What is the economy

I keep hearing arguments about reopening the economy.  What I hear leaves me scratching my head wondering so much.  I hear the typical American thought process – that there are only two options.  We either have to shut the economy down until the virus is no longer a threat to people’s health, or we have to open up the economy regardless of the cost to human life.  That’s the basic arguments I hear.

But I think that this, like so many arguments in this country, is off base.  Our dualistic thinking – that there are only two diametrically opposed options – is limiting us.  We are so committed to in the box thinking, to a true/false narrative, to A or B thinking, that we are missing so much.  It’s like we are wearing blinders and don’t even know we are wearing blinders and if we did know, we’d fight to make sure the blinders stay on.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Not everything (or really not most things) are a simple two option situation.  Only seeing two options is a detriment to ourselves.  It’s not imaginative at all.  It is extremely restrictive.  What this way of thinking does is makes us feel like we are in control – we have the answer because there is only one right answer and one wrong answer, and whatever we believe must be right.

Can we just stop with this?  Can we stop looking at the world from a right/wrong perspective?  Can we stop looking at the world from an “I’m right and you are wrong” perspective?  Because that way of thinking is killing us.

Instead, I hope we can wonder.  I hope we can flex our imagination a bit.  I hope we can see that life if far more complex than either/or.

Take the idea of economy.  The word has origins back to the 1530’s.  It is a European word – with the root coming from Latin, German, French, Spanish, and Greek.  The term economy, in its roots, is defined as “household management.”

Economy, therefore, at its base, implies that it exists to serve the people because people make up households.  Economy is something that adapts and adjusts in order to serve the purpose of managing the household.  Economy is therefore a tool to be used.  And like any tool, when it is used for its purpose, it is useful.  When it is used for something that it was not designed for – well, that’s when we run into potential problems.  Ever try using a screwdriver as a hammer?  Doesn’t work all that great does it?

I think part of our problem here in the US is that at some point we separated economy from its purpose.  We decided that the economy was something distinct and different and separated from humanity – that it had its own existence apart from humanity.  When we separated the tool from its purpose, we began to weigh the economy against human life, rather than understanding that the economy is intimately linked to advancing human life, as a servant of that life – a servant of households and families.

When we talk about “the economy” we see it as a thing that exists on its own – apart from human life.  As if it has value on its own.  But that’s not true.  If there are no humans, then were is no economy and there is no purpose in having an economy either.  Humans exist regardless of whether there is an economy.  Humans existed before the term economy did – for thousands of years in fact.  So economy is something humans created to benefit themselves.  To make life better.  To advance life.

We have an opportunity to expand our imagination – all crisis gives us that opportunity.  We have the opportunity to reimagine economy.  To examine it.  To determine what is life giving and what is not.  To determine what supports humanity and what enslaves it.  To make economy a tool of humanity, rather than something that exists outside of humanity.  To see that humans are interconnected with one another.  And that economy helps us manage that interconnectedness for the benefit of humanity.

Otherwise, believing that economy is distinct from humanity is making the economy into something that is out of sync with its foundation and creation.  It turns economy from a tool to be used for the benefit of humans to a misused tool that thinks it is the human and that humans are the tool to be used.  It changes economy from being a creation to become an idol to be worshipped – deity that we must listen to and sacrifice to.  An authority above humans.

Economy is linked to humanity.  I wonder what a humanized economy would look like.

2 Replies to “What is the economy”

  1. Thank you Matt. I was about to re-read the 1999 ELCA Social Statement on “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All” when I noticed that you’d posted your blog address. I really appreciate what you’ve written; now I’ll post your blog on my FB, and after taking a much needed shower, will re-read the Social Statement. I hope all is going well for you at St. Stephen’s and well with your family. Peace, Dave

    1. Thanks Dave. Thanks for sparking the conversation and thought on the subject. I think it’s an important topic and have a big impact on people’s lives. I had forgotten about the social statement. I’ll have to take a look at it also. Blessings.

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