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Institute for Spirituality and Global Economics (SAGE)


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,
rarhtr@att.net Please copy your response to En Christo, James Foster, Editor, at jimsandyfoster@yahoo.com.  Thanks.

   Bob Rundle, Co-Director

THOUGHTS ON REDUCING WORLD POVERTY
(Revised November 2008)

By Bob Rundle

SUMMARY

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.

BACKGROUND

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 achieve justice.

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 Economist (6).


Spiritual/Religious Issues

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 ideology.

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

A. Mission

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 charitable efforts.

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 bodies.

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 more successful.
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 matters.

C. Steps To Achieve This Mission

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 work.

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 focus:

a. the myths underlying them (such as the market is the most effective way to allocate resources)
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 change this.

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 alternatives.

10. Monitoring Results: Reduce or eliminate those funded activities that show few results.


D. Conclusion

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.

END NOTES

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, 3-24/26-1999

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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