Money contains all the work and effort of people whom we neither know nor care about. It makes people forget the mutual exchange that takes place in work done and services rendered.—Eberhard Arnold, Mammon and the Living God
It’s increasingly difficult to comprehend the economic news. We’re told that hiring is increasing and also that unemployment is rising. We’re told that we got into the last financial crash because people spent too much money, and that we have to spend more money in order to get the economy back on track. We’re told that we must avert economic disaster by cutting taxes on the wealthy, by raising taxes on the wealthy, by increasing public spending, by slashing public spending…
These questions are so complicated in part because we have come to accept dependence on an economic system whose scale exceeds the scope of our understanding and our caring. We don’t know the people who produce the goods we buy. We don’t know the places where those goods are made, or where they are dumped. Most of us don’t personally know the folks who decide how to spend the money that we give either to the government or corporations; we can’t possibly personally know all the people whose lives are changed by those decisions. No wonder, then, that we end up with an incomprehensible economic system whose normal functioning wastes scarce resources and weakens communities.
Living off the financial grid, providing more of our own needs by our own labor or by barter or gift exchange with neighbors, roots us in an economy small enough for our understanding and our care. We are more apt to trust, and to seek to deserve the trust of, the people we know. We are better able to see when land and other resources are being well used and when they are being used up. We can see when people work with love in a way that makes good use of their gifts, and when they work exhaustedly, shoddily or desperately.
As we work toward an economic life that embodies love for our immediate neighbors we also help to build God’s Kingdom on earth. That Kingdom, like the money economy, connects all people in powerful and unseen ways. Our good stewardship protects the earth on which we all depend. Our prayers sustain people we’ve never met. Unlike the money economy, the Kingdom economy rests on God’s wisdom and grace. We can trust it even when we cannot understand it.