Saturday, August 27, 2011

Missing the Mark - Theologians on Agriculture and Economics

I begin this post with a quotation that is par for the course in current theological writing.

Why has 'globalization' become a dirty word in many poor nations? A major reason is because it cloaks the fraudulence of the US and European Union, who preach a hypocritical rhetoric of 'free trade' to the poor while erecting barriers (in the form of quotas and tariffs - effectively taxes on trade) to imports from the poor.  When, say, Ghanaian farmers export raw cocoa beans into the European Union, they face a tariff of 3%.  They they tried to export processed chocolate, the tax would rise to 27%.  Moreover, between them, the US and European governments subsidize their farmers by a massive $350 billion a year (six times what they give in foreign 'aid'), which allows their agricultural surpluses to flood cheaply into poor countries, depress world prices and undermine local farming. (Howard Peskett & Vinoth Ramachandra, The Message of Mission.  IVP.  2003.  p.118.)

The authors have included this paragraph in a section in which they are calling for "social justice" taken up by people in the pews to press for greater transparency by world development agencies and local decision making around the world.  
While looking through scripture the message of God is clear; God does not look kindly on the poor being trodden underfoot.  But the authors of this text and many other like is are beyond naive when it comes to that which they write about. 
Lost in the paragraph above is rationality.  Included are a host of facts that are supposed to paint a horrific picture, when in reality, the facts themselves are not linked to a reasonable argument.  The use of details might as well compare the New York Yankees to the Yankee Candle Company or the song Yankee Doodle Dandy.  
"Free trade," the authors claim is "hypocritical rhetoric" because of the barriers that have been erected towards imports from poor countries.  Here we need Seth Myers from Saturday Night Live to ask his famous - "Really?"  The assertion is incredulous.  
Next the authors argue about import fees and the disparity Ghanaian farmers face if they try and export a finished product over the raw material.  They fail to lament that every country has some level of tax on imports entering their countries, according to, most fall within the range of 7 - 20 %.  Every country seeks to "protect" their own at some level.  
Following the comment about Ghanian coffee farmers they pose data about US and European governments subsidizing farmers to the tune of $350 billion a year.  This argument lacks validity because Ghanian cocoa growers do not face any competitive growers in the US.  The grain producers in the US are not going to switch to cocoa.  And according to the USDA web site their entire budget for 2010 was $158 billion dollars.  I don't know what the EU is doing.  Do you think it amounts to $200 billion?  Of the $158 Billion, only about 15 Billion goes to direct payments to farmers.  The biggest share of the 158, about 90 Billion, is channeled through the food stamps, school lunch programs and the like.  Another big share to goes to rural development, think USDA housing.   
The US Department of State, the arm of aide to foreign countries had a budget of 58 Billion.
I am not trying to advocate for or against these expenditures.  I'm just baffled by the failure of theologians, ethicists, social pontificators to check reality.  
The theologians desire to be bring the word of God into the present arena, but their reasoning which is wide of the mark is stunning.  They have bought the view of "American capitalism despoiling the world" with very little checks to the trustworthiness to the statements, or to the ideology of those who make claims unmoored from reality.
When it comes to theologians writing about economics, agriculture, world trade - they would do far greater works of justice and mercy if they would call for world neighbors to treat one another neighborly.  They would have something to write about if they called for real free trade, so that the bounteous creativity of people from around the world could be enjoyed by all around the world.  Real free trade I would enjoy would include Kentucky's finest soft drink, Ale-8-One, being available around the globe   Instead of living out the scarcity mindset of the children of Israel following Moses, they need to be like Joshua and Caleb, the land (the earth) is full and flowing with the goodness of God.
I'm afraid the majority of books, thinkers, and public commentators who deal with theses issues, theologically and otherwise, present the views of the 10, and not the 2.  Pray that God would send us more Joshua's and Caleb's.        

No comments: