Today, with the world economy in the grips of the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression, world leaders are again beginning to talk about plans for the next recovery. Many have come to embrace the necessity for another major gathering, coined by some as “Bretton Woods II.”
“There needs to be a moral, justice-seeking dimension to this work and above all an acute sense of its likely impact on the poor,” retired San Francisco Theological Seminary dean Lewis Mudge told his fellow members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) at their Jan. 22-24 meeting in Berkeley, Calif.
The committee agreed, authorizing further exploratory steps in what Mudge called “Toward a Global Oikonomics Project.”
Oikonomics is a combination of the Greek word “oikos” (household), which is traditionally used by Christian theologians to denote God’s community, and economics. “It’s really a ‘hinge discipline,’” Mudge said, “that can help us all sort out the post-economic meltdown world economic order from a moral and ethical standpoint as well as from economic and political ones.”
ACSWP member Bill Saint from Washington, D.C., agreed. “This proposal is timely because Bretton Woods focused entirely on economic institutions and policies,” he said. “Since 1990 those institutions have recognized the need to add on political considerations. Now might be the right time to add the moral and ethical considerations.”
Mudge, who freely admitted he’s not an economist, said the first step in the process “is to map out the playing field to see how we might get a hearing on our ideas.” The key, the committee agreed, is to identify Presbyterians and ecumenical partners who can form a network of Christian thinkers who have access to the tables where the conversations are happening and ultimately, where the decisions will be made on the global economic recovery.
He’s already aware of interest in an “oikonomics” project in the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, said Mudge, both of which have addressed globalization and global economic justice in their recent assemblies.
Saint pointed out that “poverty alleviation is not the same as social justice. Oikonomics addresses the restructuring of power rather than the redistribution of wealth.” Thus, Mudge said, such a project must include, in the words of The Brief Statement of Faith, “the voices of those long silenced.”
The idea, Mudge told the committee, “would be to encourage the emergence of dialogues — in communication with one another — tracking and paralleling or shadowing the discussions of governments and economists across the globe. … This is something that Christian ecumenical and ecumenical-minded organizations would be uniquely qualified to do.”
In constructing new global economic institutions, Mudge concluded, “it would be dereliction of our covenantal human duty to seek the well-being of all earth’s families not to think seriously now about what could be involved in doing so.”
The “oikonomics project” will be on ACSWP’s agenda when it meets again May 14-17 in Washington, D.C.