Vol.2 No.19, 04 August 2002

A Compassionate Economy

SANE patron Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane addressed us at our AGM on the topic 'A SANE Economy is a Compassionate Economy'.

SANE is a small financially-struggling NGO and the archbishop has put some of his ideas in writing to assist us in attracting some funding. His thoughts bear in depth consideration and are passed on to our SANE Views readers as:



I am puzzled about which Bible people are reading when they say that politics and religion don't mix.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

From the Jewish Prophets of the Old Testament to the teaching of Jesus Christ, from the injunctions of the Prophet Mohammed to the teachings of the Hindu and Buddhist leaders - all these religious teachers have put economics at the heart of the way people should relate to each other and to God. If you take the subject of money and its division between people out of the Bible, it would be a very thin document. Hence, like politics, economics cannot be separated from religion.

I am very happy to be a Patron of the South African New Economics (SANE) Network. We urgently need new thinking about economics in our country. We achieved our liberation from apartheid politics just when the world economic system seemed to be most damaging to the wider aspirations of our people. Political liberation must be accompanied by economic participation if it is to mean anything. It was what we were expecting to happen throughout the struggle years, even though we knew it would not be easy.

What we did not predict was the impact that the world system of trade and capital movements would have on the ability of our own widely supported government to move towards equality of income - closing the gap between the wealthy and the poor. Indeed, as we know, in some respects it has got worse.

The three richest men own more than the twenty poorest countries. In the United States the average pay of a Chief Executive Officer is 519 times the pay of the average American worker. So we are not talking about inequality and poverty in South Africa, or Africa, alone. It is a world phenomenon. Obviously, we have to direct our efforts to achieve change to our own government. But we also ought to accept that the government operates in a world system, which is doing the same kind of damage everywhere.

SANE is therefore, at the South African cutting edge of a world movement to restore economic justice. SANE is not alone, of course. Across the world, people are gathering to find new ways for wealth to be produced and distributed. Civil society, as well as groups within governments and oppositions are uniting in a global opposition to the global forces that produce poverty. These movements are spreading ideas about how to resist the damaging effects of the unfettered free trade in everything from shoes to textiles to apples - which have rendered so many of our people unemployed. Perhaps even more important, they are exchanging ideas on new ways to make economies work for people. It is not only about going back to old ways of protecting employment.

I know that SANE is busy researching and advocating new and benign forms of taxation to replace VAT and other taxes that damage people. And new ways to limit the damage done by speculative capital that comes in and out of countries, causing uncertainty and leaving havoc in its wake, new ways to distribute incomes such as the BIG (Basic Income Grant)

The BIG is a practical sign and application of a nation's compassion. A nation which determines to find the money for a BIG is declaring its solidarity with, and compassion for people who are poor. It is saying that it is wrong and unacceptable for some people to have much, much more than they need, and others to suffer the cries of hungry children. It is saying that economics should be in the service of compassion and civilised values. It is saying that there is no intrinsic value in the accumulation of money and possessions; and that these are positively harmful to humanity's spirit if they coexist with poverty.

The impact of Economics on Society (Socio-economics)
Economics is linked to the kind of people a society produces. A compassionate economics produces compassionate people. A highly competitive economics can produce insecure, frightened people hoarding their possessions, or aggressive people who win at the expense of other people. For those who cannot actively participate economically, the results are poverty, crime, destruction and ultimately death.

So this is a time for all people to focus on new ways for humanity to produce and distribute the abundance that God has given us. SANE has a prophetic voice, and it is a voice that needs to be widely heard in South Africa.

I, the Archbishop NJONGONKULU NDUNGANE, fully endorse and support the work of SANE and together we look forward to a just and humane economic society.

Gods richest Blessings

Archbishop N Ndungane

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