Issue 181


  A monthly journal of food system analysis      - BACK ISSUE -

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Ram's Horn #181

Political Economy of Death,
Political Economy of Life

By Brewster Kneen

The term "political economy" is a recognition that all economies are socially constructed. Choices are made as to how the needs and wants of people are to be interpreted (or created) and met or not. Choices are made as to how the environment is to be regarded and treated. The political question is, which people make these choices, and for what purposes?

June 9-16 I had the privilege of participating in a conference on Faith, Economy and Theology in Hofgeismar, Germany. The conference was organized by a group of German church agencies and ecumenical initiatives in cooperation with Pax Christi International, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches. It brought together about 150 people of all ages from some 50 countries to discus the theme "Faith Communities and Social Movements Facing Globalization." It was a treat for me to see some old friends with whom I have been collaborating for some 35 years; and it was even more exciting to discover a shared analysis and vision with people from very diverse situations in very different regions of the world. The intent of the organizers was to analyse the capitalist project of globalization and the growing resistance to it. In my group, working under the heading of "ecology", we quickly focussed on what we came to call the political economy of life as opposed to the globalizing capitalist political economy of death. This small group included participants from India, Korea, Croatia, Germany, Switzerland, El Salvador, Indonesia and Canada. When we presented our position to the whole conference the diagram on the front page it was exciting to feel the response of relief and affirmation. It was clear we were speaking for the whole group.

The political economy of life a phrase put forward by Kim Yong-Bock from Korea is based on respect for all life and Creation. The term Creation is used specifically to express a very different attitude toward the natural world we live in than is usually meant by the word 'nature', which tends to reflect the attitude that 'nature' is external to ourselves, essentially stingy and hostile, and there for us to exploit.

"Having ceased to think of ourselves as sacred beings, we have had little difficulty desacralizing the world around us, evolving a world view that strips the Earth and its creatures of any sacred significance, reducing our natural inheritance to a bank of exploitable assets available uniquely to Homo rapiens.

"Surely this is a matter for debate. But how sad that all our scientific gurus can come up with is invective and arrogant scorn." Johathon Porritt in the Guardian, 25/5/00, commenting on the reaction to the rather beautiful words of Prince Charles in one of this year's Reith Lectures on the BBC. The political economy of life puts life at the centre instead of the market economy and seeks the restoration and nurturing of health and wholeness rather than the pursuit of personal gain and corporate profit.

A premise of the political economy of life is that there is enough for all; it thus calls for an economy of sufficiency, or 'enoughness'. A first step in the creation of such an economy to provide space for all. This logically requires, as a minimum, a moratorium on all genetic engineering and the creation of a food economy based on what German author Maria Mies calls the "subsistence perspective" (the title of her new book published by Zed Press). In this context, food is recognized as health care and is therefore to be produced organically and available to everyone in the community. In our discussion we recognized that agricultural research would have to take place on farm, drawing on and recognizing women's and traditional knowledge as science and using traditional seeds. You may recognize this as the 'feed the family/community and trade the leftovers' model that we have written and talked about.

The resonance of this language and approach among the whole conference was an overwhelming expression of hope.

B.K.



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