June 1, 2012 Volume 26, Number 06
A word to the economy
By Glen Shepherd | ChristianWeek Columnist
Saint Augustine's City of God, 1 of 3 volumes of a Spanish Translation, 1446 - 82. Photo by tethys925 (Flickr).
According to Saint Augustine, Christians have a dual citizenship. We work and live out our daily life in our community, in the City of Man as Augustine described it; but our true allegiance is to the City of God. The idea comes from Philippians 3:20, which tells us that our citizenship is in heaven. But our daily life is lived here in Canada. So when the global economy suffers, our citizenship in heaven offers no relief or escape from those brutal economic realities.
At the same time, our passport in the City of God does give us a vantage point and wisdom to understand. Recently I was in London, England with a group of church leaders from around the globe to look at how Christians might respond to the current economic reality. I was there as an economist more than as a theologian. It was a fascinating meeting. Here are some of the ideas that emerged from that reflection.
Uncontrolled greed has a price
One of the causes of the economic crisis was the effect of uncontrolled greed and unrealistic expectations and a lack of economic discipline in the western world. Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, spoke in his book The Wealth of Nations about the free market as a vehicle to progress. But he also spoke about the need for control and regulation to check the natural tendency of humans to exploit each other.
The Bible speaks of covetousness. Theologians talk about original sin. They are all talking about the same problem. Left alone, humans will act to excess. The corrective of the Spirit is essential to avoid economic and social dysfunction.
A new world is emerging
Much of the economic adjustment and pain we are experiencing is the result of the shift of economic power and energy from western Europe and North America to the emerging economies such China, India and Brazil. In 2000, the old powers accounted for 66 per cent of world economic output. By 2030, it is estimated that they will account for 35 per cent of world economic output.
The world is changing, and the change is inconvenient for us as decisions are taken elsewhere and new competitive pressures impinge on our economy. But from God's point of viewthe Creator of all peoplecould this shift to a more global economy actually be a good thing from the standpoint of global social justice?
Economic crises are as much about expectations as they are about reality. North Americans have lived 50 years of increasing prosperity, new products, improving prospects and a sense of limitlessness around us and increasing debt was the lubricant of that dream. Economics, interestingly, is about how to decide on the allocation of scarce resources.
Stewardship is about choice, not about having everything. There are limits to what we can have; certain resources have limited supplies and we must learn to conserve; our actions on the environment entail unavoidable consequences. There are huge lifestyle lessons to learn herelessons that cohere with what the Bible teaches.
Are we living an economic catastrophe? Probably not. Is it time to rethink our assumptions and some of our values? It may well be. Does the Bible have something to say about it? Absolutelythe Earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.
Glen Shepherd is the president of Health Partners International of Canada.