Economics

Recovering Creatureliness

The following reflection is a sidebar for "A Watershed Moment" by Ched Myers.—The Editors

I began to know my watershed—the James River in Virginia—when I realized that recovering “creatureliness” is at the core of our discipleship. I learned that my life is utterly dependent upon relationships with countless others, including microscopic organisms in the soil. It’s this grand web of mutuality that forms our fundamental context. Watershed discipleship is contextual discipleship. If we seek to follow Jesus in context, nothing is more contextual than a watershed.

Participating in God’s action to restore the world requires us to have a place. Churches have the capacity to become communities of alternative economic and political practice, embodiment, and imagination. To become communities of justice and reconciliation, we need to embrace the simple disciplines of table fellowship, relationship to water, growing food, and ecological literacy. That’s the path of watershed discipleship.

Chris Grataski, founder of Wild Oak Ecological Design, is a permaculture educator and designer living in central Virginia.

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Selling Sodas: A Cure for Human Bondage

A man holds an XS Energy Drink, which the author was selling, in Ukraine. Photo by David Vanderveen

Intending it as a compliment, a friend described my work in in Kiev last weekend as selling sodas in Ukraine. 

Hes right. I was in the embattled city to represent a company I helped co-found and our Southern California energy drink brand in meetings with more than 10,000 Ukrainian independent business owners. 

It was as simple as that and also so much more. 

Like Bono, I believe free enterprise is a cure for all sorts of poverty  economic, political, and spiritual.

Study: Protestant Work Ethic Isn't Just Protestant Anymore

Work ethic graphic created via wordle.net. Via RNS.

America’s vaunted Protestant work ethic is getting a makeover: Now it might be more of an atheist work ethic.

A new study has found an inverse relationship between the religiosity of a state’s population and its “productive entrepreneurship.” That’s professor-speak for “entrepreneurial investment responsible for real economic growth.”

In other words, the less religious a state’s population, the more likely it is to have a healthy economy.

The study, titled “Religion: Productive or Unproductive?” by economists Travis Wiseman of Mississippi State University and Andrew Young of West Virginia University, was published in the March edition of the Journal of Institutional Economics.

In the study, Wiseman and Young find that the “measure of total Christian adherents is robustly and positively correlated with states’ unproductive entrepreneurship scores” in a given state.

Pope Francis: An Imitation of Christ

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo: Paul Haring/Catholic News Service. Via RNS.

Pope Francis is TIME's Person of the Year. But that is only because Jesus is his "Person of the Day" — every day. 

Praises of the pope are flowing around the world, commentary on the pontiff leads all the news shows, and even late night television comedians are paying humorous homage. But a few of the journalists covering the pope are getting it right: Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ — the Vicar of Christ.

Isn’t it extraordinary how simply following Jesus can attract so much attention when you are the pope? Every day, millions of other faithful followers of Christ do the same thing. They often don’t attract attention, but they keep the world together.

Beyond the Dreamer

IN THE LAST YEAR of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. struggled with what are best understood as existential challenges as he began to move toward an ever-more-profound and radical understanding of what would be required to deal with the nation’s domestic and international problems.

The direction he was exploring, I believe, is far more relevant to the realities we now face than many have realized—or have wanted to realize.

I first met King in 1964 at the Democratic Party’s national convention held that year in Atlantic City—the occasion of an historic challenge by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to the racially segregated and reactionary Mississippi Democratic Party. I was then a very young aide working for Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Sen. Nelson authorized me to help out in any way I could despite President Lyndon Johnson’s effort to clamp down on the fight for representation in the interest of a “dignified” convention that would nominate him in his own right after his rise to the presidency following President Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson didn’t want a bunch of civil rights activists muddying the waters and, not incidentally, causing him problems in the conservative, race-based Democratic South.

After much back and forth, the Johnson administration offered a “compromise” proposal that the old guard be seated (provided they pledged to support him) and that two at-large representatives of the MFDP also be seated.

