I had never really thought about it before … just how different the world economy is now than is was even five hundred years ago, even two hundred years ago.
This week’s topic is “The Short History of Economic Development.” What we see is that for most of human history, there was essentially no economic growth or production other than what individuals needed to survive day to day and year to year. The exponential growth we’ve seen in the last few centuries has been due to technological advances such as the steam engine, railroad, steel, the automobile, the airplane, and communication and information.
The big bang of economic growth began in England, from there we see it “ripple” out to Europe, to the colonies, to coastal areas. The conditions were right in England for this boom to start … not only were economic conditions ripe, but the political, educational, agricultural, climate, geographical and philosophical conditions converged is such a way that human beings could imagine more and produce more. Those same conditions also kept some people groups out of the marketplace altogether, and are still making it difficult for there to be economic prosperity in some regions.
I’ve been considering origin stories, perhaps because of this week’s podcast of This American Life. So many of our stories are … hmmm … myth or hyperbole … or clearly told from the vantage point of power and privilege and chock full of cultural values and nuances.
The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. [Genesis 1:2 NRSV]
The political debates between religion and science have been rife since the beginning of scientific discovery. The creation vs evolution debate, isn’t about the facts really, it’s about the meaning … the intentionality, the specialness and chosen-ness of homo-sapiens. We like to believe that we are the chosen ones … the better ones … the more deserving ones. But Christ’s vision of the Kingdom isn’t like that … in Jesus’ telling the first are last and the last are first. The prodigal son is the guest of honor when welcomed home.
In economic development, perhaps we’ve also told the tale that the rich deserve more, that we (clearly, I am speaking from my own people’s WASP perspective) are somehow chosen because of our economic big bang. I hear in our American media discourse, at least, a certain disdain for those who have less because somehow they don’t measure up to the “ideal.” It’s the American myth that anyone can raise themselves out of poverty or up the social class ladder. Reality is that “Cinderella” tales in the United States are not so common. Even our most mythic origin stories may, in fact, be more story than fact. People who “make it” do so because of a complexity of giftedness and happenstance.
It is merely a perfect storm of natural resources, human ingenuity, geography, climate, and the compounding technological advances that made “rich” and “poor” countries or “first world” and “third world.” Maybe it’s the nature of the big bang that is creating the waves of wealth on our planet … maybe, too, it is our human responsibility to enable all regions and all peoples to be full participants in our economic prosperity. Maybe it is our Christ center that leads us to not only feed the poor, but to identify and manage the forces that impede productivity, and invite those less fortunate to have a place at the world’s table of a new kind of sustainability … one which is not filled with sickness, poverty, and struggle, but with a wholeness and peace that surpasses even our current understanding.
- Week 1: What is Sustainable Development?
- Week 2: Economic development – How we measure it, how it varies around the world
- Week 3: A Short History of Economic Development
- Week 4: Why Did Some Countries Advance While Others Remained in Poverty?
- Week 5: The MDGs and the End of Extreme Poverty
- Week 6: Growth within Planetary Boundaries
- Week 7: Human Rights and Gender Equality
- Week 8: Education
- Week 9: Universal Health Coverage
- Week 10: Sustainable Food Supply and the End of Hunger
- Week 11: Sustainable Cities
- Week 12: Curbing Climate Change
- Week 13: Saving Biodiversity
- Week 14: The SDGs