Vinoth Ramachandra

Redemption and Debt

Posted on: October 16, 2011

Some readers have written to say that Camila Vallejo is a member of the Communist Party of Chile, as if this should make my admiration for her evaporate.

If we are to shun any involvement with communists, then we should also be boycotting all goods made in China and Vietnam, and persuading our governments and business leaders to stop all trade with these countries, let alone investing heavily in them. Joining communists to make money is okay. Joining them to protest against injustice is not. What hypocrisy! And how paradoxical that the United States, which projects itself as the defender of liberty and human rights around the world, is so dependent economically on the communists that the relationship can even be described as one of ownership.

It can, of course, be argued –as the Slovenian communist philosopher Slavoj Zizek does- that today’s China is the ideal capitalist country in which the main task of the ruling Communist Party is to control the workers and prevent their self-organization and mobilization. The Party’s power is legitimized by its undercover deal with the new capitalists, which takes the form: “You stay out of politics, and we will keep the workers under control.” Zizek claims that the ruling regime is so sensitive to any notion of workers’ self-organization that “even the official books dealing with the history of the Chinese Communist Party and workers’ movement in China silently pass over the subject of trade unions and other forms of workers’ resistance, even if they were supported or directly organized by the Communists, lest the evocation of this past give rise to dangerous association with the present” (Living in the End Times, 2011).

One of the myths about capitalism that was popular during the Cold War was that it was the handmaid of democracy. Economic freedom would usher in political freedom. But, even in the history of Western nations, the truth was the very opposite. It was the spread of adult suffrage and the maturing of democracy that curbed the excesses of capitalism and protected men, women, and children from the worst forms of exploitation.

God’s “upside-down kingdom”, which has dawned in Jesus Christ, will one day spell the “scattering of the proud…the bringing down of rulers from their thrones…the lifting up of the humble, the filling of the hungry with good things and the sending away of the rich empty-handed” (Lk.1:51-2).  The day of final transformation is when God’s redemptive presence will fill the earth (Is 11:1-9; 65:17-25; Rev.21:1-5). The victory that Christ secures through his death and resurrection is given to those who are willing to become like little children (Matt.18:2), that is, nobodies; these are also the “poor in spirit” (Matt.5:3), those who have relinquished the obsession with control and competitiveness.

The redemption that the Gospel announces is thus contradicted by a global economy that persuades persons and nations to live beyond their means. Responsible lending can help people escape from poverty, as in foreign direct investment and micro-credit schemes, provided the terms of the loan are fair and the interests of both debtor and creditor are safeguarded legally. But in a debt-based global economy, lending by rich nations and financial institutions is often irresponsible. Poor nations are pressurized by the rich into selling their rights to their “commons” as partial repayment of national debts. (Would this be a contemporary equivalent of the taking of a poor man’s millstone as security for a debt-cf. Deut. 24:6?). Moreover, many Two-Third World governments are run by incompetent and corrupt politicians who are willing to sell off their nation’s natural inheritance in exchange for massive armies and wasteful, grandiose “development projects”. Thereby whole generations live under the shadow of crippling debts which require extraordinary and sustained levels of economic growth to offset.

The IMF and the World Bank are the favourite targets of left-wing critics of globalization. But dependence on such institutions is more often the result of poor strategic planning and fiscal management, rather than a global conspiracy by the latter. States that run up large foreign debts lose control over their macro-economic policy. We are now so accustomed to governments running up billions of dollars in deficits every year that we take it as normal that governments owe hundreds of billions of dollars in debt to people outside the country. But if you put yourself in massive debt to other people, you lose some control over your life

On a personal level, we can stop using credit cards to buy things we cannot afford. Living beyond our means leads to enslavement and ecological disaster. In this regard, the “99%” whom the “Occupying” movements claim to represent are not blameless- they have encouraged a system whose short-term benefits they have reaped, while ignoring the real victims of globalization. But, on a political level, church leaders, economists, businessmen, journalists, artists, lawyers and social activists need to come together with the poor to claim the rights of the marginalized and the vulnerable.

The recovery of democratic politics is central to any Christian attempt to “redeem” the global economy and the processes of globalization. The lack of political will on the part of wealthy nations to reform global financial institutions and to reshape the global economy so that the benefits of globalization are more equitably distributed can only be countered by a transnational mobilisation of grassroots movements from below.

