Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Story of Change: put down the credit card

Another brief, simple (simplistic? Perhaps, but you've got to start somewhere) animation from the people who brought you The Story of Stuff. This six minute video tackles the question of how social change is effected by groups of committed citizens taking action around an idea.

I entirely agree with the cynicism towards ethical consumerism as a change-making force. Sustainable consumerism is an oxymoron. Yes, buy stuff responsibly, and yes for some people it is a door into thinking more seriously about the world, but don't expect that ethical consumerism (a.k.a. light green thinking) will change the world. I have an upcoming post outlining five problems with ethical consumerism. More on that later.


byron smith said...

Grist makes much the same point in the context of food. Simply saying "I'm a vegan/vego" doesn't mean that political fights over factory farms are irrelevant as illustrated in the killer final line: "What’s that? Shell Oil has moved one step closer to drilling in the Arctic? Oh, didn’t I tell you? I don’t drive."

Aaran Johnston said...

What is your view on the concept of usury? I only found out recently that the church prohibited charging interest untill around the time of the reformation. Would changing the rules of the game involve some form of regulation on money lending?

byron smith said...

Great question. I've posted a couple of times tangentially on the topic (see these posts tagged usury) and have a draft post half written trying to address it directly. Part of the reason it remains in the editing room is that I'm not sure what I think (though this hasn't always stopped me posting before!). Some of the links I've been gathering (apart from the ones mentioned in the posts tagged "usury") are the following:

Scott Bader-Saye, "Where's your church's money?"

Mike Wells, Can a Christian be a banker? Usury your imagination. This is a friend of mine who writes fairly unpolished pieces, but they often contain gems waiting to be brought to wider attention.

Luke Bretherton,
On usury.

Hope these gentlemen offer you more than I am able to at the present moment.

Aaran Johnston said...

Thank you for the links, the link to Luke’s “on usury” didn’t work for me though. I’m looking forward to your post when you get your thoughts complete.
I was wondering if stopping the practice of usury would decrease the ‘bad’ types of growth. - Growth at the expense of environmental and social value. My thoughts are not at all well thought through, other than the vague feeling that lending at interest creates an incentive to lend more liberally. This allows a buy now and worry about paying it off later approach to consumerism, which increases the likelihood of purchasing something. Once in debt there is no real choice but to earn money to pay it back. If I have spent more money than I can comfortably earn I need to increase my earning. As debt repayment it is an immediate and relatively short term requirement this increase in productivity is less likely to come from greater efficiency or from establishing mutually beneficial systems, but from doing what I currently do with increased intensity. If I were a farmer I would run more stock on the same land. If I were a developer I would develop more intensively and less sustainably. If I were a shop owner I would increase prices.
In short I have a gut feeling that stopping lending at interest will have a macro effect of reducing inflation and consumption, but increase quality of life and wellbeing. I just don’t have an idea about what the consequences of less access to money would be for the poor.

byron smith said...

That's a good summary of my own intuitions. You've outlined some of the effects of debt at a personal level. I'd extend this to the behaviour of larger groups in debt too (including countries).

Luke Bretherton's link worked for me when I just tried it. Here it is again in long form:

The title is "Neither a borrower nor a lender be? Scripture, usury and the call for responsible lending", so you could also try searching for something like: luke bretherton neither a borrower nor a lender be. It's worth chasing his piece up because he argues for the usefulness of relationships of borrowing and lending, though highlights the importance of boundaries in such relationships to prevent them from becoming exploitative.

Here is a key section from his conclusion:

"To be a lender and borrower are good things. To be a lender and a borrower is to be situated within economic relations of inter-dependence, cooperation and mutual responsibility that reflect the God given pattern of life set out in Scripture. To lend and borrow is to be drawn into real relationships that demand we have to negotiate a common life in which my flourishing is dependent on the flourishing of others. They are real relationships because, in a sinful world, they make explicit issues of power, risk and conflicts of interest that have to be addressed if we are to be real neighbours rather than a crowd of competitive individuals with no real connection or common life. Of course, and herein lies the irony we discovered in the recent economic crisis, the idea that we can be a crowd of competitive individuals is a utopian fantasy that does not connect with the reality of borrowing and lending where relations of interdependence and mutual responsibility are inherent in the action of borrowing and lending. If one part of the body suffers, or if only the interests of the few are attended to, eventually all suffer as the system collapses. Maintaining economic relations so they reflect the reality of inter-dependence and mutual responsibility requires limits to ensure that the vulnerabilities involved in being a lender or a borrower do not become occasions for exploitation, oppression and abuse."