This story is similar to my own journey in understand the relationship of economics to the purpose and mission of the church.
We tried to imagine an economy informed by the narratives of scripture, one bearing witness to the reign of God. It would be made of the same ingredients as the dominant economy: the same money, jobs, buying and selling goods and services. We weren’t going to try to roll back to a subsistence economy, or a household economy, or barter, or self-reliance. What was needed, we thought, was an economy not based on the goals, values and practices of this age, but one based in the life and teachings of Jesus, as revealed through scripture and the life of Christian communities through the ages.
An economy driven by such a direction seemed to be one in which all are taken care of; none acquire wealth at the expense of the others; all have what they need to live on; excessive consumption is not valued but a shared communal life is; mutual dependence is pursued; true costs are measured; all are called on to participate; we avoid categories that place some in the role of service provider and others in the role of service recipient (volunteer, minister/ministry, needy…). We assume we have all we need to take care of each other as brothers and sisters, fellow members of Christ, the living expression of the grace and provision of God.
Food is treated as a private good in today’s industrial food system, but it must be re-conceived as a common good in the transition toward a more sustainable food system that is fairer to food producers and consumers. If we were to treat food as a commons, it could be better produced and distributed by hybrid tri-centric governance systems implemented at the local level and compounded by market rules, public regulations, and collective actions. This change would have enormous ethical, legal, economic, and nutritional implications for the global food system.
[T]he value of food is no longer based on the many dimensions that bring us security and health, including the fact that food is a:
Basic human need and should be available to all
Fundamental human right that should be guaranteed to every citizen
Pillar of our culture for producers and consumers alike
Natural, renewable resource that can be controlled by humans
Marketable product subject to fair trade and sustainable production
With the help of organizations like the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, ISEC has been able to sponsor 50 “reality tourists.” Ladakhis stay with locals for as long as three months, visiting nursing homes, shopping malls, and garbage dumps, as well as local farms and solar energy installations. While they are astounded by the amount of stuff that is thrown away, Norberg-Hodge says the visitors are much more affected by people’s lack of free time, the social segregation of old and young, and the anonymity and lack of interaction with neighbors—even in densely populated apartment buildings. Some of their reactions are documented in Norberg-Hodges 2011 documentary, The Economics of Happiness.
“You’d be amazed—this way of life in the West is really not what we think,” Norberg-Hodge reported one woman saying upon returning to her village. “People live right on top of each other in a building and they dont even know each others names. When someone comes to stay they make such a fuss over things like bed linen.”