Culture, Political Economy

Our Land of Plenty

Our Land of PlentyWalking through those doors is always a mind-blowing experience. I’m not exaggerating when I say I believe the sight behind those glass gates is one of the most incredible our country has to offer.

I am talking, of course, about the grocery store.

“The grocery store?” you ask. “That seems a bit melodramatic, don’t you think?”

“No,” I reply. “I don’t think so at all.”

While I have perhaps exaggerated a little, I’ve only done so in the sense that my mind isn’t always blown every time I pass through the doors of the local Cub Foods or Hy-Vee. But this is only because I, like most Americans, have become so accustomed to the superabundance of food with which our nation has been blessed that I often take it for granted. When I stop and think about it though, I am truly amazed.

Walking down the breakfast aisle alone, I count over 200 kinds of cereal, 97 kinds of jelly and jam, and nearly 30 varieties of peanut butter. Then there’s the produce section, overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, even in the middle of winter with subzero temperatures outside. There are fresh oranges from Florida and fresh bananas from Guatemala. There are sweet potatoes from Canada and berries from Mexico.

There is also the meat section, with every cut imaginable, both fresh and frozen. There’s beef and pork and poultry and seafood. If I so choose, I can purchase and consume filet mignon or lobster or ribeye or octopus.

My point is that we in the United States today have access to a greater amount and greater variety of food than the people of any other civilization in the entire history of the world. For the last several thousand years of human existence, most of mankind—or rather all of mankind—has only been able to dream about the variety of foods on the shelves in our grocery stores.

Let’s be honest, we are living like kings. Even the poorest among us can eat better than many of the wealthiest men of ages past.

A case in point is meat. It used to be that most people didn’t get to eat meat on a regular basis because it was too expensive. In many societies it was considered a luxury item to be consumed only on special occasions. Today, however, we get to eat meat, if not every day, at least multiple times a week. Even dirt-poor history teachers can pick up a Big Mac or throw some pre-pattied burgers on a $10 mini-grill from Walmart.

It’s hard to deny that we have it pretty good. While our ancestors used to have to go out and hunt and forage if they wanted to eat anything, we today can simply pick up the phone, order a pizza, and have it delivered—hot and delicious—right to our doorstep.

I’ll say it again: we in the United States today have access to a greater amount and greater variety of food than the people of any other civilization in the entire history of the world.

And how do we celebrate this superabundance of food?

Well, by wasting a lot of it, unfortunately.

It’s estimated that Americans throw away 6 billion pounds of food every month. That’s about 20 pounds of food per month for every man, woman, and child in the country. Of course not all of this waste happens at the consumer level. Plenty of food gets discarded at the source or at the retail level as well.

Still, that’s a pretty astonishing amount of waste.

I think a big part of the problem is the need for Tort reform. Many caterers, for example, won’t even let their own customers take home leftovers for fear of being sued if they happen to become ill after eating them.

Even more important though, I think, is a change in attitude. We need to stop taking this abundant food supply for granted. Most people in history haven’t had nearly this level of prosperity, and we might not always have it either. We need to be more grateful for it. And more amazed by it.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Philosophy, Political Economy

Heresy, Alchemy, & Economics

Inventers of the Modern World

“In Newton’s universe, bodies have no telos because they have no substance other than mathematically described extension. As a result, all motion results from external force, which is ultimately attributable to arbitrary will.

The change in motion Newton wrought by making force the central concern of his physics would have profound political and economic implications. Once inertia became the fundamental principle of the universe, strife would become central to all subsequent expressions of the English ideology based on Newtonian physics. According to Adam Smith’s reading of Newton, greed or self love is an instinct which is analogous to inertia in that each body in space seeks its own good without regard to any other body. Greed, which would lead to chaos, is held in check by competition, and the result is Smith’s version of perfect motion, otherwise known as the ‘invisible hand’ which assures that private vice is transformed magically (or alchemically) into public good.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is another example of the English ideology derived from Newton, which also claims that strife – or, as Darwin would say, competition for scarce resources leading to natural selection – is the fundamental principle of the universe. Darwin, like Newton, ‘frames no hypotheses.’ He looks at nature and discovers that ‘strife’ is its fundamental law.”

“This brings us to the mendacity at the heart of the English ideology. Proponents of British empiricism claim with Newton that they frame no hypotheses, while at the same time smuggling covert occult principles into their systems. They subvert the notion of essence; they promote the destruction of substance; and then at the last moment, rather than accept the consequences of what they have wrought, introduce some mathematical deus ex machina or scientific ‘law’ which saves the universe from the chaos which is the natural consequence of their subversion, and reintroduces an order which is totally confected (or framed) and which turns out to be nothing more than a projection of the English economic status quo, which began with theft, onto the universe. The common denominator of the various projections of the English ideology which Newton, Smith, Malthus, and Darwin share is Capitalism, the economic version of strife, which is the fundamental principle of the universe.

