Precarious Christmas

I recently came across a December 2020 article from the Financial Times titled "A Better Form of Capitalism is Possible." The title certainly resonates with our work in our book Better Capitalism and our continuing work to show that such a thing is in fact possible. I encourage you to read the full, short article here. A year after it was written, much of what it observes remains tragically true -- and much of what it offers remains possible for us to put into practice.


We see and hear all sorts of Christmas images at this time of year. Many Christmas portrayals are glamorized in ways that hinder us from recognizing the earthy circumstances that gave birth to the Word become flesh, romanticized in ways that distract from the economic turmoil in which the Prince of Peace emerged. The Financial Times article does not fall into those tranquilizing tropes but articulates the scene plainly:


"Remember how the Nativity story describes the family of Jesus: sent on the road by absurd administrative rules, left without accommodation, and going into labour in undignified conditions."


Image credit: theladysroom.ng



This is not just an exercise in historical interpretation, valuable as that is. These stories have present impact, and clear-eyed perception of their implications for the whole of life -- including the earthy, economic parts -- helps them shape our world for the better. The Financial Times article moves in exactly these ways. It notes the precariousness Jesus's family experienced, then challengingly, but necessarily, depicts how precarious life is for far too many in the "underclass" of our own society. These "unsung heroes" are humans made in the image of God and a vital part of a healthy economy and society, yet their work opportunities, job security, compensation, work conditions, and accommodation for basic services like banking and healthcare are all, in a word, precarious.


Partnership Economics is based on mutual benefit. One person's or group's gains do not have to come at the expense of another's. In fact, the best gains will come by enlarging the economic "pie" so there are bigger pieces for everyone, whereas fighting over pieces of a shrinking pie results in less for all. This is not a dilemma between common good or self-interest. We are not asking anyone to make some kind of fundamental choice between neighbor or self -- we want to live into the reality that neighbor and self benefit best together. There is no self that fulfills its interest without a common good in which it can flourish, and there is no common good without flourishing selves.


Here's how the Financial Times article puts it: "It is a moral imperative to help the neediest. But lifting people out of economic precariousness is also greatly in the self-interest of the better off." ... "A polarised economy is not just unfair, but inefficient." Agreed!


The article's final sentence is an excellent summary statement: "Capitalism can be made to secure dignity to all; the alternatives are worse for everyone."


Now that's a message to take to heart and put into practice this Christmas, "preached" by a financial newspaper! The Word has become flesh (John 1:14) that we all might have life to the full (John 10:10).


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