Notes from recent open Zoom

We have been trying to explore what ‘Kingdom economics’ might look like. A big aim but it gives way to stimulating exchange of conversation. Last Tuesday Rosie Benjamin kicked us off with some input and has sent us her notes that she shared which I am posting below. [The next such evening I expect will be Tuesday April 4th. I will post here when the date and content is firmed up.] Rosie’s notes follow.

I am not an Economist. Until very very recently, I could say I have no interest in Economics. In truth, I have always found economics boring. Start talking about economics, I hear the words and they are excreted almost immediately without having been processed or engaged with. Try these terms, what comes to mind:

  • Non-profit institutions serving households (NPISH) – That’s us doing good things and not getting paid for it
  • Non-seasonally adjustedget some sun or take a Vitamin D supplement
  • Quantitative Easing – try a laxative

I’m being flippant. These terms mean something. And whether we understand them or not, are bored or amused by them, they impact our lives – sometimes dramatically. So why the disinterest and disdain of Economics? I realised this – we are sold the science of Economics. The statistics, systems, structures and institutions. The hard, cold, dry facts that are barely digestible at the best of times but, in times of crisis and chaos, just won’t go down.

I’m into story. Big stories, little stories; fantastical, freakish and fun stories; stories that tell the truth, upend our myths and remind us we are not alone. Stories. I realised what was missing for me in Economics was stories. For me to engage, I needed to hear and root out the stories. Where are the stories in economics? The big story of economics (macro) is important; but so are the little stories (micro). What’s my story, your story, a community’s story. After all, Economics is too important, too vital, to leave to that invisible and ruthless hand of the market that doesn’t give a fig about how we live and move and have our being.

A Small Story…

It’s 3 days after formal Lockdown has been declared in the early days of Spring 2020. I knew we were in trouble when I saw an SUV speeding down the road, packed to the roof with toilet rolls. Oh dear, I thought, we are going to have to change our toileting habits. Our derrières are not going to be happy. So what happened:

There was a spiralling into fear causing selfish reactions – hoarding. Supplies ran out in hours.

There was restriction and compliance. You can only have one packet of toilet rolls. Doesn’t matter how big or small your household is. Doesn’t matter that you might have diarrhoea, dysentery or your Dulux pup and wee kid have decided to run with the rolls and you’re running out. Everybody had something, but not everybody got what they needed.

There was trust and consideration. Our local Co-operative supermarket – East of England – decided to dispense with the restrictions. They put a note up to say we trust you to take what you need – some need more, some need less. The store never again ran out of toilet rolls. We always had enough.

Big deal! What difference does that make to anything? The difference is EGGS! 2022 saw a serious outbreak of Avian flu. We had wild birds literally dropping out of the sky and others acting very strangely indeed. It seems that the birds of Europe are indifferent to the ramifications of Brexit, are no respecters of borders and sovereignty, and have freely shared their contagion with us. East Anglia has borne the brunt of the poultry cull that has devastated farms and caused serious shortages. Yet our local Co-op always had good quality eggs at an unwavering price. Why? Two things:

The Co-operative principle of always paying a fair price regardless of economic seasons or storms meant that producers always prioritised supply to the local Co-op and, we had been trained by the pandemic principle don’t give into fear, trust that there will be enough and take only what you need.

As I write on Thursday 23rd February, the big supermarkets are rationing the sale of certain vegetables. I went into my local Co-op, we have enough.

Small scale, human-sized economies work. Economies that you can taste and touch and see, work. They are considerate, compassionate, neighbourly. They have a story. There is enough for what you need not always for what you want. True freedom, healthy sustainable choice, will always have its restraints. What’s your story of economies? How do you engage with them? These little stories may help us to see and critique the convoluted impersonal big story of economics. If nothing else they may help us to tease out some ethics and values.

But we do need to get a handle on the meta-narrative of Economics, the overarching story that encompasses, or binds, us all. Maybe this is where the prophetic can help us. Maybe it can give us a little bit of vision, a little bit of sight that can lead to understanding and action.

We will have seen on the news the huge earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria. We can scarcely compute the destruction and desolation those quakes have brought. Two tectonic plates crashing up against each other releasing vast amounts of energy, causing chaos and untold devastation. Life for many will never be the same again.

What if time does that too? What if an epoch passing and an epoch beginning are temporal plates instead of geological? Two vast expanses of time smacking up against each other, releasing energy for change but also causing disintegration and collapse. All earthquakes have an epicentre, a focal point that can be seen and measured in time and space. What if time, this age, had a quake? Where would its epicentre be and what would truly shake the foundations of this age?

A dream or two about the big story…

June 2001. We’re in Mexico on a mission. I’m partnered with a friend and off we go gaily into areas unknown. Night falls, we’re confronted by some armed guards and locked up in a cell for the night. Turns out it was for our own safety, but we didn’t find that out til the following morning. What do when you’re dazed, confused and locked up? Pray. Sing. And sleep soundly. And, because you’re a captive audience, get a vision. A vision of The City of London as a pitch black forest with gnarly ancient trees. The trees had no leaves and bore no fruit. They could not photosynthesise, to sustain themselves they used their roots to suck the life out of life. It was no longer a place of life. The City is a geographical entity existing in time and space; but it is emblematic of so much more. It is sign and symbol, target and tangent. Global in reach; a centre in time.

Sometime in 2010 (a vision). The City is now a place of light. The trees have been uprooted and are now seasoned logs on the ground waiting to be used. The City is rubble but there is energy to rebuild. A removal van enters the scene ready to begin the work.

November 2022. Liverpool Street station, the eastern entrance into the City, sitting waiting for a train. A huge electronic bill board next to me repeatedly flashes up:

The City is for the taking.
The soul of the City is at stake.
Who will win the battle for London’s soul?

I’m not dreaming, the words are real, the challenge is clear.

I’ve sucked on those visions for a long time. I understood that the City and the System it enables was ending soon. But 22 years later it’s still here. We’re human, we live in time and space. When we hear the word ‘soon’ we look at our phones and calendars and ask how long? 10 minutes, 10 days, 10 hours, 10 months, a few years. We forget so readily that the Ancient of Days, the Potentate of Time may just have a different reckoning of time. Soon may be a decade, a generation, a lifetime, a few hundred years, in the coming.

That said, though we may have waited a very long time, there is always an hour, a day, a moment when the thing finally does happen. Have we not felt tremors over the last 22 years? Cost of living, war, pandemic, Trump, Brexit, Tsunamis, Arab Spring, Financial meltdown, more war, 9/11. Rumbles and more rumbles. All quakes have an epicentre. If this coming cosmic shake is financial in character and centred in the City: How do we prepare? How do we respond? How do we live?

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