A Review of
New Financial Horizons:
The Emergence of
an Economy of Communion.
Paperback: New City Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Margaret D’Anieri.
In her introduction, author Lorna Gold writes:
The end of the twentieth century was marked by the so-called “triumph of capitalism” and the failure of the socialism regimes in Eastern Europe. It was accompanied by a wave of optimism that the “evils” of communism could be overcome by the forces of the free market… just two decades on … the world appeared a very different place. A world of prosperity delivered by free market globalization seemed like a distant dream. All over the world, governments were forced to step in to shore up banks, the stalwarts of market capitalism. Massive inequalities in opportunity remain the norm. Environmental destruction threatens. A series of truly global crises challenges us to think carefully about the assumptions on which economy and society is based.
She goes on, in the introduction, to provide a thorough and equally readable account of the current interlinked situations of global inequality (Europeans and Americans spend over $1 billion a month on pet food, while over 850 million people experience chronic hunger), political instability, and environmental threats. She suggests that an economic Darwinism, in which the only the fittest survive, has become the prevailing doctrine; she quotes influential economist Milton Friedman as referring explicitly to the “economic elimination of the unfit”.
There are responses at the margins of this worldview such as the fair trade movement, the locavore movement and the 3/50 Project. Gold’s book introduces us to another: the “Economy of Communion” (EOC), based on a “culture of giving” and rooted in Trinitarian theology. The grounding of the EOC is that humans find ultimate fulfillment in communion with others and not in individual wealth maximization.
Unfortunately, the introduction is the most readable part of this book, because apparently the following chapters of the book are Gold’s Ph.D. dissertation of a similar title from 2000. The remainder of the book has no references from the past 10 years, and is littered with references to other studies; the bibliography contains roughly 250 items. Each chapter has an introduction and most have a conclusion, which is an awkward attempt to provide some user-friendly continuity. She clearly can write, and the topic is of some interest – but she needed to do so from scratch, updating the research and writing for a broader audience than the academy. I should note that both the subtitle and summation on the back cover are somewhat misleading. The book describes not “an economy of communion” as some type of general movement, but the description of one particular organization called the Economy of Communion (EOC), rooted in the Roman Catholic Church. Her case study is of the two largest manifestations of the EOC, in Italy and Brazil, not the United States and Brazil as the back cover states.
The EOC is a network of businesses that emerged out of a continuing movement called Focolare, the Italian word for hearth. The movement began in Trent, Italy, during World War II, with the “high ideal” of unity and living according to the golden rule. The image of hearth suggests warmth, connection, storytelling, and relationship, and the movement came to life based largely on the charism of its founder, Chiara Lubich, who died in 2008. The movement spread to Brazil, where EOC businesses are most prevalent and most engaged in working out how to prosper economically while being committed to sharing profits with the poor, and working out how to bring trust and love into relationships with employees, customers, and even with the government and taxing authorities that have a culture of bribery. It should be noted that one of the EOC businesses is the publisher of this book.
Gold does a good job of anticipating the reader’s questions, and of delving into the intersections of theology, economy, and sociology among others. I just wish she had done so in a way that would make this book fulfill the promise of the introduction.
Margaret D’Anieri is an Episcopal priest serving in Norwalk, Ohio