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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Bailout 11: Market Morality Won't Just Vanish

The assumption of much public policy making is that getting the money in the right place or setting up the right program will solve problems. Of course, these things can and do make a difference. However, as Cornel West argued long ago, changing the conditions of extreme poverty will not go away just by setting up programs. Nor will they go away by telling the people caught up in poverty to change their behavior. Culture and social structures are interlinked. That is why he wrote about "market morality." When social thinking becomes colonized and dominated by doctrinaire market theories, then other forms of moral vision and community begin to be eclipsed by individual self-interest. That is why West called for a "politics of conversion:" the change has to be deep and it has to be systemic.

Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux have picked up this argument in relation to the current bailout of the economy. They recognize that new views of the economy are gaining a hearing, but they also point out that the general population has been schooled in free market thinking and its market morality. A change that renews the commitment to the common good, a belief in government's role to do good for citizens, and moral limits on individual freedom will require a process of education.

Politics is not simply about the production and protection of economic formations; it is also about the production of individuals, desires, identifications, values and modes of understanding for inhabiting the ideological and institutional forms that make up a social order. At the very least, any attempt to both understand the current crisis and what it would mean to produce a new kind of subject willing to invest in and struggle for a democratic society needs to raise another set of questions in addition to those currently posed.
Moral formation of another sort is required. Are there any communities of alternative formation that can point the direction toward a more humane vision of economic life? Churches too often have allowed the economics of the world to negate the economic vision of the Bible. We need churches to stand for an economic life in which "there are no needy among you" (Deuteronomy 15:4; Acts 4:34).

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