Resolution Calling for a More Just, Humane Direction for Economic Globalization approved by the 202nd Annual Meeting (2001)

6/9/2001


Approved by the 202nd Annual Meeting, June 9, 2001. Proposed by the Commission for Mission and Justice Ministries
 
WHEREAS, General Synods and Massachusetts Conference Annual Meetings have passed numerous resolutions seeking to support a more just national and international economic system, including, "Justice in the Maquiladoras" (GS 18, 1991), "In Support of International Fair Trade" (GS 19, 1993), "Affirming Democratic Principles in an Emerging Global Economy" (GS 21, 1997), and "Ending the Stranglehold of Global Debt on Impoverished Nations" (GS 22, 1999) at General Synods, and "Resolution on Studying Global Debt Relief" (AM 197, 1996) and its next-year follow-up: "Resolution on Debt Relief for the Poorest Nations of the World" (AM 198, 1997), and "Resolution Concerning the U.S. Economic Embargo Against Cuba and On Behalf of the People of Cuba" (AM 198, 1997), "Call to Jubilee" (AM 200, 1999) at Annual Meetings; and

WHEREAS, The growth of "economic globalization" has raised the quality of life for many people (mainly in First World countries), it has lowered it for many others (mainly in Third World countries); it has lowered costs of food and clothing for some, while lowering wages and levels of human rights for others; it has created technological wonders for some areas, while allowing the destruction of rain forests and increases in hunger in others; and

WHEREAS, With the rise of globalization, concern over the major International Financial Institutions (IFIs), such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, NAFTA, and others, has brought protests in numerous countries, as local laborers, merchants, farmers, human rights workers, environmentalists, and others have begun to see its effects on their countries, including loss of sovereignty and democracy, and

WHEREAS, The rules for international commerce set by these institutions have contributed to the increases of poverty and environmental degradation in the Third World (for example, loan repayments, required by the G-7 for external debt payments, are ten times higher relative to income than the Allies required of post war Germany; "Structural Adjustment Programs," required by the IMF to qualify for debt relief, are targeted to raise unemployment and lower wages; tariff resolutions, required by the WTO to enhance "free trade," lower environmental standards, and allow powerful Trans-national corporations to compete on a "level playing field" with small emerging companies); and
 
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, That the 202nd Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference UCC encourages local churches to study the implications of an increasingly globalized world on the environment and human communities, and that issues of globalization be raised in adult education programs, Bible studies, and worship services in our various churches, Associations, and Areas (study guides and worship resources will be made available); and
 
RESOLVED, That the 202nd Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference UCC encourages local church members and Conference leaders to prayerfully consider becoming involved and/or more deeply involved with campaigns which seek a more humane form of globalization which holds up persons and the environment over markets and profits, including such things as the continuing Jubilee debt cancellation campaign and the campaign against sweat shops and the economic displacement of persons, etc.; and

RESOLVED, That the 202nd Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference UCC voices its support for the 23rd General Synod of the United Church of Christ in its convening of a national commission of pastors, parishioners and scholars to study the impact of Corporate Globalization on the poor of the world, toward the purpose of bringing to the 24th General Synod of the United Church of Christ, a Proposed Pronouncement of our collective response to the issue; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, That the 202nd Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference UCC encourages our denominational leaders in offices of Global Education and Advocacy Ministry, Justice and Witness Ministries, and others to work for legislative policies which advocate a humane and ecologically sound direction for economic and corporate globalization efforts.

Background, Summary, and Theological Rationale

Background and Summary

"Economic Globalization" is a contemporary term used to define the complex growing movement toward international integration of markets and production. Its definition generally includes lowering tariffs and trade barriers and opening up markets for foreign investment, trade and capital flows. There are many related but separate forms of globalization (religious, cultural, media, etc.) But Economic Globalization refers here to a particular form that seeks to enhance the power and wealth of (mainly western) transnational corporations and their stockholders. Some of its most visible government support institutions (known as "International Financial Institutions," or IFIs) are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), and the World Trade Organization (WTO), but there are many others. As a concept it has existed for centuries, but it has grown dramatically in the last twenty years, and especially during the 1990s following the fall of the Soviet Union.

As a movement, Globalization holds both great promise and great danger for the poor, for the environment, and for democracy itself. One example is the movement of clothing production from the United States to China. Benefits are lower costs for consumers in the US, and job creation in some Chinese communities. But it could also cause harm if workers in the US lose jobs, and workers in China turn out to be children or political prisoners. Another example: following the NAFTA treaty of 1995, small Mexican farmers were forced to compete with large agri-business producers based in the US. In the years following, prices for "maize" (corn) declined somewhat, which was good for consumers, but Mexican farmers saw their profits collapse by over one half, driving up poverty and unemployment in rural areas.1

This resolution does not call for the end of globalization. There are many positive aspects to
globalization, and in some form it is inevitable. The question for people of faith, however, is in what form? What this resolution does do is to question the logic of the existing form of economic globalization, which appears to place the values of trade and investment before human values and environmental values. It then calls upon our United Church of Christ members to educate themselves to the potential dangers of an unfettered economic globalization and calls for both members and denominational instrumentalities to become active in urging our national political and economic leaders to develop our globalization policies in a more just, humane form. In many instances if our own widely accepted protections on labor and the environment were applied globally through the trade rules and regulations of the WTO and the IMF, many, if not most, of the concerns over globalization would be met.

