In Chapter 28 of Everything Must Change, McLaren writes:
What can be done to deal with this gross and growing inequity that is being produced by our societal machinery? Many claim that the invisible had of free markets will resolve these problems naturally, over time. But to reiterate J. F. Rischard’s analysis:
Whether from intellectual laziness or from single-minded pursuit of ideology, what these free-market fundamentalists fail to see is that while central planners were either cretins or fools, the market is a moron. An effective moron, but a moron nonetheless: left to its own devices, it will churn mindlessly … [If we are complacent,] if we leave all problem-solving to the market, emerging social problems will be left unattended … We’ll end up with scores of unnecessary social stresses over the next twenty years – and a lot of protesters on the street. (245)
There are some valid points to this critique but I want out to point out what, to me, is one of the great ironies I see in the Emergent Church conversation, a community of which McLaren is a leading figure. The Emergent Village has as their tag line:
Emergent Village is a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
There is strong resistance by many Emergent folks to anything institutional or hierarchical. Free church ecclesiology predominates. Generative cohorts emerge, seek to live out life together. Out of this seeming chaos, orderly patterns emerge, dissolve, and then new patterns emerge. I think I’ve read or heard most of the more prominent leaders of this community give hat tips to the importance of chaos theory somewhere along the line. I came to similar conclusions about social systems years ago and one of the things that really hooked me about the emerging church conversation (nearly a decade ago) was their appreciation for this dynamic in the functioning of the church.
But now let me take Rishard’s quote and paraphrase it so that it becomes about emerging church ecclesiology.
Whether from intellectual laziness or from single-minded pursuit of ideology, what these free-church fundamentalists fail to see is that while ecclesial leaders were either cretins or fools, the generative cohort collectively is a moron. An effective moron, but a moron nonetheless: left to its own devices, it will churn mindlessly … [If we are complacent,] if we leave all problem-solving to cohorts, emerging problems will be left unattended … We’ll end up with scores of unnecessary stresses over the next twenty years – and a dysfunctional church.
Why is it that a community that is so heavily invested in non-institutionalism that they have “generative cohorts” (not congregations, fellowships, or communities; all too institutional) has a preponderance of people with disdain for a generative cohort economy? Now I know some will say that in the economy there are big corporations that can dominate the economy. But don’t a small handful of individuals within the Emergent conversation have megaphones and audiences for in excess of everyone else? I’d suggest that McLaren is an Exxon in the economy of the Emergent conversation. :) We need less free church and more fair church. :) I'm not as free church oriented as many Emergent folks are (though I'm sympathetic), and I'm decidedly more free market oriented than most folks I encounter (though I don't embrace libertarianism.)
Many Emergent folks have come from ecclesial settings with a heavy emphasis on church hierarchy and conservative/libertarian politics. I detect a strong reactionary streak that opposes church hierarchy and embraces political progressivism as an attempt to escape a rejected past. The result too often is a contra-Evangelicalism.
But coming back to the book, you need to know that McLaren does point to the importance of developing families and communities. He also talks about the importance of personal responsibility. I don’t recall any specific recommendations for government management of various parts of the economy. I see the renewal of the family and mediating institutions as the focal point of cultural transformation and I expect McLaren and I would find some common ground here about vision, though I’m not sure about strategy.
He does talk about the importance of identifying and remedying systemic evil. What, precisely, the systemic evils are, is not always clear. Economic growth, or at least “rapid” economic growth (how ever that is measured), is one systemic evil. He believes free trade needs to be replaced by fair trade (although I would argue the free trade is fair trade and what is driving the “fair trade” talk is the erroneous acceptance of claims by exploiters that the have been practicing free trade.) On page 258 he writes:
...we need to make it easier for people to grow small businesses. This will often involve both deregulation (cutting red tap for poor but aspiring entrepreneurs and for small-business owners who are expanding their businesses and thus providing more employment) and regulation (restraining powerful, large corporations – especially transnational ones – from crushing local entrepreneurship while exploiting local resources and cheap labor.)
Emerging economies don’t just need more small businesses. They need home grown large corporations. Each industry has its own unique set of variables. Some will have a small handful of corporations. Others will have a highly fragmented small business model. Some will have a variety of mixtures between those two. If you read my blog regularly, then you know I’m a big fan of microenterprise. But emerging economies well never fully emerge until they have the full range industries and business enterprises.
I don’t have as negative a view of large corporations as McLaren’s (but by no means a naïve view about the problems.) Large corporations in emerging nations have important spillover effects into local economies. Large corporations frequently raise the level of human capital as locals work for or interact with these corporations. Locals develop acumen for technology and businesses. Large corporations often spawn the emergence of new local businesses that help to supply the large corporation. Foreign corporations usually pay wages that are higher than what local businesses pay and that stimulates the economy as well. As we saw yesterday, the poorer the nation, seemingly the greater the embrace of foreign corporations. As we have also seen, the claim that the predominate economic impact of corporations is the flow of wealth out of emerging nations doesn’t pass muster.
Of all of these issues, the one that alarms me the most in this discussion is this idea that we need to slow down the economy, particularly when it is paired with the assertion of an imminent ecological apocalypse. If you make it easier for entrepreneurship to emerge in emerging economies, you are going to have significant growth. How exactly do we accomplish this slow down of the economy?
Calls to changing personal consumption habits are admirable but I don’t know anyone who believes that this strategy alone is going to precipitate the radical level of change the prophets of doom are demanding. I’m disturbed by the silence on this especially in light of McLaren’s seeming disdain for markets, the fact that he views national government as the primary institution in economic matters, and the fact that environmentalism is the new home of socialist and communist movements all over the planet (They see the narrative McLaren is casting as an opportunity for the realization of totalitarian visions.) How do we slow the economy without massive, if not totalitarian, government intervention? Let's not be coy here.