For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 12: 34
Let’s talk about the economy.
I can hear you groaning already! What do boring equations have to do with appreciating the living beauty of God’s world? My assumption was—nothing. But that was until I attended the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) Conference on 7th March, and picked up their pamphlet, “Turning the World Upside Down: Why you can’t solve the climate crisis without talking about the economy”
“As Christians we believe people were created in God’s image, and to have abundant life. And we believe that we are part of God’s creation. Our flourishing is dependent on the flourishing of our communities and the whole creation, for we are created interdependently. Yet we measure – and value – things about our economy which do not enable flourishing. Our obsession with economic growth damages our planet’s ability to sustain human and animal life.
If we care about creation, then we need to care about the economy.”
Global humanity has certainly not been flourishing over the last 6 months, through both illness and poverty brought in its wake, and it is hard to see when we will begin to do so again.
Tearfund points out that there are economic factors involved in the outbreak of this virus:
“Coronavirus has also put our current environmental crisis back in the spotlight. Dr Ruth Valerio, Director of Global Advocacy and Influencing at Tearfund, recently explained: ‘As hard as it is to hear, the outbreak of coronavirus is not a “natural disaster”. Environmental destruction makes it more likely for viruses to jump species and get into humans. Deforestation, mining, the bushmeat trade, animal trafficking and unsustainable agricultural practices are all likely factors at play.’…
Coronavirus is a serious health crisis, but it is also a serious societal crisis. It has held up a mirror to our society, in the UK and globally, and revealed brokenness that was often previously ignored. As many are currently saying: ‘We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.’ In the UK, along with risk factors such as age, it is the poorest and ethnic minorities who are most likely to die during this pandemic. Globally, the lockdown has meant cramped living conditions, increasing debt, no access to (even digital) school lessons, and days without food. Kuki Rokhum from Eficor, a Tearfund partner in India, highlighted this in a recent prayer: ‘My biggest worry is the millions of poor people who do not have the means to protect themselves, or “work from home” or wash their hands or get their salary at the end of the month.’
All these injustices have been laid bare by COVID-19, but it is so hard to see how we can change them, since they are so enmeshed with global economic policy. JPIT again:
“It is easy to believe that the rules of the economy are like the laws of physics, unchanging and set in place by a higher power. To many people, that makes economics seem impenetrable and off-limits. However, societies have always made and remade the basic rules of the economy to reflect what was important to them…”
The suspension of ‘normality’ we have seen during lockdown, has given space for re-thinking what we most value, and framing questions about whether our systems really reflect those values.
“Increasing prosperity has long been an aim of nations. Economic growth is a central policy aim of governments across the world. The opposite of growth – recession – has been the watchword for economic failure. The measure of the size of a national economy is its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), this being the value of all the goods and services produced within it. Therefore, economic growth requires the production of an ever-increasing volume of goods and services, regardless of what they are, the social or environmental cost of their production or who they benefit or harm. GDP includes things that are traded regardless of their utility – not only foods and medicines, but illegal narcotics and even trafficked humans are all included at their market value…
Rising prosperity, as measured by growing GDP, can mask real declines in people’s quality of life. Yet GDP is often used as a proxy measure for wellbeing within and between nations. Targeting growth in GDP encourages us to aim simply for ’more’, without asking the important question ‘more of what?’. Does ’more’ actually improve lives and does it help care for our environment?
The bigger question is whether such growth is even desirable. Growth is often not the best way to improve human welfare. Why have the overriding aim of growth – producing more and more goods and services – if it makes living within the bounds of the planet harder, and does not focus resources on enabling human flourishing?”
“The fallacy that economic rules are unchangeable allows ideas like “it is inevitable that there are huge inequalities in wealth” or “greater consumption leads to greater happiness” or “an economy must always grow” to be so pervasive that they go unnoticed and unchallenged. However, if we begin to view the economy as something that exists to serve human wellbeing in ways that are environmentally sustainable, then that should transform the way we think about the objectives of economic policy.
