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In effect, liberation theologians are attempting to recuperate a fundamental New Testament notion, that of the 'sin of the world' which renders the world incapable of understanding the Truth (John 17,25). Contemporary economic structures form a central part of the sin of the world; this is not just a matter of specific economic injustices which can be rectified by appropriate public or private action by good Christians. Despite considerable criticism from traditional theologians in general and the Vatican in particular, these concepts were implicit to the central arguments of both Puebla and Medellim

Liberation theology has thus always used concepts of political economy in its analysis of both the real world and ideological discourse. None the less, a 'theology of the economy' as such has not yet been fully worked out. One fruitful approach is to start from the sacral nature of 'bread' -that is, the product of work within specific social relations. In this way, present or proposed economic arrangements can be related to the construction of the Kingdom or its negation.11 Another approach is to start from a reformulation of the Marxian critique of commodity fetishism in terms of the biblical view of idolatry, which leads by extension to the valuation of "real life* by the poor as opposed to the abstractions of the oppressors/3 In both approaches, the analytical tools of Marxism (as opposed to its philosophical model) are used from a Christian perspective - in much the same way as Aquinas used Aristotle. The task of translating theological analysis of concepts such as social relations, alienation, work, commodities ('bread') or value ('blood') into a form that would be comprehensible to ordinary people as well as intellectually convincing, is still pending.

Fortunately perhaps, a considerable part of liberation theology is done 'from below' in Latin America; that is by base communities discussing the relevance of Scripture to their own lives. It is largely unrecorded, but no less real for that,14 Popular hermeneutics takes much of its inspiration from the fact that the language and socio-economic circumstances of the Old and New Testaments are of direct and immediate relevance to the lives of the poor in Latin America. A biblical world of peasant farming, avaricious merchants, oppressive landowners, tax collectors, agricultural labour, and impoverished widows seems not dissimilar to life in Brazil or El Salvador, Indeed, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Apocalypse is the favourite book of the popular movements because there they find inspiration for resistance to persecution which can then be applied dircctly to contemporary society; similarly, the discourse in John does not seem abstract to them at all, as they can identify with the Christian struggle against the Roman Empire.*5

Liberation t'ico 0)-;y and economic theory k frequent criticism of liberation theology - not least from the Vatican itself - is the influence of Marxism revealed by its stress on economic relationships and social conflict. However, the necessary stages of economic development in Marxist theory and the changes in class relationships they bring about are not the basis for the liberation theologians* view of history: the economic actors are 'the poor1 and 'the rich' rather than capitalists and the proletariat, while the driving force of history is the relationship between God and His creation. Thus, the eschatological view of history in liberation theology is clearly opposed to that of historical materialism. None the less, liberation theologians explicitly regard Marx as an important source of analytical method which helps them look beyond the apparently objective nature of market forces; and thus to identify power with property, relate poverty to labour control and identify the intrinsic contradiction between the market economy and an egalitarian society.1* Moreover it is also clear to the informed reader that the implicit inspiration for their economic views is derived from the early 'Hegelian Marx5 concerned with alienation and exploitation, rather than from technicalities of surplus value and industrial progress in Das KapitaL The economic nature of the transition to socialism/Kingdom is basic needs provision and the inclusion of the marginalised, rather than the ovcr-accumulation of capital and the proletarianisation of the workforce in Marx,

Economic theory is underpinned by 'theories of value' which explain the way in which markets set prices and distribute income as a manifestation of the value which a society collcctively places on a particular commodity or skill. The classical economists (including Smith and Ricardo as well as Marx) developed a labour theory of value' based on the amount of labour required to produce a commodity or skill, directly through the work involved or indirectly through the equipment or education needed in the production process. The modern theory of value is quite different: based on the utilitarianism of Mill and Bentham, it sees the market as expressing the social utility of goods and services as revealed by the spending decisions of consumers - who Vote with their money1, so to speak. Liberation theology is clearly directly opposed to the utilitarian view, not least be* cause it privileges the choices of the rich, but more fundamentally becausc it converts human beings into commodities* There is more sympathy with a labour theory of value insofar as it recognises the origins of wealth, but the concept of value based on 'blood' clearly goes far beyond the ideas of Ricardo and Marx.

In fact, liberation theologians' views on the origins of poverty in Latin America and the economic relationship between rich and poor countries are firmly located within a long Latin American tradition of progressive thought - much of it specifically non-Marxist - which stresses the concentration of ownership, undemocratic economic policies, and unequal relationships within the world economy as constituting a 'crisis of capitalism in the region1. This tradition has strong roots in both popular discourse and the declarations of national leaders. It encompasses both the 'structuralist economics* associated with the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the 'dependency school* of political thought in the region,17 Indeed it might be argued that the communitarian and redistributive nature of the economic 'project1 of liberation theology owes more to the radical populism of Proudhon than to the state power of Lenin, In practice, moreover, liberation theologians have always worked with social movements whose political position is highly critical of orthodox communist parties -particularly the revolutionary movements of Central America but also trade unions in Brazil and 'base communities' throughout the region.

