Saturday, October 15, 2005

week 3 analysis

This week I focused my research on articles and studies that discuss an appropriate Christian response to economics issues. I suppose that means I will primarily be exploring question 4 – What is the task of Jesus-followers in response to this problem? Specifically, I am trying to explore how we should even begin answering that question. What principles, truths, values, etc., should we take as our starting point(s)? The sources I read mentioned three in particular.

1. The Trinity
One article in particular argued that the Trinitarian nature of the Christian faith provides us with a model and the necessary resources to make the market system function as it should. The contemporary economic paradigm explains “why and how humans are moved by the profit motive to use existing markets to achieve their individualistic aims and how this ‘egoistic’ pursuit results in the common good of feasible plenty.” However, the same paradigm finds it difficult to explain how self-interest should prompt people to do what is necessary to even things out. Thus the basic problem with this paradigm is its internal inconsistency. The Triune nature of Christianity, it is argued, provides the necessary basis to right this wrong, modeling “a system that puts radically different and independent agents into a positive and fruitful relationship.”

2. The Value of Individual Human Beings
Many Christian economists take as their starting point the value that Christianity places on individual human beings. Our economics system should reflect the fact that we affirm that all persons are created in God’s image and loved by God. A society’s vision of man shapes that society’s ethos, which determines its citizens’ economic motivation and habits.

The problem with both of these approaches is that they aim to reinforce a particular human economic construct – the free market system. I wouldn’t argue that this system be opposed completely, but it doesn’t seem that Christianity was ever meant to bolster existing economic (or political, i.e. Constantine) systems.

3. The Kingdom/kingship/reign of God
The last of the three I noticed was the most promising. I don’t want to oversimplify the whole thing (we certainly need more than one starting point), but we must reserve a key place in our thinking for the nature of the Kingdom Jesus’ instituted. I don’t have any specific thoughts on what that even means, but it seems the most promising place to start. What did Jesus’ have in mind when he talked about the “kingdom of God,” and how would he have us to handle economic issues as people who are connected to that kingdom?

I also have a couple of thoughts on what practices give rise to our problems (thinking of our class discussion on Thursday).

For one thing, we all want to find the best possible product for the lowest possible price. That’s why we love places like Wal-Mart and Costco—they provide us with large amounts of useful goods without us having to spend great amounts of money. This practice is an assumed aspect of good shopping. The problem, which I had never considered until I read some of Erin’s articles on Wal-Mart, is that this practice actually contributes to world poverty. By reducing the price of the items, companies lessen the value of the goods and pay suppliers less and less, which forces them to reduce their work force and find cheap labor elsewhere.

Another side issue that came up in my research this week was the contribution of population problems to economic disparity. A practice that comes to mind that may contribute to this problem is the assumption that we have a right to have as many kids as we want to have. When it comes to choosing how many kids to have, few Christians I know would base their decision on how many hungry children already live in our world.

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