Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Training Our Economic Imagination

While walking the other morning I began thinking about other ways in which we need to train our imaginations. When I wrote on this topic last week, I focused primarily on how we might encounter, understand and express grace, hope, transformation and other core Christian concepts outside of traditional prayer and reading the Bible. On that morning my thoughts went beyond this to consider how we need creative, Christian imaginations that can conceive of new ways of structuring our economic system that promote equality, compassion, sustainability and reduce greed, competition, self-promotion and needless consumerism. I believe there are already some minds out there working on such questions, but I am unaware of them and, more significantly, their voices are not being raised, promoted or heard in our current political climate nor in our churches.

As I read and watch the news these days, and even at times as I listen to sermons at church, it seems that the current economic situation dominates the conversation. Understandably so, but I am troubled because so often the underlying question seems to be how we can get our economy moving again and which candidate's plans will best stimulate renewed growth, not whether renewed growth and a return to business as before really answer our crisis. What if our whole economic philosophy is flawed? What if the reason we are at the place we are now results from the idea that more is better, that in order to keep our economy healthy we need to convince people to buy more and make it possible for them to do so? This approach has led us to massive personal and national debt, to the degradation of our environment and with it our well-being, and to a fundamentally unsustainable approach to living. In the midst of our current economic recession I hear voices speaking mostly about how to get Americans back to work by creating jobs, not about how we can create a sustainable economy that doesn't depend on an ever-expanding consumer market to create demand and with it jobs.

I wish I had the creative mind I'm calling for. I wish I had a better grasp of economic theories and the ability to think outside of or beyond those theories to envision new ways in which we could create a sustainable, just economy that would provide adequate, meaningful, sustainable work in a healthy, respectful environment that didn't depend on manufacturing more goods at an ever-lower price. I'm probably dreaming. Maybe I've been drinking too much of the Kool-Aid to even think that such a world would be possible. Maybe it isn't possible. But I'd sure like to see some creative imagination brought to bear in this area of our lives, rather than continuing on the same old path that got us where we are in the first place. Surely in our business schools, corporations, even in our houses of worship and quite possibly in our homeless shelters there are women and men who can raise up new ideas, and maybe, just maybe, there are some politicians and other leaders willing to embrace and champion those ideas and lead us in a new direction.

If you are aware of anyone writing and promoting new ideas in these areas, I'd love to hear about them. Maybe I'll even be able to understand what they are saying. I don't think our nation is doomed to failure, but I'm not convinced that future success lies in getting back on the road we were on previously. Surely there's another way.

I still have hope. 


  1. Andy,

    I would recommend a couple of resources. First, just for fun, you can check out some of my blog entries on this topic, sponsored through SPU's Center for Integrity in Business:


    Also, my boss, Jeff Van Duzer, has written a book called "Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to be Fixed.)" I haven't actually read it cover to cover, but I know much of the content and think you might find it worthwhile.

    Finally, I read a review recently of a book called "What Comes After Money?" Again, I haven't read it, but my understanding is that it is a selection of essays imagining the economy that will come after the current system finally plays itself out.


    P.S. Oh, and check out "Debt: The First 5000 Years," which I recently reviewed on GoodReads. It may not have the creative answers to what's next, but it creatively looks at what has gone before in a new light.

    1. You keep adding to my reading list, Mark. I am thankful for that, though it may take me some time to get around to all these. It seems for every book I finish on my list, I add 3-5 more.

      I thought you might be a source of some leads to good thinking in this area. It's not my primary area of interest, but I'm glad there are gifted and creative women and men out there thinking, writing and acting in this area.