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Just Economics

Ron Nikkel | Jan 29, 2013
Huff Post

THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME

He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,

to proclaim release to the prisoners

and
recovery of sight to the blind,

to liberate the oppressed ... Luke 4:18 (Common
English Bible
-

CEB)

Throughout history these are the categories of people who are not economic players; in fact
they have largely been dismissed as economic liabilities. So when Jesus made his public
declaration of interest, it was as profound as it was p
rovocative. Moreover, Jesus said that he
was on a mission from God.

During many years of visiting prisons throughout the world, I have noted consistently that there
are a hugely disproportionate number of poor and powerless people in prison. To be sure,
th
ere are a few prisoners from the families of the rich and powerful, but mostly prisoners are
numbered among the poor, undereducated and marginalized people. Whether by choice or
not, they are persons who have been excluded from the halls of power and comme
rce. They've
simply had little or no means to successfully play the economic game.

This does not mean that poverty or being disadvantaged causes crime or necessarily lands
people in prison. Criminality and the politics of imprisonment are far more complex
than that.
However, it is true that the economic systems of most countries and corporations are
controlled by those who have the wealth and power to do a whole lot of good, but often use
their position only to amass even greater wealth and power at the exp
ense of the common
good, especially the good of those who are seen as economic liabilities.

Normally I don't concern myself with issues of global economics, but this week I could not avoid
thinking about economics, faith and justice as the World Economic F
orum met in Davos,
Switzerland, for their annual meeting. Coming at a time of continuing financial uncertainty
when the gap between the rich and the poor seems ever widening; when 70 percent of the
world's wealth is concentrated in the hands of the wealthi
est 10%; and when the wealth of the
top one percent has increased by 60 percent during the last two decades(source)
--

one would
think that the titans of global economic and political power would be concerned about the
adverse impact of unrestrained greed,

and the growing marginalization of people who are
economically left behind and left out. But, as usual, their agenda was more self
-
serving.

Following the 2012 World Economic Forum one commentator wrote,


Leaders at Davos could use some religious instructi
on... [Their view of] global finance
separates economic from ethical value and measures all things according to their nominal
monetary worth. As a result, capitalism grants money universal, sacred status. Thus, capitalism
profanes the sacred and sacralises

the profane
-

a modern radicalisation of the moneylenders
who desecrated the Temple and were expelled by Jesus of Nazareth. Amid the moral crisis of
global capitalism, Christianity and other world religions offer some of the most transformative
ideas and
practices. Faiths enjoin their followers to impose ethical and civic limits on the
activity of businesses.


(
-
guardian.co.uk , Thursday 26 January 2012 07.26 EST )

S
o it was big news in Davos this week when headlines proclaimed, "Religion Comes to the
Worl
d Economic Forum." Tragically however, the religious discussions did not inform economic
policies, but served primarily to highlight religiously fuelled political tensions, and to illustrate
the fact that while Christianity and Islam are increasing in deve
loping countries, the number of
people without any religion at all is increasing in wealthy nations.

In thinking about Jesus and justice and economics this past week, it seemed to me that the God
of Jesus who is concerned about the poor, imprisoned and mar
ginalized has been replaced by
the self
-
serving economic "god" of unfettered capitalism. There are some who say that it's only
economics and has nothing to do with justice or religion. But if there is a God and Father of all
humankind, then it seems obscen
e for a wealthy few to perpetuate economic systems that
alienate and allow untold masses of people to languish in misery. Ironically, a recent study
points out that the net income of the 100 wealthiest billionaires in the world is enough to
eradicate extre
me poverty four times over!

Yet the real problem for me is not that there are extremely wealthy people in the world. The
problem becomes crystallized in the question, what constitutes "just" economics? This is not
simply a question of macro
-
economic theory
, but becomes a painfully personal question for me
as I am trying to figure out what it means for me to follow Jesus and live justly in a world where
so many people are treated as economic liabilities. How do I justly earn, spend and save
whatever money I
have in ways that reflect Jesus' agenda for the poor and prisoners and
people with disabilities and those who are oppressed
--

including the homeless guy sitting on
the sidewalk begging; the kids in our community who go to bed hungry; the father who lost h
is
job and can't make ends meet to support his family; the illegal migrant worker who can't get a
job; the drug
-
addicted young person who sees no future?




I feel powerless to do much about the big picture of injustice, gross inequality and
heartlessness

of the economic system in which I live, but instead of frustration and anger, I am
daily trying to do my little part in promoting a "just" economy by participating with Jesus in
extending lavish good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, recovery to the

blind and
disabled and addicted and inclusion to the bullied and the downtrodden
--

all people who are
regarded as economic liabilities by the economic systems which hold us captive.

Workers, owners, managers, stockholders and consumers are moral agents i
n economic life. By
our choices, initiative, creativity and investment, we enhance or diminish economic
opportunity, community life and social justice. The global economy has moral dimensions and
human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid and
development should protect
human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they might
live on this globe.


-
Excerpted from "A Cathol i c Framework for Economi c Li fe" (A statement of the US Conference of Cathol i c Bi shops,
Novem
ber 1996)