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God and Money, part 5: What Is Not For Sale

The merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over [Babylon]; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more; the merchandise of gold and silver and precious stones…and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. (Revelation 18:11-12a, 13b)

A TOTAL ECONOMY is one in which everything—“life forms,” for instance,—or the “right to pollute” is “private property” and has a price and is for sale. A total economy is an unrestrained taking of profits from the disintegration of nations, communities, households, landscapes, and ecosystems.—Wendell Berry

We live in a society that measures all values in terms of money. Work that used to be done for subsistence or for love is increasingly done for money. Agriculture has changed from a model in which farmers grew a diverse range of crops to feed themselves and gave away or sold surplus, to one in which most grow one or two crops to convert into money. Care of children and old people is increasingly given over to paid workers.

This change raises GDP and allows for the robust economic growth that experts and politicians love. It also threatens the health of families, communities and the natural world.

This threat is partly a matter of distance. When our needs are met directly through our labor and the labor of people we know, on our land or land close enough for us to see, we can’t help knowing the human and environmental cost of what we use. When our needs are met by things brought in from a  distance and paid for only by money we can all too easily ignore the damage done by their production.

The threat is also a matter of making what was once one subsidiary value into the only value. When food and shelter, education and spiritual leadership,  mental and physical healing and care for the old and young are all provided for profit, on the market, it is easy for us to succumb to the idolatry of the total economy, to forget that profit is not the only thing that matters, to sell our time, our labor and our souls.

As people of faith we are called to step back from the total economy. We are called to keep time free to work for love as well as for money, and to measure the value of this work by the well-being of our children, the trust between ourselves and our neighbors, the health of the land, and the inner quietude and freedom that allow us to hear and to obey God’s calling.

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