A vision for a different economy- Reflections of a Kiwi
By Errol Thompson – Sunday 17th May 2020
There was a person who walked along a dangerous road. This person was attacked by a gang of hooligans and left on the side of the road to die. Another person (‘A’) came along the road and discovered the injured person lying there but ‘A’ considered the costs and decided that they could not help. ‘A’ may never be able to be paid back for all the expenses that ‘A’ would incur. ‘A’ believed everyone should pay their own way and a person with such serious injuries was unlikely to be able to do so. A second person (‘B’) came along the road and saw the injured person lying there. ‘B’ began to negotiate a loan agreement with the injured person to ensure that ‘B’ would be repaid when the man recovered. ‘B’ thought about helping and leaving their name and contact details so that when the injured person recovered, they could repay the debt but it seemed unlikely that would happen so ‘B’ walked on. A third person (‘C’) came along a saw the need of the injured person. ‘C’ immediately picked the injured person up and took the injured person to where they could be cared for. ‘C’ paid all the bills. When ‘C’ was asked for their name, they declined saying “I was just meeting a need.”
This story may sound familiar as it echoes some of what we know as the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). There are different ways to look at the story of the good Samaritan and I recognise that my rewrite above takes an economic focus. I wonder though what our attitude is from an economic perspective when we meet crisis such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Are we focused on what is affordable to do (i.e. with in our economic means however we understand that) or are we looking at how the beneficiaries will repay what they are given or are we prepared to provide support believing that we will receive the same when we are in need?
Over the years, I have been involved in a number of economic reform movements. I blame my father for this focus since he was involved with Social Credit movement in New Zealand even standing as a parliamentary candidate. More recently, I have been thinking about what I do in retirement and what my expectations are of those who might benefit from what I might do. I am conscious that I am operating within an existing economic model and that I have disagreements with that model.
There are already in operation other models. Some of these are within computing and are represented by the open source or free software movements. Open source tends to take the perspective of the rights of the software developer although the software is still distributed free of charge. Free software is about what the user can do with the software including modifying it. Both models are trying to give the user free access to software and allow the user to decide what to contribute to the future of the software.
Charles Eisenstein (2011) builds on these ideas to promote the idea of a gift economy. A gift economy is one where what is produced is gifted to the consumer. If the consumer benefits from the product then they will either provide a return gift to the producer based on their estimate of the value to them as a consumer or they will gift forward to others either the product or something else they have produced. The basic principle could be seen as the user decides what the product is worth.
In a gift economy, it is the producer that decides what to produce and to make it available free to consumers. The producer may consider what is needed but does not have to.
I am looking to produce as part of the gift economy. I would prefer to be operating in a different model and that is what I call the need based economy. A need based economy focuses on meeting the needs of all those within the economy. Like the gift economy what is produced is gifted to those who have need of the product but unlike the gift economy there is no expectation of a return gift or of gifting forward. There is no accounting involved.
There is another crucial aspect of a need based economy, it produces to meet need. Production is determined by the needs of the consumer rather than the producer. Need identification requires relationship so a need based economy requires a community that cares for all members.
Our current growth based economy focuses on accounting for the value to the producer and maximising the value to the producer. The focus is on continued growth because that is the only way to advance. I would argue this encourages waste, and replacement rather that repair. It does not encourage what is needed if we want to reduce our dependence on natural resources or the treating of the workforce as slaves.
A gift economy focuses on the value to the user but has no implication of this value being accounted for. It could be argued that it encourages a focus on the value to the user. If we are producing something of value then we should be receiving back but we should also be the recipient of others gifts. The focus here is more on the needs of the product users but there is no guarantee that all needs will be meet or that there will not be over production.
A need based economy focuses on accounting for need and on reducing need. In effect a need based economy is working correctly when there is no need in society and there is limited waste. The danger here is that there is no incentive to innovate but on the other hand a need based economy can free more people to fulfil their potential. I have in mind the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-31). Each person is given a number of talents based on their ability. There is an expectation by the giver that they will use their abilities to maximise the use of the talents. Where a needs based economy would differ is that what is given is based on need and not some judgement of ability.
I wonder what your view is on how the economy should work?
Eisenstein, C. (2011). Sacred economics: Money, gift, and society in the age of transition. Evolver Editions. Available from https://sacred-economics.com
Open Source Initiative (https://opensource.org)
Free Software Foundation (https://www.fsf.org)
GNU – What is free software? (https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html)
Isolation – Trying to look on the bright side, because God’s got this!
By Clare Gladstone – Thursday 19th March 2020
As I write, me and Amelia are on day 2 of our 14-day isolation. Amelia has a cough, no worse than any other she has had this winter, but we are following the guidelines to protect others. When she started coughing on Monday afternoon, I must admit a feeling of absolute dread washed over me. I HATE being stuck in the house.
Once we had made the decision to close Small World for the foreseeable future and the Church of England had made their announcement to suspend all public worship, I felt very alone. My faith has got me through some very tough times in the last few months, but I felt like I was being abandoned. My church family are as much a part of my life as my blood family and it broke my heart that not only could I not see them, but I also couldn’t worship with them.
I spent the evening dwelling on how the world was changing, all the things we can’t do any more and all the things I would miss.
My prayers on Monday evening were about my step-sister, who is a ward sister on a COVID-19 lockdown ward; for my mum and my brother who both work for the NHS in ophthalmology and are still completing and analysing visual field tests for the urgent care patients; for my 71 year old step-father who had at that point been self-isolating for 3 days; for the parents and children who would be left vulnerable when the schools closed; for the elderly who were scared; for the wonderful people in our community who are looking after others; for the teachers who are keeping schools open in the most difficult of times; for the people who had shared resources and comfort during a difficult and uncertain time for us all.
Slowly, as I prayed over the following 48 hours, my focus shifted, and I realised several things:
1. Although it felt like it, I was not the only person in the world going through this.
2. Relatively, I am EXTREMELY fortunate. No one I know has been seriously ill with COVID yet; we have enough food and nappies to last a couple of weeks and we have a garden where Amelia can run around while we are isolating.
3. Situations like this may bring out the worse in people, but it also brings out the very best in others.
4. God is with me. He is always with me. And, as a vicar you might all be familiar with once told me– God’s got this.
So, I have tried to shift my attitude. It is a scary, difficult time, but it is also a time to re-evaluate our lives. A time for reflection. A time to slow down. To consume less. To think of others. To be closer to God.
I’ve started planning our days in advance as opposed to winging it. I think about the activities we will do, what we’ll eat and how we can relax. Today for example, we have played in the garden with the water table, made shapes out of playdough and drawn dinosaurs. This afternoon we are going to bake and decorate gingerbread men, play hide and seek and have a party in the living room with music and balloons.
I’ve also planned my prayers. I have a list of the people and situations that I want to pray for every day. Leaning into my faith and making time to really listen to God is the most positive thing that I can take away from this. We are in a time of enormous uncertainty, but what is ever certain is God’s love for us and his presence in our lives.
A prayer for those in isolation
In this time of uncertainty, we thank you for your perfect and constant love.
We pray for those in isolation. For those who are unwell and those who are isolating with family members who are unwell. We ask for your healing, Lord, for those who need it both physically and mentally.
We also pray for your peace. For calmness of mind in this troubling time. Lord, help us to remember what is important, to look out for each other and to truly listen when you speak to us.
So do not fear, for I am with you.
– Isaiah 41:10