Moltmann Monday: Is the market to be the measure of all things?

Morning, Moltmanniacs. Today’s reading is from God for a Secular Society in a chapter on the changing values of the modern world. The section, as you could guess from today’s blog title, is “Is the market to be the measure of all things?”

It is no longer human needs which regulate production; it is the requirements of the market…

The first question many people ask is consequently: is the market there for the sake of men and women, or are men and women there for the sake of the market? In families, neighborhoods and free communities human relationships exist in mutual recognition and acceptance. If the market becomes the dominant power, then relationships of mutual recognition and acceptance come to an end.  The self-respect experienced through the recognition gives way to the value assigned by the public market. People who look for a job on the labor market soon discover that their value is merely what they are able to offer as performers or purchasers. People who lose their jobs because of the rationalization or globalization of production, sense from their inner feeling of personal value the degree to which they have identified themselves with their value as performers. Because we are supposed to ‘fulfill ourselves’ through work and consumption, if we have no work and are poor we lose our own selves…

Of course we know intellectually that a person is more than his or her market value…But the human dignity which is a conscious creed does not have as regulative an effect on public life as the human being’s market value… Can we plan a future in which the market benefits the whole community?

One step on the way would be to stop making the global market either into an idol which has to have its victims, or into a demon which has to be feared, and to cut it down to human size…

I remember during the recession after 2008 I saw a picture of a fleet of new cars in a parking lot in Detroit. The lot extended for miles, and there were no buyers in sight. I thought about how our economy’s insistence to grow, grow, grow, ad infinitum, is not sustainable or what could even be considered ethically good. I’m not an economist, and neither is Moltmann (he says that much in his introduction to this section) but theologically speaking, we have to ask ourselves a few questions about how and whether our market-driven economy is not, in fact, driving us. And driving us off a cliff, perhaps.

So maybe it’s time for us to discuss what it might mean to “cut it down to human size,” as Moltmann suggests. Capitalism is not inherently evil, but like all systems, it has the potential to reduce human flourishing in the same way it has the capacity to promote it. And my concern, as I hear the news of the day, is that we have a President-elect whose entire history has been one driven by market economics. If it’s a good deal- and let’s be clear, ‘good deal’ means nothing more than personal growth of wealth- then he will do it. If not, he won’t. But what’s left out of that equation is human dignity, and human community, and social responsibility.

It begs the question: What are we building, and why?

When the market becomes the dominant power, the dominant value becomes the bottom line. And at what price? To whose detriment? What does that do to the way we value people as inherently worthy of dignity? How does that change our capacity for community? What does that do to the way we discern how our actions may affect the local community, or the local water supply (Flint, Standing Rock), or even global stability?

The ‘art of the deal’ is simply determined by who can get the most advantageous position over someone else. Which, I shouldn’t have to tell you, is not the economy of the gospel.

In Advent we celebrate the birth of One who comes into the world as Divine Son. We sing of him being wrapped in swaddling clothes, but the point-behind-the-point is that he is wrapped in the vulnerable skin of humanity. He comes not as Deal-Maker but as Grace-Giver, Love-Extender, Justice-Keeper, Peace-Forger. He shows that to be the Divine Son is to be deeply connected to the welfare and well-being of others.

Scripture only records one time Jesus got angry. And it should be wisely and perhaps fearfully noted that he became angry at the market economy that had infiltrated the Temple.

I predict our market may well be on the up and up in the days ahead, because the market does not respond based on ethics or justice or righteousness. Our task as Jesus followers is to look at what the numbers won’t tell us. The economy of the gospel does not define people (or communities, or nations) by their performance or consumption. Our metric is what Jesus told us sums up all the law and the prophets: to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.


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