I’m taking an advanced seminar course this semester called Economic Justice. Taught by a philosophy professor and an economics professor (who happen to be best friends), it’s one of the more challenging and interesting courses I’ve taken at Elon. When discussing how money is in and of itself imaginary, for example, I learned that currency is like the fairies in Peter Pan – if the children stop believing, all the fairies die :) And among other things, I’ve also learned about classic libertarian Milton Friedman’s strong opinions on the limits of the government, and, specifically, on medical licensure.
Anyway, our very first assignment was to write a “This I Believe” essay about our thoughts and opinions on aspects of economic justice. (This I Believe is a project started by NPR some time ago, and has grown into quite the movement. Check out http://thisibelieve.org/.) We’re going to write another This I Believe essay at the end of the course — I’m sure a lot of our opinions about things will have changed, which is the point.
Writing this got me pretty fired up, as did reading it out loud in class when we shared our essays the following class period. I couldn’t help but think about the field research I conducted for my thesis in a few mining communities in Ghana.
Also, happy International Day of Peace. Today is an important day.
Roses are red, violets are blue, access is arbitrary; let voices ring true.
I believe that talent is universal but opportunity is not. Everyone on earth has the same basic needs; it is only our circumstances – where we live and the culture into which we are born – that differ. Some are born into relative prosperity and security, while millions – through no choice of their own – are born into poverty.
I believe that unequal access to resources is one of the root causes of poverty. I believe hunger, for example, is not about too many people and too little food, because our rich planet produces enough food to feed every person on earth. Hunger is about power; its roots lie in inequalities in access to education and resources. Why do millions of people not have access to what they need to survive? Access to things like land, markets to sell their goods, decent jobs, credit, education, peace, and political freedom? I believe in asking the difficult questions and not settling for superficial answers.
I believe in transparency. Transparent, equitable and accountable systems are few and far between and demanding them is imperative if we want the roots of causes to be ripped up and never permitted to grow again. I believe in responsibility, in needing far less than we think we do, and in the support of a community. I believe that wealth is not measured by money. In what ways are you rich? In what ways can you share with others? In a just world, money works and is not wasted. I, for one, have no idea how money is supposed to work, but I know it should help and not hinder the ways in which good is done in this world. (And I believe in understanding the role of money and wealth in that process, which is why I believe in understanding economics and what economic justice entails.)
By definition, charity refers to helpfulness, a gift, an institution engaged in relieving the poor. I do not believe in helping; I believe in supporting. I believe in getting your hands dirty working alongside someone who was not born with the luxuries you were. And so, I believe that overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, but rather, an act of justice. Working towards justice, however, does not have to mean imposing solutions; it can mean promoting change from the bottom up and believing that people have the power, the right, and the understanding to create solutions for their own communities.
In this sense, one aspect of justice is that of protecting a fundamental human right: the right to dignity and a decent life. In a socially just world, every man, woman, and child knows what it is to embrace dignity; every man, woman, and child knows what it is to offer support and be supported.
I believe so strongly in law, but I know that sometimes it fails to uphold justice in many societies. In Prestea, Ghana, it is almost impossible not to justify the way illegal gold miners like Albert Mensah mine their own land because the multinational mining company that has “acquired,” mined, and destroyed his plot of farmland refuses to hire him. I believe that sometimes, we must observe and not offer to try to fix things. We must use the tools we have – both collectively and individually – to speak up and take action, when needed and when appropriate.
More than anything, I believe in voices. Everyone has a story to tell, but some have no way to tell it. So, what’s your story? Perhaps more importantly, whom will you use your voice to speak for?