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creation, alliance, promise

With these three words Elena Lasida characterised a social economy that enhances society. She gave one of the clearer and more intriguing presentations on the 5th European Social Week, held in Ostend, Belgium, from 23-25 January 2014. What struck me was that she did not present these ideas as alternatives, or opposites of the existing economic thinking, but as ideas that were inherent to the economy — at least, that was what I gathered listening to her.

All too often ethical, and especially Christian, principles are presented like accessories for a car. It is said that Christian-social principles have an added value, as if it is the leather upholstery in one’s car. But without that added luxury on your seats, just with the standard fabric, your car goes as fast.
Christian-social principles are principles that constitute acts such as economic activity. They are inherent to our acts, and not an added value. The contribution of Christian-social thinking is in the first place to lay bare these principles. Elena Lasida did so by introducing the Biblical principles of Creation, Alliance, and Promise.
‘Creation tells us that the economy is not only about fabricating, but also about forging new relationships as well. The company is a social actor, and social justice is not only safeguarding a minimum subsistence level, but also about guarantees that people can contribute to society.
‘Alliance’ sits next to the contract, the contract being the conditional alliance. The alliance between The Name and humankind, and between humans mutually, means that employer and employee are co-creators — they take a risk together, unconditionally.
‘Promise’, the promise to Abraham, opens our view to a new, unknown, horizon, away from the short-term certainties. Maybe this idea is the biggest contrast with economics as usual. This promise puts us on the path of an ‘exodus’, an exodus out of the crisis, towards more quality of life, to a society that invites everyone’s creative contribution.
This idea of promise is the most visionary and appeals to a hope that is shared among many, for example among the World Social Forum: ‘another world is possible.’ That future is a social economy that contributes to people living together, to the flourishing of human talents and creativity. And what I concluded after hearing Elena’s contribution is that that idea of a social economy is also the foundation of the rightly criticized system we have right now.
Take John Locke, as an unadulterated liberal example. His account of property starts by stating that the earth is given to man in common. By labouring the earth, one can call something one’s property. Then he formulates two cardinal sins: first, gathering and labouring more than you can consume. Then you steal from the community. And second: not labouring the earth. Labouring the earth produces a much and much greater yield than gathering what grows by itself, and thus, when you do not labour the earth, you withhold yield, and thus the means for subsistence from the community. Already for John Locke, father of liberalism, property is related to the society of humankind.

I read into this the universal destination of property that is part of the catholic social teaching. The social economy we want is maybe closer by than we think in our worst dreams. It is up to us to show how our economy only functions as a social economy.

Published 29 January 2014, after the 5th European Social Week