Category Archives: Wealth

The Shallow Pond Dilemma

It seems appropriate in this time of gluttony and the consumer frenzy of consumerism known as Black Friday, to talk about the ethical dilemmas of the financial choices we make.

A long time ago, I listened to Episode #100 of the Diet Soap podcast and it sparked a lot of thoughts and conversations, mostly with myself, about the nature of charity and justice and how to get from one to the other. More recently at Hope Fellowship we’ve been reaffirming our membership and commitment to the values of our little ekklesia . The last couple weeks has been teaching and discussing the value of tithing and sharing. While we can always do better, I really appreciate that we attempt to tackle one of the most touchy subjects with a little more depth, transparency and thought…how we deal with our finances. So, I thought I’d tackle some thoughts from the podcast and current conversation on the difference between charity and justice and why we should all be Mother Theresa.

The Shallow Pond Gets Deeper
In the podcast the host, Doug Lain, shares an analogy from the ethicist Peter Singer. He imagines that you are standing at a shallow pond where you see a child that has fallen in and is going to drown. The pond is shallow. So, you have no risk of injury yourself, but you have on an expensive pair of fancy shoes that you don’t want to get all muddy. In this situation it seems ridiculous to choose to preserve the muddy pair of shoes instead of the child’s life. But Singer argues that this is what we do all the time through the consumer choices we make. So, his conclusion goes something like, “You should give the money you would spend on fancy shoes to Oxfam or Unicef to take care of a starving child.”

So, Singer has highlighted the ethical dilemma involved in how we deal with our finances in light of inequality in the world. However, there are some problems with Singer’s analogy. The limit of what Singer can imagine people doing is giving lots of money to charity. Charity is the ultimate act of an utilitarian ethic. So, within the confines of an unjust social structure the best we can do is charity. Justice requires something more radical. The guest, Ben Burgis, argues that Singer’s own analogy undermines his ethic of charity,

If you go with Singer’s argument then and embrace his conclusion, then, not only should we give to charity, but even living a comfortable First World lifestyle is morally unacceptable.

Singer’s analogy presents an individual ethical dilemma where you are face to face with a choice, but when you are shopping you’re part of a mass. We don’t really make consumer choices on a purely individual basis. Within our capitalist framework we insist on the individual ethic, but there are spaces where we don’t act as individual agents, but as a collective. The forces of the economy and consumerism that create and reinforce injustice and inequality are not face to face with us when we make purchases in the supermarket or a store. As Doug Lain points out,

If you want to have a more ethical system you can’t stay within the context of that system…To ask people to invest in Oxfam instead is to ask them to do something counter to the ethics of the culture they’re in.

The Counter-Cultural Ethics of God’s Economy
This is partially the purpose of how the church is supposed to function. It intends to be an alternative to the way the world organizes itself. The hope and purpose is to embody the ethic of the reign of God that we see in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. One of the ways is by committing to share our resources with this particular community. This takes different forms. One is the tithe, where ten percent of goes to the common treasury of the church. Far from absolving us, this practice is meant to invite us further in to how this is used in the life of the church and its mission in the world. But in many ways the tithe is really the lowest common denominator form of economic participation in the life of the people of God.

In a section of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus challenges us to engage systems of domination with creative nonviolence, he offers this final, perhaps most radical, word, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Mt 5:42). This verse challenges our most precious possession, control. When faced with how to best use our resources, this verse challenges our addiction to those resources and the power and privilege of deciding how they are used. Elsewhere, Jesus tells the rich young man that following him requires divesting himself of all his possessions and give to the poor, enacting Jubilee in his own life (Mt 19:16-22; Lk 18:18-30). There is a radical principle here summed up in the Psalms and the Jubilee in Leviticus 25 that God is the only absolute owner. Followers of Jesus are called to hold their possessions loosely as things to be used for God’s purposes and not their own accumulation or comfort.

The next post will attempt to think about ways that we can live out these ideas in our daily lives.

Coveting, Control and Captivity (Leviticus 25)

You can search this site for “jubilee”, “leviticus 25″ and “sabbath” to read more about the connections I make between Sabbath practices, ecology, economics, Jesus and Isaiah. To find something fresh to say about this central passage in the biblical narrative I turn to one of my favorite scholars.

