This next section of the document focuses on transforming economic structures and processes:

Through work, human beings develop their capacities to think, to create, to provide and care for others and to contribute to the advancement of civilization. But work cannot yield productive results for families, communities, and societies when half of the world’s population controls only 1% of its wealth, and 10% of the population controls 85% of the wealth.[i] We live in a world in which work does not yield viable subsistence for the majority and does not contribute to happiness for many others. Productive and meaningful work is not reliably available to large segments of humanity. This social reality demonstrates a fundamental crisis in the current economic system and in the assumptions and principles that underlie it. New economic thinking and new economic relationships are needed in order to overcome the current highly unstable combination of stagnation in some regions and hyperactivity in others. The way we define and arrange our economy expresses what we value and is intimately related to advancing the equality of women and men. With this in mind, we can ask ourselves what kind of economic productivity emerges from competition and conflict, and what comes from cooperation and reciprocity? Are there other sources of human motivation and economic vitality other than self-interest and competition that an economy can tap into?

Economic activity and the strengthening of the economy—a process that may include, but is not synonymous with, economic growth—have a crucial role to play in achieving the material and spiritual prosperity of a region and its people. Humanity’s growing appreciation of the economic interdependence among different regions of the world and the possibilities for global integration are also of great value. However, the narrowly materialistic worldview underpinning much of modern economics has contributed to the degradation of human conduct, the corruption and dissolution of important institutions, and the exploitation and marginalization of large segments of the population—women and girls key amongst them.  Moreover, when we consider the spiritual dimensions of existence, and we acknowledge the spiritual potential that is latent within all human beings, it is clear that the assumptions underlying today’s dominant economic systems do not draw out these latent potentials—such as our capacity to love, to build unity and to serve others. Furthermore, these dominant systems are set up in such a way that in many cases they severely disadvantage those whose economic behavior is consistent with spiritual and moral principles. Finally, the fact that increased flows of goods, services, capital and labor within existing structures and processes benefit only a very few at the expense of so many—giving rise to the impoverishment of entire local communities, the exploitation of vulnerable populations, and the mass destruction of the environment—can clearly not be ignored.  

Economic pressures such as these have, among other things, resulted in the disruption and dislocation of families and communities and the disappearance of diversified, ecologically sustainable small-scale agriculture, mostly in rural areas where it is often women who carry out the bulk of the work and who are disproportionately affected by these trends. Such pressures have also led to growing insecurity within local economies that have historically valued social ties and a collective sense of well-being over competition and individual advancement. To make these statements is not to romanticize the past or to promote a naïve ideal of the ‘local’ in reaction to the idea of a distant, all-powerful ‘global’. Rather, it is to recognize that diverse economic arrangements need to be explored and given space to develop. Collective human prosperity will not be achieved merely by integrating more and more people into the dominant economic order as it currently exists. This insight is directly relevant to the struggle for the advancement of women, who have been structurally marginalized within this order.


[i] The World Distribution of Household Wealth, James B. Davies, Susanna Sandström, Anthony Shorrocks, and Edward N. Wolff (United Nations University–World Institute for Development Economics Research, December 2006).

 

Copyright 2009, Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity

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