Institute for Spirituality and Global Economics
To the Readers: The author, Bob Rundle is Co-Director with John Lackey
of the Institute for Spirituality and Global Economics (SAGE).
Following is his revision of a paper with the same title published in an
earlier issue of En Christo. It was written to influence the
thinking of those large foundations that attempt to improve the lives of
people, particularly the poor. He is particularly interested in
ideas about the best ways to generate such influence. Your
thoughts, criticism and questions about the paper are welcome. Responses
may be sent to the author by way of email to Bob Rundle,
firstname.lastname@example.org. Please copy
your response to En Christo, James Foster, Editor, at
THOUGHTS ON REDUCING WORLD
(Revised November 2008)
By Bob Rundle
This essay provides the
background and a model for creating a more just and moral global economy. It
proposes that a moral perspective is essential for creating such economic
change. It also proposes that a more just and moral economy is essential to
reducing world poverty. It challenges leaders in foundations, religion,
business, and government along with all people of faith to review their part
in world poverty. Part of this challenge involves reviewing how much funding
is aimed at justice in addition to charity. Another part involves the role
of spiritual development in creating change.
Justice and Charity
Several years ago my wife and I began attending the local United Church of
Christ services at the Church of the Savior. We joined the adult discussion
group that had just started studying Ross and Gloria Kinsler’s book, The
Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life (1). After completing the
book the group accepted the Kinslers’ challenge to continue studying the
relationships between faith, global economics and world peace. This study
still continues today, partly within this group. We also developed an
interdenominational group to study these issues during 2003-04.
Jesus spoke of, and modeled, love as the central guide for our lives.
Christians today carry this out at the national and global level primarily
by charitable efforts rather than efforts to achieve justice. Charity and
Justice are at opposite ends of a continuum. At one end justice deals mainly
with our systems, such as economy, government, education and health. On the
other end, charity deals largely with the symptoms generated by the
imperfections of these systems, such as poverty, poor education and poor
health. The creation of justice is obviously more complex and controversial
than charitable practices.
Global justice eliminates much of the need for charity. Continued funding of
charitable efforts is vital, since we are a long way from achieving justice.
But the effects of charity are often diminished by injustice. It is
essential that we feed the hungry. But there will always be hunger until we
deal with its causes. We must address injustice to both maximize charity and
The challenge to governmental, religious, and private funders attempting to
make this a better world is to determine an appropriate balance between
funding justice, aimed at curing social ills, and charity, aimed at
alleviating symptoms. This is difficult enough in medical funding, where
choices have to be made about how much to support basic research versus
treatment of the sick. It may be more difficult for funders supporting a
broader range of activities. During the Cold War, Dom Helder Camara,
Archbishop of Recife, Brazil, said, “When I feed the poor, they call me a
saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” If
funders really want to improve the world they must be prepared for the
criticism that efforts to create more justice are likely to bring. But it
appears that most of these funders are unable to resist “sainthood”.
Global Business Practices
Large corporations have grown beyond their level of competence. They have
achieved great size and power, both commercial and political. But their
success is leading toward their destruction. It is natural that corporate
and financial leaders try to influence public policy to favor their
activities. But their success doing this in recent decades has greatly
influenced the distribution of the world’s resources. We are now at a stage
of unsustainable maldistribution of global income and resources. The job of
a business or financial leader never included making decisions about the
appropriate distribution of the world’s resources to people. Yet their
normal business practices have led to their having the greatest power in
these crucial distribution decisions.
The old story about two people alone on a deserted island with only one
having food seems appropriate for our times. Without sharing, the owner of
the food will not sleep well. We are faced with the same choice: sharing or
conflict. The United States and other “advanced” economies have the money.
But in their search for continually expanding profits and market share, they
are increasing poverty, accelerating the gap in incomes and resources in the
world, inviting terrorism and destroying the earth at an unsustainable rate.
It is essential that we change our current global economic practices if we
hope to increase equity of income and resources among the world’s
population. Susan George’s article, “A Short History of Neo-Liberalism” (2)
outlines these practices very well. They have allowed a few to accumulate
tremendous wealth but also have largely created the intolerable income gaps
and inequalities we see in our world today. World poverty will continue to
increase without changes.
