand that to receive for people is as careful a thing as to give.

I really liked the acknowledgment there that being given so much money for writing a book (and we could all say our own occupations here, compared to someone in the world who has much less despite working their tails off) is actually a sign of something fundamentally wrong with the world. It goes back to the idea of entitlement that I’ve been wrestling with over at inspiralblog – that when we shed that sense of entitlement to all we have as First World people, we see how fundamentally unfair it is that we have so much when others have so little.

It’s something I need to think more about and work out, because it seems to me that this is the most central form of justice in our society, a society that revolves around money and economics. And if there’s a viable alternative, well, it just seems to me that we can’t just ignore it.

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2 thoughts on “alternative economics

  1. Back to entitlement, I walk past a church on my home every day and notice that often there are two black, shiny Mercs out the front. I don’t know if it’s the pastors or staff or whatever, but it got me thinking about middle/upper middle-class Christianity and how we always say “money’s not a bad thing, it’s how you use it.” As if, as long as I tithe, it’s ok that I buy a new Merc every 2 years (as is common with many people I know).

    I’m not sure that’s an argument I want to have yet, but I am sure that it links in with the entitlement thing and your blog post here. It’s more about shedding your “entitlement” to masses of money (which as Arundhati Roy says, is actually an indication there’s something very wrong with the world) and less about “I deserve” or “I can justify this using this passage of the Bible”.

    Long comment. Maybe I should just set up a Mrs Jones and Me blog or a Mr Jones Jr and Me blog where I make my comments to your posts…

  2. Yeah, see this is kind of part of my point. I think that’s the attitude most people take – that it’s not how much I have, it’s whether I would be prepared to give it up if I needed to – but to me, you better have a darn good reason for keeping it. How do you ever really *know* you’ve shed your entitlement if you don’t shed that thing itself? I don’t necessarily think we have to give up everything…but imagine if we did. Seriously, imagine it.

    Cue piano intro:

    “Imagine no possessions…”

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