Economics

We're in This Together

ONE EVENING LAST NOVEMBER, Connie Borbeau encouraged several people gathered in a church parlor to talk about what, for many, is a frightening and deeply isolating topic.

“How is the economic crisis personally touching you?” Borbeau asked.

Borbeau was facilitating the first gathering of a “common security club” at her church in Concord, New Hampshire. These clubs, a cross between a study circle, mutual aid association, and social action affinity group, are a concept being piloted cooperatively by a loose coalition of organizations that includes the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and On the Commons.

After 20 minutes of talking in pairs, Borbeau asked if anyone was willing to share with the larger group.

“I work in elder services,” said a woman in her 30s. “My agency is about to eliminate 20 jobs because of state budget cuts. I live alone and I’m afraid I might lose my job and my apartment.”

“I’m afraid to open my mail,” nervously laughed a woman who worked as a middle-school teacher for three decades. “I don’t want to see how much my retirement savings have evaporated.”

“Winter is coming and I haven’t insulated my attic,” said a man in his mid-50s. “I hurt my back and can’t do the work. It would save me hundreds of dollars.”

“They foreclosed on the building my sister was living in—and she’s about to be evicted,” shared a man in his 20s. “She’s coming to live with me!”

From the dozen anxious stories, it was apparent that the economic crisis was touching everyone in some way.

The dominant messages in the U.S. economy are “you are on your own” and “some people are going to be left behind.” Countering this isn’t easy. For many, talking about their economic anxiety and asking for help is difficult and shaming. But to survive the coming period of uncertainty, we must regain use of our mutual-aid muscles, many of which have atrophied from lack of use.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2009
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From Anxiety and Greed to Milk and Honey

So far as I know, the Bible says nothing explicit about subprime loans and the financial implications of such risky economic practice. There is a great deal, nonetheless, that the Bible has to say about such a crisis as we now face. I will comment in turn on a biblical perspective of an analysis of the crisis and a biblical perspective for an alternative economic practice.

While the specifics of the current market collapse are peculiarly modern, biblical perspectives are pertinent because the fundamental issues of economics are constant from ancient to contemporary time, constants such as credit and debt, loans and interest, and the endless tension between haves and have-nots.

We may identify three dimensions of the theological-moral foundations of the current economic crisis:

AUTONOMY. A sense of the isolated, self-sufficient economic individual is deeply rooted in modern rationality and comes to full expression in U.S. “individualism” that resists communitarian connectedness and imagines the individual person to be the primary unit of social reality. Such an individual is completely autonomous, owes no one anything, is accountable to no one, and can rely on no one except himself or herself.

Such a self (perceived almost exclusively as an economic self) is without restraint and is self-authorized to enact Promethean energy to organize life around one’s own needs, issues, and purposes. The autonomous, self-sufficient self takes as the proper venue for life “the market” and understands the market as a place of self-advancement at the expense of all others who are perceived either as rivals and competitors or as usable commodities.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2009
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