A reader who comes from outside the religious community asked what I meant by the term “flourishing” when I used it last month. I had written that God desires the flourishing of all peoples, especially the marginalized of our global world.
In my view, flourishing means to be able to live the divinely desired fullness of life. Flourishing means that people’s bodily health is fully nourished (food security, clean water) and supported (health care); their minds reach full development (education); their spirits are able to blossom (religious liberty); their families prosper (economic well-being); and males and females both thrive, and are able to pursue the full use of their God-given gifts in an environment characterized by ecological stability, citizen participation, and fair electoral and bureaucratic systems. In sum, they live life abundantly (John 10:10).
Perhaps you recognize those characteristics as restatements of some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are designated by the United Nations as objectives for every single country—Canada as well as China or Cambodia. They are a sort of a secular version of “shalom on earth.” The intent is to describe what makes for a good society.
Since the beginning of the pandemic we’ve heard messages about “reopening the economy” or pleas to avoid “hurting the economy.” No!
Simply put, the “economy” is a social system by which a particular society exchanges various items it values for other items, to satisfy needs and wants, individually and collectively. In other words, the economy does not exist on its own. The socio-economic system serves the needs of people, not the other way around.
This column is too short to do full justice to all the nuances. The point is that the economy does not exist independently.
Flourishing requires economic resources. We refer to a “poverty line” in Canada, although we rarely discuss a “greed line.” One of the SDGs is “responsible consumption,” but there is too little consideration of how consumption in Canada affects the flourishing of others.
In a globalized world, “our” economy competes with other economies; if our monetary accumulation declines, we do less well. Doing less well affects both personal buying power and the ability of governments and corporations to provide for citizens in areas such as health care. Canada’s economy enables Canadians to begin receiving third shots of COVID-19 vaccines when much of the world does not even have shot No. 1.
Or we could choose to distribute vaccines elsewhere in the world.
In other words, the “economy” is a series of value choices. If real people are not getting what they need to flourish, the structures we call the economy do violence and should be reformed.
The same goes with our personal economics this Christmas. Do we choose to help others accumulate more things (euphemistically called “goods”)? When is that okay? Local, usually small, businesses create more jobs and have a larger beneficial impact on the local economy. They are usually owned by local people who are more committed to the community.
So buying from Amazon and buying from a local business are value judgments about the type of economy—and community—we will have. The individual good is to go for the cheapest option, but the collective good is something else. Amazon isn’t in danger of going out of business, but Queen Street Books, Ye Old Bookshoppe and other small businesses are at more risk. Of course, another choice is sharing; ergo the public library!
As followers of Jesus, our lives and work are best lived for the flourishing of all peoples.
Randolph Haluza-DeLay lives in Toronto, where he thinks about our economic choices.