Vol.4 No.6, 08 May 2004

Domestic Progress and other issues

This issue of SANE Views contains a news item from the New Economics Foundation (NEF), an item from the UK Guardian newspaper and an exerpt from a recent book review on New Economics.

New Economics Foundation introduces Measure of Domestic Progress

The NEF scored a huge press hit when all the national and many regional daily papers in the UK picked up our Measure of Domestic Progress (MDP).

The MDP adjusts the conventional economic measure of GDP so that the costs of crime and pollution and environmental degradation are subtractedb from our measure of progress, to reflect the negative impact these things have on quality of life. The MDP shows that social progress in Britain has become increasingly decoupled from economic growth over the last 50 years and has stalled completely in the last three decades, never regaining its 1976 peak.

The idea that 1976 was the best year for quality of life in Britain captured the imagination of the media and we were treated to reflections on Abba, the Sex Pistols, flares and polyester cardigans as well as the perilous state of the pound and labour relations in that year. The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Mirror, The Times, The Sun, The Express, The Guardian, The Independent, and the Daily Record and Daily Star all ran articles along with many regional papers. The BBC did a series of interviews across the UK and the report appeared on the Channel 4 News, the BBC's PM programme as well as on Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, and Vanessa Feltz and Terry Wogan's radio shows. The idea that we were better off, in terms of quality of life, even though we had far less spending power and an uncertain financial situation, is central to "new economics".

The MDP, which has struggled to grow at half the rate of GDP over the last 30 years, comes out much closer to measures of happiness and life satisfaction that GDP does. GDP has driven politics in the UK and the western world for the last 50 years or so, but the MDP asks the question "what is all that economic growth FOR?", if it doesn't improve our well-being?

May Day, money and morality [Guardian Face to Faith, 15 April 2004]

May Day has become a symbol for those who oppose the present form of neo-liberal globalisation, which is creating further inequality, failing to tackle poverty and undermining the Earth's sustainability. Trade has always been essential, but it now threatens our environment in two ways.

The first is the vast amount of goods transported between countries — including Danish bacon sold in England and vice versa; the second is capital's urgent need to find new ways of propagating itself. The latter leads to the taking over of essential human services, like water, housing and energy, for profit,

The recent book, Property For People, Not For Profit: Alternatives To The Global Tyranny Of Capital, by the German theologian Ulrich Duchrow and the Latin American-based economist Franz Hinkelammert, argues for a new set of values. They take us through the development of human attitudes to property, suggesting a continuing battle between those seeking to amass personal assets and those wishing to see the Earth's resources used for the common good.

They believe the first private property arose in ancient Greece, in the late 8th century BC, where Aristotle distinguished between the "natural" economy — supplying households and broader society with good for basic needs — and the "unnatural" economy — increasing monetary property for its own sake. The first created community; the second destroyed it. As an antidote, Aristotle proposed ethical education and political prohibition.

The battle also emerges in the scriptures. The Hebrew slaves freed from Egypt settled in clans in the promised land, but around 1,OOO BC opted for a monarchy. Kings, however, accumulate property, the habit spreads, large landowners eat up smaller ones and society divides into haves and have-nots. The landowners ally with the military, the civil service and the court to assume political and economic power.

The prophets had a different project; knowing God was identical with creating justice for the poor. Amos harangued the ruling class, promising that small farmers would be restored to their land and enjoy its produce. A restorative legal system was laid out in Leviticus; ch 25 especially rejects the absoluteness of property. The land belongs to God.

Jesus picks up these themes, urging the people not to steal or defraud. He tells the rich, young ruler, "Sell all you have and give to the poor" — not as charity but as justice. He challenges the profit-making systems of Herod and his gang, the Romans and the Temple hierarchy. In John's Gospel, he tells the moneychangers, "Don't turn my father's house into a market."

Above the portals of the Royal Exchange, in London, is carved a text from Psalm 24: "The Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." Beneath it yesterday, the JustShare coalition organised songs, prayers and a sermon, challenging the City to review its values and practices. If inequality grows and our fragile Earth crumbles, is it not time to review our commitment to property and profit? The City should behave more responsibly, and the government should ensure it does.

May Day provides Christians with an opportunity to sing "Let there be for all a just share," for Bishop Mandlate, of Mozambique, to pray that the City would "globalise the profits made here for the benefit of all" and for the Rev Leslie Griffiths to call for all to have full and fair opportunity to trade their goods, and participate in economic life.

