The Peace Economy and the Pope

If you asked Judy Wicks what she would say about economics in the wake of International Peace Day, she would tell you, “The foundation for world peace is building an economy where every community is self-reliant in basic needs such as food, water and energy.”

CODEPINK would elaborate, telling us that “every transaction we make in our daily lives ultimately contributes toward building a peace economy or a war economy, a world of compassion and well being, or a world of indifference and violence. The peace economy model encourages us to reinvest in our local communities. It calls for creating cultural, social and economic models that cultivate a sense of respect and uplifts all people... not just a select few.”

Where would you start if you wanted to create such an economy? During his two and a half years in prison during World War II as a conscientious objector, Robert Swann concluded that there were three root causes of war: the commodification of land, the monopoly held by nations in creating and distributing credit, and the loss of community in the face of ever more powerful global economic interests.

These ideas have been instrumental in the Schumacher Center’s work with community land trusts, alternative currencies, microcredit, and community-supported industry. These community-scale tools are effective because they recognize that the economy must be altered if we are to significantly change the world we live in.

In his recent article comparing the positions of US Senator Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis, Gar Alperovitz argues that “more and more people are coming to terms with the inability of small gestures of reform to address a host of deteriorating or stagnating economic, social and environmental trends.…The system is broken, and what is needed is systemic change — not simply changes in policy but a radical rethinking of the structure of the economy and society.”

With both figures, he notes that among their key calls for change is support for democratizing wealth through increasing worker ownership. He continues, “That their message is being eagerly received by enthralled audiences suggests that we are approaching an inflection point in political-economic concern and serves as a reminder that those who think the status quo lasts forever rarely reflect on how the opening stages of historical change often begin.”

His sentiments are echoed by Bill McKibben, who notes that while some “summon the worst in us and assume that will eventually solve our problems,” “Pope Francis, in a moment of great crisis, speaks to who we could be individually and more importantly as a species.”

The Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’ speaks to the need for economic change and, as McKibben notes, it does so in the tradition of E. F. Schumacher and Wendell Berry, with language that crosses political boundaries and speaks to the need for a new kind of economy – an economy that is small scale friendly, more relational, and responsible to both people and the environment.