Globalization -- in books
An up-close look at "Justice in a
Justice in a Global Economy:
Strategies for Home, Community, and World.
Pamela K. Brubaker, Rebecca Todd Peters, Laura A. Stivers, editors.
Westminster John Knox Press. 165 pp. $19.95 paperback.
By Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues
Designed for discussion and action
in congregations or other local groups, this book takes its subtitle
seriously. There are sections on "Household Strategies," "Community
Strategies," and "Public Policy Strategies." To make it more usable, each
chapter ends with discussion questions and a list of resources, not only
books and articles but organizations and web sites.
One reason for
developing this book was the editors' sense that many people feel hopeless
about the massive scale of the problems facing us. After reading a book like
this, it would be difficult to plead either ignorance — about problems or
about ways to address them — or hopelessness.
The editors acknowledge
a plurality of models for a just and healthy society. But they think there
are common elements, such as "narrow inequality," sustainability, healthy
relationships among communities, and public goods like education and health
care for all. Details are explored in most of the chapters.
"Household strategies" start with
community-supported agriculture (CSA) as an alternative to the growing power
of corporate plantations. Consumers may find it convenient to go to the
supermarket, but U.S. food travels an average of 1300 miles (another
estimate says 2000 miles) before it lands on our tables. CSA requires more
"eating with the seasons"; but that's normal for the human race. A related
chapter addresses eating more generally and lists additional strategies and
talking about food, we should take note of a new issue of The
Nation, dated September 11, 2006, devoted entirely to food (if the
magazine stand is sold out, you can find it by Googling "the nation
september 11 2006 the food issue"). Alice Waters, founder of Chez
Panisse, helped edit the issue. There are short pieces by many
authors, including Wendell Berry and Jim Hightower. And there are
details on violations of federal law at the Smithfield ham factory
that was the focus of a dispute at the recent General Assembly.
Special notice might be taken
of two articles on organic farming, reminding us that there are not
only responsible but irresponsible organic producers. Organic farming
can involve even more backbreaking labor for low-paid workers, and
some corporations are notorious for refusing to bargain with the
United Farm Workers. There is also a reminder that Wal-Mart's promise
to sell organics at "only 10 percent" above prices for conventional
foods is a mixed blessing. The mega-corporation will be putting
downward pressure on its suppliers, some of whom already have a bad
reputation for their procedures and their labor relations. The result
may be that consumers decide to pay more attention to locally grown
The chapter on household labor is a
shock to widespread complacency, especially in the professional classes.
Housekeepers and child-care providers are mostly women of color, and in this
era of "the globalization of mothering" they are often immigrants, too often
illegal and exploited at that. The household is one place to begin crossing
human boundaries and subverting an economic system that relies on injustice
to maintain its power structure.
More generally, there
is a chapter analyzing a new socially sanctioned disease, "Affluenza."
Houses have become landfills, repositories of unwanted goods, and the
self-storage industry has boomed in recent decades. It's a far cry from the
manna in the wilderness, when people gathered only what they needed.
Churches and households, then, are called to model "the norm of
sufficiency," not "the frenzy of affluenza."
What about "community strategies"?
In these decades of footloose factories moving to Mexico, then to China,
communities need to find ways to hold corporations accountable with job
quality standards, full disclosure, and "clawback" provisions. Several
examples of constructive negotiation by the city of Los Angeles are cited,
illustrating the continued relevance of rootedness to particular places.
is another community concern, for we all know about polluting factories, "brownfields"
left by vanished factories, and landfills, often affecting minority
neighborhoods more than others. The chapter on this topic explores a success
story in which an organization called ReGenesis negotiated a partnership
with the city and county Spartanburg, SC, tapping EPA funds and expertise in
communities is not one of the usual job descriptions of the congregation,
but it often is able to play a decisive role in community economic
development. Projects undertaken by a Hispanic congregation in Santa Ana and
a Baptist congregation in Atlanta get particular attention here. And the
point is driven home that nonprofits are a major and growing segment of the
Larry Rasmussen has a
comprehensive think-piece on an obvious but ignored fact about the human
race: "we are not human apart from our home here and have never been human
anywhere else" (103). A nonrelation view of human life and an instrumental
attitude toward nature is grossly unrealistic. All people, and all things,
"were born to belonging" long ago, and creation is "a commons" from which
escape is impossible. Several Christian movements around the world are cited
as examples of commitment to nurturing that commons.
When it comes to "public policy
strategies," migrants appropriately head the list (the book may have been in
press before the issue of migrants heated up this spring and summer). Daisy
Machado concentrates on the region called the "Borderlands" — northern
Mexico and the southwest United States, a region where "the Third World
grates against the first and bleeds" (117). This is an area with increasing
population, and increasing hardships, the result of NAFTA and corporate
And that brings us to
the global economic policies of the U.S., pushed by Democratic as well as
Republican administrations under pressure from transnational corporations.
Pamela Brubaker recounts some of the conversations to which she was party
during encounters between the World Council of Churches and the IMF and the
World Bank. These confirmed the cynical position of George Kennan in 1948
that the U.S. already had such a large portion of the world's wealth that it
could not afford altruism and redistribution. The U.S. continues to
subsidize export crops (chiefly corn, wheat, soybeans, and cotton) in ways
that harm farmers in Mexico and Africa — and small farmers here in the U.S.
An alternative, a proposal for an "economy of life," has been put forward in
the AGAPE document prepared for the World Council meeting in 2006.
