Is our economic system blocking the kingdom of God that Quakers seek to build? How do we even begin to address that? It’s a question Pamela Haines has thought a lot about.
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Quakers have always asked really big picture questions. I think it’s because of that belief of “that of God in every person” and the idea that there is a way of thinking about “what would the kingdom of God look like here on Earth?” That we wrestle with that question and that requires us to think about what’s happening around us and apply our faith values, look for where that of God is present and where it’s being blocked. That’s just part of our work as Quakers, I think. I would definitely say that our current economic system is blocking the kingdom of God in all possible ways.
A Quaker Perspective on Economics
My name is Pamela Haines. I live in Philadelphia, and my meeting is here in Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting.
John Woolman is the person that I go back to again and again when thinking about economics. A Quaker from the late 1700s who just thought hard about his relationship to the world around him. So John Woolman says, “dig deep; that you may carefully cast forth the loose Matter, and get down to the Rock, the sure Foundation, and there hearken to the Divine Voice which gives a clear and certain Sound.”
You know what he said about getting to the root? That seems critical. It seems critical, and as I look at the world around me—I’m called to engage with the world around me as a Quaker—and as I look at the world around me, I keep looking for the roots. You see a lot of things that are wrong, you go looking for the roots, looking for the roots, you get to the economic system. Looking for the roots in the economic system, you get to the money.
If I’m digging deep and casting out all that loose material and trying to get down to the foundation in society, it has to be the economy, and it has to be the money that drives the economy.
The Flaws in Our Economic System
The assumption in the economy is that we make decisions on the basis of self-interest and greed. That’s a problem, and so there’s a really big cultural issue. Assumptions about who we are and what we’re for and what our roles with each other are and what our connections with each other are.
On a different level, there’s a couple of ways that it’s deeply flawed structurally. One is, the idea of ever-increasing growth is running up against the limits of the Earth. I think people know about that pretty well. The other is that the interest-debt dynamic means that those who have more continue to get more by getting interest from the people who have less who are paying off debts to them, so it’s like this inherent pulling apart of the society into the more and more “haves”—fewer “haves” with more and a lot of people with less.
Reconciling Our Faith With Our Economics
Integrity means wholeness, so we have to bring the economy and bring our faith and bring them together and think about all the decision we make and all the things that we’re part of as a faith issue.
So think about the testimonies. We value integrity but there’s no place for conscience in our economic system. We value simplicity but we’re told that our role is to consume more and more. We value equality but our economic system is driven toward increasing inequality. We value community but we’re told to act as individuals, and people on the margins are discarded. We value stewardship, yet we’re running through the Earth’s resources at an alarming rate. We value peace, but the economy is creating more destruction than any war ever has. So it seems very, very compelling that we have to ask those big questions about our economic system if we’re going to be true to our testimonies.
A New Economic System
We have to think freshly about what really could work. I’m not so interested in labels as thinking about what a new economic system could really work for everybody. We’ve come to the end of just being able to grow and grow and grow physically, the way children come to the end of their growing, growing, growing physically. So we need to make a shift to: what is a mature economy? What is an economy that can exist in a steady state? What’s a new economy that could work in the situation that we’re in?
So we need to look for an economy that can exist within the confines of the world that works for everybody. What an interesting thing to try and figure out.
- Do you agree with Pamela Haines’s assessment of our economic system? What would it look like if Quakers applied their faith to economics?
- Pamela compares our economy to the growth of a child, asserting that we may have reached the point where we can no longer expect steady growth. She asks, “What is an economy that can exist in a steady state?”
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.