Economic Justice and Process Philosophy
From a system rigged for poverty to a society supportive of community:
Twelve ideas that can help.
We live in a system rigged for poverty.
The Economics of Happiness Versus the Economics of GDP
Can Ecuador Save the World?
Local Currency and Process Philosophy
1. If we are among the privileged and powerful, we must be suspicious of ourselves.
I am repeatedly impressed how quickly I, and other well-meaning Christians, turn from impassioned statements about the evil of oppression and hunger on a global scale to talk of our need for better salaries, our hopes for economic security in retirement, and our boats or summer cottages. This is not to say that we are insincere in our profession of concern for the poor. It is to say that the bulk of our activity responds to other urgings and binds us more tightly into the system that produces and depends upon oppression. That this is true of intellectual work, including our theology, is to be expected.
2. Individualist images of self are misguided.
Much of our Western conceptuality has made it difficult to understand this solidarity of mutual involvement of human beings. The individual mind or the individual organism is often conceived ontologically as self-contained and as related to other individuals only externally. That is, the relation is viewed as incidental to the being of the individual. The individual exists as what he or she is and then, without any essential change, relates to other individuals.
3. Collectivist images of self are misguided, too.
Neither the individualist ontology nor the collectivist one expresses the Biblical sense of the solidarity of individuals who participate in one another. Whitehead’s conceptuality is more helpful. For Whitehead the ultimate individual is a moment of experience. Such an individual does not first exist and then enter into relations with others. On the contrary, it is constituted by its relations and has no other existence than as a creative synthesis of these relations. The richness of its experience is the richness of its relations.
4. We are creative, relational selves who are responsible to, and enriched by, the lives of others.
Christian teaching falls heavily on the side of human solidarity. It has been the merit of the social gospel and of political theology to emphasize this point in the twentieth century, but it is certainly not new. It was dominant in the Old Testament. In the New Testament Paul and John may be viewed as accentuating the individualist element, but in his image of the church Paul speaks of us as members one of another, and John’s gospel employs the imagery of the vine and its branches. We are individuals, but we are individuals who participate in one another and cannot be saved in isolation....
5. Competition for scarce resources is not the primary fact of life; sharing is as fundamental as competing.
Unfortunately, most economic theory is based on individualist and collectivist views of human beings. The collectivist view encourages the ruthlessness of which Heilbroner wrote, liberal society is somewhat restrained by its commitment to individuals, but it has paid a high price for its individualist economic theories.
6. Economic thinking can be redirected toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future.
If instead we view the economic situation from the perspective of relational thinking, we will focus on different examples and derive different principles. Consider a professor who is a member of a faculty. He or she may gain some satisfaction from success in competition with other members of the faculty, for example, from gaining a larger salary at the expense of others. But this cannot go very far. The satisfactions of the professor will depend more on the general quality of life in the institution than on a competitive superiority in income. The quality of the students, the intellectual stimulus from colleagues, the general morale of the community are more important factors in the richness of the professor’s experience than the competitive advantage over colleagues. Thus it is more rational for the professor to seek to contribute to the general health of the community than to seek a competitive advantage within it.
7. When economics is in service to community, trade-off thinking can replaced by both-and thinking.
The model of competition has dangerous effects in other ways as well. It is expressed in the important role played by the idea of the trade-off. The assumption is that if individually or collectively we satisfy one desire, this will typically be at the expense of satisfying another. It is often argued, for example, that if we satisfy our desire for a clean and healthful environment, we must pay a price in terms of fewer goods and more unemployment.
8. Our sense of community can be extended to world loyalty.
The healthy future of the world depends upon a still further extension of the sense of community. We have begun to speak of a world community, and there is an emerging sense of co-humanity with all people. The teachings of most of the world’s great religious traditions encourage this recognition of the interconnectedness of all people. One motivation for the limited aid that is now made available by the industrialized nations to the poorer ones is this sense of a global community.
9. The nation-state system can evolve into multipolar world that is a community of communities of communities.
Increasingly throughout the world people are hoping for a different kind of order, one based on multiple poles of influence rather than a single pole of influence. In the words of John B. Cobb., Jr., they seek to "seize an alternative" that is more relational and sustainable, more just and peaceful, more conducive to the flourishing of life in local settings. Indeed, they yearn for a world that is a community of community of communities rather than a world that dominated by Empire; riddled with war and the threat of nuclear war, poverty, deprivation, inequality, and disease.
10. Economics and politics alone cannot solve the problem; a new kind of culture is needed.
Current development can, in fact, be described as the process by which the rich and more powerful reallocate the nation’s natural resources in their favor and modern technology is the tool that subserves this process.
11. The world is not an aggregate of information but rather a republic of stories.
"We are in the midst of seismic cultural change. In the old paradigm, priorities are shaped by a mechanistic worldview that privileges whatever can be numbered, measured, and weighed; human beings are pressured to adapt to the terms set by their own creations. Macroeconomics, geopolitics, and capital are glorified. . . . In the new paradigm, culture is given its true value. The movements of money and armies may receive close attention from politicians and media voices, but at ground-level, we care most about human stories, one life at a time.”
GROWING UP THROUGH THE CRACKS of the broken worldview we call modernity are verdant green shoots we call stories—human stories built of words and images and feelings and connected threads of subjective experience. We see them everywhere, not only in film and literature, but in the daily lives of regular people telling their own stories about where they come from and what makes them happy or sad, about people they love and animals that make them laugh or weep. About what makes life meaningful.
12. The aim of life is beauty, not ever-increasing consumption.
A sustainable community is a community that is creative, compassionate, participatory, equitable, ecologically healthy, and spiritually satisfying...with no one left behind. In such a community, people recognize that, once basic needs are met, the purpose of life is not to have more possessions, but to become a wiser and more creative self. Conspicuous consumption is replaced by creative frugality.
Beauty is another name for richness of experience as enjoyed through creative and cooperative relations with others. Love is a form of beauty, and so is justice.