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Book review: Liberation Economics: Spirituality in supply and demand

05 July 2024

Peter Selby reflects on an individual response to a global problem

“WE HAVE now created the hypereconomy whose consequences the Earth cannot support.” Such an opening sentence, like the title, Liberation Economics, raises the expectation that the reader will encounter a prophetic account of the global economy, the imminent danger of global heating in which we stand, and the impoverishment of the majority of the world’s population. We might also expect an account of the radical economic thinking (for instance, of the kind emanating from the New Economics Foundation) needed to address these challenges.

These topics certainly appear in Guy Wildwood’s book, but not as anything like a sustained critique of our current economic and financial system. The chapters, with the titles “Earning”, “Money”, “Stuff” (on possessions), “The Political Settlement”, and “Culture and Values”, would also suggest that the reader would encounter a project involving fundamental questioning of the economic system. The title might even suggest that this book would be a welcome addition to the library of theologies of liberation.

This book, however, offers a different kind of resource. The author is inviting us into the personal spiritual challenges of being a part of the global economy. It belongs more precisely in the meditation or contemplation part of one’s bookshelves. Wildwood comes across as a person who has drunk in the beauty of the Pembrokeshire in which the book emerged, and has a circle of friends who engage in a good deal of reflection; among them is the illustrator Jo Lee Wood, whose meditative drawings will be particularly helpful to those for whom the labyrinth is perhaps the best articulation of prayer and spirituality.

The result of his reflection is what can best be described as a collection of aphorisms that draw attention to the lack of a spiritual dimension to our economic activity. It is that dimension that Wildwood is seeking to add; as he says, his “view of the spiritual is broad” and encompasses his very varied reading, reflected in an eclectic booklist. His book, for its part, will best be read in the meditative spirit out of which it has emerged.

Nevertheless, those who have thought hard and, perhaps, acted radically towards the capitalist and consumerist environment that we inhabit will know that this manner of reflection and writing comes at a cost. The spirituality that is this book’s prime agenda is a largely individualistic enterprise, and, therefore, the question remains what kind of social spirituality will challenge precisely the “hypereconomy whose consequences the Earth [not to mention its most numerous and most vulnerable inhabitants] cannot support”.

Although the author comes across as a warm and generous spirit, it is not clear that the economics and systems management that were his original areas of study have sufficiently informed the spiritual journey that he has taken. Those studies may, indeed, suffer from the inadequacies to which he wishes to draw our attention; but the insights of the critics of those studies, secular and religious, are surely essential if the world and its economy are to have a future that is not just sustainable, but spiritual, too.

The Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby is an Honorary Visiting Professor in Theology and Religious Studies at King’s College, London. He is a former Bishop of Worcester, Bishop to HM Prisons, and President of the National Council for Independent Monitoring Boards.

Liberation Economics: Spirituality in supply and demand
Guy Wildwood
Y Lolfa £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.99

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