Monday, November 2, 2015

Christian Clarity

"Why is it that corporations give millions of dollars to elected officials? 
   Do you think it's simply public-spirited behavior?"   ~Walter E. Williams
Depression era - When they realized women were
using their sacks to make clothes for their children,
the mills started using flowered fabric for their
sacks.  The label was designed to wash out.
(a time long ago when companies took
 care of their customers)
The heart of business and capitalism has changed over the years, and it appears the change is driven by the top 1%.  

The early marketplace was a mutual benefit model.  Farmers, fishermen, clothiers, and tool makers would sell what they produced to buy everything else they needed.  They did well enough, considering the times.  They were flexible across the seasons and helped each other during hard times.

Open lands, the 'commons', were like the seas, they were available for grazing and farming and lumber to whomever would do the work.

Privatization and money were game changers.  The commons were deeded to the influential who charged fees to farmers and herders. Rulers taxed everyone, and productive folks went from the top to the bottom of the pyramid. 

In the last fifty years, Western economics has become predatory, focused on profitability and competitive advantage.  Wealth generation for those who didn't do the work has become the norm.  The most benefit goes to the least deserving, it seems.  Perhaps wrong has become right.

Centuries ago along Africa's Niger River, rainfall varied greatly from year to year. One year in six was near the region's average; other years were at the extremes for rainfall on the plains and in the upper regions where the river's source was fed. So to a greater or lesser extent, the plains flooded a little or a lot and crops did or didn't do well. There wasn't any way to predict how a year's growing season would turn out, so the residents adapted. It's instructive for us to see their approach.

The river's inland delta is almost level and the Niger river descends just a few millimeters per kilometer over much of its 4000 km length. When the rains come, the flood moves broadly across the region. The amount of rain determines how far from the river the floods will carry, and it's rarely the same two years in a row.  Folks learned that they couldn't master all the skills and manage all the resources needed for every opportunity.  Fishing was varied from year to year and tremendously labor intensive. Farming was even more so with a requirement to understand which crops would do well in which water depths.  The pastoralists managed their flocks by moving significant distances regularly.  Out beyond the edge of the floodplain that was waist deep for six months of the year, then rapidly inward as the land and vegetation dried up.

Communities specialized and cooperated, and they did so without one specialization or community being at the top. Some years the farmers did better than the fishermen and vice versa. Some years, the herds survived well; others, not so well. They needed each other in order to survive, so they shared more or less graciously. Ancient stories persist of conflicts being resolved generously.

Communities grew into cities around the specializations, and they persisted successfully for more than a thousand years. It was hard, of course, but they did it without an upper class and without a central government and without Wall Street leeches. Interesting. More than a thousand years without war or sequestration or ... well, you get the idea.                              See: John READER (1999): Africa, A biography of the Continent.

Our present competition and consumption model is unsustainable, we've discovered, and it brings suffering and death to others. We're all at risk, but there are many alternatives. Walmart could become a community focused and sustainable not-for-profit with reasonable salaries and benefits for all workers...  don't hold your breath for that one.

Christian clarity?  If you muzzle the ox that grinds the grain ... is it eligible for food stamps?  That's the Walmart solution.  If the way you live makes people poor, are you the bad guy?  If you fill up your barns and have a lot stored for a lot of years, are you foolish?  Are you rich in good works, or just rich?  And what are good works, anyway.  Could you get through the eye of a needle?  Christians in developed countries may struggle with such a blind spot.  Me included, of course.

2Co8:13 Our hope is not that others will have it easy at your expense, but that things might be fair. 14 Right now you have plenty in order to take care of what they need. Later, they will have plenty to take care of what you need.  The goal is to even things out, 15like it's written, “The one who gathered a lot didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered a little had enough.” 
Definitely not on capitalism's agenda.