The text of Leviticus 25 asserts both Yahweh’s radical intention and the radical social practice of entitlement that necessarily accompanies Yahweh’s intention. (103)

So, Walter Brueggeman sums up the well-known Jubilee chapter of Leviticus. Many people, particularly conservatives, hear the word entitlement primarily with negative connotations. However, the concept of predistribution which I mentioned before in relationship to Peter Barnes’ book Capitalism 3.0 is a more positive description of what Brueggeman means. Brueggeman also supports what I’ve often claimed for the importance of this chapter for understanding Israel, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament in his book Finally Comes the Poet,

Israel’s theological conviction about the land is asserted positively in the great social vision of Leviticus 25, the text on the Jubilee year. A number of scholars now argue that this text provides the cornerstone for Israel’s ethical practice. (102)

Brueggeman makes this claim in the context of his exegesis of the command not to covet (Ex 20:17) in which he says,

Marvin Cheney has argued, and I agree, that covet in the Decalogue refers in principle to land tenure systems and land management policies. To covet means to arrange loan credit, tax, and inheritance so that some may have land that others should rightfully possess. That is, it is the systemic economic practice of greed. (99)

It is helpful to put the redistribution scheme of Leviticus 25 in the context of prohibitions against covetousness and greed. In other words, the Jubilee is the positive vision of what the world could or should be in light of the negative reality highlighted by the prohibitions in the Decalogue. Greed, or covetousness, is both based on and results in inequalities of the distribution of wealth and power. For the biblical world this comes primarily in the form of access and ownership of land. Brueggeman goes on to explore this further,

There is an important line of scholarship that argues that early Israel (which gives us the seed of all biblical faith) is essentially a social revolution concerning land tenure systems. This charter for “egalitarianism” culminated in the commandment against coveting that prohibits the rapacious policies of the state that characteristically monopolize law, power, and wealth… The Bible has understood, long before Karl Marx, that the basic human issues concern land, power, and the means of production. (99-100)

I have argued before in these virtual pages that a biblical economy is based on the land, and I’m happy to find confirmation from such a highly respected biblical, particularly Old Testament, scholar. Some will dismiss everything at the mention of that dreaded name, “Marx”, but will have missed the point Brueggeman makes that, far from being “Marxist”, the Bible is fundamentally human. Where Marx gets things right he happens to agree with the biblical emphasis on justice, egalitarianism and land reform. Most Christians read the Ten Commandments (and the whole biblical narrative) primarily in individualistic terms. What they miss is the socio-political context of these commands which were understood in much more radical terms by the original hearers.

So, Jubilee is the antithesis to coveting, but Brueggeman unpacks this further in terms of control and captivity,

The theological issue related to the land is sharing— respecting the entitlement of others. The preacher’s theme for those who gather is greed. Greed touches every aspect of our lives: economic, political, sexual, psychological, and theological. Greed bespeaks a fundamental disorder in our lives, a disorder that reflects distortion in our relation with God.

Central to this issue is the addiction to control that permeates human history. In verse 6 the text poses the question most people probably have when reading about letting the land lie fallow for a year, “What then shall we eat?” I hope to explore this aspect of Jubilee further, but the response of the text is that God provides abundantly, such that the people will still be eating from the produce of the Sabbath year three years later. Loss of control is scary, but God clearly promises that letting go of control is actually better than when we hold tightly to the reins.

This addiction to control is a kind of captivity or slavery. When we hold our possessions and wealth tightly, we are possessed by them. We become slaves to the things we pretend to have control over. Their is a subtle reversal in the relationship to material goods that most people don’t recognize in their daily lives. The logic of greed and coveting and the systems that perpetuate these values traps us in a spiral from which we cannot extricate ourselves. This kind of captivity is picked up by the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2) when he proclaims “good news to the poor”, “liberty to the captives” and the “year of the Lord’s favor”. Many scholars argue that this is a reference to the Jubilee, which is then appropriated by Jesus when he quotes Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth and says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). This proclamation of liberation from captivity which is good news to the poor is a thread connecting the Torah, Prophets, Gospels and on through Paul and James. This Jubilee thread weaves a tapestry that paints a picture of the “kingdom of heaven” at the core of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

But Brueggeman also admonishes that the prohibition against coveting and the positive command of the Jubilee are not based on a revelatory “because God said so”, but instead on real world experience.

