Reflections on 2022 GEM School for an Economy of Life
Some 30 highly motivated people of all ages and nationalities, representing different Christian denominations, gathered in Berlin the first week of July for in-depth discussions on economics, government and management models. All of us, lay and ordained, had been selected to participate in the GEM School (Governance, Economics and Management) for an Economy of Life. It was a huge privilege for me to be chosen to attend this unique school in a unique location. Due to the pandemic, it had been postponed several times, so it was a very intense experience to finally meet in person.
The central context was the NIFEA (New International Financial and Economic Architecture) project focusing on the different facets of this ecumenical framework. Alongside mainstream or neoclassical economics, we explored underrepresented economic approaches and discussed them from a theological perspective. Through Bible studies and devotions, we began each day with theological reflection and discussion based on different Bible stories related to economics.
The location of the GEM school was particularly significant. We met at the WeiberWirtschaft, home to Europe’s largest women’s cooperative and a Berlin hub for women’s start-ups, where one of their speakers introduced us to the concepts of a feminist economy. We were particularly inspired by the idea that the economy should not only be about formal and paid work, but rather must evolve to take into account more informal and especially care work. This work is often done by women who are not paid for housework or raising children. Therefore, a country’s Gross Domestic Income (GDI) and all other economic calculations are not accurate. In order to achieve more justice globally and close gender gaps, our economies, as well as our business models, should shift towards a care-based approach.
An economic theory that follows this approach is the degrowth theory which values time and care the same as formal labor and calls for the degrowth of the economy to ensure sustainable living worldwide. Both approaches have in common that they challenge the so-called “mushroom man” or “homo oeconomicus”, an economic model of a man who always acts out of self-interest. For me, this feminist perspective on economics has been enriching because it has highlighted where weakness can be found in existing neo-classical economic models and at the same time has given concrete insights on how to change the economic narrative.
Another aspect that appealed to me was the ecological perspective on the economy. This theory argues for an economy that recognizes the limited resources of the planet, that takes into account climate change, the exploitation of our natural resources and the effects of the economy on the environment. During this session, it was very moving for me to hear other Christians talk about their communities and how economic damage to the environment also impacts their lives. We have heard from South Africa, for example, of hydraulic fracturing and its consequences for local populations.
A participant from an indigenous community in Indonesia also shared her experience and for me it was a real wake-up call to hear how her local community is already suffering dramatically from climate change and had to relocate due to the resource extraction. At the same time, she explained how our (Western) concepts of climate change and ecological justice are detrimental to some Indigenous communities because our narrative and framework does not include them.
I learned that the translation of concepts is very difficult for them: what if there is no word in a local language to translate “environment” because their worldview already implies an understanding holistic nature? How to impose another look on them? Isn’t it better that we listen more carefully to local indigenous communities, learn from their concepts and instead apply them to our understanding? Adopt a holistic model of nature, including humans, resources and animals, instead of imposing our Western eco-economic models? What if there was no mushroom man, because people don’t see growth or individual opportunity as their main motivation?
For these courses, the GEM school setting was unique, as it offered us the opportunity to interact and discuss with people from backgrounds that I would not encounter in my day-to-day professional life. And yes, it makes a huge difference to talk to someone who shares your life, rather than reading an article about it.
Back to my local church
One of the main goals of the GEM school, besides discussing and learning about economics and theology, is to share this newly acquired knowledge and apply it in one’s own context. Together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony, my project is to design a 90-minute workshop that connects these different narratives and combines theological reflection with a call for economic justice. I plan to conduct my workshop within local church communities.
I think in my context it is important to produce an interactive workshop that is grounded in Bible study, but also links activism to a faith perspective. It will include theoretical information, but will also expand and invite individuals to reflect on how they can make an impact in their daily lives. I feel that, in my context, stories are important to make people interested and open about it.
Other participants’ projects focus on research, advocacy and community initiatives. Thus, a wide variety of projects have been presented and will begin to develop over the next few months. I hope all will challenge the mushroom man of pure neoclassical economics and add vital perspectives of feminist and ecological economics.