Our group concluded that we have all helped create our present economic
system. Consequently, we have the responsibility to work for a more just and
moral one. A quick overview of these conclusions is in such sources as, a)
the last twenty pages of David Korten’s The Post-Corporate World (3),
b) pp.249-277 of John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
(4), c) the Introduction and first two chapters of Jim Wallis’ God’s
Politics (5), d) the Introduction to M. Douglas Meeks’ God the
But reducing world poverty calls as much for spiritual changes as economic
ones. We are in a struggle for the hearts of the world’s peoples. The United
States now primarily relies on military and economic means to reach its
objectives. This is not winning hearts but helping terrorists sell their
One key to attaining a more just and moral economy is to clearly articulate
the values that will frame such an effort. Our study group became convinced
that it is important to introduce moral values into economic policy
development. This is why faith-based institutions and people with a strong
spiritual sense must be part of such an effort. But few religious
organizations, even socially active ones like our United Church of Christ,
appear to have much activity in the area of economic system change.
Religious groups need help to get fully engaged. If we truly believe that
all humans have equal value that flows from God, we need to start building
an economy based on this belief.
The Search for Solutions
I had become increasingly frustrated in seeking religious or secular
organizations that seem to be effectively dealing with the big elephant in
the room, our global economic system. Most appear to work around the edges
of economic justice. Many focus their efforts on the symptoms of economic
injustice through charitable works. Some use largely negative approaches in
attacking current business practices. Others like World Vision, Oxfam, Bread
for the World, and Call to Renewal seem to be doing commendable work. But
they also appear to spend a sizeable part of their resources on attempts to
influence governments without doing much to counteract strong corporate
influence. This corporate influence often undermines the changes these
organizations are trying to enact. Many organizations also seem to lack a
strong moral rationale for their programs. The International Forum on
Globalization provides a rich source of ideas about alternatives but leaves
it to many relatively small organizations (such as those represented at the
World Social Forums) to enact change. Such grassroots efforts at change are
vital but they need support from large organizations with major financial
resources to have more impact. These factors have slowed much positive
social and economic change.
Our study group asked how a major reduction in world poverty might occur:
1. If our present way of
doing business in the world increases world poverty?
2. If business can’t or won’t effectively regulate itself?
3. If business largely controls the governmental bodies that could
provide such regulations?
It all came together for me
recently when our discussion group started reading Jim Wallis’ God’s
Politics (7). His review of faith-based social movements in the United
States like achieving civil rights, abolishing slavery and creating child
labor laws suddenly seemed to provide a key. The model I was searching for
(but didn’t recognize) is a global, faith-based movement. This could add to
the pressure from activist groups on national and international governmental
organizations to humanize our present economic system. Part of the answer
lies in the heart as well as in economic behavior.
Broad educational programs about better alternatives to our present economic
practices and the moral malaise that supports them are essential to humanize
our economy. The work of the International Forum on Globalization provides a
secular model for this. Its publication, Alternatives to Economic
Globalization (2004)(8), lays out principals for sustainable societies
and just economic systems. It summarizes alternative economic systems and
provides ways that they may be achieved. Tying these excellent ideas to the
compassionate teachings of the world’s religions will enhance them.
Since we have not found organizations that appear to have the capacity to
create large positive changes in our economy, I pulled together the
following thoughts on how this might happen. These are based on our group
study and my own readings.
A MODEL FOR CHANGE
Create a more just and moral
global economic system that reduces poverty and terrorism through a
global, nonviolent social movement guided by a moral framework and
extensive educational programs.
B. Why This Mission?
1. Poverty is a moral and
religious issue. What would Jesus think of us U.S. Christians? We live
in the wealthiest nation in history. We have helped to create and then
tolerate a world where 30,000 children die every day of starvation or
preventable diseases in the developing world.
2. Global business practices are a major cause of poverty and
preventable deaths. An immense secret behind all the positive reports
about these practices is the central question they raise. Susan George
(“A Short History of Neo-Liberalism”)(9) puts it this way: “Who
has a right to live and who does not”. John Kenneth Galbraith in The
Economics of Innocent Fraud (10) suggests this may be secret from
many business leaders as well as the public.