This claim about God and the distribution of land is not accepted simply on the basis of revelation, but can be established in terms of social experience. Excessive land grabbing leads to death, whether in the family, in the church, in the faculty, or in Latin America. (101)

Living among people that are desperate for access to land, I can attest to the timelessness of this assertion. North American and western cultures have isolated themselves from the death that the injustice and inequality of economic systems creates, causes and exacerbates, but it is very real. Those at the very bottom understand that their inability to access land is the basis of their poverty and exploitation. For middle class westerners so detached and abstracted from their land base, it seems strange that people are still fighting over access to land. We have been sold the lie that we can solve poverty and basic inequalities in the system without dealing with the most fundamental issue of access to land and exploitation of natural resources. It is so important to recognize that this is not an arbitrary commandment, but one based on the social and economic realities of human existence which continue to apply today.

I’d like to share a story that Brueggeman relates which, I think, helps connect this ancient text and practice to our current context,

A concrete embodiment of the Jubilee command- ment was evidenced in a rural church in Iowa during the “farm crisis.” The banker in the town held mortgages on many farms. The banker and the farmers belonged to the same church. The banker could have foreclosed. He did not because, he said, “These are my neighbors and I want to live here a long time.” He extended the loans and did not collect the interest that was rightly his. The pastor concluded, “He was practicing the law of the Jubilee year, and he did not even know it.” The pastor might also have noted that the reason the banker could take such action is that his bank was a rare exception. It was locally and independently owned, not controlled by a larger Chicago banking system. (104)

Finally, let me end with this challenge from Brueggeman,

What if the central claim of the Tenth Commandment is true: that coveting kills, that taking what belongs to another destroys, and that life-giving social practice requires giving things back to people! (106)

Does Capitalism Need an Upgrade?

Peter Barnes book Capitalism 3.0 (which is available as a free PDF under a Creative Commons License at onthecommons.org) is a thought provoking and interesting read about the future of capitalism and the future of our world. Barnes vision both of what went wrong in the past and for how to create a more sustainable future within a capitalist structure are compelling. That’s coming from someone who tends to be pretty skeptical of capitalism’s potential to sustain us in the long term. The main idea of Capitalism 3.0 is that we have left the commons out of our economic equation and therefore need to create a commons sector to balance out the private sector that dominates our current model. Capitalism needs an upgrade.

The one-two punch of enclosure and externalizing is especially potent. With one hand, corporations take valuable stuff from the commons and privatize it. With the other hand, they dump bad stuff into the commons and pay nothing. The result is profits for corporations but a steady loss of value for the commons. (20)

One of the main points Barnes hits again and again is that private corporations are already using the commons for their own profit. The commons includes nature, community and culture. Nature is the example everyone thinks of when they hear “tragedy of the commons”, but streets, playgrounds, libraries, museums, laws and other shared gifts make up our communities. There are also cultural commons. One example of corporate abuse of cultural commons is all the stories in the public domain that Disney has turned into movies and profited from (Aladdin, Atlantis, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella to name a few) without adding anything back to the public domain. So, the commons is generally unaccounted for in our economics (except in the case of a few trusts and permanent funds which is, in large part, Barnes’ solution to the problem).

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I found Barnes’ history of the evolution of capitalism very helpful in thinking about how we might move forward within the current system (see chart on the right).

Demand, in other words, exceeded supply, and we lived in what might be called shortage capitalism. We could also call it Capitalism 1.0. After the change, we shifted into surplus capitalism, or what I call Capitalism 2.0. In this version, there’s no limit to what corporations can produce; their problem is finding buyers. A sizeable chunk of GDP is spent to make people want this unneeded output. (23)

Understanding this evolution of capitalism puts our current problems in perspective. The scarcity in shortage capitalism of aggregated capital led to the formulation of the modern corporation. This made it possible to aggregate more capital, but there were limits because of other factors. Modern corporations with abundant credit and seemingly infinite aggregated capital were not the more limited entity that were intended under shortage capitalism. By overcoming the limitations of credit and aggregated capital under shortage capitalism, surplus capitalism was able to create our global economy. However, this also created new problems and exacerbated others.

Almost all of the property rights under capitalism so far have been allocated to individuals and corporations. Federal management of forests and other natural resources has fallen heavily on the side of permitting corporations to extract resources for private gain without giving back or caring for the commons. There are some examples of trusts that function in the long-term interest of future generations on the state level. At the heart of this shift is another way of thinking about ownership, property and rights. Barnes’ description of trusteeship sounds a lot like the first chapters of Genesis.

