Commodifying our Humanity

This week I came across an interesting thought related to the so-called Sharing Economy – that vast and growing collection of  startups, non-profits and cooperative structures that are moving services and goods from the formal sector to a more peer-oriented personal economic system. Think Craigslist and Airbnb, SideCar and SupperKing.  Rachel Botsman describes the sharing economy, or collaborative consumption, as a social revolution that allows people to “create value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self-interest with the good of the larger community.” Why wouldn’t you want to help someone out, if you could earn a quick buck while doing so? It seems that perhaps the sharing economy has at its core a basic human desire for connection. It sits a little uneasily then to think of these new organizations as capitalizing on our desire for contact, connectivity and community, to coin a couple of dollars. But essentially that is what is happening; we are increasingly monetizing goods and services that were once available for free. SupperKing is a “mobile app that allows people to share home-cooked meals with a trusted community”. The startup sets out to “enhance the dining experience by adding a social friendship layer to an otherwise solitary event”. But let’s not pretend this is all altruistic since “how much money a host can make depends...

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GDP image

Measuring Well-Being, beyond GDP

For decades the Gross Domestic Product has been the gold-standard for measuring economic health, wealth and progress. GDP has become entrenched in our discourse, but it is a remarkably narrow measure of a nation’s overall well-being. It defines progress through the narrow lens that more is better – more consumption, more production, more exports. GDP entirely neglects indicators such as income inequality, the cost of underemployment and pollution, environmental impact and resource depletion or a broad range of social indicators including the cost of crime, the value of volunteerism and leisure time, education and community. As a measure of “progress” and national “health”, it is sorely lacking. Which is why many are looking toward alternative measures of well-being, that take into consideration economic, environmental and social indicators. Here are two short video clips which explain why and how GDP fails to paint a complete picture of growth, progress and well-being in the new economy, and how alternative measures such as Gross National Happiness or the Human Development Index can help us. Check out these videos and we would love to hear your thoughts: Well-Being in the New Economy What is Gross National...

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Manifesto for the Economy of Life

Below is an excerpt from the São Paulo Statement on International Financial Transformation for the Economy of Life (World Council of Churches, 2012). We would love to hear your thoughts on this manifesto. Is there anything you would add to the creed? Does it speak from (and to) the intersection of faith, economics and justice?  The 2008 global financial and economic crash increased poverty and unemployment among millions in the global North and worsened and deepened poverty, hunger and malnutrition among even larger numbers in the global South, already experiencing decades of poverty and deprivation caused by injustices in international financial and economic relations. A system of speculation, competition and inadequate regulation has failed to serve the people and instead has denied a decent standard of life to the majority of the world’s population. The situation is urgent. Critical theological reflection on the material and collective bases of life has been intrinsic to the call to be faithful disciples of Christ and has expressed itself through theological contemplative praxis that has sought transformative liberation from unjust socio-political, cultural and economic structures, thereby promoting the fullness of life for all creation. Modernity has, however, brought with it an economic model based on profit and self-interest disconnected from faith and ethics. This has led to the ideological justification of colonialism, the despair of...

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São Paulo Statement on the Economy of Life

In late September, 2012, economists, church leaders, activists, politicians and theologians gathered in  São Paulo, Brazil, to respond to and continue work around issues of economic, social and ecological justice. Together, these ecumenical leaders envisioned an alternative global financial and economic architecture, building on several seminal confessions, statements and call’s to action from the last decade. The São Paulo Statement: International Financial Transformation for the Economy of Life is well-worth a read. In particular, I was inspired by the introductory creed on pages 3 and 4. The manifesto follows a format of rejection and affirmation, thus: We reject the explosion of monetisation and the commodification of all of life, an economy that is driven by debt and financialisation, the ideology of consumerism, increasing individualistic consumerism, an economy of over-consumption and greed, neoliberal capitalism which conditions us psychologically to desire more and more, and the economic abstraction of Homo Oeconomicus which constructs the human person as being essentially insatiable and selfish. We affirm a theology of grace, an economy of forgiveness, caring and justice, an economy of Manna which provides sufficiently for all and negates the idea of greed, the diversity and interconnectedness of life and interdependent relationships with the created order, an economy of sufficiency that promotes restraint, and that we are called to think not only of our own interests but also of the interests of others. This...

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The “cult of money” and ethics reform

Pope Francis  has received much airplay recently for his reverent and honest, relevant and intelligent reiteration of ordinary Catholic thought using language that people can understand – applying longstanding church teachings to contemporary issues. Speaking to a group of diplomats gathered at the Vatican on May 16, Pope Francis spoke unequivocally on what he terms the “cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.” Read more on Pope Francis’ challenge. Here is the full transcript of the speech. What then could an economic mindset that is not hinged entirely on consumption and disposal look like? What is an alternative ethics of...

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