Finally, we are
reminded that most North Americans think of themselves as "normal" or
"typical," do not think of themselves as structurally related to the world's
poor, and tend to assume that what they have had for so long belongs to
them. And yet economic vulnerability is moving up the class ladder, even in
the U.S. We might start thinking of ourselves, then, as "the white affluent
world minority" (156), and instead of talking generically about "the poor"
begin attending to specific groups of economically vulnerable people at all
levels of the economic hierarchy (157). Does that sound like enough of a
"reframing" task to keep us busy for a while?
If you have comments on this
review -- or even better on the book itself --
please send a note, to be shared here.
|Globalization – it’s
more than economics
A review of In Search of the Good
Life: The Ethics of Globalization, by Rebecca Todd Peters
Continuum: New York, 2004. $24.95 Coming soon in
paperback, at $16.95.
NOTE: If you will be at GA in Birmingham --
Dr. Peters will be signing copies of her book in the Cokesbury
bookstore, on Sunday, June 18, from 1 to 2:30 pm.
by Doug King, Witherspoon WebWeaver and editor
Books about globalization seem to be flooding the stores like those
inexpensive shirts pouring into our discount stores from ... well, wherever
they’re pouring in from these days. So the arrival of another one raises the
question: What does this book offer that’s different from all the others?
The answer is clear and engaging: The
author, who is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Distinguished Emerging Scholar at Elon University, NC, looks at
this phenomenon very explicitly as a moral matter. The various
understandings of globalization, she says, reflect "differing moral visions"
about human action as "moral agency," about the purpose of our lives, and
about what constitutes "human flourishing."
She examines four very different views of the world, as
they shape four ways of dealing with our global economic system. The first
one we know all too well; she labels it neoliberalism, or "the New
World Order" that dominates U.S. policy today. The ethic of this view is
built on an individualistic view of human action, values wealth as the goal
of life, and sees human flourishing as a matter of individual freedom. The
problems created by this set of values hardly need mention. They include the
isolation of individuals, the loss of community, destruction of the
environment, and the unfettered, irresponsible power of wealth as an end in
The second view offered some balance to that view, in the
form of a social development model that held sway among many during
the decades after World War II. This view is still rooted in market theory,
but it sees human action in terms of responsibility in relation to others,
rather than pure individualism; the purpose of our lives is to achieve some
kind of progress; human flourishing will come through the achievement of
some degree of equity, or economic justice. But an ethic of responsibility
is basically paternalistic, calling those who hold power to use it well,
rather than to share it. And just as serious, this view accepts the basic
market society assumptions of the neoliberal approach to the world, so it
really cannot move us toward greater democracy or justice.
The other two views of globalization are not as easy to
define, but they are united in their critical stances toward what is going
on in the world today. The "earthist" view values above all the
sustainability of the whole creation, which is so seriously threatened by
both the neoliberal and the development models. In this view, moral agency
is not a matter of individualism or responsibility of the self toward
others, but rather of mutuality. The purpose or goal of life is not liberty
or equality, but right relationships that promote one another’s well-being.
And the good life involves above all sustainability, both for humans and for
the rest of creation. Peters is obviously sympathetic to this view, but she
sees weaknesses in it, too. Primarily, she questions whether the earthist
insistence on small-scale and regional economies can offer any real
resistance to the power of global corporations and the governments that
The final view is perhaps the most radically critical, for
it takes shape as people’s movements of resistance to the structures
and patterns of globalization as neocolonialism, the imposition of dominance
by one party over others. (As examples, Peters examines the Zapatista
movement in Mexico and the Philippine Agenda 21 movement in the
Philippines.) This neocolonial domination is happening (as in much of old
colonialism, too) not so much through government power as through the
immense power of corporations, by which they control governments and
undermine cultures. These people’s movements value community, not
individualism; they foster respect for culture, and seek autonomy not for
individuals but for communities. This set of values is perhaps the closest
to those Peters finds in the biblical understanding of human life and the
world we live in.
As an interested bystander to the field of economics, I
sometimes feel as I felt on my one venture into watching the sport of
cricket. It looked – well, different. But I didn’t understand the language,
let alone the rules of the game. This book helps me understand some of the
language, and the rules (or lack of them) by which the game is being played.
And I begin to gain some sense of the differences among the four teams –
their different styles, goals, and effects on our world.
The book is not easy reading, because the author deals
seriously with the complexities of the world today. But for anyone who wants
to get a little understanding of the forces that are reshaping our world at
such great cost to many people, this is a good place to start. For a church
study group – if it’s fairly serious – there’s material here for long
conversations that will help people see the global economy as an arena of
values in conflict, and as a matter in which the Christian faith may offer
some real guidance for action.
Peters acknowledges the problem that kept bubbling to the
surface as I read her book: How can any resistance to the neocolonial power
of globalization, or its destruction of the environment, have a shred of
hope against the wealth and power of the market society? She is suggesting,
I think, some real possibilities: First, we can gain some power by simply
recognizing what’s happening, and remembering that economic values and
institutions are human creations, and not inevitable mechanisms. Then we can
pay closer attention to the moral and ethical underpinning of globalization,
and understand the conflicting value systems that shape them – and the
destruction being wrought by the values of individualism and materialism and
This book, in short, is calling us to a kind of cultural
revolution, in which we affirm interdependence and community and simplicity
as the only way to regain some hope of "human flourishing."
I’m struck with how close this sounds to the arguments
being advanced by the Rev. Jim Wallis (in God’s Politics) and Rabbi
Michael Lerner (most recently in The Left Hand of God). They both
make a convincing case that liberals have surrendered their concern for
values to the Religious Right, and that it’s time to recover and reclaim the
moral underpinnings that support a progressive politic.
Dr. Peters offers us some very helpful steps in that
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!