3. Poverty breeds terrorism (even if it does not cause it) and terrorism
is winning. (See the National Intelligence Assessment released in July
2007 (11).) While Al-Qaeda has regained much of its strength,
particularly since the Iraq war started, support around the world for
the U.S. way of dealing with terrorism is shrinking. Poverty also breeds
poor health, starvation and hopelessness that diminish the effects of
4. Military force is an ineffective way to deal with terrorism. Violence
only creates more violence. This adds to world poverty.
5. Providing charity does little to change the system that creates the
need for charity. But charity, not justice, gets most private funding.
As Jim Wallis puts it in God’s Politics, we believe in a God of
Charity but not a God of Justice.
6. Some business leaders include social and human concerns in their
business practices in spite of the strong pressures to ignore these
concerns. Both the legal charter of the corporation and the business
culture provide stiff opposition. But these admirable efforts are only a
small start toward the necessary shifts in business practices required
to reduce world poverty. Such shifts will need to come from inside the
corporation as well as from national and international regulatory
7. Corporate and financial leaders have a hugely disproportionate
influence on governmental policies (and could also have a major role in
creating positive changes in these).
8. Oppressive government policies strongly supported by the
establishment, such as economic regulations, change little without a
movement that creates pressures for reform. People need to see these
policies in a different way. (An example in the United States is the
civil rights movement.)
9. All the world’s religions stress compassion as an important element
of their beliefs. There is a huge reservoir of potential support for a
movement that can tap this moral sense.
10. Using a moral-based approach can help to reduce the clash of
ideologies that invariably arises while attempting fundamental shifts in
culture. This clash usually leads to a lot of steam but little change.
Poverty rates in the United States in recent years are a good example.
Using moral frames can lead to more effective efforts. In God’s
Politics (12), Jim Wallis presents a picture of how this has worked
in our nation. Movements to change our policies about slavery, child
labor, and civil rights for example were strongly tied to a moral-based
approach. As he notes, God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
11. David Korten in The Post-Corporate World (13) notes our
present global economic system is on a suicidal course. It has created
great misery for many at the same time as it has produced immense wealth
for a few. This invites conflict and is destroying our earth, a major
basis for wealth, at an alarming rate. Positive changes in this system
will increase the responsiveness of governments to citizen’s needs and
the chances for peace. If we want peace, we must take much of the profit
out of war.
12. Many commendable major efforts to create positive economic changes
in recent decades appear to lack:
a. the combination of
business and faith leaders with a shared vision of a just and moral
economy, and the courage to work toward this.
b. a strategy to loosen the grip of corporations on governments so
that lobbying efforts of groups trying to create more justice can be
c. a major educational campaign teaching what a just, moral economic
system looks like, changes essential to bring this about, how our
present economic practices fail to meet this standard and why it
C. Steps To Achieve This
1. Funding: Obtain funding
from sources that are willing to divert some of their charitable
contributions or from new sources. This would initially cover start-up
costs and activities in steps 2 and 3 below. Increased funding would be
required to carry out the subsequent steps.
2. Planning: Create a planning group to lead the steps below. It needs
to be a world body comprised of individuals selected for their
commitment to the mission and their skills and knowledge in each of the
sectors necessary to carry out the mission. These sectors include
government (including the UN), business, religious organizations, social
movements, unions, think tanks and organizations trying to humanize our
economy. Clergy, journalists/writers, business leaders,
educational/media experts, economists and other academics will need to
be among the professions represented.
3. Visioning: Develop a vision of what a just and moral global economic
system looks like. (This should be a developing picture that changes
with new knowledge and new world events.) Then complete a picture of the
changes that would need to be made in our present business and
governmental policies to achieve this vision. (Alternatives to
Economic Globalization (14) is an excellent source for this.) These
changes then need to first be set within a moral frame and then
prioritized. Step 3 will provide the architecture for the movement’s
4. Organizing: Develop a new organization to carry out the steps below
if negotiations are not feasible or successful with existing ones. Over
130 different organizations are listed in “Alternatives to Economic
Globalization”(15) that are working toward alternatives. Even
eliminating those that do not have a global focus leaves many potential
candidates to assume this task.
5. Educating: Develop a global campaign to change people’s thinking
about our current global economic practices based on step 3 above. Basic
tenets of such an effort must be that ideas have consequences and that
moral values are critical in creating an economy. This campaign may well
be the most valuable contribution of the movement to reduce poverty. The
economic ideology developed with great corporate support over the past
60 years has convinced much of the public that our current economic
policies are virtuous and inevitable. A similar size effort may be
necessary to put this ideology in a moral frame that shows the public
its full effects and the advantages of alternative policies.
