In the past three months, I have traveled to Haiti, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Uganda. In each of these countries, the culture, the economy, the land, the people, the goods… they are all distinctly different. Yet in two weeks, as I venture to Russia, I cannot help to think it will be the most socially and economically diverse stop yet.
I admit that I tend to view the world through the “Haiti lens,” as I have spent a significant amount of time in Haiti’s communities and villages and even call the people my family. Likewise, as I now enter other countries, I tend to compare everything to Haiti. (Not a good habit, I know.) As I stepped off the plane in Uganda, I expected to see Haiti. As I said in last week’s blog, I expected hands to be out. I expected to be asked for money over and over. However, that was not the case. Immediately, I noticed the difference in mentality. While the “give me, give me” attitude prevails in Haiti, the Ugandans I encountered, in three distinctly different geographic areas, uniformly displayed an attitude of joy for what they had. As a result they appeared to be better stewards of what they had been given, as opposed to expecting continuously to be given more.
This was on my mind as I read The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time by Karl Polanyi. It was a tough, stodgy read, and I could not have made it through the book without the Forward and Introduction, by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Fred Block respectively. The discussion and many pages on regulation and self-regulation caught my attention, and though I may not understand the full meaning of Polanyi’s position, my mind came full circle to the situations in Haiti and Uganda.
This quote was very poignant to me:
“Regulations may take away someone’s freedom, but in doing so they may enhance another’s. The freedom to move capital in and out of a country at will is a freedom that some exercise, at enormous cost to others.”
While Polanyi may be correct in the abstract, it seems to me that the point of thoughtful government regulation is to provide balance among the rights of all citizens. For example, regulating the quality of food that is imported into one’s country certainly limits the profit that the importer would otherwise earn by pushing lower quality and perhaps unhealthy food onto the country’s population. This detriment to the importer is balanced against the positive effect on the country’s health and economy by causing food quality to be high.
Would not individual countries handle regulation very differently? In Haiti, because of the mentality they hold, they may need stricter regulation, while regulation in Uganda may look and feel differently. Likewise, the local regulators in Haiti are notoriously dishonest. Therefore, the “regulations” that they impose upon the country’s population are not as likely to be fair, balanced and in the best overall interest of the country. What may work for one country or one group of people may not work for everyone across the board. Should not regulation be viewed on a case by case basis instead of an overall one size fits all?
To my knowledge, commerce is not included among our basic human rights. However, commerce is the means by which most people are able to acquire food, closing, shelter and thereby achieve those basic rights. Is regulating giving or taking away life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? If it is both, who is privy to that decision making process? Who gets to make that decision? It seems to me that we are a fallen humanity. We are full of sin and susceptible to greed and evil, and ultimately, no matter who the leader is, we ultimately may fail due to our own shortcomings. We pride ourselves on being able to choose solid, experienced leaders to regulate our regulators, and then because of failure we find regulators to regulate our regulators to regulate our regulators. Conversely, if chosen wisely, our leaders can implement fair and reasonable laws and regulations that provide order and dignity to all of us.
This propelled me into the world of ministry, as we try to regulate our congregations with a “one-size-fits-all” mentality. We have a natural tendency to want a template of the way we should treat people and minister to the masses. In reality, as many of us have harped on in our blogs and papers, it all comes back to relationship – the leaders must know the people before you know what they need. You cannot just say, “This is what everyone needs.” Likewise, we must choose leaders with integrity and good character. Such leaders not only lead in a positive way, but they inspire others to govern similarly.
“Polanyi argues that creating a fully self-regulating market economy requires that human beings and the natural environment be turned into pure commodities, which assures the destruction of both society and natural environment.”
Without laws and regulations, a society is left in chaos. Our goals as leaders in any society should include finding a path toward rational and reasonable regulation for the benefit of society as a whole. That path will likely be different in each country or society. Likewise, in ministry, we should guide our congregations in a way that fits the particular culture and mentality of the particular group to whom we minister.
Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001. Kindle Edition.
 Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001), Loc. 276, Kindle Edition.
 Ibid., Loc. 399.