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Economist considers world economy 'an un-economy'

There must be a word for the phenomenon, but it doesn’t seem to have shown up in crossword puzzles yet. Sometimes when reading or doing a web search, our eyes rest on a word in an unrelated article, directing our eyes in another direction.

The term “un-economy” has recently come to my attention that way.

It seems to have been coined by Stewart Wallis, an English economist who is associated with the New Economics Institute and who has been honored for his work as international director of Oxfam.

According to him, our world economy now is an un-economy. It is unfair, unsustainable, unstable, and it is making too many people unhappy.

The unfairness is reflected in many areas, including the growing divide between the income of rich and the poor, and the growth of the financial sector in our economy.

We are hearing regularly that 1 percent of the population currently takes home 40 percent of the earned income in this country. In 1985, the financial sector represented 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. By this decade, it had grown to 41 percent.

For the most part, this growth has not created any real products or jobs. It represents creation of financial instruments that make more money for those who already have plenty—as shown by their ability to invest in these exotic creations. One example is collateralized mortgage obligations, which cut mortgages into itty-bitty pieces and issued them as insurance against mortgages going bad.

The unsustainability is reflected in a shareholder economy which is concerned primarily with short-term interests, such as the bottom line, and emphasizes ever-increasing productivity. It seems logical to assume that there must be a limit to how many times a company can downsize its workforce while demanding more from the remaining workers.

Stewart Wallis advocates for a stakeholder economy, in which workers, consumers, the environment and future generations are taken into consideration.

Our current recession is an example of an unstable un-economy. Throughout the world there is a skewed distribution of resources such as food, water, land and energy. Why should greed have first claim on all resources?

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourner magazine, has been visiting Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and listening to demonstrators. He sees reflections of the un-economy in the concerns of the demonstrators and has two suggestions for those on the sidelines: 1) Don’t expect a list of demands. Occupy Wall Street is providing opportunities for the discussion of real problems. 2) Don’t worry about endorsing Occupy Wall Street, instead, engage with the movement.

As he points out, many of the various elements that have been drawn together in the Occupy movement do not endorse each other.

Jim asked a young man he met at Occupy Wall Street what churches could do to support the movement, and he was told that they could provide inspiration, consultation and presence. Jim suggests, among other things, listening and taking food.

Jim Wallis and Stewart Wallis have no familial tie. They just seem to be drawn together by their common interests in a just economy.

Are we ever going to reach the point where justice is a civil right?

Nancy Minard - editorial team