The Jesus Way and Basic Income

Christ taught in a community struggling to live a renewed set of values rooted in an old gospel. He stood for a culture of loving engagement and mutual support, living within but rising above the profanity of power and brutality that was ancient Jerusalem. It was a community where brother and sister living in Christ looked after each other in a hostile environment, with a sense of calling and mission, while starting to build a new society of love and compassion.
But the average new Christian was caught in the middle, surviving in the secular culture where everyone strives to seek satisfaction of one’s needs and wants wherever one can get it — yet also believing in their Christian culture of compassion and service to others, especially the lowly.
Every one of them except Christ was a mix of the secular and the spiritual, the sinful and the holy. Christ’s commission to them was to rebalance their lives. Look a little beyond the self-indulgence and compromises needed to survive in the jungle of Jerusalem, and move toward a higher life of loving service to others, even to the point of personal sacrifice.
He counselled a new awakening of of mutual support and mutual caring, and building a new Jerusalem as their new calling in life. To put it in modern economic terms, he was calling for a new vocation, built upon the old, and for putting that vocation up front and centre.
How far we have moved in the opposite direction over the following millennia. We have fully turned down the road of self-indulgent, be-served and be-satisfied culture — to a pathological extent. We have fully bought into the 19th century hard-core materialist ideology — where compassion is just non-linear irrational behaviour beyond reach of the sacred scientific method. We’re firmly in the grip of compulsive addictive consumerism and acquisitiveness, with little hope of escape.
So where are vocation, calling, or mission to be found in this all-powerful marketing environment — where work and career are reduced to a means for acquiring more consumption goods? There are actually islands of vocation in our career-obsessed culture. Some can find income support for a genuine calling in some service vocations — those that are able to command a price in labour markets or claim support from the charity infrastructure.
But too many true callings can do neither effectively. They are left abandoned in an economy where the chief means of receiving material support for any career is selling oneself in the market. If you really want to serve people outside the labor market — where the greatest needs and the least money are to be found — you need a day job to support yourself.
The upshot is that an alternative source of material support is needed — for those whose calling is not marketable or may even be corrupted in the marketplace — if we are to follow Christ and take his calling seriously. Otherwise, we live in a dead-end environment for those seeking meaning in their lives.
So here’s the key point. That sacred link between income and market labour, the holy grail of the economic liturgy, needs to be severed. A guaranteed income is a viable alternative, already well researched. A secured baseline income available to each of God’s children, just for being a child of God, opens the possibility of discerning one’s calling — but with no requirement to corrupt that quest with the need to market oneself.
People with a drive to serve are usually terrible self-marketers. Such people can devote themselves instead to building the kind of caring and serving community that Christ called upon us to nourish.
But of course not all guaranteed income recipients are going to devote themselves to serving God and neighbour. We are, most of us, too pathologically hooked on consumer culture and many would react violently to any attempt to rein in our affluence. We need to get off our empty-freedom kick and shake off our acquisition fix.
This is no easy task. So any guaranteed income program must be accompanied by a drive to establish vocation/calling as the central thrust of our economic culture. And the Church is the institution that is best positioned to turn the call for guaranteed income in that direction.

Gary-Russell 2
Gary Russell has taught economics in both Canada and China. Read his blog at profaneeconomy.com or contact him at [email protected].

This calls for several measures — reviving our age-old story of a community that looks after each other in mutual engagement — breaking the commodity addiction — re-establishing a holistic relationship between production and consumption, where consumption is meant to be sustenance for our productive vocation.
But it won’t hurt to start with the economic factor. Hey, it’s cheaper than welfare!

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