Tuesday, 12 October 2010

What's Wrong with the World?

A hundred years ago, in 1910, G.K. Chesterton published a book with this title – probably one of his most important, certainly on Distributism. It contained a critique of modernity, with a focus on imperialism, feminism, education and economics. 

It is, in fact, quite tempting and easy to discourse on what is wrong with the world. Let me have a go right now. (I apologise in advance for spoiling anyone's day.)

Around the globe our democratic political systems are either corrupt, or if not corrupt then blinkered by short-termism, since many of our politicians are only interested in the next term of office, and so can’t deal with profound long-term or systemic problems. The alternatives to democracy, however, are far worse.

Our economic system is inherently unstable, being based on an ideal of

Friday, 8 October 2010

Gratuity in the Market

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict tells us that “if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well. Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function” (35). That trust has today been severely undermined. He adds that “in commercial relationships the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity” (36). So what do we make of the market, and of the Pope's warning?

There is a kind of flow, or exchange, making the world go round. This is the flow of self-gift, sometimes called love. It is what creates the world, and keeps it going. But it is reflected or echoed within creation in many different ways, and as far as human organization is concerned it is reflected in two main ways. There are two ways in which to exchange or share tangible goods: it may be done either as a gift, or as a transaction. In a transaction – corresponding to contract-style relationships in law involving commodities – one thing is given in return for another. This may be a kind of barter, where I give you my sheep in return for your goats, or it may involve money. Money was invented for situations where I don’t happen to want your goats, or anything else that you have at the moment, but I might want something later. We establish currency as a medium of exchange. Money is therefore a symbol of the spirit of love within the market: it connects everything together and enables it to flow. That explains why it can so easily become a false god.