A variety of educational programs and materials will need to be used
since the public knows so little about economics. (This of course is one
reason the business community has had such success in Washington and
other capitals.) There seems to be a wide range of these already
available about alternative economic policies, but few we found tied
them to moral values.
Three areas of our current global economic policies need particular
a. the myths underlying
them (such as the market is the most effective way to allocate
b. the ways that this system helps to create poverty (such as
through trade agreements and the policies of the World Bank) and
destroys the environment
c. why many are immoral
Such a major campaign will
assist greatly in the difficult task of creating a better world economy.
For example, I think that many business and financial leaders have
either not connected the potential dots between their usual practices
and those 30,000 kids noted above, or resist thinking about it. They and
rest of us need help to face up to this reality and find how we can
Religious organizations can play a key role in this educational
campaign. In addition to helping to develop this campaign, they can
provide a major means of reaching the public through a variety ways.
These can include their worship services, study groups, community
activities, denominational publications and other educational methods.
6. Selecting Actions: From the list developed in step 3 above, the
organization will select specific national or international policy
changes on which to start actions. These actions may involve becoming
part of a coalition already working on changes. For example, in the
United States this could mean joining Public Citizen and other groups
working on real campaign finance reform to reduce corporate influence.
This movement could also join World Vision, Oxfam and others trying to
change policies of the World Bank and the IMF. Or it might select an
issue or policy that other organizations are not working on and invite
them to join it. In a coalition effort, its most significant
contributions may be in adding educational campaigns around these
actions and in providing financial resources.
7. Tying Actions to Visions: Each of these actions needs to be tied to
the movement’s vision and moral frame. Preparatory education would
usually precede the action. The myths behind the policies involved in
the selected action and how they help create poverty may also be
included. Suppose the action is attempting to humanize trade policy such
as CAFTA. Its tie to creating more poverty in Central America, the real
beneficiaries of this trade policy and the morality of enriching the
rich further could receive wide spread publicity. Such specific
educational programs will need to be coordinated with the general
educational campaign noted above.
8. Focusing on the U.S. Public: There are for two reasons for this. We
have the greatest influence and power in our current global economic
system (and hence the greatest power to change it). People in our nation
also have the least awareness about the negative effects of this system.
9. Creating Public Awareness: This can be done through such vehicles as
the media, think tanks, conferences, legislative work and non-violent
protests that help illustrate both the problem and point toward
10. Monitoring Results: Reduce or eliminate those funded activities that
show few results.
Many organizations working
for economic justice do commendable work and can bring expertise in
specific areas. They may lack the range to lead a movement such as
described here. This effort obviously will require a long-range
commitment in funding. But it should require considerably less than the
available assets for charitable endeavors. Funding for charity rather
than justice would need to continue to be much larger for some time.
This effort to reduce poverty is aimed not only at saving the world’s
peoples but also the sacred globe we call home. It can also provide many
opportunities for spiritual growth. We hope to provide further
information in future papers about some of the issues discussed in this
essay and the resources used by our study groups.
1. Ross and Gloria Kinsler, The
Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life, Orbis Books, 2001
2. Susan George, “A Short History of Neo-Liberalism”, address to the
Conference On Economic Sovereignty In A Globalising World, Bangkok,
3. David Korten, The Post-Corporate World, Kumarian Press Inc. and
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1999
4. John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Plume, 2004
5. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics, HarperSanFranisco, 2005
6. M. Douglas Meeks, God the Economist, Fortress Press, 1989
7. Wallis, God’s Politics
8. The International Forum on Globalization, Alternatives to Economic
Globalization, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004 pp. 77-104
9. George, “A Short History of Neo-Liberalism”, p.8
10. John Kenneth Galbraith, The Economics of Innocent Fraud, Houghton
Mifflin Co., pp. 1-2
11.U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National
Intelligence Assessment, July 2007, www.dni.gov
12. Wallis, God’s Politics,
13. Korten, The Post-Corporate World,
14. The International Forum, Alternatives to Economic Globalization,
15. Ibid, pp.347-365
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