Professor Walter Brueggemann on 2008 Crisis

Originally, I intended this blog as a study focusing on Austrian school of economics. I planned to achieve my original goal by digging into primary books written by leading Austrian thinkers and checking on current news and articles to determine the existing progress of this thought. However, as I pursue the study, my mind changed to include Christian economics. The present article is part of this change.

As a result of 2008 global economic crisis, an initiative has been taken to consolidate the voice of the Church to know how we should respond to the crisis. I still have no idea about the scope of official representations coming from diverse Christian traditions. I just decided to start my journey in listening to “authorities” without knowing where I would end. And allow me to begin with the article written by a respected Old Testament scholar and theologian.

Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggemann, a professor emeritus at Columbia Theological seminary wrote From Anxiety and Greed to Milk and Honey in 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.” By this statement, I understand that there is a need of presenting biblical ideas in contemporary economic terms. I just wonder how both Keynesian and Austrian economists would respond to his biblical proposal. As a whole, I consider his biblical categorization of both the crisis and the solution commendable.

My questions lie with the professor’s ideas about “scarcity premise” and futility of labeling. He states that “autonomous economics begins with a premise of scarcity.” He also states that “It is futile, from a biblical perspective, to engage in disputes about modern theoretical labels such as ‘socialism’ or ‘capitalism.’ ”

Concerning my first question, I know that the professor is aware that scarcity is an economic reality resulting from man’s fall under the power of sin. I just wonder to what extent his abundant premise coming from covenantal framework would affect real world economics.

Regarding my second question, insisting on the debate between “socialism” and “capitalism” appears to be contrary to shalom as the goal of education. However, my personal concern is that inability to precisely identify ideological force behind the existing economic system could dilute any effort for reform. Labeling appears as divisive and to me that is unavoidable. We could not escape “labeling.” It just depends on how we take it. The professor’s description of existing economic system as a “greedy system” may appear less divisive, but it is still labeling nonetheless. Vagueness in this matter does not help. The public must learn to concretely identify specific economic ideology serving as the source of the crisis. Only then, can the public move in concerted effort for economic reform.

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