Lesson 3: The Global Economic System

Lesson 3: The Global Economic System

Certainly a major factor Christians have to consider when making decisions in our modern world is the global economic system. Electronic media and computing enable us to engage with people we do not know on the other side of the earth, and we have used this primarily for economic transactions. This has brought new challenges to religion.

A global economic system demands uniformity. It cannot permit differences in belief systems and cultural values to interfere with its business. On one extreme, it promotes the privatization of religion that denies it voice in public policy. On the other, it has led to a new form of militant atheism that calls for the end of all religion that has become a source of division, not unity, in the modern world.

Beyond that, any religious concern gets in the way of efficient business transactions. For example, Lupe reported her son could only work a few hours a day in Pakistan during the Ramadan fast. Of course, many Christian teachings about care for the poor are just as disruptive as Sharia law.

In this situation, economics have come to define human relationships. Many speak of the invisible hand of the market replacing God, ensuring success to the best on the basis of the supply and demand of goods. However, few acknowledge we have moved fairly recently onto a new stage where the big money is made in financial transactions rather than manufacturing goods. Supply and demand are hardly relevant when success is achieved by manipulations that minimize risk (for instance, finding new ways to make money by extending credit). We do well to remember the Church has always had concerns about how interest can be used to oppress the poor, not even accepting it until the early 19th century.

Ethics now are modeled on financial needs rather than religious virtues or traditional morality. Tolerance redefines love as a positive feeling or empathy that permits others to do their own thing. The common good is reduced to “anything goes,” unless it interferes with the freedom of others. Any statement about what might be good for society as a whole is perceived as denying individual rights.

This means that justice has been reduced to fairness, defined by legality. Everyone is judged on whether they meet the conditions of the contract, rather than if the contract is just. An obvious problem with this develops when the wealthy control the legislature.

As we saw not that long ago, this has led to situations in which “too big to fail,” rather than compliance with moral standards, has come to justify actions. In 2008, this focused on not breaking up large financial institutions. However, this reasoning goes beyond banks to the global system itself. Large international corporations are so dominant that even nations are forced to work within the established system. Loyalty to local workers is irrelevant. Leadership is passed to technicians who, knowing the system, are expected to correct the problems they create. Reformers are simply consumer advocates who call for changes inside the system. A perfect example of this is the response to Alan Greenspan’s confession that he did not see the crash coming, because he assumed the system would correct itself. Everyone simply ignored his warning and picked up right where they left off.

In this situation, the church should expect that anything she says about public policy will be opposed by the establishment as interference and irrelevant. She must be ready to be a prophetic voice remembering repentance or rethinking is always the prelude to believing in the Good News that God loves and cares for all people. Pope Francis has certainly become that prophetic word when he calls for creative dialogue on climate change and consideration of the poor in discussing economic change.

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  1. John Myers says:

    The points being raised here are truly profound, and in many cases a dilemma. God gives us free will. Free will allows us to choose an ethical path, and in most cases we understand the moral choice. When we circumvent this process and allow artificial winners and losers who are unaccountable to their moral choices, our society becomes morally bankrupt. We will reap what we sow, just a question of time.

    Today’s global economics relies on the same principle used to prevent nuclear Armageddon (mutually assured economic destruction in this case) – so we all compromise, no one speaks out or takes a principled stand in the fear we all will lose in the pocketbook (ignore what’s really right or wrong). This is also how we got to the point where we use ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ as a foreign policy stratagem that somehow makes sense.

    The Church must stand for fairness in our global community. Economic and trade fairness without the political intrigues. Fairness in how our brothers and sisters are treated in this world regardless of politics or faith. I prefer to make it really simple – look to the source for guidance in our earthly lives (God’s Word), understand what it means, believe what it says, and do what you are told to do. It does not have to be complicated.

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