Economic peace

by Nathan Hosler

Jesus had much to say about the use and distribution of material resources as well as issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation. From loving enemies and confronting for reconciliation in Matthew 5 and 18, to the “rich young ruler” and not being able to “serve God and wealth” in Matthew 10 and 6.  

In this piece, I make the case that issues of economics/economic justice are part of a vision of peace and the work of peacemaking. This includes addressing economic systems and practices as a form of peacemaking as well as identifying the presence of economic grievance or lack of economic opportunity as a driver of many violent conflicts. Versions of this are often discussed in our work at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy; international migration caused by lack of jobs and violence which is caused by collapsed economy. Conflict caused by some mixture of politics, economic strain, environmental degradation, injustice, and identity.  

The biblical understanding of shalom keeps all parts of life in view, and is not simply the absence of violence or conflict. Elsewhere, I have defined peace in the following way, 

Peace is the presence of wholeness in relationships that are characterized by justice, mutuality, and wellbeing. Peace is not a universal or homogenous experience but is experienced in the appreciation and celebration of diversity and between individuals, communities, nations, and with the environment (non-human world). (Hosler, Hauerwas the Peacemaker?, 20) 

In the Ecumenical Call to Just Peace of the World Council of Churches there is a section on “For Peace in the Marketplace.” This also recognizes that peace is wholeness. And that economic realities are part of this. Additionally, the WCC statement asserts that, “Over-consumption and deprivation are forms of violence (13).” And frames a positive vision as well, “Peace in the marketplace is nurtured by creating “economies of life”. Their essential foundations are equitable socio-economic relationships, respect for workers’ rights, the just sharing and sustainable use of resources, healthy and affordable food for all, and broad participation in economic decision-making (13).1” Such thinking prioritizes the well-being of all over the profits of a few.  

Should, however, Christians or the Church have a defined economic theory or position on policy details? Should we, as was discussed on a webinar on the global economy this morning, support the movement of percentage rates by the Federal Reserve from X% to Y%? While we may not have theory based on abstraction—say a mathematically beautiful symmetry (not of course discounting aesthetic value in general)—we may have a position based on developing concrete steps to address a lack of economic peace. For those of us not mathematically inclined, the terms and numbers and percentages are quite difficult to manage. However, the impacts of these are real.  

So-

We are concerned about economic peace.

  • Racialized economic inequality is one instance of a lack of economic peace
    • This exists due to policies (explicit and implicit) 
      • While disagreement will occur on the best policy to address inequality,
        • Concrete decisions must be made

While churches may not have economists on staff, it is within the purview and appropriate for churches and Christians to have and express an opinion on how to move toward more just and peaceful communities, society, and world. There are many complicated theological, ethical, and philosophical questions about the role of religious institutions in relation to the state; is it or should it be subservient, dominating, acquiescing; it is “just another” civil-society organization or something more (or less), and many others. Despite these complicated questions, the Church of the Brethren has long affirmed engagement in such matters.

Economic policy and practice, like all others, is not neutral. The economic system and policies embody particular values as well as have specific impacts on individuals, communities, and nation-states. We are called to the work of peacemaking, justice, and caring for all. Seeking economic peace is one important facet of well-being for all.  

Climate justice is economic justice, and economic justice is racial justice.

“Poverty, peace, justice, and climate change are inexorably linked. There can be no hope for justice, no hope for an end to poverty, and no hope for peace if we continue on our present path. We must confront inequality while weaning ourselves from the very fossil fuels that built our economic wealth. We must work to build peace while reducing air pollution. This new path for us leads to God’s plan for a new creation.

To walk this path, we must first accept that climate change is a moral, spiritual, and human issue, and not a political debate. We must confess our role in the problem and be willing to reflect, pray, and have loving conversations about these complex challenges. We must seek and support solutions that restore dignity to the underprivileged, promote peace, and protect God’s earth.” Creation Care. 2018 Church of the Brethren Statement

So far in our exploration of economic justice and economic peacemaking in this pandemic, we have looked at simple living in a time of consumerism and racial justice as it relates to economic justice. In this third blog, former BVSer and OPP associate Susu Lassa dives into the interconnectedness of creation care, racial justice, and economic justice.

By Susu Lassa

Economic justice is not attainable without climate justice. Patterns of institutionalized environmental racism within the U.S. has shown us the ways in which communities doing the least to contribute to the rise in greenhouse gases bear the brunt of climate fall out on their bodies and on their livelihoods. University of Michigan Sustainability highlights that more than 50% of people living within two miles of toxic waste facilities are people of color. Degradation of the land from toxins leads to lower land value, which hinders upward mobility and the ability to build wealth for members of those communities. In the face of natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, both domestically and internationally, black and brown communities and countries are disproportionately impacted, remaining most vulnerable physically, financially, and mentally. From Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where the majority black population impacted were permanently displaced, to the flooding taking place in countries such as Pakistan, Uganda, and Kenya, black and brown bodies remain at risk, their bodies and livelihood bearing the brunt of a climate crises that they contribute least to.

