Saturday, March 27, 2010

Responding to Michael Schluter on the Relational Economy

I'm always interested in listening to thoughtful Christians who are prepared to reflect deeply about social policy issues from a Biblical perspective, and Michael Schluter of the Jubilee Centre and the Relationships Foundation must be regarded as one of the foremost such thinkers in the UK at the present time.

His recent essay on the Relational Economy drew me in with its working title of Beyond Capitalism, excited me with his critique of the current economic model and his emphasis on putting human relationships at the heart of social and economic policy, and then raised some concerns in me about the practical outworking of some aspects of his social welfare proposals.

Schluter's emphasis on putting relationships at the heart of social policy is, I think, an excellent perspective and one that is capable of receiving widespread support both within and outside Christian circles.

More specifically, Schluter is a small-government localist - certainly as far as economics and social security provision is concerned - and explicitly states in the essay that he sees the natural allies of such a worldview being, "those of other religious faiths with relational priorities, those in regional and local government ..., those in the environment lobby ...., and those among the wider public who understand the importance of family and other relational ties. These disparate groups could together form a Relational Movement to persuade political parties to adopt part or all of the Relational agenda."

His critique of the problem of debt - personal and national - is fascinating, and his assertion of the role of the extended family is, in many ways, truly radical. Elements of Schluter-ism also resonate with Distributism, which asserts the importance of small, family-owned businesses against the interests of multi-national firms, and about which I have previously written here.

Some quotes from Schluter to whet your appetite for the full article:

"The prize of localism in welfare is not primarily saving scarce resources; it is better relational support and care for vulnerable people. It is also the reactivation of families and communities, and their engagement in economic, judicial and political decisions, which reinforce relational bonds and incentivise political engagement."

"If Capitalism is not radically reformed, what is the alternative? Family and community solidarity will become increasingly dysfunctional, leading to high levels of unemployment, unsustainable demands on schools, hospitals and social services, and an increasingly angry, disillusioned and frustrated electorate. The door will be open for authoritarian politicians of the Left or Right, with an agenda of savage repression to maintain social order."

There's also an interesting interview with Schluter in Christian Today here.

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