Most people spend most of their waking hours in productive activity. By work we feed ourselves and our children, and support our communities and our posterity. By work we make and preserve art and science, literature and religion. Work is, or should be, a major source of meaning and purpose in all of our lives.
Yet Left and Right alike perceive contemporary American society as suffering a deep spiritual malaise. We are alienated from work; our work does not serve us. Here in the richest society in history, our work does not assure that basic needs are met for all people. Many of us who seek meaningful work can not find it, or can not support ourselves or our families on the work that we do. We work harder than ever – the most hours per week of any modern society – often at the cost of neglecting our health, our families and our communities. And yet for too many of us that work does not provide us with joy, with meaning, with connection to nature, spirit, or one another. We work, not only for ourselves, but for a better world. Yet our work seems to lead only to ever-increasing inequality in wealth, income and the power that they bring, and our economies seem further and further away from out control.
The spiritual progressives assert that we can and will make the deep and fundamental changes required to build a truly spiritual, values-based economy, and economy in which our work builds the world we want to live in and serves the best and highest in all of us.
What is a spiritual, values-based economy?
A spiritual economy:
- Meets basic human needs. It is an economy that feeds the hungry, heals the sick, clothes the naked, cares for the infirm, houses the homeless, and educates the young. It guarantees that basic needs are met as a matter of right, including a guaranteed minimum income and universal health care.
- Provides opportunities for right livelihood to all who seek work. It assures that opportunities for meaningful and productive work are available to all; that those who seek such work earnestly and diligently are able to find it; and provides assurances to all that their work is done justly and contributes to the good.
- Assures a decent standard of living to all who work. In wage-based economies, this means that employees will receive an after-tax living wage from their employers. In non-wage economies, such as household production or intentional communities, it means that a decent standard of living is assured in other ways.
- Guarantees a healthy workplace environment. It promotes the physical and mental health of those who work. It protects workers from exposure to toxins, hazardous equipment, repetitive motion injuries, and excessive stress. It structures the workday in such a way as to encourage a reasonable level of exercise and personal care.
- Supports the growth of knowledge and wisdom in people of all ages. It includes a high quality public education through the college level available to all, and vocational education for those that choose not to go to college that effectively prepares them for good jobs. It structures work to encourage the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom throughout one's life. It includes moral education to support spiritual growth and good citizenship.
- Values diversity. A spiritual economy takes joy in our diversity, affirmatively valuing interaction with people diverse in creed, background, age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, race, language, national origin, ability, and political views – the entire spectrum of humanity.
- Is open, forthright and transparent. In a spiritual economy, accurate information about the costs and benefit associated with products and public and private productive enterprises is readily available; at the point where decisions to purchase a product, to invest, to regulate, or to otherwise influence the behavior of an enterprise is made. This should always include labels summarizing the impacts of products and their production on consumers, workers, the environment, and community. The books of all public and private enterprises, including compensation information, shall be open to all in a reasonable time, place, and manner.
- Is participatory. A spiritual economy provides workers, consumers and communities with effective methods to connect to one another and to participate in economic decisions that affect their lives.
- Provides a proper balance between work, family and community. It provides for the health of our families and communities by assuring that they can receive adequate contributions of time and material goods. In particular, it supports workers in taking more time – enough more time – to take care of their families and contribute effectively to their communities. It likewise assures that adequate economic resources are provided to public and community organizations to serve their essential purposes.
- Honors and preserves nature and nature's bounty. A spiritual economy treasures and preserves the places that we love and that feed our spirit, and preserves our natural heritage to future generations. It honors and preserves species and the health of diverse communities of living things, and acts as a steward of that health. It protects air and water from pollution, and interacts with natural resources and biological communities in ways that can be permanently sustained.
- Recognizes our place in the larger world. A spiritual economy does not limit its assessment of values or consequences at the border of a single nation, but rather is mindful of the impact that its trade creates on the workers, consumers, and environment of other nations, and reflects that mindfulness in policies that assure that our trade serves the global good as well as our own, while respecting the self-determination of other peoples.
- Treat workers as ends rather than means. Work-places that encourage us to regard one another as mere instruments for personal gain are antithetical to a spiritual life and a spiritual economy. A spiritual economy incorporates effective workplace measures that encourage us to treat our fellow workers with respect, compassion, and, to the extent possible, with love.
- Supports work as a spiritual or ethical practice. Most adults spend more of their waking hours at work than in any other activity. As a result, neither a spiritual economy nor a fully-developed spiritual life is possible without integrating spirituality with our workday. Thus a spiritual economy will encourage each of us to incorporate our own spiritual and ethical beliefs and practices into our work-life, in a way that honors and respects the dignity and diversity of our many faiths, beliefs and values.
Note: The Moral Economy Project received a copy of the article above from Andrew Hoerner. Those who agree with the principles of a spiritual economy will also find his sustainability agenda for the new president of the USA inspiring reading.