Editorial : Easter Economics

Reprinted from The Common Good, issue 49, Easter 2009

What would have happened if the G20 held in early April had followed a Christian vision of what was needed in economic reform, as distinct from the corporate capitalist vision? What would have happened if Easter economics were sought? I suggest something radically different might have resulted.

Firstly, the leaders would need to have gone into a week-long spiritual retreat, preferably led by a missionary from the slums of perhaps Nairobi or San Paulo. Only then might they feel the pain of the poor. The bevy of economists, bankers, accountants, policy analysts and politicians present needed better balance, so they would have broadened their gathering to include theologians, philosophers, artists, community activists and poets.

Secondly, the retreat could have been held in El Salvador, under the patronage of modern-day martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero, whose 29th anniversary of assassination was commemorated that week. He was murdered for defending the poor and seeking justice. He had faced in the late 1970s a microcosm in El Salvador of many of the problems the G20 leaders face now. He noted in his first pastoral letter as bishop that ‘the Church does not live for itself but in order to bring the world the truth and grace of Easter.’

The first three days or retreat would have been spent reflecting on the state of the world’s poor, much of it created and maintained by the current global capitalist system. Intermingled with this analysis would have been sessions of prayer, reflection, theological input and silence. It could have included a day’s exposure program in a slum to experience the crucified Christ at first hand. Every dying child, every abused woman, every hungry man is Christ on the cross in our time. World leaders need to see that first hand.

Collectively they would have sought to discover the Will of God, and prayed for inspiration. Christian people know that seeking the Will of God is central to promoting justice and establishing the Reign of God in our time. The participants would have reflected on the gospel insights and teachings of Jesus on matters relating to protecting the poor, seeking the common good, practising social justice and placing love of neighbour not self interest at the core of their response.

Collectively they would have sought to discover the Will of God, and prayed for inspiration. Christian people know that seeking the Will of God is central to promoting justice and establishing the Reign of God in our time.

On the final day, they would have evolved a master plan to confront the systemic problems of poverty, regional wars, resources and food distribution and ecological disasters facing the planet. Then they would have signed up to it, thus enacting a sacred covenant with one another in the sight of God to implement the plan of action. Leaders of the major world religions including the pope could have presided over the closing covenantal ceremony.

Regrettably, Easter economics was not the agenda. Instead, we got a predictable result and a communiqué a fifth former could have written. It recommitted governments to more of the failed policies of the past, to greater regulation (of rogue elements they mean), to ‘economic stimulus and growth’ and further expansion of world markets. This produced at a time when resources are more and more seen as finite, when our planet is under threat ecologically and when much of what is produced is either not needed or simply wasted.

The peoples of the world have been shortchanged in a most dramatic way. The G20 meeting made no attempt to openly and honestly address the underpinning reasons the global economy is in such a mess. With those present representing huge vested interests, they failed to address the inherent contradictions contained within its foundation stones and what was needed to make it more just, more equitable, fairer. This need for better analysis was critical to a different future. Instead, they sought to patch up the broken model and produced a plan to simply rehash the same old failed recipe, make it bigger, make sure there are no rats’ tails in it this time, pop it in the free market oven (where it got hopelessly overheated last time) and hope for the best. Shareholders can rest easy. Corporate capitalism was the major winner at G20. The golden calf has been patched up—again.

Easter economics demands far more. Critically, it demands social justice. The Risen Christ is present in each of those poor people and transforms those who engage. This could include the world’s leaders. Sadly, prophetic voices calling for repentance and change like Oscar Romero were absent from the G20. The five billion poor people in the world heard no such voice. What they got was political posturing and a bland statement of intent.

Easter economics demands far more. Critically, it demands social justice. The Risen Christ is present in each of those poor people and transforms those who engage.

The Church’s social teachings have for more than 120 years advocated an economic system that placed people not profit first. This reflects a central gospel value. All social structures are at the service of the people. The tail doesn’t wag the dog. And Catholic Worker personalist philosophy has encouraged us to think in terms of a ‘small is beautiful’ philosophy in economics, politics and social structure so that we can remain involved at a personal level and keep some control of our destinies.

Where giant corporations rule the world, as they do now, ordinary folk have little or no say in their futures. This means that God’s plan for people, that everyone be treated as sacred, that the common good of all be promoted, that each be free to develop to the best of their potential, that the poor and the dispossessed are looked after, that resources are shared fairly, is by definition restricted. Currently economic power and the freedom it brings is beyond the reach of the vast majority of the world’s peoples. And G20 did nothing to change that.

—Jim Consedine

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