Confronted by increasingly strident complaints from the continent which accused him of smuggling occult forces into his system, Newton responded by declaring apodictically, ‘hypotheses non fingo.’ Subsequent proponents of the English ideology would make the same rhetorical move, by claiming that ‘science’ allowed them to view nature as it actually was, without any intervening conceptual framework. In reality, the proponents of the English ideology were doing nothing but projecting their own culture onto the very thing that needed to be explained. This is precisely the charges which Mirowski levels, when he claims that the physicists in question (and this certainly applies to Newton as well as the economists who imitated him) were guilty of ‘reconceptualizing the universe as a reflection of our social and somatic selves.’ In fact, Mirowski continues, ‘physicists have been doing just that for centuries.’”

– E. Michael Jones, Barren Metal – 

– Lucas G. Westman


* These passages are taken from the chapter, Newton and the Capitalist Universe

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Political Economy, The Franciscans

Franciscan Principles of the Economy

Franciscans and their Finances“In 2007 I published a text on a Franciscan approach to economics. The book originated in a challenge posed to the Capuchin Order by three African Capuchins at the Order’s General Chapter of 2000. The three friars were reviewing the state of the Order in Africa, trying to contextualize the political and ecclesial challenges facing Africans, when they humbly and pointedly accused the worldwide fraternity of ‘not hearing the cry of the poor in Africa.’ The charge stung and confused the delegates listening to them. Hadn’t the Order sent legions of missionaries and developed hundreds of parishes, schools and clinics? Hadn’t the Order supplied financial resources for the establishment of the Order, along with churches and schools, in both Eastern and Western Africa? Hadn’t hundreds of European and North American priests and brothers labored intensively and for decades to make a positive difference in the lives of Africans? What had we not heard? What had we not seen? The three friars were clear. We had not understood the poverty of the poor of Africa. We did not understand its roots and its causes, its origins in a Western economic system and worldview that valued competition over compassion, individualism over community, and materialism over the spirit. The friars asked us to listen more closely to their concerns and to work with them to develop solutions that would heal and mutually benefit both sides of the growing global economic divide.

This challenge accelerated the Capuchin Order’s analysis of its own economic models, already in progress and led by then Minister General, now Bishop, John Corriveau, OFM. Cap. In a series of 20 circular letters to the Order, Corriveau had enunciated a vision for a new way of living our common life and sharing our resources in a more globalized world. Rejecting the underlying aggression and competition of late 20th century market fundamentalism, Corriveau called on Capuchins to rebuild our local, provincial and international economies on more solid and more secure principles of communion and compassion. Calling on friars to develop a ‘fraternal’ economy, Corriveau suggested that we could build stronger economic ties and a more stable network of international relationships, if we were willing to forego the spasms of fear that classical capitalism’s ‘scarcity thinking’ (as opposed to classical Bonaventurian ‘abundance thinking’) promotes. My book traces the history of this line of thought and provides formators with some tools on how to begin training the next generation for this new economic paradigm.

The first thing we have to learn is that Franciscans have something vital to say about contemporary economics. This is not new. Franciscans have always been involved in the economic questions of the day. The early friars were intimately involved in the debates about currency and the proper use of resources and power in the 12th and 13th centuries. Francis’ teaching on poverty was never meant to reject the world and jettison the friars into some parallel, disembodied universe without commerce or common good. Quite the contrary! Francis’ intent was to have friars understand the troubled roots of the economy of his day and to have them face the violence and the greed that fueled the development of the rising feudal economy. Francis’ penitential humanism was to be a stimulus to a new economic security among the brothers and in society, fueled not by greed but by a humble recognition of a common heritage as sisters and brothers under one good and loving God.

Capuchins believe it is time to take another look at the Franciscan tradition for help in developing a more relational economic paradigm for the 21st century. In my book, I outline five principles that we believe can help us construct a more relational experience of economic activity than is presently displayed in the ‘pick yourself up by your own bootstrap’ idiom of aggressive capitalism. The five principles are:

  1. Transparency – mutuality in all things. All the goods, economic activities, and ministerial decisions are at the service of the whole. There are no hidden schemes by leadership or membership.
  1. Equity – Individuals and communities get what they need and contribute what they have for the common good and building up of communion. Service replaces entitlement.
  1. Participation – Build mechanisms of cooperation and communion of persons without domination or deprivation.
  1. Solidarity – Those who have more give more to those deprived. All work to undo structures of sin that serve as obstacles to communion.
  1. Austerity – The minimum necessary, not he maximum allowed. Live and work simply, so that others can simply live and work.

Think about the present financial crisis. Had any of these five principles been working in the financial system, we would not have gotten into the traumatic global situation we are in. These principles are derived from the wellspring of Franciscan theology, specifically meditations on the Trinity and our participation in God’s inner life of communion. Franciscans are asked to use these five principles when working through their economic decisions, both privately and communally.”

– David B. Couturier, OFM Cap., Franciscans and Their Finances – 

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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