Let Christians in rich nations learn from Occupying Wall Street and other social movements what following Christ entails…

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16 Responses to "Redemption and Debt"

[...] and Debt « Vinoth Ramachandra 15 de outubro de 2011 Origem: http://vinothramachandra.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/redemption-and-debt/ The redemption that the Gospel announces is thus contradicted by a global economy that persuades [...]

Per your comment about IMF and World Bank… have you come across John Perkin’s “Confessions of an Economic Hitman”? Any thoughts?

Sorry, I’ve seen the book but never read it.

I have little respect for any of these international economic institutions- the ideologies they espouse (the IMF, in particular) and the self-indulgent lifestyles of their “experts”.

If Camila and her act of questioning injustice is Communist, Then I rather be be one as that is what Jesus seems to have done far too often

Rabble-rousers and Lemmings,

I watched again, today, the chaos that is being incited by this so-called “occupy Wall street” movement now on the streets of Rome. Surely, they have their own, separate, unique reasons or claims for rallying, gallivanting, gee, I don’t know uniting; some form of injustice that must be righted or some form of progress that must be sought, but once again I find myself unsympathetic. I really want to be engaged with their pleas and their calls and their “demands” (whatever those may be again remains a question and perhaps that have decentralized their claims on purpose, but really all the more leading to the confusion and lack of force really necessary to make this thing a real movement).
I mean I’m an international studies student, and a young, vivacious one at that, I’m supposed to be engaged with the weekend public crawl for human trafficking or the “walk-out” over human rights or whatever the next community effort is and yet with this one group I can’t seem to muster up a care. I don’t know much about social movements for change, not even the really major ones over civil rights or suffrage, but I would think that most of those were successful because of at least two major and fundamental requisites: purpose and peace. When I look at the 12-minute long video of what’s going on in Rome, Greece and in many of the major US cities of violent interactions with police I just think that these people cannot be more than mere rabble-rousers who are out for the next thrill-those two major thrills being: captured by the media or confronted by police-or lemmings who don’t even have the slightest clue about what is really going on with today’s struggling families and people.
Take what I saw this morning in Rome, for example, the burning police vans, the burning Volvo (seriously? destroy someone’s family wagon as a symbol for rights and justice?), crushed store windows I mean these young people look like marauders not social justice advocates. And that is who they are, by the way, on the streets of major US cities and definitely in the streets of Rome and Greece-young people. Sure there are the middle-aged civil servants in Greece who are justifiably not thrilled with their salaries being cut in half, but far and wide these are young people-discontented youths. Can’t they see the contradiction that they represent: evoking such additional expenditure of tax-payer dollars for increased police forces and operations-their money! That is, unless the whole lot of them are also self-proclaimed conscientious tax-evaders.
I mean, I think about whose behalf these “occupiers” are on the streets for. . .is it as Tom Morello (and what pricks by the way, the Kanye Wests, the Russell Simmons’, the Susan Sarandans and the Alec Baldwins, etc that live the cushiest lives around) says, “the families who cannot afford their homes?” Are you kidding me? Those people, those families, those fathers and mothers don’t have time to be on the streets fighting for their jobs or their livelihoods. They have just enough time, energy, resources (and wits no less!) to be in employment lines, interviews, job sites and the lot trying to figure something out for themselves. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that I believe in the self-made man; I’m not saying that I believe that with enough elbow grease everyone should just be able to pull themselves up by their boot-straps. I’m not saying those things. I believe in community and I believe in the institutional structures and systems that either provide or withhold opportunity for people. What I’m also not saying is, “hey you want to make a difference? You want to give feedback? Go ahead and be sure to write your congressman!” I’m definitely not that guy.
Although I have called my congressmen before and my representatives before about specific issues like the budget crisis. . .how many of these people tried to make their voices heard about major government decisions, actions and policy? How many of them signed their names to petitions along with the nation’s top economics rooting against the bank bailouts? Well lets give the “occupiers” the benefit of the doubt that they did. I still take issue with their modus operandi-their not mobilizing in any coherent or organized fashion; they’re not committing themselves to peaceful non-violence and their purpose has definitely been found wanting. Let’s just imagine for a moment what it could look like if these “occupiers” where to unite and cohere over some proposition aimed at the government, yes, the government because so long as we are citizens that compose a society we must suffer the state and its government. Let’s say there are, conservatively 500 “occupiers” on average on any given day in half the major cities of the US-that’s over 12 thousand people! If these people got together, did some writing, proposed some action, some policy, some reform then they could really be on to something. I mean, how did the Dodd-Frank act get passed? How did any bill or act get passed? Sure there was some political and probably corporate muscle that was flexed and hard-working lobbying of those specific government representatives involved, but they got something done! This is the essence of change, or at least this is how we have made it out to be in our American democratic tradition…
Its just not constructive, it doesn’t contribute, it doesn’t enrich and ultimately from the looks of it, doesn’t seem to change anything-the trajectory that “Occupy” is on.