If the economic content of liberation theology is compared to the analytical framework of modern economics as applied to developing countries, its shortcomings become evident. There is a measure of agreement as to the institutional roots of poverty, and an admission by the latter that the Pareto conditions for a free market equilibrium to correspond to a social welfare maximum may not hold in the presence of an unequal prior distribution of financial assets or human skills. Basic needs provision and poverty elimination have become accepted as central elements in formulating economic strategy in developing countries; and although these ideas clearly antedate liberation theology, its support for them has undoubtedly been influential - particularly among non-governmental development agencies, However, the central issues of economic development theory are not addressed by liberation theology: the balance between industry and agriculture, the best way to finance social expenditures, improving trade relationships between industrialised and industrialising countries, incentives for private producers, how to create jobs and the trade-off between the incomes of this generation and the next, and so on. This agenda might well seem too much to demand of theologians but the neglect of these more practical issues has serious consequences.

On the one hand, this neglect means that the orthodox prescriptions of macroeconomic policy have gone largely uncontested except by general denunciations of capitalism. Widespread unemployment, reduced wages and cuts in health expenditure are justified by democratic governments and international financial agencies in terms of the increased production efficiency and private investment they will generate, which will later result in greater income growth and employment for the poor. Whether this trade-off is feasible or desirable is one of the central issues ยก11 current economic debate at all levels of society in Latin America today:18 'structural adjustment1 is defended by its proponents in ethical terms as 'good for the poor in the long run1, while its opponents argue that there are sound reasons for believing that macroeconomic stability can be combined with poverty reduction,19 On the other hand, in the one case where liberation theology did have a strong influence on the economic policy of a progressive government - the case of Nicaragua during the 1980s which attempted to implement a direct attack on poverty through large-scale land reform and massive basic needs provision to the poor10 - the lack of a coherent response to the problems of national and international economic management turned out to be a fatal weakness in the attempt to implement the vision of a 'new land'. In sum, the critique of observed economic injustice can lose its force unless it is accompanicd by some idea as to what would constitute a just economy in practice.

A more appropriate basis of comparison might therefore be the more specific topic of welfare economics,11 which reflects not only the commitment to solidarity within a particular national economy but also the fact that a range of social services - such as health and education - has a positive return to the economy in the long run due to increased productivity and less communicable disease, but which the individuals concerned cannot afford and the private sector is unwilling to provide for the population as a whole. Indeed, this limited definition of the 'common good' appears to be emerging as the basis for basic needs provision in industrialised societies unable to achieve the political support required for the tax burden that existing levels of welfare entitlements imply, f his is clearly far more limited than the commitment to the elimination of poverty as the central focus of economic strategy which liberation theology implies.

However, the basis for modern welfare economics is the notion of social citizenship (also termed the 'citizenship of entitlement1) which consists of the rights to a modicum of economic welfare and security, to share fully in the social heritage of the community! and to live a civilised life according to the standards prevailing in society/1 This is not, therefore, an argument from compassion, which focuses on the pcint of view of tfte donor as citizen and where the recipients are perceived as recipients ol largesse rather than as citizens with entitlements to benefits and rights of participation in decisions which r rfect them, A depersona'ised relationship based on enti tie-ment is essential if recipients of social benefits are to be citizens rather than subjects. Social citizenship also 'depersonalises* the function of giving, converting it from a voluntary act by a few 'good citizens' to a duty on the part of all citizens who can afford to do so to pay tax so that the needs of the body of the citizenry are met as of right. Social citizenship thus implies not only entitlements to welfare payments, but also the obligation of better-off citizens to pay tax in order to finance them if the system is to be something more than social insurance. This is an agenda which liberation theology has not addressed but where it would have much to offer if it were to speak to the problems of economic development under democracy.

Liberation theology and the theory of economic justicc

Although liberation theology has a limited engagement with cconom c theory as such, there is a much clearer correspondence with notions of economic justice in political philosophy. A good basis for comparison is the modern theory of justicc, based on liberal political theory and in particular the contractarian ideal of 'fairness' as a characteristic of the just economy. The contractarian theory of justice suggests that a set of economic institutions can be judged as fair if behind a 'veil of ignorance' all citizens are prepared to accept any position in that economy they might be allocated at random/3 In other words, there is rigorous equality of economic opportunity and acceptable welfare provision, as opposed to equality of outcomes- Clearly all the Latin American economies would fail this test and thus can be judged 'unjust'. From a completely different ethical point of departure, liberation theology comes to a not dissimilar position; although the logic would derive from the relationship of people to each other in a community rather than in a social contract with the state.

Another philosophical approach to the problem of poverty is based on the idea that economic welfare is derived from the 'entitlements* possessed by individuals or households/4 These entitlements can be market-based {e.g. income from economic assets or marketable skills) or social entitlements derived from legal or traditional rights to welfare, including access to common property resources such as water or grazing land; the loss of these entitlements - due to economic dislocation or social collapse - causes poverty and their restoration can eliminate it. The value of a specific 'bundle1 of entitlements is judged by the extent to which rhey provide the conditions for the good life under the relevant circumstances. This powcr-J j1 analytical concept, which has a deep influence on modern economic development theory, could also add some depth to the liberation theologians' view of the origins of poverty in marRinalisation. None the less, like

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