Biblical and Theological Rationale

From its earliest days, Christianity has always believed in globalization, a theological globalization. At its inception the church took seriously the "Great Commission" of Jesus that the Good news of the love of God should circle the globe, that Christians should "Go...and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19). With the Christians in the book of Acts, we took Christ's words to heart that we "will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be [Christ's] witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Throughout the centuries, the church has taken the message of the love of God through Christ to the corners of the earth. The gospel was preached, hospitals were built, schools were established, and more recently hungry people were fed. However, with theological globalization often came theological imperialism. Schools, medicine and development often brought with them the destruction of local customs and culture and the introduction of disease and oppression at levels unknown before our arrival.

Similarly, today this new form of globalization, based on trade and free markets, is encircling the planet, promising great increases in communication, technology, and incomes. But, like theological globalization, that promise has produced both positive and negative results. Along with pledges of coming abundance and "modernization" for the planet, its policies have also contributed heavily to over fishing, deforestation, air pollution, acid rain, global warming, and the depression of wages, to mention just a few.

From a theological perspective, economic globalization, and the free market system in general, may have become an "idolatry" in American society. By idolatry here is meant a self contained belief system which demands allegiance from its adherents, and does not acknowledge any other value above its own. It claims a universality for its particular structures and behaviors, and therefore lacks an outside reference with which to critique itself.2
 
Globalization can be said to be viewed by its adherents as an "idolatry" in the sense that it has developed its own totalizing, systemic view of the world, with clear definitions of good and bad, articles of faith, rituals of worship, and standards for salvation. It places the value of accumulation of goods and services above human value. It measures persons and behaviors by extrinsic monetary value, not an intrinsic transcendent value. Humans and the environment, by this theology, are valued not by their origins in God's creative love, but by their production value or personal monetary wealth. In an economically globalized world view, that which promotes economic growth is considered good, even when individuals and communities are harmed.
 
And that which stops or slows growth is considered evil, even when individuals or communities are benefited. Evidence of this can be seen in those occasions when some (though not all) corporations are confronted with evidence of harm to persons or the environment and the result has been a change of public relations, not a change in policy. Cover ups of the dangers of Firestone's Firehawk ATX and Goodyear's Load Range E tires are recent examples.3

The long-range promise (or "eschatological vision") that economic globalization holds up for a world of integrated markets, is that eventually consumers, producers and the environment will all benefit and the world will be free of poverty. And indeed there are some who have already begun to benefit. However, numerous studies have shown that, so far, those who have benefited have been few and those who have been harmed have been many. During the last twenty years of the most rapid expansion of economic globalization, the world has grown in fact more poor, not more wealthy. In most countries of the world income inequality has risen rapidly, wages have stagnated or fallen, and in the developing world prices for their exports are at all time lows.4

The major IFIs which have been established to guide the world economy have in many, if not most, cases deepened the poverty. During the mid-1990s economic slowdown in east Asia, for example, the IMF imposed rules for receiving an economic bailout that made the downturn into the worst depression in generations, effectively driving millions of people into poverty. South Korea experienced an 200% increase in absolute poverty, directly related to IMF policies.5 Similarly, one of the many requirements of the World Trade Organization on Third World countries is that they must open their economies so that small-scale, locally owned firms will be forced to compete with international conglomerates, the result of which is often bankruptcy or buyout of the local firms, and the net loss of taxes and incomes (and frequently jobs) to the Third World country.6
As Christians, we are called to serve God not wealth ("Mammon"). Therefore the Kingdom (or realm) of God which we envision, stands in contrast to, and is a critique of, any present international financial system. The Realm as Jesus proclaimed it was based on the Hebrew notion of "Jubilee," God's original ecology of creation, a world in parity as God intended. That image stands as an alternative to the idolatry of the present individualistic, stratified, society, and as a dream of a future world based on
God's community.

The church has always understood itself in global terms, and understood all human beings to be a part of a global family, interconnected in the community of God. As Christians, our trust in, and loyalty to, the one God beyond all gods does not bring us to deny the importance of other values, even the responsible accumulation of some levels of wealth, but it does mean that we cannot worship them. We cannot serve economic values to the exclusion of human and environmental values. We cannot accept their claim that human value is monetary or commodity value.

1 Taken from WTO documents, cited in "The Rough Guide to Globalization: A CAFOD Briefing." CAFOD is the official aid and development agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

2 Applications of the concept of idolatry to present economic or political questions can be found in the
works of a number of contemporary writers, especially theologians of liberation. See, for example, Franz Hinkelammert, The Ideological Weapons of Death (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis books, 1986, and Pablo Richard, et. Al., The Battle of the Gods (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1984.)

3 "Goodyear tires face federal probe: Agency has 37 reports about tread separation," Sara Nathan, USA Today, November 21, 2000, p. 1
.
4 World Bank, Global Development Finance 1999, Washington, D.C.: World Bank, pp. 14-15.

5 See Joseph Stiglitz, "What I Learned At the World Economic Crisis," The New Republic, April 17, 2000. Stiglitz is a former chief economist at the World Bank who was forced to resign in 1999 due to his criticism of the policies of the Bank and the IMF.

6 See for example, "In Haiti," Michael Dobbs, Washington Post, April 13, 2000 ; A01. It tells the story of how the International Monetary Fund forced Haiti to drop its subsidies for locally grown rice and allow its growers to compete against highly subsidized American rice, resulting in the collapse of the rice growing industry and thousands of farmers abandoning their land to move to cities or immigrate to the US.
 



 



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