Countering the gods of Mammon – Money and the Market

Every now and then, it might be good to take stock of how far we have come in building the kingdom of God which Jesus ushered in.

Nov 03, 2017

By Anil Netto
Every now and then, it might be good to take stock of how far we have come in building the kingdom of God which Jesus ushered in. The values of compassion, love, a just distribution of wealth, empowerment of the marginalised, healing of the sick.

These values stood in stark contrast to the values of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus: war, occupation, peace through military conquest, exploitation of workers and resources, oppression of the people, glorification of the emperor, and disregard of the marginalised.

When Jesus and his disciples challenged the values of the Empire with the counter-cultural values of the Kingdom of God, he and his followers were persecuted and condemned.

The Roman Empire may have long since collapsed, but today, there is a new empire with new deities in place: the gods of Money and the Market.

In our everyday life, most things seem to be guided by the hidden hand of the Market. The government, some feel, should not intervene in the ‘free’ market, which should be left to decide how business activity is run and how wealth is distributed, never mind if it results in great inequalities.

The national Budget and key economic indicators like GDP growth assume an exaggerated importance in indicating the wellbeing of the nation. Much media coverage is given to analysing how money is spent and whether it has been effectively used.

While it is important to provide adequate funding for healthcare, education and genuinely affordable housing, statistics and economic data can mask a lot of things.

For example, if we record strong economic growth, many would applaud it – but what if the growth comes on the back of increased logging or the extraction of non-renewable natural resources like oil and gas – which may degrade the environment or deplete natural resources for future generations?

A reduced budget deficit may come from higher taxes from increased profits of companies, including plantation firms.

Such higher profits may actually have come about because workers’ wages have been suppressed, resulting in many of them struggling to earn a decent income. Rural communities, including indigenous groups in the forests, may find themselves struggling to earn a decent living. Or budgets may have been cut for essential services.

When socially aware individuals challenge the dictates of the system and promote an alternative, more egalitarian vision of society, they are often viewed with suspicion, ostracised by the mainstream, even persecuted or tortured by the powers that be.

Thus, 30 years ago, during Operation Lalang, more than a hundred individuals were detained without trial under the draconian Internal Security Act. Those picked up included not just political opponents, but also social critics and grassroots workers like Br Anthony Rogers and church workers and social activists trying to conscientise the people and promote an alternative vision of society.

They were detained, subjected to psychological – and at times physical – torture especially during the first 60 days of detention when no one in the outside world knew where they were. How sad!

These days, we are witnessing twin troubles.

On the one hand, the public has to pay consumption tax; workers wages’ are suppressed because employers can choose to bring in low-wage workers from other countries. In the face of the rising cost of living, many are finding it hard to survive as subsidies are removed; so many households resort to borrowing, which contributes to high debt levels. Paradoxically, low wages help to boost the profits of the companies.

On the other hand, the environment is being degraded: hills are flattened, forests are chopped, rivers silted and seas polluted and reclaimed. Again, paradoxically, the loss of these priceless valuable assets are not recorded in any accounts - not in the accounts of the companies nor in the accounts of the local, state and federal governments. Tragically, because these costs are not included, the private and public sectors show unrealistically rosy indicators of profit and progress.

When Nature strikes back from its degradation, as it inevitably does, our neat attempts to separate the suffering of workers and the degradation of the environment collapse in a mangled heap. The migrant workers who take great risks at construction sites often bear the brunt of the backlash. Or the public as a whole may suffer from flash floods. The loss of lives and property is not recorded in anyone’s accounts. Once again, the paradox is that the relief and reconstruction work boosts public spending and adds even further to the GDP of the nation.

If we believe in a value system that transcends the gods of Mammon – Money and the Market – we need to look at the timeless values that Jesus – and the prophets who preceded him – proclaimed: fair wages to workers, a just distribution of resources, Care for our Common Home, and an eradication of poverty in all its forms.

Total Comments:0