World Economy and The Christian Faith

[This book review of: Annette Dietschy and Beat Dietschy (ed): Kein Raum fur Gnade? World Economy and Christian Faith – Impulses from Four Continents, Munster 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

A “new thinking” sets the standards today in all areas of life. This thinking is marked by market logic, profitability and cost-benefit principles. Everything that does not follow the calculation of cost-minimization and profit-maximization is defined as an obstacle that must be removed. Human rights and ecological standards are stylized as hindrances. What does this reconstruction of the worldview and anthropology mean for the churches? Do they see the “hardening of hearts” propagated in global competition as a prerequisite for economic and emotional survival? Do we have to spell out our faith again in view of these developments? How do we proclaim the message of “free grace” (Pierre Buhler) so it has a liberating effect? Annett and Beat Dietschy discussed these questions in a 2001 course for Zurich pastors. The contributions of the seminar are now available as a book.

The individual articles illumine different aspects of the theme from various perspectives. First of all, the cult word “globalization” is probed. Why has this term spread since the 1990s? How is it used politically? Is it only a trivializing slogan that whitewashes the contradictions of today’s world society? Or is it a discursive strategy to devalue past solutions? The introductory article by Beat Dietschy grapples with these questions.

Globalization processes produce new forms of social inequality and dependence. These forms are superimposed as Choon-Ho You-Martin showed in the example of South Korea. Structures of social and economic exclusion exist with ethnically and religio-culturally conditioned factors and a hierarchy of genders. Women in South Korea bear on their shoulders the double burden of patriarchally defined modernization and globalization processes. They are “Minjung among the Minjung” and also the impulses for a paradigm change to a human-, community- and life-centered development.

If in a country of the “semi-periphery” like Korea, processes of industrialization and world market integration run very different than in the countries of the West, what should be the way of an East African country like Tanzania? The burdens of the past of the colonial plantation economy, Rogate Mshana says, cannot be overcome in the framework of a neo-colonial or neo-liberal model: “It is an error to believe that deregulating market forces has already brought an economic improvement for everyone.” To that end, an economic model defined by the population of the country themselves is needed, according to the Tanzanian economist and also “structural adjustment processes” in the North enabling the North to pay off its ecological debts to the South and no longer live beyond the means of the planet.

Are other social-political orientations possible given the practical necessities of a free enterprise self-dynamic? How can they be established? In his article, Peter Ulrich discusses these questions and subjects the blind faith in global market forces to criticism from the perspective of an “integrative economic ethic.” This starts from the insight that normative decisions were already made in the seemingly value-neutral economic logic. An ethical examination in the light of paramount criteria of the good life and just cooperation of all people is necessary. The St. Gallen economic ethicist counters the neoliberal policy of a boundless market deregulation and intensified competition with a “policy of limiting practical necessity.” His policy consists in making possible real citizen freedom (not reduced to market freedom) on the national plane and a globalization policy on the supra-national plane oriented in criteria of usefulness to life and human rights-, democracy-, social- and environmental standards.

If abundance of life for all people is at the heart of the biblical vision, economic thinking focuses on the shortage of resources. There is no conflict of disciplines here between theology and economy. There is a conflict, as Franz Hinkelammert shows in his article, between public interest and individual calculation, attitudes that are contradictory and yet imply one another. As a result, a solution is not possible that denies one of the two poles. However he sees a great problem in totalizing the benefit calculus in the boundless market: “the possible abundance is destroyed and the benefit calculus – a shortage calculus – transforms shortage into disaster.” The upshot of the critical economic theoretician is: not subjecting everything to the market-benefit-calculus is vital for people and contemporaries.