Ben, I hear your frustration ,and the situation is Rome is unfortunate, but the occupiers in the US have so far been stunningly disciplined, non-violent, and insistent on civilized discourse and responsible, creative protest. And yes, of those I know who are involved, all have spent years signing protests, writing letters, showing up at hearings, writing letters to the editor, and lamenting the fact that our political system is impervious to the voices of average citizens. .

The solutions will not be simple and they will not happen overnight, but there are very coherent demands taking shape, and a clear determination to change the course of our economic and political systems.

Vinoth, you are right in saying the 99% are not blameless. There’s a strong current of repentance running through the Occupy Wall Street movement. I blogged about it this morning – describing some very moving Yom Kippur services last weekend repenting of collusion with the forces of rampant materialism, and a symbolic gold calf shaped to echo the Wall Street bull that was paraded through the financial district as part of a time of prayer and repentance. We are all guilty, and all need to change. And some of us, at last, are beginning to talk more openly about that guilt, and what that change might look like.

Ben, I carefully read and re-read your comment and I am bit disappointed with what you’ve written. You write ‘these young people look like marauders not social justice advocates’. You also make a blanket statement, ‘they’re not committing themselves to peaceful non-violence and their purpose has definitely been found wanting.’

By giving such a fine articulation of and playing-up all the negative aspects (some of which are false and others exaggerations) of the Occupy movement, you have draw the lines in such a way that either one is forced to defend the Occupy movement and end up justifying all the negatives you have highlighted or go along with what you have written and dismiss the whole Occupy movement as lacking any credibility.

Philip,

I admit that my critique is swift and harsh and indeed it is meant to be because I find it frustrating when a would-be movement has so many followers and such great timing but effectually seems to be caught up with a few strong weaknesses. I will also qualify that my post is meant to be a smacking encouragement-that I wish that their demands would cohere more and that they would stop trying to antagonize authority figures (that I’m sure are not molesting them to begin with). I would like to see them take this post and do something with it; like I said, I want to sympathize not only with their claims (as I do already) but with their physical movement too, but that is hard to do, at least, with how their actions are displayed for all to see, i.e. via the media. Now you may say that that is merely the media’s fault for portraying the clashes and the rabble-rousing moments, but nonetheless, the rest of the world watches-deciding whether they would like to jump on board and lobby themselves, but when we see their more aggressive and seemingly directionless moments, this is all we have to go by.
So yes, on the one hand I am offering a striking critique-a critique by the way that actually, if you look a little closer and perhaps toward the end of my post, does not force one to take or leave the “occupy” movement altogether-that is an exaggeration. You tell me Philip: what is their primary and fundamental claim/demand (as dictated by them, as a whole, by the way, not as you see it/interpret it)? You don’t think that they could be made better, stronger, more efficacious? You don’t think like in all matters of life they have room to grow and that if they are to attain the desired result, as so many of us hope they will, that they indeed must do some of these things differently?

Ben, thank you for responding. I live near London and only familiar with the Occupy London part of this global movement. I recently read theologian Luke Bretherton’s article titled ‘What Can Occupy Wall Street Learn From London?’ (Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/luke-bretherton/what-can-occupy-wall-stre_b_1006999.html). I suggest you read it.

Philip,

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Thank you, that was a very helpful article and I think could profoundly instruct the movement as it learns and grows…

A few questions:

Vinoth writes…
“God’s “upside-down kingdom”, which has dawned in Jesus Christ, will one day spell the “scattering of the proud…the bringing down of rulers from their thrones…the lifting up of the humble, the filling of the hungry with good things and the sending away of the rich empty-handed” (Lk.1:51-2).”

Questions:
Is “Occupy Wall Street” and it’s sister movements ushering this Kingdom in? If Occupy Wall Street gets a more “fair” system implemented does it mean that the Kingdom has been ushered in all the more?

