justice

i really enjoyed reading this book by John Perkins recently. Despite being about his experiences in Americaland i found that so much of it resonated with the present conversations happening in South Africa. The passage i posted on Why Do You Live Where You Live? gave much food for thought and there are some other pieces i would love to share, but as always, you will do much better if you just make some effort and get hold of the book. But in the meantime:

ECONOMIC SYSTEMS

[From chapter 17: Can Free Enterprise Work for us?]

‘What kind of economic system is the most Christian? To many the answer seems self-evident – free enterprise.

I would like to agree. I enjoy the opportunity free enterprise offers me. But I cannot agree fully. Along with its advantages, free enterprise is handicapped by a serious flaw – man’s greed. Both biblical history and American history remind us repeatedly that greedy men will use economic freedom to exploit – to profit at the expense of others. Employers pay employees as little as possible in order to maximise their own profits rather than treating their employee’s economic interests as being as important as their own – or, to be thoroughly Christian – more important than their own.

Advertisers create markets for products which no one needs, not from a motive of servanthood, but out of greed, pure and simple. Businesses measure their success primarily but their financial profits – not by how well they glorify God and serve people. What a far cry we are from a truly Christian economy!

A truly Christian economic system would begin with the fact that the earth is the Lord’s, not ours, and that God and God alone has the authority to determine how His wealth will be used. Our job as stewards is to carry out His will. A Christian economic system would recognise that God provides the earth’s resources for all mankind, not just for some. It would be designed to distribute God’s resources to all humanity in some sort of equitable way.

Free enterprise, as it now exists, falls far short of God’s standard. It has failed to distribute the earth’s resources equitably. And when Christianity should have been calling the American free enterprise system into account for its immoral stewardship, it was instead “baptising” the system, adopting free enterprise as an implicit “article of faith.” Free enterprise has become almost a religious doctrine that justifies our greed and substitutes token charity for real economic justice. It enables us to blame the victims of oppression for their own poverty and lets us feel little responsibility to redistribute our wealth to the needy. The result of such a system is predictable – increasing production by the rich, but continuing poverty for the oppressed.

Communism, then, came along as an attempt to distribute the earth’s resources more equitably. Communism sprang into being because apostate religion could not challenge man’s greed. But atheistic communism has not brought justice either.

Neither capitalism nor communism can bring justice to the poor. Once we have seen what God’s Word means by economic justice, that is self-evident. While some economic systems are better than others, no system will serve the people well as long as those who control it are motivated by greed. We as Christians must champion an alternative. We must create a system that is based not on greed, not even on greed tempered by honesty (the ideal of free enterprise), but on justice and love. We must create a system that distributes wealth more equitably in response to human needs. This Christian economic system will by its very existence be a prophetic voice to the world system.

Selfish, unregenerated man will never develop this type of system. We, the people of god, must do it or it will never be done at all.

How do we begin to shape a just economy?

First, we must understand where our economy stands now. When man has abused his economic freedom, using it to produce an unjust distribution of resources, corrective action is called for. The economic plight of American blacks today has its roots in slavery and is the very center of oppression which followed emancipation. It is like a baseball game. In the ninth inning the team which is trailing 20 to 2 discovers that the winning team has been cheating all along. The leading team admits, “Yes, we were cheating, but we’ll play fair now. Let’s go out and finish the game.”

Now it’s good that the team is going to quit cheating, but with the score 20 to 2 the trailing team still has the feeling they’re going to lose. When injustice has been done, establishing justice means something more than “playing fair from now on.” 

In America [read ‘South Africa’ – brett] today, one group has the capital, the other has the labour and the broken spirit. We say to the trailing team, “Get onto the field and play. You are now equal. You don’t need affirmative action. You don’t need special access to job training. You don’t need any kind of special help; that would be reverse discrimination. You are now equal and free.”

Achieving justice in America [read ‘South Africa’ – brett] will require something more than “playing fair from now on.” Economic opportunity in capitalism depends on ownership of capital. The free enterprise system assumes that anyone can have access to capital through his labour and that banks and lending institutions will make investment capital available to anyone who has the will and the know-how to produce goods and services for the marketplace. There is only one problem with that assumption – it’s not true.

The oppressed among us know too well that the oppressive forces which created their poverty in the first place keep them trapped in it. The young black electrician, having never had an opportunity to establish a credit rating, finds it almost impossible to raise the capital to buy the tools and equipment to go into business for himself. The general rule is , “To get capital , you must have capital,” and so the system perpetuates and widens the gap between rich and poor.

Despite its serious failures I don’t want to throw out the free enterprise system. The freedom which many use to satisfy their greed can also be used to develop economic enterprises not based on greed. The free enterprise system gives us the freedom to create businesses designed to serve, rather than to exploit. If we Christians will devote our capital and ourselves to creating such a system, we can make just such a system work. And it can all be done within the context of free enterprise.

[To read the piece John wrote on Relocation, click here] 

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