Proposing Reform to an Unidentified Economic System (Rewritten)
Walter Brueggemann, a professor emeritus at Columbia Theological seminary wrote From Anxiety and Greed to Milk and Honeyin February 2009 as a response to 2008 crisis. To him, the debate between “socialism” and “capitalism” is futile from a biblical perspective. He believes that something is wrong with the existing economic system. He actually describes it as “greedy system of economics” and that the crisis serves as a call to transfer from the present economic system into an alternative one. He describes the present system as a product of human autonomy resulting to anxiety and characterized by “acquisitive greed.” He then portrays his proposed economic system as covenantal distinguished for its qualities of abundance and generosity. Such is the “simple sketch” provided by professor Brueggemann. He acknowledged that “the reality on the ground is of course more complex and more difficult…but no less urgent.”
As a whole, I consider the professor’s biblical categorization of both the crisis and the solution commendable. The challenge is how to present these biblical categorizations in contemporary economic terms and convert them into concrete action. I wonder how mainstream professional economists would respond to his biblical proposal.
I have two questions in mind. My first question is related to the distinction between “autonomous economics” and “covenantal economics”. The professor states that “autonomous economics begins with a premise of scarcity.” Even Gary North, a professional Austrian economist and van Tilian theologian affirms this (Introduction to Christian Economics, 1973, p. vii). Scarcity as an economic reality results from man’s fall under the power of sin. My question is about the abundant premise of covenantal economics. To what extent this abundant premise would affect real world economics?
My second question is connected to the statement of the professor that “It is futile, from a biblical perspective, to engage in disputes about modern theoretical labels such as ‘socialism’ or ‘capitalism’.” With this assertion, the covenantal economics therefore of professor Brueggemann cannot be identified with either of the two dominant theoretical labels. However, he claims in his article that the existing economic system, which he describes as “autonomous economics” is a “greedy system” and “self-destructive”. Since in real world economics, generally, socialism and capitalism are the two dominant systems, to what economic system does the professor refer to as autonomous, greedy, and self-destructive? Is he referring to both as autonomous? If he is, then his covenantal economics is actually a proposal to reform both socialism and capitalism. This one is vague to me. Such vagueness would make alternative economic educational campaign without direction and economic reform beating the air. How can you introduce change to an unidentified autonomous, greedy, and self-destructive economic system?