DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Be the Change

Written by: on January 30, 2015

In his book The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Karl Polanyi paints a fascinating picture of the history and inherent pitfalls of our capitalist systems. One area that Polanyi stresses is the concept of a self-regulating market. He is quick to point out that “market economy if left to evolve according to its own law would create great and permanent evils.”[1] When I was a kid, I remember learning about this self-regulating theory of supply and demand. It sounded simple and made perfect sense. The problem with this theory is that capitalism, the free-market, and in, fact any economic system, is governed by people. It is impossible to remove human ambition, greed and corruption from any earthly system. Human ambition is actually a necessity in a capitalist system. Human beings are self-seeking and judge the success of socio-economic systems based on how well they fare in that particular system. It is not surprising that “Economic liberalism misread the history of the Industrial Revolution because it insisted on judging social events from the economic viewpoint.”[2] I would argue that social events are generally judged from an economic viewpoint. In our “free” society, personal economic status frequently determines our acceptance or rejection of social policy. The ballet box is more about who will create the best atmosphere for personal gain than about who will do the right thing (unless of course one’s definition of “the right thing” refers only to decisions that result in personal gain).

We have all seen the results of powerful people making decisions for personal benefit. It is nothing new to see a few individuals get even richer while others are devastated by the selfish decisions of others.

Polanyi continually points out the need for regulating the market. He says, “Socialism is, essentially, the tendency inherent in an industrial civilization to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society.”[3] In America, socialism is usually a bad word. For many people, it represents a socio-economic system in which individual rights are taken away and power is increasingly place in the hands of the state in order to redistribute wealth. The fact is, our American system has incorporated many socialistic policies to help regulate a system that, left on its own, can and does become very destructive. The question that is always at hand is, who is the best person or political body to help regulate the system for others? Any given political body can become just as self-seeking as an individual.

As a nation, we must continue to wrestle with the benefits and detriments of a capitalistic market society and our responsibility to the global community. As a Christian, I believe that we must wrestle with our own personal responsibility regardless of our national policies.

Capitalism has been the source of many evils, as has fascism, socialism, communism, or any other “ism”. Those of us living in capitalist societies driven by the market can also leverage capitalism for the benefit of others. We can make decisions to buy from companies that promote the well being of others. While the Fair Trade movement is not perfect and can sometimes be manipulative, I have personally seen how something as simple as buying fair-trade coffee has benefited individuals and communities. I have also seen how investing in micro-loans for people in developing nations is transforming lives. It really comes down to a personal decision to pay more for a product or invest in a low-return investment, or in other words, personal sacrifice for the sake of others.

We would love to see broken, corrupt, or unfair systems reformed. The problem is, we cannot see systems reformed until we see people reformed. As a Christian community, let’s keep working toward positive social change; As individual Christians, let’s start being that change we want to see.

[1] Karl Polyani, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001), 136.

[2] Ibid., 36-37.

[3] Ibid., 242.

About the Author

mm

Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

9 responses to “Be the Change”

  1. mm Jon Spellman says:

    Brian, “It is impossible to remove human ambition, greed and corruption from any earthly system.” And there you go… in one sentence you pulled the essential message from the pages of Polanyi and laid it on the table in front of us all. THAT’s why some measure of regulation will always be necessary.

    Smooth…

    Now I can move on the some theology!
    J

  2. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    As you name all the “isms” we associate with economic viability, I’m reminded that none of them work. All of them have their own dark side. So it seems we’re left with the question, “which one brings about the least evil?” Being the forever optimist, I don’t want to have to think that way. Is there a third way? Or is this tension, in fact, one of the ways God calls us into dependence on him in whatever culture we inhabit?
    I appreciate your viewpoint (along with Dave’s) because of your cross-cultural experience. I think you have a better detachment to see what is versus how I can typically think it is (but I’m too much of a fish in the water tank so I can’t see the water).

  3. mm Dave Young says:

    Brian
    I love your conclusion, “The problem is, we cannot see systems reformed until we see people reformed. As a Christian community, let’s keep working toward positive social change; As individual Christians, let’s start being that change we want to see.”

    It was really hard for me to get my head wrapped around Polyani but you’ve digested this down to basic human nature. With corrupted human nature our systems are ultimately corrupted. While politically we can attempt to make the system work, regulate it, change it but ultimately the system, or the market, or the economy is never the solution. At it’s best it will only reflect the best of broken humanity.

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, I love the post. Cutting to the “human problem” brings a lot of clarity and changes the conversation from an external system issue to a human responsibility issue. I think you really got a hold of the issues of this text and how we should be processing it and thinking forward!

  5. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Brian…Great post and many great one liners in here…

    “As a Christian, I believe that we must wrestle with our own personal responsibility regardless of our national policies.”

    “It really comes down to a personal decision to pay more for a product or invest in a low-return investment, or in other words, personal sacrifice for the sake of others.”

    “we cannot see systems reformed until we see people reformed.”

    This really becomes a heart issue…I have a long way to go.

  6. Travis Biglow says:

    Blessings Brian,

    I agree with you about the “isms” of the world. And i agree with you about how we as Chrisitians should be careful about how we get with any “isms.” Capitalism above all things needs to be changed. While i understand that Socialism has its by side, i believe Capitialism tops all the “isms” in being corrupt. I listened to Mitt Romney during the elections and he was boasting about his financial success and about how he came up by his bootstraps and that he has a right to be proud. But he was disconnected from reality and how priviledge can be based on Capitalist princples. I believe some people need the government to help them and to help get them on a even level for them to prosper. People are born into poverty and exclusion sometimes because of their race and they need proper footing to just make it. Blessings!

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Amen Travis! A few weeks ago, I delivered food boxes to some of our poorest communities here in Columbus. I’ve always had a heart for the poor and grew up in the area. I thought I knew how the poor in Columbus live. I was wrong… A lot has changed in the last ten years, and I was shocked at the horrid conditions that some people in our own community live in.

      Capitalism doesn’t provide everyone with an opportunity to break out of poverty. For example, our elderly generation is suffering. Many are forced to rely on food pantries because social security doesn’t cover their basic needs. There is huge disparity between the poor and middle class, and we must open our eyes to what is happening. We often live in our nice parts of town, never seeing the need. Out of sight, out of mind. The reality is that our economic system is failing those who can’t help themselves. People need us to come alongside of them, not to just write a one time check. This is our capitalistic mindset….

  7. Dawnel Volzke says:

    Brian,
    Thank you for helping us to think beyond America….this isn’t just an American issue. All people in all economies must wrestle with right and wrong in their daily lives. We can, and should, make our buying decisions based on the best choices available. However, at what point do we need to rebel as Christians? For example, If I know that shopping at Walmart contributes to exploitation of human beings on the other side of the world, then what responsibility do I have personally? I think we often feel helpless, yet I do believe that we each have a voice that needs to be heard.

    • mm Brian Yost says:

      Dawnell,
      You bring up a great point. The problems are so big and interwoven that they seem impossible to address and we feel like we cannot make a difference. We cannot solve all the worlds problems. One thing that helps me deal with the overwhelming needs is to remind myself that I cannot do everything, but I must do something. As I prayerfully consider what I must do, I commit to becoming familiar enough with the specifics so I can do more than just put a band aid on a gaping wound.

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