The idea of the common good needs to take deeper roots in our selfish society. The belief that individual private property can enable us to protect ourselves and live forever needs to be exposed. Aristotle's "ethical education and political prohibition" may not be enough; a faith element, inspiring commitment and sacrifice, may also be necessary. The best years of humanity may be over because we could not contain our individual greed against the higher calling of the common good.

The Rev David Haslem is a Methodist minister and a member of the JustShare planning group

Property - for people, not for profit. By Ulrich Duchow

Property lies at the heart of globalization and free market economics.

Yet the issue of private property - how it is conceived and the bundles of rights it confers - remains almost undisclosed in the current wave of criticism of an economic system geared to profit maximization, with little regard for the lives of human beings or the integrity of Nature.

By examining the history of the current Western notion of private property, this book shows how it took on its most extreme form — the form which neoliberal economists now seek to impose on humanity worldwide through globalization.

In this highly original and persuasive account, Ulrich Duchrow and Franz Hinkelammert, an economist and a theologian, argue that to rethink globalization we must reshape notions of private property in accordance with a wider vision which includes people's real lives and the common good. They look at ways to redefine different kinds of property — personal property, property in land and -water, and economic property in the means of production - and they examine the possibility of movements to campaign for such alternatives. It is difficult to exaggerate the philosophical and political importance of this pioneering book.

The constitutional differences between the different countries need to be considered. nevertheless the churches, particularly in Europe, which has traditional welfare states, can publicly challenge their governments to end and change their new found neo-liberal policies of cutting down on social commitment of property. they could also point out that this demand is urgent even in a capitalist system, since the indirect effects of the global market are turning the destruction into self-destruction.

This gives rise to the following demands (which are intended to show a general direction):

1. The Churches should call upon their governments (and if appropriate the European Union) to end their neo-liberal policies with regard to the global market, where they are structurally abolishing the constitutional commitment of property ownership to social justice and the common good; all of life is being subjected to the sole purpose of the accumulation of capital ownership and is thus being continually destroyed. In order to push through this vital and constitutional transformation of politics in terms of economic interests they should demand, above all:

  1. the promotion of municipal and cooperative ownership at the local and regional levels, in order to give people the opportunity to organize production and services to satisfy their basic needs in the context of their respective ecological and cultural conditions;

  2. consequently immediately to end the GATS negotiations in the WTO which aim to privatize public services; the privatization of water supplies has particularly fatal consequences since in the poorer countries transforming water into a means of accumulating capital property excludes the poor from the most fundamental human right, access to fresh water;

  3. rescinding the WTO TRIPs agreement on the patenting of intellectual property in terms of seed and life forms, in particular the protection of people and their genes from patenting, in order to prevent the monopolization of life, the threatening world food crisis and the commercial manipulation of the future of humankind;

  4. increasing the share of debt-free public money in contrast to the increase in debt-based money created by the banks through credits;

  5. moving environmental goods into public trusteeship or cooperative common ownership with strict social and ecological requirements for any economic usage;

  6. 6. linking private productive property to strict criteria of social usefulness, encouraging participation in decision-making by employees and other stakeholders, and particularly promoting investment in the production of simple, durable utility goods;

  7. the reintroduction of visibly progressive taxation of incomes from entrepreneurial activity and assets in the sense of the constitutional commitment of performance-related contributions to the common good, and the extension of this system to the global level;

  8. the ending of the monetarist policy introduced in 1979 and re-regulation of the interest rate on the transnational markets in order to adjust real interest to the level of real growth;

  9. the consistent combating of speculation on the financial, particularly currency, markets, with instruments such as the Tobin tax, capital flow controls and regulation of derivatives;

  10. the prevention of tax avoidance and consistent combating of tax flight at the national and international levels, since the loss of tax revenue harms the common good not only directly but also indirectly, through the resultant public debt;

  11. the immediate abolition of the structural adjustment policy of the IMF and the World Bank, which in order to pay interest to capital owners plunges whole societies into poverty and misery, plus the cancellation of all illegitimate ('odious') debts;

  12. the phased restructuring of the international system into democratic institutions within the framework of the UN, which needs to be reformed accordingly.

2. Should governments continue not to implement the constitutional commitment of property to the common good in the direction indicated and continue via capitalist, global market mechanisms to renege on this central constitutional provision, the Churches should announce that they are taking appropriate legal action, for example appeal to the federal constitutional court (in Germany) in conjunction with other concerned groups (see Chapter 4).

3. Going beyond existing constitutions and legal practice, they should suggest that land be transferred to public, municipal and state ownership.

