Healing capitalism through color coding your bank statement

Every month Eve Poole, a theologian and economist who helps manage the Church of England’s $8 billion endowment, does the single, small task that gives her the perspective to focus on her calling of healing capitalism. She opens her bank statement and gets out three colored markers; one green, one amber, and one red.

Looking at each household expense, from itemized grocery bills to that month’s extravagances, she colors them in. Green are purchases definitely in the healed capitalism column; fair trade coffee, chocolate, quinoa, food from local farms bought at locally owned stores. In the red column are items bought at multinational chain stores, the Wal Marts, the Tesco who only keep those those pounds locally for minutes before sending them on to corporate headquarters.

Colored in amber are those expenditures with companies that may, for example have good labor practices, and that are not clearly part of rapacious wing of capitalism, but that are not clearly beneficial to people in her community or those she wants to support globally. Each month she tries to move more of her household budget to the point where it earns a green mark, fewer in red, and more in amber on their way to green.

“My faith and my theology says that God is speaking to us about how we can heal capitalism together and how we can do it together, right here, in our household budgets,” says Poole, who presented at the second Faith+Finance webinar. Her book Buying God, will be one of the books we will be reading together, in a virtual community in F+F’s book club later this summer.

“In the (Covid-19) lockdown the economic management of the household has become really pivotal, something we think about much more. Do we have groceries, wifi. I think of families as the cornerstone of the economy and we can bring the understanding of markets home to start healing from there. We stop looking at costs and externalities in light of Covid-19 and we can make better decisions; not just what is cheap but who is paying what kind of personal costs, and are we happy to live with that.”

Some want more complicated, larger solutions than just readjusting your household budget every month to bring it in line with your beliefs about what your faith teaches you that the the world and relationships, including economic relationships should be about. Poole answers that criticism with the story of Elisha and the man with leprosy. The prophet told him to wash in the river, and he initially rejected it; wanting a complicated cure.

“We’ve seen capitalism breaking catastrophically the last few weeks,” Poole acknowledges, but she believes that conscious, individual changes are where lasting change happens. And she points out that habits can suddenly become viral and sweep through culture. “Suddenly, it’s not acceptable to use a plastic straw. Consumers can speak with their feet much quicker than government can react.”

“I think about my bank statement as my report card. When you talk to St. Peter you can’t hide from your bank statement. It’s the sum total of what you have done in the market. Green is a vote for the kingdom, red is a vote for Mammon.”

Poole thinks the church of England has done a good job of biting the bullet and paying more for trade coffee, sugar and other things. Some say those purchases take away money that could be given to mission. She votes strongly for fair and just, local first economic relationships over philanthropy.

“Christians and the church need to wake up about money. We have put money on one side, Mammon, don’t go there, and God on the other side,” says Poole, who has started leading groups in converting their bank statements by line item color coding. She says they are often ashamed at first, but can learn to support each other.

“We need to grow up about money and realize that when we wave a (credit or debit) card in front of a machine, it’s not tapping into Alladin’s cave with treasure. It’s about votes, power, information. Your transactions on your bank statements go the the level of what you are supporting. It can be about healing.”

One of the respondents on Poole’s video talk was The Very Rev. Jennifer Baskerville Burrows, the fist black woman to be a diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church. “When I first took over pastoral and management oversight of the 48 churches (in the diocese of Indianapolis) I discovered they were already talking about dismantling racism, but they really needed to talk about money, and class and social location. People equate the amount of money they have with their self worth. We have people who are in C suites of major corporations and people on public assistance in our churches. It’s hard to talk about money because of guilt and shame. If one person has more than another there is often shame. The nobless oblige culture is in the water here.”

Asked what might be different after hearing Poole, Bishop Baskerville Burrows said. “I need to do some deep learning on this. Late stage capitalism has got to go. But we have the power to change. The notion of redeeming capitalism and how we look at our choices and what we value, makes me think I need to do some deeper work and reflection and study.”

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