First, ownership isn’t the same thing as trusteeship. Owners of property—even government owners—have wide latitude to do whatever they want with it; a trustee does not. Trustees are bound by the terms of their trust and by centuries-old principles of trusteeship, foremost among which is “undivided loyalty” to beneficiaries. (45)

Beneficiaries include future generations, which don’t factor in to our current economic system. Beneficiaries should also include non-human animals and ecosystems in terms of the natural commons. We all claim to value community, nature and culture. So, why haven’t we included the commons in the economic equation?

Capitalism and community aren’t natural allies. Capitalism’s emphasis on individual acquisition and consumption is usually antithetical to the needs of community. Where capitalism is about the pursuit of self-interest, community is about connecting to—and at times assisting—others. It’s driven not by monetary gain but by caring, giving, and sharing…It’s rarely imagined that community can be built into our economic operating system. In this chapter I show how it can be—if our operating system includes a healthy commons sector. (101)

I’m working on a post about Stephen Jay Gould’s book Ever Since Darwin. Even when he wrote that book in the 1970s it was becoming clear that competition was only part of the Darwinian equation describing the adaptation of species to their environment. We have selected only (or at least primarily) the mutations related to competition as we have developed our capitalist system. Without further adaptation this system will cause its own extinction and possibly our own. Barnes illuminates the possibility of including the altruistic aspects of our human nature through trusts, permanent funds and rights delegated to a commons sector.

As a final note, I was very struck by the idea and possibilities of “predistribution of property”.

The late John Rawls, one of America’s leading philosophers, distinguished between predistribution of property and redistribution of income. Under income redistribution, money is taken from “winners” and transferred to “losers.” Understandably, this isn’t popular with winners, who tend to control government and the media. Under property predistribution, by contrast, the playing field is leveled by spreading property ownership before income is generated. After that, there’s no need for income redistribution; property itself distributes income to all. According to Rawls, while income redistribution creates dependency, property predistribution empowers. (105)

In my mind this changes the whole conversation about a more equitable distribution of resources. It frames the question of inequality of wealth in terms of property rights. It also transforms the concept of property rights into the right to property which is what we find in the Jubilary laws of Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15. The obvious question is what the mechanism would be for creating such a predistribution.

The answer lies in the commons—wealth that already belongs to everyone. By propertizing (without privatizing) some of that wealth, we can make everyone a property owner. (105)

Barnes goes through a lot of detail about how all of this would work including specific trusts and permanent funds at local, state and federal levels, how they might function and what they would manage. I would encourage my economically-minded friends to read more of the detail and give me some feedback. As I said before, even though I tend to be doom and gloom about capitalism’s track record and future possibilities, I don’t have much negative to say about Barnes’ upgrade. It answers many of my questions and the historic problems of the capitalist experiment. The main question seems to be whether or not the current system has the capacity to make these kinds of changes. Barnes is hopeful, but cautions that the window for action in implementing these rights is narrow. I remain skeptical, but Barnes challenged me to envision possibilities I hadn’t imagined and that’s always a good thing.

Affluenza: Treatment

The third part of the book Affluenza explores the idea that consumerism is a disease in terms of its treatment. While I have some reservations and criticisms, which I will address at the end, the authors put their finger on some very important issues and ways to change our consumer culture.

Aspirin and Chicken Soup: Come Together Consumerism tends to isolate us from each other. Emphasizing things that decrease our isolation and promote community will improve our quality of life and shift our priorities away from the currently destructive forces at work.

Arnold Toynbee “studied the rise and fall of twenty-two civilizations and ‘summarized everything he knew about the growth of human civilizations in one law: The measure of a civilization’s growth is its ability to shift energy and attention from the material side to the spiritual and aesthetic and cultural and artistic side.’ “ (187)

I bristle somewhat at the idea that what we need is simply more time to cultivate “the spiritual and aesthetic and cultural and artistic side”. All of these things have been commodified in the current system (think Christian bookstores, the self-help industry, art museum gift shops, etc.). It also begs the question how we will be able to shift towards more leisure time for these activities. Will all the people on the globe be able to have this leisure time equally? This would require some massive rearrangement of the current order of things. Perhaps recognizing values beyond the monetary system is a good step, but the idea that we need to emphasize these other values could also lead to an anti-materialist (Gnostic) stance that could be equally problematic (and in many ways is actually at the heart of the consumer religion (see William Cavanaugh’s chapter “Attachment and Detachment” in his book Being Consumed).

Fresh Air Others have pointed to a phenomenon dubbed “Nature Deficit Disorder”. This gets us closer to what I believe is at the heart of the problem and any potential solutions.

