When I was a child, my shopping consisted largely of entering small stores owned by one family and finding unusual and homely items side by side on the shelves for sale. Each little shop had its own flavor and you were served by friendly people who were proud of their stock and ready to tell you about it at length.
These small stores have, more and more, been eaten alive by the mega-companies. We now shop largely in warehouse-like spaces with no windows or amenities, little service and a constant blare of impersonal, canned Muzak.
To the world of spirit, the issue of economy and trade is all about love. The world of spirit values horizontal economy over vertical economy and generosity over profit.
In the ideal spiritually-oriented economy, we would be trading with each other, spreading resources and power around horizontally. In trust and good faith we would offer each other what we had, whether it was produce we had grown on our farm, the labor of our hands or other assets like our ability to teach or heal, that were ours for what we needed.
To some extent, this occurs even in corporately driven America, where I channel a session for a friend's e-zine in return for a delicious dinner on the town and my husband creates a rock garden for a friend in exchange for the antique, beautifully dressed paving stones she has stored in her garden shed.
Economy is called the dismal science because it is a tough nut to crack. In a world of ever-dwindling resources and an ever-growing population, science cannot find a way for everyone to have enough.
Spirit sees economics as a matter of sharing the infinite supply of life-giving goods with each other. It sees money as a kind of energy, as it sees all things. This "green energy" needs to be kept moving. Spirit encourages us to keep up a steady stream of giving in order to keep the energy moving. It will move around in circular fashion, coming back to offer to the fearless giver true abundance. Generosity is the key to this approach to economics.
Spirit does not encourage us to hoard our resources. The Lord's Prayer asks for supply for this day. "Give us this day our daily bead." The parable of the loaves and fishes suggests to us that a little goes a long way if we share that little among friends with a loving and open heart.
The open marketplace; the horizontal way of trade, has been with us throughout recorded history. A great percentage of the world's peoples have bartered and swapped, traded and dickered their way through life, making their little pile into a sustainable lifestyle. Everyone's stall is tiny. Their stock is unique and eccentric. Their world of trade sings with individuality, character and excellence. People are proud of their work, eager to visit and to engage in the bartering which is a sport and an art.
For millennia, this arrangement has sufficed to keep body and soul together for millions and millions of very poor people. Yet these people are not impacted by being poor, for their needs are met.
Into this horizontal style of economics has come the vertical style of the American corporation. Whereas the bartering of simple people in older societies is amenable to the spiritual world of seeing all things as sacred and vulnerable to charity, the business model sees all things as without any soul and all customers as patsies. The idea is to make money for the corporation. Period. In securing their resources and establishing their rights wherever they wish to do so, they have hollowed out democracy in this country and, increasingly, around the world.
From Arundahti Roy, an Indian National activist and writer, comes the story on the news this week of how a large American company decided to purchase a huge tract of land. The Indian government, whose politicians at this time are eager for the corporations to come in since they see personal revenue from that exercise, agreed to commandeer the land where the corporation wished to build. It evacuated the area and put armed guards around it. Eighty percent of the inhabitants there were declared indigent, removed from their street homes and banned from returning. No effort was made to move them to another place where the streets were still free. This is in a country where street living has been a way of life since the days of Babylonian ascendancy.
The twenty percent of people there who owned land were recompensed at 35,000 rupees an acre. The Indian government then sold this land to the corporation for over ten times that much. Were the land to be held up for sale in a fair fashion, the cost per acre according to local economists is approximately eleven times what the corporation paid.
400,000 people were displaced so that the foreign corporation could build there. The corporation will pay slave wages to the lucky Indian nationals who speak English and can do the work needed. That is about 5% of the remaining local population, which is the twenty percent who had land. For all other people, there is nothing except displacement and no governmental support whatsoever, either in immediate relief or any sort of program to rehabilitate or retrain displaced workers.
Roy said, "The American business model is to steal from the poor, subsidize the rich and call it a free market." This term is ironic to her since she sees the armed guards arresting the people they have displaced, calling them pickpockets and thieves and placing them in prisons without filing charges of any kind or allowing any sort of legal aid. Roy called these people the "disappeared people." The story is all too common.
This vertical model of economics, with all money and power collected to the top of the pyramid, is a toxic one. Our nation's globalization policies are a sustained and determined rape of the world's resources and people. It would be a great blessing to have the chance to return to a less centralized, less efficient and less advertising-driven economy.
Imagine a world where you ate only local food, created functional and beautiful things from the resources available locally and traded goods and services fairly and freely with people you knew!
It is difficult, I know, even to imagine it. However, people are trying to create little pockets of such economy. Visiting a friend of mine in Ithaca, New York, I attended the weekly open-air marketplace. There, many local vendors offer their hand-made and home-grown goods and give Ithaca Bucks as incentives. The other vendors honor the Ithaca Bucks as well. One can trade and barter to one's heart's content.
And because it is an open-air market, the atmosphere is celebratory. Street musicians offer music and pass the hat. Artists create portraits for buyers along the sidewalks. People talk to each other, laugh with each other and have fun being part of their tribe of humankind.
And the heart opens.
I open my arms and embrace your spirit. May you enjoy being part of the tribe of humankind today. As you acquire that which you need of worldly goods, may you patronize Mom and Pop's stores wherever you find them and find generosity in your giving of the green energy we call money.