Economics

New and Noteworthy

Encountering the Holy

The Life of Meaning: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World, edited by Bob Abernethy, host of the PBS show Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, and William Dole, is comprised of reflections from 59 guests interviewed on the show during the last 10 years. Desmond Tutu, Phyllis Tickle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Anne Lamott, and others share their insights, fears, and questions about living a faithful life. Seven Stories Press

Video Seminary

If seminary is out of your regional (or financial) range, video-based courses from the Wesley Ministry Network may fit the bill. British Bishop N.T. Wright's book Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense is the newest in a series of courses, which contain 20-minute lectures and questions for discussion. The series comes with workbooks and leader's guides. Other course topics include ethics, women and church history, and the psalms. www.wesleyministrynetwork.com

Beholding the Divine

At nearly three hours, Into Great Silence, a film about the monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, becomes an experience in meditation itself. Director Philip Gröning lets the monks' daily lives unfold through stunning cinematography: a shaved head bowed in prayer, gnarled hands cutting cloth. With no musical score and little dialogue (the monks live in perpetual silence), some may find the slow pace uncomfortable. Others will appreciate a retreat into this beautiful, contemplative world. Zeitgeist Films

A Gospel Economy

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Sojourners Magazine July 2007
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Destructive Campaigns

One thing missing from "A Nuclear Surge" (by Frida Berrigan, April 2007) is the money source. If we knew who the major investors in uranium mining and nuclear arms production were, we would know why the Bush administration is moving forward on a new generation of nuclear weapons.

Also, regarding "Road Maps to Peace—or Destruction?" (by Charles Kimball, April 2007), I applaud Jimmy Carter's stand on Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. For far too long the United States has turned a blind eye to the brutal expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes. The campaign to cover up this destruction of a people is shocking.

Susan Watkins
Salem, Oregon

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Sojourners Magazine July 2007
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Gold Diggers

Christian Aid's 2007 report "A Rich Seam: Who Benefits from Rising Commodity Prices?" indicates that mining companies that extract raw commodities—such as oil, nickel, or copper—turn the "trade" relationship between the mining industry and particular countries into one giant sucking sound. This is significant, since extractive industries are heavily concentrated in developing countries that are dependent on taxes and wages for a stable economy. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines denounced predatory mining acts and open-pit mining in a recent pastoral letter: "Allowing the interests of big mining corporations to prevail over people's right to these sources [of food and livelihood] amounts to violating their right to life."

  • $72 million: Loss to the Bolivian economy, 1999 to 2004, after privatization of the oil and gas sector.
  • n $63.4 million: Unpaid mining royalties owed to Zambia from 2002 to 2004.
  • 64: Percent of Zambian population that lives on less than $1 a day.
  • $912.4 million: The mining industry's revenue in the Philippines in 2005.
  • 1.9: Percent of taxes the mining industry paid to the Philippine government in 2005.
  • 0.36: Percent of Philippine workforce employed in the mining industry.

Source: "A Rich Seam: Who Benefits from Rising Commodity Prices?" (Christian Aid, 2007); "A Statement on Mining Issues and Concerns" (Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, 2006).

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Sojourners Magazine June 2007
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Not Just Heavenly, It's Divine

On a snowy night in February, Comfort Kumeah, a cocoa farmer from Mim, Ghana, came all the way to Washington, D.C., just to tell a story—and to launch a new chocolate brand into the $13 billion U.S. market. The well-dressed crowd of corporate officers, Christian fair trade advocates, culinary professionals, and journalists gathered at a swanky lounge in the capital to hear Kumeah's story of how her Ghanaian agricultural cooperative, called Kuapa Kokoo, became a Divine Chocolate shareholder, its exclusive cocoa supplier, and a pioneering trade justice organization.

In addition to being a lifelong cocoa farmer, Kumeah sits on Kuapa Kokoo's farmers' union board, teaches a kindergarten class of 128 students in Mim, and is a mother of five, so she knows how to hold an audience's attention. But the youthful 59-year-old kept her enthusiastic explanation of the history and structure of Kuapa Kokoo brief, expressing her pleasure at Divine Chocolate's arrival in the United States. The gathered listeners applauded kindly before returning to their conversation and migrating to the chocolate fountain surrounded by fresh fruit and samples of Divine Chocolate bars.

Divine Chocolate's journey to the United States began when Kuapa Kokoo was founded by cocoa-farming villagers in 1993. The World Bank had just impelled the government of Ghana to allow nongovernmental trading companies to buy farmers' cocoa beans, truck them to ports, and sell them to the government cocoa agency. The change opened the door for predatory merchants and large, unpredictable price swings and put small farmers at an overwhelming disadvantage. However, Nana Frimpong Abebrese, a member of Ghana's cocoa governing board, saw that there was also the possibility of a farmer-owned trading co-op that would put growers' interests first.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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There Are None So Blind...

Three factors that are invisible to market fundamentalists.

• Your mother. Actually, parenting of any kind—plus all the other unpaid labor family members, mostly women, do in order to raise children, care for the sick, or haul clean water. When trade or aid agreements pressure or force governments to privatize essential services such as water, women's jobs get harder.

• Diseases of the poor. Activists forced the WTO to recognize poor countries' right to generic medicines in public health emergencies such as the AIDS epidemic. The U.S., in the pocket of Big Pharma, then started pushing direct and backdoor prohibitions on generic medicines into other trade agreements.

• The protectionism double standard. The economists, journalists, lawyers, and doctors that decry "protectionism" for lower-wage workers are themselves protected from substantial foreign competition by U.S. immigration and professional licensing laws.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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Decoding the Lingo

Trade technocrats try to hide behind a veil of boring, but you can get beyond the jargon.

• Neoliberal economics, aka "market fundamentalism." The idea that we are better off eliminating all barriers to trade (and commerce in general), all the time.

• Policy space. Letting governments choose the economic policies that actually fit their circumstances, instead of restricting them with one-size-fits-all trade agreements or harmful conditions attached to aid or loans.

• World Bank. An international body, controlled by wealthy countries, that lends and grants money to poor countries in order to fight poverty. It is slowly getting over the destructive habit of imposing harmful conditions.

• International Monetary Fund. An international body controlled by wealthy nations. When its original goals (having to do with currency exchange rates and short-term balance-of-payments problems) became obsolete in the 1970s and after, the IMF started strong-arming poor countries into accepting damaging conditions.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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Oh Sure, Blame the Problem!

During a recent congressional hearing, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke blamed baby boomers for a looming fiscal crisis, declaring that future generations will be forced to "bear much of the cost" of Social Security and Medicare. Frankly, it's a mystery to me why future generations shouldn't be happy to pay for my anti-aging cream, but some people just insist on seeing the colander as half-empty.

Speaking as a member in good standing of the baby boom generation—as defined by my inability to listen to the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby" without sobbing uncontrollably—I take offense at the idea that people my age are "a problem." After all, we have been called the Greatest Generation, for surviving the Depression through sheer force of pluck, for beating back totalitarianism in World War II, and then returning home to forge the largest economic expansion in the 20th century.

Oops. Sorry. That was my parent's generation. MY generation pretty much just laid around and watched TV. (But it was color TV! Sweet.) And as far as pluck goes, we didn't do pluck. Wouldn't know it if it hit us upside the head. No, what we did was cute and precious—also undeserving, ungrateful, and entitled, especially entitled, since our parents were determined that their children have all the things they never did. And who were we to argue?

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Sojourners Magazine April 2007
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