Welcome to the Greed Line, the line below which you use only your fair share of cash and resources, or above which you gobble more than your fair share.
Never heard of it? It’s not surprising; the Greed Line is a work in progress ready to be fully unveiled at the World Council of Churches’ General Assembly in Busan, South Korea next year.
Work is well underway on setting this new global benchmark for greed which a Christchurch audience got a glimpse of during the visit of WCC Asian secretary, Rev Dr Kim Dong-Sung last week. He was here to check out how the Canterbury earthquakes have impacted on faith communities and as a gesture of international support.
Rev Dr Kim was also in Brazil in October to take part in a Global Ecumenical Conference on “New International Financial and Economic Architecture”. When you unpack the title that means a major global dialogue seeking new ways of running the world economy on more people friendly lines.
The Greed Line project is a very significant initiative, said Dr Kim. “We have come to realise that our mission is not just about lifting people out of poverty, it’s about how we live together and to do this we need to be willing to talk about sin and greed,’’ he said.Dr Kim’s view on alternative economic thinking can be fascinating. A scheduled 15 minute Kim Hill interview last Friday turned into a 45 minute pre-record due to air on Saturday, November 17.
One of Dr Kim’s more refreshing habits is a complete willingness to “name the elephant in the room.” He told his Christchurch audience at CWS headquarters last Thursday night that the WCC had been jousting with free market challenges since the 1980s. That had been when society had first been faced with the “free flow privatisation of the public sector”. This tide had many names: Rogernomics here, Thatcherism in the UK, Reaganomics in the United States. Everyone had had their own experience but even before that much theological thought had gone into challenging market theory. “We are not ashamed to call this the sin that it is, the evil that is selling ourselves to Mammon,’’ said Rev Dr Kim.
The fight against neo liberal economic thought had been as divisive in the ecumenical movement as in wider society. “Some churches were not so keen to call the evil, the evil, or the sin, the sin of globalisation of capital and free markets. “We have been constantly fighting an uphill battle.” This battle was no longer just about economic ideology; increasingly it also is about the ecological implications of unfettered growth and their effects on the “justice, peace and integrity of creation”.
From 1998 the WCC formalised these threads in a concerted effort to build a new alternative to globalisation that addressed the needs of both people and the planet. The convergence of the ecological and economic threads proved divisive within the WCC community. The next stages were heatedly debated and the work was downgraded to a project within a project but with some results along the way.
The WCC had initiated and kept running talks on the downsides of globalisation and liberalisation with bodies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. “We have had a series of conversations with both at management level where we have been able to air our concerns about the impact of their policies on people in Africa and South America.” He believed these talks had helped soften the impact of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) which were a way for both the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to “open the door” into national economies for Western multinationals. These institutions had adjusted some of the SAPs which have now been renamed and rebranded them as “austerity measures”. Such policies have become very familiar in Europe as part of the rescue packages for struggling economies. It was ironic that now the austerity programmes deployed in the developing world had been applied in Europe people were starting to take notice.
“For 30 years there have been signs that the unfettered market cannot regulate itself or fulfil the responsibilities of government,’’ he said. There was another ominous factor to consider even as people became more open to new ways of running economies and society. The neo liberal dominance of debate has become so entrenched that people had problems even considering alternatives. “We now have a generation of leaders who know nothing but this way of existence,’’ warned Dr Kim. The WCC is inviting churches and others to think about what an alternative might look like.
By Greg Jackson, Media and PR Co-ordinator13 November, 2012
The statement from the Global Ecumenical on a New International Financial and Economic Architecture held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 29 September – 5 October 2012 is available here. Read other material on the Poverty, Wealth and Ecology programme of the WCC here.