Friday, November 01, 2013

Economic Justice and... family reunions?

What is economics? For some, it’s the theoretical monster in the closet--that unknown and unknowable thing lurking in the shadows, waiting to jump out and grab us with its apparently incomprehensible mess of numbers, trade relationships, and impersonal structures. But economics does not have to be seen like this. If we look at its etymology, we see that it is rooted in the idea of the household (Greek oikos). Economics is meant to describe the study of how we should best manage our resources, share our labour, shape our relations, and care for the land we live from. At its best, and normatively speaking, economics should be about how together we can best order our work and our lives to ensure the continued flourishing of creation.

This way of looking at economics is different to what one might run across while reading the Wall Street Journal, or having conversations on Bay street in downtown Toronto (though I’m sure there are people on those streets who do have those concerns); yet it is not a new understanding, and that explains the increased interest in questions of economic justice for those working for justice today. If economic considerations are some of the most influential shapers of our current world, then it stands to reason that if we are looking for ways to address injustices in that world, we have to look at least in part at our economic structures.

That is why the ICS’s Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethics is partnering with King’s University College in Edmonton to hold a conference on economic justice. Entitled Are We There Yet? Economic Justice and the Common Good, the conference will take place May 12-13, 2014, and we hope it will afford participants the chance to comprehensively explore many complex and interrelated questions of economic justice. Because this is an area that touches us all, best if we all tackle it together!

A link to the conference’s call for participation and website can be found here. We encourage you all to read the Call and think about submitting a proposal! But we don’t have to wait until Spring in order to start the conversation right here on this blog. In particular, dear reader, we would like you to answer two questions. The first has to do with the conference’s (somewhat ironic) title: “Are we there yet?” Meant to conjure up images of kids in the backseat on family trips asking impatiently how much longer this is going to take, our title tries to imply at the same time that even though the trip is long and we’re not there yet, we’re in this together, and the journey is worth the work of getting there. Economic justice is a journey, a process, and its one we have to take as a human (and indeed creaturely) family. What does this title make you think of?

Which leads to the second set of questions. The image of kids asking are we there yet conjures up more images of things like family reunions, and that gets at the subtitle of the conference: economic justice and the common good. Most of us have, at one point or another in our life, been at “that” family reunion--the one where you may really love some of the people there, but some of the rest of them either drive you crazy, or represent real problems that can’t just be explained away or ethically ignored. You are still part of that family, but how can you interact with each other well when there are members that get under your skin like nothing else, and when, perhaps, you suspect that there are serious problems--abuse, or alcoholism, or unacknowledged and untreated health issues that people don’t want to face? There’s a desire, from at least some members, to pull together as a family, but how does one do so in a way that is just and supports those who need it? How do you work together to shape good living and relating that is common to all?

The family that constitutes humanity and creation stands in just such a position, I would say. Within the family that makes up our world, while there are good relations and people working together as healthy parts of the ecological web, there is also abuse both of an individual and a structural sort. The global ‘household’ is not “run” in such a way that allows for the flourishing of all that comprises creation. We engage in ecological practices that damage creation (including ourselves). We continue patterns of behaviour or trade that we now know are exploitative. We are sometimes complacent, thinking that our systems and our theories are too set in stone, too big to change (or to fail) and so we don’t push ourselves to think and act creatively to address the problems we know are there. They have become so much a part of our economic “landscape” that we are nearly blind to them. We need to develop economic theories and practices that encourage an acknowledgement of our responsibility to work in ways that allow for whole-world flourishing, and we hope that this conference is one way of coming together do just that. It is our hope too that you will join in our discussions as we pursue this goal!
Allyson Carr is the Associate Director of the Centre for Philosophy Religion and Social Ethics at the Institute for Christian Studies.

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