A brief interrogation of capitalism can highlight the interconnected nature of various forms of oppression, namely the intersection between climate justice, economic justice, and racial justice. The nature of accruing wealth in a capitalist economy privileges profit -even profit gained via exploitation of land, people, etc.- over the wellbeing of communities affected by the ramifications of this economic system. Wealthy corporations often invade communities for natural resources or cheap labor, grabbing what they can at the expense of these communities. With little to no accountability for corporations existing within a capitalist political economy, these plundered communities are left doubly vulnerable: first susceptible to plundering by wealthy corporations and nations, and then left to bare the fallout from the poisoning of the land, air, and/or water around them, which impacts their bodies, health, and livelihood.

The intersection between environmental racism and healthcare has been magnified in the wake of the COVID-19 crises, as have various other injustices in existence before the pandemic. Black and brown communities remain hardest hit by the pandemic, both contracting and dying from the virus disproportionately. Reasons include enduring disparities in wealth and income that see black and brown bodies overrepresented on the frontlines as “essential” workers, and residential segregation, which sees the concentration of people of color in disempowered neighborhoods with low property values, freeways, and shipping centers. The effects of residential segregation on air pollution with regard to toxins such as PM 2.5 , a known carcinogen emitted from car engines and power plants, put folks in these communities at a higher chance of impaired heart and lung function, leaving them susceptible and highly vulnerable to COVID-19. Climate justice is economic justice, and economic justice is racial justice. The sooner we re-orient our understanding of the different structures of oppression as interconnected, the sooner we can address the environmental harms that have for decades disproportionately harmed brown and black bodies in the U.S. and all over the world.

Racial Inequality, Economic Injustice, and the Pandemic.

It feels like the past few months of the pandemic have been a slew of shocking numbers thrown at me. Like the number 7.3 million- the number of COVID infections in the US. 200,000- the number of COVID deaths in the US as of September 30th. But COVID-19 is not only a health problem. It is an economic problem with consequences that are expected to far outlast the pandemic. 40,000,000- the number of people who filed for unemployment since the pandemic. 637,000,000,000- the dollar amount that billionaires added to their wealth since the pandemic. As we journey to explore and reaffirm simple living, stewardship, just dealings, and mutuality in relation to economic justice and economic peacemaking in this pandemic, this second post in a series of four, looks at the need to address economic injustice through a racial equity lens. 

Addressing Racial Inequalities to Fight Economic Injustice. 

The deeply rooted racial inequality in the United States presents itself in disparities in income, wealth, access to education, housing, access to healthcare, and other economic indicators. Inequality.org defines income inequality as “the extent to which income is distributed in an uneven manner among a population”, and income as, “the revenue streams from wages, salaries, interest on a savings account, dividends from shares of stock, rent, and profits from selling something for more than you paid for it.” According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the last quarter of 2019, the median White worker made 28% and 35% more than the median Black and Latino workers respectively. Systemic racism and inequalities in the distribution of income present a hurdle in the accumulation of the generational wealth that is essential for economic security. (Inequality.org) Consequentially, racially minoritized populations do not enjoy the security blanket that generational wealth provides their white counterparts and are at risk of financial fallout from changes in economic conditions. 

COVID 19 has exacerbated these inequalities. 

In one way or the other, this pandemic has transformed all our lives. However, it is essential to note the magnitude of its impact on different racial and economic demographics. According to the Washington Post, “The economic collapse sparked by the pandemic is triggering the most unequal recession in modern U.S. history, delivering a mild setback for those at or near the top and a depression-like blow for those at the bottom.” “Historically, people of color and Americans with less education have been overrepresented in low-paying service jobs.” This overrepresentation in low-paying service jobs not only puts these groups at a disproportionately high risk of being exposed to the virus but also forces them to bear the brunt of its economic consequences. For example, Black women have only recovered 34% of the jobs they lost compared to White women who have recovered 61%. This is a major setback as it took Black Women up until 2018 to recover from the Great Recession.

Representation matters! 

The Post also found that “White Americans have recovered more than half of their jobs lost between April and February. Meanwhile, Black Americans have recovered just over a third of employment lost in the pandemic.”  

If the bodies making decisions on how to respond to the economic consequences of COVID-19 are those that have suffered least and are recovering the fastest, it is difficult to imagine the responses will be equitable. In our path to recovery, the goal should not be to return to normal. Instead, the goal should be to create systems that prioritize equity for minoritized populations. We must be proactive in advocating for COVID-19 response policies that apply a racial lens when addressing issues. We must educate ourselves about systemic racism and be aware that it can present itself in subtle, seemingly unrecognizable ways. We must try to use our voices to amplify and build up minoritized voices in the fight to dismantle oppressive systems. We must be mindful that the policies we support, or not, have life-changing impacts on many others. As such, we must be more intentional than ever in how we use our voices. 