Lana Porter works a garden in a vacant lot in Golden, Colorado. “People tell me I should take care of my crops more efficiently…so I could spend less time out here. But that way of growing disconnects the grower from the garden. The whole point is to spend more time with the plants, taking care of things, and less time trying to reshape myself to fit the changing whims of the world.” (195)

Porter recognize the essential disconnect in our modern world that makes the consumer religion possible. The core belief of the consumer religion is that human beings are somehow separate from nature. Due to our superior brain functions and enlightenment, we have liberated ourselves from the constraints of the jungle (or according to “religious” belief we were somehow created above and apart from nature, endowed with the divine right of domination).

Nature is not “out there”; it’s everywhere. Finding out how well the timber was grown that went into your backyard fence is nature. (195)

This is exactly right. Cities are not somehow separate or apart from nature. They may be built on top of nature, but nature is as close as your feet and something you are always dependent on no matter how much concrete you can see out your window. Again, while the authors are getting at something very important they seem to skip right past the real question…Who needs a backyard fence? What are fences for? No matter where or how the timber was grown rates of deforestation will be unsustainable as long as we need bigger houses, fences and in general a growth economy with population growth and the exportation of the consumer religion around the world.

Healthy Again I’m skeptical how the authors’ regimen of treatment gets us to this chapter where we are once again “healthy”. Nevertheless, here is there vision for what it looks like.

“Do we want to be healthy?…Do we want to live in places that are safe? Do we want our children to grow up in a world where they are hopeful? Do we want to be able to worship [or not] without fear of persecution? Do we want to live in a world where nature is rebounding and not receding? No one disagrees; our vision is the same. What we need to do is identify, together, the design criteria for how we get there.” (246-247quote from Paul Hawken)

I think it’s a very important to recognize that in fundamental ways we all have similar wants and needs. There is a lot of commonality basic to human beings that can help us move forward. However, I also believe that there are some fundamental differences (perhaps primarily between those that have (power and wealth) and those that don’t) that can’t be overcome with a feel-good chorus of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” Yes, people want health, safety, hope, freedom, etc. but our definitions and understandings of what these things entail is far from common. The authors sum up the thrust of their book this way,

But the core issue of this book goes beyond consuming less to wanting less and needing less. (247)

Because I feel like the book did not adequately address the real causes of the disease (or spread of this religion), it is certainly not able to fully address the ways that we can address the problems. What does it mean for us to want and need less? It seems easy enough for a suburban family to answer this question by focusing on recycling and changing their light bulbs. By all means, continue recycling and using CFL’s, but let’s stop kidding ourselves that this will save the planet. We need some hard truths about the damage our lifestyles cause (which the book has evidence aplenty) and we need solutions that match those hard truths.

I would like to follow this post up with one that considers the metaphor of consumerism as a religion a little more in depth, in particular, how we might understand the causes and treatments in religious terms.

Small Is Beautiful: Organization and Ownership

The final section of E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful continues his critique of the economic system by scrutinizing the concept of ownership. He also gives real world examples of the ways he imagines an alternative arrangement of the economy working out.

Systems are never more nor less than incarnations of man’s most basic attitudes. Some incarnations, indeed, are more perfect than others. (263)

I think this insight touches on something very deep and basic about our systems, institutions and organizations. I agree that a system is more than the sum of the individuals that make up that system. There is something more at work in the organizations and institutions that we have created. In a very real sense they take on a life of their own. This is what Rauschenbusch referred to as “social sin” which needed a “social gospel”.

However, Schumacher reminds us that these organizations, even while having a life of their own beyond the individuals that constitute them, also are a reflection of the “basic attitudes” of those human beings that created them. It’s easy to just blame individuals for practicing “bad capitalism” or “bad Marxism” and try and maintain the system as something holy and perfect that is untouchable by the errors of our ways. No, the system is a product of our own attitudes towards the world and each other. If some “are more perfect than others”, then it only reflects the better parts of our nature. We should refrain from making idols of systems, because, if we do, Schumacher’s insight reveals that we are making idols and creating God in our own image.

The basis of the capitalist system is clearly the concept of private property. We have discussed this concept in some depth on this blog, but Schumacher has some helpful insights to add.