Instead of prizing GDP and economic growth, it seems wiser to be agnostic towards them. While some developing nations urgently require increased consumption and economic growth order to improve human wellbeing, in other countries wellbeing will be best improved not by more wealth but by better distributed wealth. The size of the economy should be a secondary consideration to its sustainability and its impact on wellbeing.
We share a common global need to develop economies that are in harmony with natural resource limits. With respect to climate change, ‘net zero’ is probably the common goal to which every nation should now aspire.”
In this country we are receiving dire warnings week by week about the effect of COVID-19 on our GDP. Within the existing system this is rather frightening. And yet, some visionaries have seen it as an opportunity to be grasped!
Clearly, urgent action is needed to prevent imminent disaster, but what if that action could also secure long-term wellbeing for all? What if GDP is not the be-all and end-all?
“Joy in Enough” is a project of “Green Christian” are supporting a letter written by the campaigning group 350.org, calling for a “Just Recovery”. They set out 5 principles for global measures towards recovery from COVID-19.
“Our gross national product…counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage, It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.…Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play.”
Robert F. Kennedy (1968)
“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”
Kenneth Boulding (economist)
‘The great test all countries will soon face is whether current feelings of common purpose will shape society after the crisis.’
1. Put people’s health first, no exceptions.
Resource health services everywhere; ensure access for all.
2. Provide economic relief directly to the people.
Focus on people and workers – particularly those marginalised in existing systems – our short-term needs and long-term conditions.
3. Help workers and communities, not corporate executives.
Assistance directed at specific industries must be channelled to communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives, and never to corporations that don’t commit to tackling the climate crisis.
4. Create resilience for future crises.
We must create millions of decent jobs that will help power a just recovery and transition for workers and communities to the zero-carbon future we need.
5. Build solidarity and community across borders – don’t empower authoritarians.
Transfer technology and finance to lower-income countries and communities to allow them to respond using these principles and share solutions across borders and communities. Do not use the crisis as an excuse to trample on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy.
Tearfund has issued “an invitation to discern together” what will be “the role of the church in building back better”. Their paper asks us to explore “how you and your church might play a part in reshaping society” as it imagines “a world rebooted.”
Both “Joy in Enough” and “Tearfund” are supporting the “Build Back Better” campaign, calling for a recovery strategy that puts people, not profits, first: “Out of this crisis we need to Build Back Better with a vision for 2020. One that protects people, properly invests in the public services we all rely on, and values the people that keep it running. It needs to squarely tackle the climate emergency, and create decent, green jobs everywhere – including care, health and education work – that support the needs of this generation without destroying the world for the next…If individuals and organisations from across society stand together, we can demand that the government builds an economy that benefits everyone, not just big businesses. It won’t be easy, but if ever there was a moment to try something new, this is it.
We’ve already seen what can be achieved when we support each other during this crisis, from doctors coming out of retirement to care for coronavirus patients, to people picking up prescriptions for their neighbours.
?Now we need to channel that community spirit into rebuilding our society for the better, by urging the government to provide a new deal that puts people, not profits, first.”
Faith for Climate, part of the Climate Coalition, invites us to join in a virtual mass lobby. You can register at: https://www.theclimatecoalition.org/virtual-lobby
All you need is your computer.
Please do sign up for this and join in, if nothing else so that I’m not meeting John Glen on my own!
5 STEPS TO A BETTER WORLD
Respond: Share vaccines and resources with the poorest countries so we fight the pandemic together.
Reset: Cancel all developing country debt payments due in 2020 and 2021 and release emergency funding to help them respond to the crisis.
Recognise: Acknowledge the key role that faith communities, including churches, in the global South play in building a better future, and include them in development plans.
Recover: Act to ensure global recovery creates a better world for people in poverty by supporting small business, closing tax loopholes, and aligning with climate agreements.
Renew: Working alongside the devolved nations, make sure the economic reboot in the UK tackles the climate crisis and creates good jobs for the unemployed.
“Every crisis contains both danger and opportunity: the opportunity to move out from the danger. Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption (Laudato Si, 191) and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. We need to reconnect with our real surroundings. This is the opportunity for conversion”.
Pope Francis (April 2020)