All these demands and proposals are meant to get the economy and, specifically, the markets to serve the self-reliant life of all people, present and future, and of the earth. They are intended to free the economy from the compulsion to transform people, their cultures and the earth with its rich resources into a means of accumulating private capital property, a process that is leading indirectly to the destruction of all life and hence to self-destruction.

These calls and proposals are not intended to lay down the law. They are meant to show the directions and goals that the different Churches in the processus confessionis can use to develop the demands that suit their respective contexts. Everything they undertake along these lines will contribute to promoting public awareness and the necessary processes of reflection and transformation. Above all, however, it will strengthen the struggle of the victims of the system and the social movements.

It is clear that in the Churches a major conflict is to be expected on these issues. Above all, at least some of the Churches in the North will try to prevent decisions along these lines since many of their members still believe they can continue to be on the side of the winners. In this system there are no long-term winners. In order to give an impression of how the necessary learning and decision process could be organized in the Churches, I would like to cite the example of the Lutheran Churches in the USA, after the Lutheran World Federation at its sixth assembly in Dar-es-Salaam in 1977 decided that apartheid constituted a status confessionis. This example shows that talk of 'the' Church in general is too abstract. The Church has five 'social manifestations' (see Duchrow and Liedke 1989: 179ff): the local congregation, discipleship groups (for example, religious orders), regional Church institutions, worldwide ecumenical structures and, in a hidden and unintentional way, people who respond to the basic needs of their neighbours (Matt. 25: 35ff ).The necessary conflicts in the Churches about true discipleship take place in interchange between these social manifestations.

Following the 1977 assembly a Lutheran Coalition for Southern Africa was formed in the USA. Committed Church members set up groups all over the country. They developed information material and a motion for discussion and took them to as many district synods as possible. The motion contained the following three points: i) We have found, on theological grounds (outlined in the text), that we are in a 'state of confession' regarding apartheid as formerly regarding National Socialism. We affirm this decision. 2) In order to take a stand we will withdraw all our money from banks and companies that are not willing to break off their business relations with South Africa. 3) We will ask our national synods to adopt these decisions. The Lutheran Coalition won the votes in two-thirds of all district synods. Although the whole Church government was against it, and the treasurer resigned, the national synod of the American Lutheran Church approved the motion. This shows the need for a process of recognition and of learning before confession and action can follow. But it cannot remain just a process if what is really at stake is the question of being the Church on a biblical basis and not just questions of economic or political detail. Eberhard Bethge wrote to the author (on 18 February 1983), after the latter had suggested the concept of the confessing process (processus confessionis):

"The processus concept is helpful but it cannot replace the status confessionis. Only -with the latter (which can also hardly be forgotten) is it expressed that there is a necessary prehistory with unavoidable stages and then also a post-history with reception and consequences — also financial, but in the centre stands the element of a decision, which ends the non-committal debate. The introduction of the' processus' concept should be a certain relief— why not, in order not to overestimate oneself! — but it should not 'talk away' the decision that will be necessary one day, that in this process there is a left or right of the fork towards the true or false church, which is no longer only an 'errant' church. (Sorry, I'm sure you have known this for a long time, better than me!) Who could imagine themselves to be beyond the threat of the respective temptation to become the false church! Perhaps the distinction between false and errant church will also help in the really difficult problem of the so different social manifestations of the church with their different reactions in different periods?"

In South Africa the confessing struggle of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches led to the overcoming of apartheid (and also to the credibility of the Churches!). Now, however, the population is all the more disappointed for having to suffer under the dictatorship of capital ownership, the financial markets, the IMF and the World Bank — a dictatorship that is implemented by their own government with its neo-liberal policies.

South Africa is only one example. The whole earth is suffering. What is at stake is neither more nor less than victory over a market that has made private property an absolute and which has imposed itself with ever more totalitarian, imperialist means. This must be possible — after all, National Socialism and apartheid were defeated. Now the Churches, acting ecumenically, can help to replace the (self-) destructive 'economic horror' by a commitment of property to life and thereby a life-enhancing economy. They can do this by taking clear positions simply by virtue of their being the Church. Will they be willing to risk conflict with power and wealth, even if they have to pay the price that always awaits those who tread in Jesus's footsteps by standing up to the empire, big property and the temples that legitimate is (Mark 8: 27-38)

Property - for people, not for profit - Ulrich Duchrow, Zed Books with CIIR £14.95 isbn 1 84277 479 4

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