Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ethical principles of economics

Christian ethicist Larry Rasmussen in his book, Earth Community, Earth Ethics (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996, p. 145) outlines five principles for sustainable economics:

1.    Ecological sustainability – the earth and its resources are not endlessly renewable. Economics must seek to provide for people in a manner and at a level that is sustainable for future generations.

2.    Sufficiency of sustenance – the economic system should provide a minimum level of sustenance for all people. Requiring working age adults to contribute labor as individually able in order to obtain this sustenance is reasonable and consistent with practices recorded in the Bible.

3.    Community through work – people are not merely individuals but also members of a community. Neither individualism nor communalism alone adequately describes the human condition. Ethical economic structures recognize and incorporate this dualism. The common good is as vital as individual flourishing; one is impossible without the other.

4.    Participation by all – an ethical economic structure excludes nobody.

5.    Respect for diversity – economic structures will vary among cultures, climes, and historical periods.

These principles seem cogent and cohere well with my understanding of what Jesus taught. These principles also allow great latitude in choosing and adapting economic structures. The current debates in Europe and the United States over responses to various economic problems (e.g., high levels of national debt in some European countries, underwater mortgages in the U.S., the right balance of austerity and stimulus measures to prevent both inflation and deflation) would benefit if framed by these principles.

Christianity does not have the answer to economic questions. Christianity can profitably (pun intended!) contribute to people answering economic questions ethically. Too much contemporary rhetoric emphasizes only personal gain and ignores the common good.

Another prominent theologian, Sallie McFague, has written:

An ecological economic Christology can be summarized by the phrase ‘God with us.’ … An ecological economic Christology means that God is with us – we are dealing with the power and love of the universe; it means that God is with us – on our side, desiring justice and health and fulfillment for us; it means that God is with us – all of us, all people and all other life-forms, but especially those who do not have justice, health and fulfillment. (Life Abundant (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), p. 157)

No comments: