Sunday, March 29, 2020

Modern monetary theory and the God of abundance

There's been a lot of talk of late about how governments will recoup the enormous sums they are putting into the economy to keep people from penury and companies from tanking. Some talk of the need to raise taxes once the crisis is passed, while the proponents of modern monetary theory suggest that central banks can create all the money required without seeking any of it back.

Well, you pays your money (sorry!) and takes your choice (as they say). The best explanation of MMT is found at Richard Murphy's Tax Justice Network blog. The other view is well known from elections over the past 40 years that all been fought on public spending and the taxation needed to pay for it.

I probably lean to the MMT view of things. And in that perhaps God's on our side...!

I'm reading Walter Brueggemann's lovely provocative little book A Way Other Than Our Own for my lent devotions. I'm a bit behind (as always) but I'm catching up. And yesterday I read his reflection on the feeding of the five thousand, how Jesus turned the wilderness, the place of scarcity and lack, into the place of lavish, almost unending provision; how Jesus turned 5 loaves and 2 fish into a feast for five thousand men and an untold number of women and children; and how the disciples, who started with nothing, ended up with a basket of leftovers each.

It's a wonderful story of miraculous provision, a sign of Jesus' identity as the one who feeds his people in the wilderness as God had done with the manna.

But it is also a wonderful lesson in divine economics. As Bruggemann puts it, in a world that tells the story of scarcity, and has economic theories created to meet the problem of scarcity (theories that had seeped into the hearts of disciples who helplessly ask, where can we buy enough food for this crowd; we do not have the resources), Jesus comes and provides and so questions our assumptions about the world in which we live,

'The story we tell about scarcity is a fantasy. It is not a true story. It is a story invented by those who have too much to justify getting more. It is a story accepted by those who have nothing in order to explain why they have nothing. The story is not true, because the world belongs to God and God is the creator of the abundant life. All of us are invited to be children and practitioners of this other story. We act it out in ways that disrupt our society, even as Jesus continues to disrupt our world of scarcity with his abundance.' (p51)

Christians have always said there is enough to go round - enough food to feed the hungry, water for the thirsty, bricks to build shelters fr the homeless. The problem is not scarcity but inequitable distribution. Jesus shows that he creates and controls the abundance of creation and ensures everyone gets what they need.

And he still says to us, his nervous followers, wondering what's coming next, 'you give them something to eat'

What would happen if we said 'yes'?