Wendell Berry is an author, poet, farmer, a cultural and economic critic and a Christian. He has published a new book of essays entitled What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth. In this, as in his other collections of essays, his theme is that our current economic model of unlimited growth in a limited Creation is suicidal. Our society has become one where greed is a virtue. He writes:
…a dogged belief that what we call “the American way of life” will prove somehow indestructible. We will keep on consuming, spending, wasting and driving, as before, at any cost…this belief was always indefensible-the real names of global warming are “waste” and “greed”-and by now it is manifestly foolish.
I am not a very good American. My wants are simple and do not drive the economy. There is only one TV in my house, I don’t care about the differences between iphones and droids. I don’t care what I drive as long as it starts and has a stereo. Berry writes:
…we have become a nation of fantasists. With a kind of abject credulity, we have come to believe in the power of money alone to bring forth goods, to believe that money itself is a good, to believe that consumption is as vital an economic activity as production. We think that shopping is a patriotic act and public service. We tolerate fabulous capitalists who think a bet on a debt is an asset.
Berry believes that God’s economy is the Great Economy. Love your neighbor, care for Creation, seek justice. Wendell cites Matthew 6:34 as a key text. Seek first the kingdom of God, giving the Great Economy priority over any little economy. And he also writes that this is not exclusively a Christian thought. He cites E.F Schumacher’s essay “Buddhist Economics” in the book Small is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered. Schumacher writes that Buddhist Economics posits that people and work are more important than production and consumption. The “Right Livelihood” of Buddhism’s Eightfold Path finds
…the function of work to be at least threefold: to give man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining others in a common task; and to bring forth goods and services needed for a becoming existence.
Both Berry and Schumacher argue for a simple economy. Schumacher says “simplicity and non-violence are closely related”. God’s economy promotes peaceful living.
Berry, also an educator, say that colleges are now just training grounds to produce workers to plug into the corporate machine. The cube dweller is as much an assembly line worker as the blue collar worker in the factory. I have seen this where I work. As Matthew Crawford writes in Shop Class as Soulcraft
The college student interviews for a job as a knowledge worker and finds that the corporate recruiter never asks him about his grades and doesn’t care what he majored in. He senses that what is demanded of him is not knowledge but rather that he project a certain kind of personality, an affable complaisance. Is all his hard work in school somehow just for show-his ticket to a Potemkin meritocracy?
So the point of all of this? There are voices out there that say there is a better way, less is more, small is beautiful. Our current path is not sustainable. Can work be meaningful? Read Wendell Berry. He says it better than me.
I gotta go…