Note: I’m not asking if what the Occupy’ers want is a good thing; I’m asking whether they are ushering the Kingdom in as Vinoth has implied.

Also,

per Vinoth again…
“The day of final transformation is when God’s redemptive presence will fill the earth (Is 11:1-9; 65:17-25; Rev.21:1-5). The victory that Christ secures through his death and resurrection is given to those who are willing to become like little children (Matt.18:2), that is, nobodies; these are also the “poor in spirit” (Matt.5:3), those who have relinquished the obsession with control and competitiveness.”

Questions:
Are the Occupy’ers receiving that “victory that Christ secures through his death and resurrection” since they seem to be advocating a doing away with control and competitiveness? Is the Occupy movement, if successful, bringing us closer to that “day of final transformation”? Is the Occupy movement helping to fulfill the verses in Isaiah and Revelation that he states above?

Also,

Vinoth writes…
“If we are to shun any involvement with communists, then we should also be boycotting all goods made in China and Vietnam, and persuading our governments and business leaders to stop all trade with these countries…”

Questions:
Were the people who criticized Vinoth’s praise of Vallejo actually advocating that we shun ANY involvement with communists? (It’s hard to know since there are none of these comments on the blog itself.) If we criticize communist ideology, perhaps because of it’s history of atheistic foundations, are we hypocrites for doing business with communists? Does conducting business with communists necessitate moral compromise compared with joining them in common cause to advocate economic/political change toward a communist form of government?

Capitalism is not “evil” in and of itself … but how this system is used and manipulated in the modern world for short-term gain often is.

@ Brian, I don’t know if the ‘Occupy’ movements really are ushering in God’s Kingdom, but it does seem likely. What they are doing is trying to bring about some of the things that the Bible tells us will be brought about as that Kingdom arrives: the poor being filled and the rich sent hungry away, etc.. I doubt very much that that is what most of the them *think* they are doing, but that doesn’t stop that from being what they *are* doing. The Bible is full of examples of pagans being used to bring about God’s will without them knowing it. The Babylonians sending the people of Israel into exile for their disobedience to Yahweh is one example that comes to mind. I very much doubt that the Babylonians thought that they were capturing the Israelites and carrying them off to Babylon as punishment for them disobeying their God, but it was what God was using them to do all the same.

I just saw this helpful summary of what’s happening with the Occupy movement: http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/05/opinion/rushkoff-occupy-wall-street/index.html

While it’s part protest, it’s much more conversation, as anyone who spends time with any involved will see. We’ve been careening toward the abyss for decades, and as people wake up, they begin to wonder – what part do I have in this? why did I believe unrestrained capitalism would work? who have I been trusting in, and why? what would real change look like?

In a local Occupy gathering I took part in last week, participants voiced their own years of apathy and cynicism and desire to become informed enough to reengage, as I described my sense of sleeping in the hammock in the backyard while my house was being dismantled. We’ve all been asleep, and now need to wake up and see what needs to be done.

Capitalism and its failures is part of that conversation. Is there an alternative? Has anyone heard of Distributive Economics? Is that part of the conversation? http://distributistreview.com/mag/2011/10/the-beginning/

Another interesting voice comes from those involved with CASSE, the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy. http://steadystate.org/ What would a just, sustainable economy look like? A friend in DC attended a lecture by Brian Czech, director of CASSE, and reported with interest that there were representatives from government and banking interests there trying to demonstrate the impossibility of the changes Czech and others are suggesting. Those who depend on the current economy for their power and status say loudly, “It can’t happen.” Those with little to lose say “It has to.”

As Western Christians, we’ve assumed that what we have is ours, that attempts to change that are “communist” or “socialist,” that, as Vinoth says in his post, “capitalism is the handmaiden of democracy,.” It’s painful to think we may have been wrong, but at least that conversation is beginning.

For all of us christians living in the rich west and struggling to live imaginatively, perhaps one practical thing we can do is support co-operatives and mutuals. These initiatives seem to embody values and structures capable of navigating the excesses of both 1980s style capitalism and soviet style communism.

For example in the UK, SUMA are doing a great job of providing ethically sourced and organically grown produce within a co-operative structure (and growing as a business too!).

Brian,

This will fill you in a bit if you haven’t watched earlier… It has a broader sweep than what is being addressed here. Quite needed for a paradigm shift in view things aka one’s worldview:

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