Sources 

“Applying a Racial Equity Lens to End Hunger.” Bread for the World, 1 July 2020, www.bread.org/library/applying-racial-equity-lens-end-hunger.  

“Coronavirus Cases:” Worldometerwww.worldometers.info/coronavirus/.  

“Racial Economic Inequality.” Inequality.org, 25 Sept. 2020, inequality.org/facts/racial-inequality/.  

Report • By Elise Gould and Valerie Wilson • June 1. “Black Workers Face Two of the Most Lethal Preexisting Conditions for Coronavirus-Racism and Economic Inequality.” Economic Policy Institutewww.epi.org/publication/black-workers-covid/.  

Van Dam, Andrew, et al. The Covid-19 Recession Is the Most Unequal in Modern U.S. History. 30 Sept. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/business/coronavirus-recession-equality/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most

Simple Living and Consumer Culture

As the pandemic brings to light the injustices that were for so long swept under the rugs, one can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Perhaps these injustices were always there in broad daylight- but the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day lives gave us an excuse to avoid thinking about things much further. In a blog earlier this summer, Susu Lassa wrote, “COVID-19 ripped back the curtain on the various systemic problems in the U.S and worldwide, and police brutality and racial injustice were once again cast into the limelight…” This pandemic has also pulled back the curtains on the economic injustices as while over 40 million Americans filled for unemployment over the past couple of months, billionaires added a staggering $637 billion to their wealth. Looking at figures like these it seems more necessary than ever to reflect and reassess the choices we make with regards to how we live and how we consume. Over the next few blog posts, we will explore and reaffirm simple living, stewardship, just dealings, and mutuality as they relate to economic justice and economic peacemaking; especially as we go forward during this pandemic. This first post in a series of four, explores simple living in a time of consumerism and consumer culture.

Simple Living

Over the years there have been numerous Annual Conference Statements on Christian living, stewardship, and creation care -all of which, I believe, point to the importance of simple living. A 1980 annual conference statement emphasizes simplicity as a Christian way of life. But what is simple living?

Not to be confused with minimalism, which often refers to simplicity as it pertains to physical possessions; Simple living refers to a mindset focused on reduced consumption, with value placed on essentials and things that bring us joy. (Babauta) Simple living is more than just a cleared-out closet and rejection of luxury goods. It is a mindset in which value is placed on finding joy in our human connections, our community, and nature. In his book Freedom of Simplicity, Richard J. Foster argues that simplicity is “an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.”

By choosing to live simply, we make mental and financial space to develop our spiritual life. We shift our focus from finding ways to preserve our affluent lifestyles, to working to grow our understanding of God and all creation.

Consumer Culture and Consumerism

“Consumer culture denotes a social arrangement in which the relations between lived culture and social resources, and between meaningful ways of life and the symbolic and material resources on which they depend, are mediated through markets.” (Arnould and Thompson, 869) Rather than being a means of reflecting cultural values, consumption has become a culture value, contributing to the ever-expanding list of our needs and desires. (Goodman and Cohen)

Be aware of Consumer Culture and intentional in how you navigate through it.

Most things we do are a matter of habit, conditioning, training, and unconscious imitation. We are programmed by culture, family, and media, seldom questioning why we act as we do, or whether we are doing the things we value most. Many of the Influences which shape our behavior – hedonism, triumphalism, cynicism, legalism – run counter to the lifestyle of the kingdom of God which Jesus lived and proclaimed. (AC 1980, Christian Lifestyle)

Author Kit Yarrow in her book Decoding The New Consumer Mind writes that studies show that hidden, unconscious cues such as scents, colors, product placement, and how words sound, are now more influential to our purchase decision process than ever before. We are told what we need and increasingly our ability to discern our needs from our wants is fading -or at least it seems to be. As such, there is great power in awareness because only when people become aware of a habit are they able to make intentional decisions to combat it.

As I finish up writing this piece, I realize just how all over the place it is. But isn’t that more telling of the interwoven nature of our lives? How our choice to live simply will not only benefit us spiritually and financially, but can also benefit the community, the environment, and the next generation. For a BVS’er like me, on a tight budget, practicing simple living is the only choice. But I hope I develop a way of living that extends beyond my year here. I want to make sure that I do not take up more space and resources in this world than what was allotted for me; so that others who share this Earth with me and those coming after me can enjoy it as I have.

Suggested Reading: Consumer Culture by Goodman and Cohen

Sources

The masterpiece of a simple life | Maura Malloy | TEDxIndianapolis

Babauta, Leo. “The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life.” Amazon, Publisher Not Identified, 2009, www.amazon.com/Simple-Guide-Minimalist-Life/dp/1455831972.

Eric J. Arnould, Craig J. Thompson, Consumer Culture Theory (CCT): Twenty Years of Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 31, Issue 4, March 2005, Pages 868–882, https://doi.org/10.1086/426626

Goodman, Douglas J., and Mirelle Cohen. Consumer Culture: a Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO, 2004.

Yarrow, Kit. Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy. Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand, 2014.