Christopher Lind put words to what many people are thinking in his presentation, Is a Moral Economy Really Possible? for the second in the Capsule College series.
“The problem is inequality and exclusion. The rich one per cent of the population gets richer while the poor have not been getting richer, they have been getting poorer,” said Lind, an economist, ethicist and theologian, who is executive director of Sorrento Centre, Senior Fellow of Massey College at the University of Toronto, former university professor and author/co-editor of five books.
He said that while many people don’t believe that a moral economy without class inequality is possible, current events show that at least some are hoping that it could become a reality. The Occupy Wall Street movement, being organized by social media, is a response to a a call from the Canadian magazine Adbusters.
“It is the match that lit a flame that has erupted all over the continent,” said Lind.
He went back over the history of the economy as a moral, social and political idea, and presented some Conference Board of Canada statistics to show that most Canadians have been getting poorer since about 1980 when unions lost strength, there were changes made to Employment Insurance regulations and the need for food banks arose.
He noted that poverty rates in B.C. at 13 per cent are among the highest in the country while Vancouver has the highest poverty rate, 17 per cent, of all Canadian cities.
“Wealth and poverty is not a feature of nature. It’s a feature of policy,” he said, suggesting that audience members look at their own sacred texts for references to economic issues.
“The Christian Bible refers often to economic matters and lays the foundation for an idea that business is a place where ethics does not exist,” he said.
Attitudes started to change with the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th century which pointed out the church’s contradictions in condemning usury at the same time as building enormous wealth. Economics, a new word in its modern sense, was seen as a moral or political issue until late in the 19th century.
“Economics stopped talking to historians and started talking to mathematicians, using math formulas to take the moral concern out of it. Economics is the new religion and economists are the new priesthood. They speak in terms we don’t understand and we hope that it will all work out somehow,” said Lind.
“I think that economies can be moral with equity fairness, sustainability, solidarity and sufficiency for all.”
He said the global economy and globalization can mean many things, including the opportunity for corporations to make as much money as they can with as few restrictions as possible. The global economy also controls the ownership of intellectual property, the new wealth.
Lind went on to talk about the political dimension of globalization.
“The ethics of globalization are competitiveness, domination and indifference, as contrasted with the ethics of co-operation, solidarity and compassion, another way of being in the world. There are other ethics available to us,” he said, giving the example of informed consent which is used in health care and could be used for other economic transactions.
Other examples are belonging to credit unions and the solidarity shown in South Africa against apartheid and in Poland.
Lind suggested the websites www.charterforcompassion.org and www.livingwages.ca for more information on how people are working towards a moral economy.
The Capsule College speaker series is sponsored by the Vernon University Women’s Club with the funds raised going to scholarships for students at Okanagan College, Kalamalka Campus.
The next speaker is on Oct. 27 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Halina Centre (Recreation Complex, 3310-37 Ave.). The speaker will be entomologist Ward Strong with Insects In Our Midst: A Visual Celebration of Our Six-Legged Neighbours. Tickets are $7 each at the door.