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Study: Too Much Religion Can Harm Economy

Business Bible, Siarhei Tolak / Shutterstock.com
Business Bible, Siarhei Tolak / Shutterstock.com

Too much religion can harm a society’s economy by undermining the drive for financial success, according to a new study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The study of almost 190,000 people from 11 religiously diverse cultures is raising eyebrows among some of England’s religious leaders for suggesting Judaism and Christianity have anti-wealth norms.

David Brooks, Producing People, and Saving the World

Wall Street sign outside New York Stock Exchange, Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com
Wall Street sign outside New York Stock Exchange, Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

New York Times op-ed columnist, David Brooks, responded, this week, to an intriguing article in the Washington Post about Jason Trigg, a recent MIT graduate, who chose a career on Wall Street as a way to redistribute wealth. 

Trigg’s plan is simple. Make lots of money. Live simply. Give lots of money. It’s not far from John Wesley’s advice of, “Earn all you can. Give all you can. Save all you can.”  Actually, it’s almost identical.

Brooks perceptively sees the dangers and pitfalls in the road ahead. Most specifically, wealth and the surrounding environment can have a corrosive effect, no matter good our intentions. Brooks writes:

…the brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before. Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you.

Gradually, you become a different person. If there is a large gap between your daily conduct and your core commitment, you will become more like your daily activities and less attached to your original commitment.

But, while I echo Brooks concern, I disagree with his ultimate conclusion. He goes on to argue that we should pursue careers that elicit passion (seeming to indicate that hedge funds couldn’t be a passion for some people) and that if we truly care about children in Africa, it’s best to go there – not Wall Street.

The Church's Alternative Currency

DANIEL BELL'SThe Economy of Desire juxtaposes Christianity and capitalism, situating both in the context of postmodernity. The main argument of the book is that performing works of mercy—both corporal and spiritual—constitutes an alternative economy that can resist capitalism. Capitalism, in Bell's construal, is an economic system founded on voluntary contracts, private property, and an ideological regime where the rule of the market transcends the rule of law and disregards the reign of God in Christ.

The author draws on the work of philosophers Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze to set up a philosophical framework for talking about power and desire. His treatment of Foucaultian insights on the ubiquity of power is meant to decenter the state as the primary engine of social change. Deleuze's work builds on Foucault's argument by conceptualizing people—and society at large—as flows of desire. Taken together, the claim is potentially but not necessarily democratic: Social structures organize desire in particular ways and are malleable due to the fact that power resides not only in the state or market but in the relational networks of everyday people. Under this account, for instance, the typical presidential election is not simply about securing votes, but about directing the aspirations and actions of the electorate toward a collective passion for growing the economy, expanding the middle class, and so on. Capitalism, for Bell, secures our loyalty because it shapes what we do as well as what we desire.

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The Economics of Abundance

AS THE U.S. Congress and the president repeatedly battle over the debt ceiling and contemplate cuts to Social Security and Medicare, austerity has begun to sound like common sense: "Families tighten their belts during hard times, and so must government."

However, "common sense" in our media age is carefully manufactured, and its underlying analogy doesn't always hold up to scrutiny. "Living within our means," for most families, includes debt financing for housing, cars, and college. Families having a hard time paying their bills may indeed tighten their belts—but they seek more income first, and cut care for children and the sick last. In contrast, federal budget austerity arguments always focus on spending, ignoring the revenue crisis born of decades of tax cuts.

Christians have a more profound reason to question "austerity measures": They conflict with our faith in God's abundance. In parable after parable—the prodigal son, the unforgiving debtor, Lazarus and the rich man—Jesus challenges us to emulate God's generosity. It is the theme of that most eucharistic miracle, the loaves and fishes. How to live in the light of God's abundance is never an easy question, but we must be open to its logic in every area of human existence, including our personal lives, our economy, and our government.

There is, needless to say, a deep contrast between Christian notions of abundance, rooted in God's boundless creative gift, and the modern field of economics, which bases itself on the principle that commodities are scarce. Yet there are also resonances between abundance and modern macroeconomics (the study of whole economies) as it developed in the New Deal period and the first three decades after World War II—especially in the great postwar era of shared prosperity, which saw an explosive expansion of the middle class.

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