Partnership Economics as a Response to Suffering

Partnership Economics comprises many dimensions, including the prospect of alleviating suffering. At first blush that may sound like an odd dimension, so we’ll explain.

The Franciscan priest Fr. Richard Rohr illustrates suffering, and how responders to suffering generally react, with an analogy to a flooding river. No analogy is perfect of course, but this one is vivid and instructive.

Imagine a mighty river that floods and wipes out the many villages established along its banks; there because of the villagers’ reliance on the river. Now imagine that river flooding every year during the rainy season, and every year destroying the rebuilt villages. What should be our reaction to the flooding and the villagers’ suffering? Different kinds of empathic responders – different kinds of partners – will react differently.

Some will see the need and feel the call to provide immediate disaster relief, such as retrieving villagers from the debris, providing food, cleaning up, and erecting temporary housing. We think here of partnerships like American Red Cross (

Others will see the need and feel the call to work upstream of the flood damage by helping to avoid the harm of future flooding, such as helping to relocate villages beyond the flood zone and building lift stations that pump water from the river to the relocated villages. We think here of partnerships like Pencils of Promise ( that build schools and provide programs to increase literacy rates.

Still others will see the need and feel the call to work even further upstream of the flood damage, such as by designing and building a dam that adjusts the river levels so as to eliminate the flooding. We think here of partnerships like The Carter Center that also works at the policy level to improve human rights (

None of these reactions to suffering is better than the other. Each is necessary and a valid reaction according to the resources and abilities of the responding partners. Each potential partner has asked some version of the question, “What’s mine to do?” and is reacting accordingly. No partner is necessarily limited to a single role, but each likely impacts and supports the others.

This river is akin to the way capitalism is currently practiced in the United States, the form of capitalism we label ‘plantation economics’. The average citizens caught up and washed away by the destructive currents of plantation economics’ oppressive tactics are akin to the villagers in need of disaster relief. Businesses vanished by plantation economics’ cyclic ravages of recessions or depressions are like the villages disappeared downstream and out to sea. The many destructive practices and cycles of plantation economics are common enough to be familiar.

After decades of shareholder-primacy advocates insisting the river of plantation economics must be as unfettered as possible so that it may run its mighty course, this river daily causes damage and suffering. Meanwhile those advocates, who haven’t the empathy to understand the damage and suffering of those without the resources to stay above the flood waters, neither respond nor react as partners, but merely watch from the protected equivalents of their river barges and high-ground islands.

The work of Partnership Economics is broad, and includes responding like the dam builders. Working as far upstream as possible – working with the values, ethics, beliefs, and mindsets of those who proudly call themselves ‘free market capitalists’ but likely do not grasp the full responsibilities of the call. Partnership Economics includes the dimension of working to build and instill ways to anchor capitalism to the ethics envisioned by its originator, Adam Smith. In doing so, Partnership Economics seeks to minimize – even reverse – the downstream damage and suffering caused by the current values, ethics, and practices of plantation economics.

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