As regards private property, the first and most basic distinction is between (a) poperty that is an aid to creative work [the private property of the working proprietor] and (b) property that is an alternative to it [the private property of the passive owner who lives parasitically on the work of others]…[quoting R.H. Tawney] “it is idle to present a case for or against private property without specifying the particular form of property to which reference is made.”…It is immediately apparent that in this matter of private ownership the question of scale is decisive. When we move from small-scale to medium-scale, the connection between ownership and work already becomes attenuated; private enterprise tends to become impersonal and also a significant social factor in the locality; it may even assume more than local significance. (263-264)

Schumacher’s thesis, eloquently summed up in the title of his book, is that the scale of things matters. He argues that scale fundamentally distorts the concept and meaning of private property, particularly in terms of relationships, between owners and workers, between owners and property and between the both and their labor. Perhaps one way of describing large-scale capitalism is “extractive capitalism”. This form of economic activity depends not only on the extraction and exploitation of natural resources, but on the extraction of labor from individuals in order to prop up the absentee owner who passively profits from their labor. This, according to Schumacher, is a necessary result of the scale of the economic enterprise.

Just to be fair, Schumacher also points out the problems with the socialist version of large-scale enterprise, nationalization.

In general small enterprises are to be preferred to large ones. Instead of creating a large enterprise by nationalisation…and then attempting to decentralise power and responsibility to smaller formations, it is normally better to create semi-autonomous small units first and then to centralise certain functions at a higher level, if the need for better coordination can be shown to be paramount. (270-271)

While it would be a stretch to call Schumacher an anarchist, the emphasis on small, decentralized units fits within the realm of anarchist thinking and ideas. The anarchist would go further in requiring these small units to be autonomous, whereas Schumacher certainly still sees some role for a centralized authority. Regardless this emphasis on small decentralized units works for the strange bedfellows of both anarchist and libertarian thinking. I appreciate that Schumacher points out that both capitalism and socialism tend toward large centralized authority.

Schumacher uses the example of Scott Bader Co., Ltd. to flesh out some of these ideas. The owner has chosen to forgo the possibility of greater wealth to form a business that is organized and owned by the workers.

“In truth, ownership has been replaced by specific rights and responsibilities in the administration of assets.” (279)

Like other worker-owned cooperatives, this arrangement fundamentally shifts the nature of property and ownership. Rather than the right to simple possession of an object, this arrangement defines ownership in terms of “rights and responsibilities”. This relates to our previous conversations about the biblical concept of ownership and property, and the idea that ownership has more to do with stewardship and right relationship (tsedekah) to material things, including the earth and other human beings. If this other arrangement shifts the relationship of owner to worker and both to material goods, it begs the question what constitutes the nature of the previous arrangement.

Excessive wealth, like power, tends to corrupt. Even if the rich are not “idle rich,” even when they work harder than anyone else, they work differently, apply different standards, and are set apart from common humanity. They corrupt themselves by practising greed, and they corrupt the rest of society by provoking envy. (279)

There is a basic assumption here that the divide between rich and poor itself produces an inequality in relationship that produces a corruption on both sides that is the cause of all kinds of injustice. Can rich and poor be friends? Those who believe religiously in the holiness of the capitalist system might argue that economic inequality between human beings does not create a fundamental division. I, with Schumacher, would argue that this divide is the source of corruption of both rich and poor, producing both greed and envy, a dangerous combination indeed.

Schumacher considers the famous words of Jesus in Matthew 6 with an interesting twist of interpretation.

It is becoming apparent that there is not only a promise but also a threat in those astonishing words about the kingdom of God [Matthew 6:33]–the threat that ‘unless you seek first the kingdom, these other things, which you also need, will cease to be available to you.” (294)

I had never considered the antithesis of these words of Jesus. In light of Schumacher and others insistence on the economy’s dependence on our natural resources, it is clear that when things are not rightly ordered the promise can also become a curse. While human beings have created many different systems to order our lives, from feudalism to capitalism, communism and socialism as well as totalitarianism, democracy, oligarchy and corporatocracy, there are other systems beyond our control and creation which judge the validity of our arrangements, though on a time scale we tend to ignore. I’ll conclude, as Schumacher does, with this thought along those lines.

It is of little use trying to suppress terrorism if the production of deadly devices continues to be deemed a legitimate employment of man’s creative power. Nor can the fight against pollution be successful if the patterns of production and consumption continue to be of a scale, a complexity, and a degree of violence which, as is becoming more and more apparent, do not fit into the laws of the universe, to which man is just as much subject as the rest of creation. (295)