Friday, June 24, 2011

Foreword to "Liberty & Justice of Economic Equilibrium"


The evolution of a society, including the evolution of its economic system, is closely linked to changes in the value system that underlies all its manifestations.  The values a society lives by will determine its world view and religious institutions, its scientific enterprise and technology, and its political and economic arrangements.  Once the collective set of values and goals has been expressed and codified, it will constitute the framework of the society’s perceptions, insights, and choices for innovation and social adaptation. As the cultural value system changes – often in response to environmental challenges – new patterns of cultural evolution will emerge.[1]
-          Fritjof Capra

It is inevitable that we will have to commit to new ideas and embrace common goals as Fritjof Capra has passionately called for and described as a ‘cultural evolution.’ The world is in dire circumstances and a majority of the human race is poor, hungry, and destitute. The piecemeal attempts at putting our house in order are meagre and limited in scope. They lack the holistic approach needed in a world that we have convinced ourselves of becoming global, when in fact it is only global as far as the market is concerned. The so-called economic or financial crisis is neither economic nor financial. It is, above all, a crisis which is the result of greed, selfishness, and the absence of all forms of ethical and moral principles. At present, the problems and proposed solutions are linked to economics as never before. In recent decades, critics of the international economic system have also focused attention on important issues such as protecting the environment and upholding workers’ rights. An integrated perspective therefore becomes necessary and important.

The recent revolution, which has ushered in the information age, is not without looming threats and dangers, as Ian Angell suggests in his book The New Barbarian Manifesto: How to Survive the Information Age.  The book is a chilling portrait of a world in accelerated upheaval, prompted by the ramifications of information technology. He opens his introductory chapter by quoting Charles Dickens:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.[2]

Fluidity may be the main characteristic of this “best of times” or the “worst of times.”  The uncertainty that Angell speaks of had already been expressed in these two lines of Matthew Arnold (1822-1888):

                                    Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
                                    The other powerless to be born.[3]

The promised world “powerless to be born” seems to be hampered and restrained by the absence of that dynamic power of the spirit and the overwhelming dominance of materialist culture. 

Debates on this subject of a world in upheaval, especially in policy-making circles, are often shaped by “the politics of time,” as distinct from “the politics of eternity,” and are purely concerned with national interests especially economic interests. Such interests, though, are parochial, whereas if the phenomenon of globalization were to be carefully examined, it would be recognised as being capable of creating an impact far beyond these narrow limitations, so that discussions of the subject should properly extend to encompass cultural and spiritual aspects. 

If we are to have a lasting global society then we will need to adopt a holistic approach. Indeed, the most urgent question associated with globalization today is how to ensure that the dictates of universal integration be not at the cost of the integrity of the component parts. Economics and communication technology have brought the peoples of this planet together, and they have made positive contributions; but they have not, and will not, create a peaceful world order by themselves. They have yet to overcome the inhibitions and resistance to change.  At present there are several quite extreme theories of economics, none of which has proved to be a workable system that could be adopted internationally or found a way to alleviate the suffering of millions who are living in poverty.  If the formula of economics combined with technology was viable in and of itself, the twentieth century would have been an age of peace rather than a long cycle of crises.

Globalization of our economies is in fact inevitable and highly profitable. The promise is that through these new international trading and economic processes, glibly labelled ‘free trade’, humanity will eventually enter a prosperous new era that will free it from war or deprivation and lead to far-reaching changes, which at once will establish the principle not only of free, but also of fair trade. 

Mr. Bruce Koerber in his new book, Liberty and Justice of Economic Equilibrium, attempts to bring back to the world of economics those ethical values and spiritual moral principles which Edmund Burke, a century and a half ago, lamented their loss when he stated:
The age of chivalry is gone. -- That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold a generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, achieved defensive nations, the nurse of the manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage while it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.[4]
In Liberty and Justice of Economic Equilibrium, concepts such as economics and ethics, a divine economy, liberty and justice, and harmony and reciprocity are emphasized but the main inspiration behind the book is the principle of world order which Bahá'u'lláh (1817 – 1892) revealed to the world and was founded on three major principles: Justice, Unity, and Peace. This formula is irreversible for without justice, we cannot create unity and without unity, we can never create peace. Perhaps no other poet of modern times understood the concept of justice in our buying and selling than the Lebanese-American poet, Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931):

“To you the earth yields her fruit, and you shall not want if you but know how to fill your hands.

It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied.

Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice, it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger...

And before you leave the market place, see that no one has gone his way with empty hands.

For the master spirit of the earth shall not sleep peacefully upon the wind till the  needs of the least of you are satisfied.”[1]

[1] Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 1995, pp. 100-101

Suheil Bushrui, BA, PhD, Hon LHD
Research Professor Emeritus,
The University of Maryland

Professor and Director,
The George and Lisa Zakhem Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace

Senior Scholar (Peace Studies) The Center for International Development and Conflict Management
[1] Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1984, p. 197       
[2] Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1942, p. 1
[3] Matthew Arnold, “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse” in Matthew Arnold (The Oxford Authors), ed. Miriam Allot and Robert H. Super, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 161.
[4] Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France in The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, vol. 2, London, Henry G. Bohn, 1864, pp. 515-516.
[5] Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 1995, pp. 100-101

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