Trickle Down Economics v Pour Out Oikonomics.

Trickle Down Economics v Pour Out OikonomicsPhoto: Thao LEE on
Trickle down economics was all the rage when I was at school. My economics lessons were dominated by the new Thatcherite approach to monetarism and economic governance. It was all about speeding up the flow of money and enabling people to have more to spend so that growth would happen. And now it is back as the way to solve our new and dire economic problems.

There is no doubt that when people have more money, they will often spend it. And so others will benefit by selling products and services to these newly minted consumers. This is especially likely in the lower and middle range of incomes where some extra money might be spent on a cleaner for the house, slightly more expensive food or goods: treats and luxuries that were not available up until this rise in income. But the argument is that the already wealthy could be greased even further to spend more and employ more and consume more, which would trickle down the layers of society so that everyone is lifted up. It is a theory that depends on those who have financial power being incredibly pure hearted, on money being the source of redemption and on justice being the by-product of wealth.

There are a number of problems with this. Practically, for example, there are only so many cleaners someone can have – a millionaire won’t necessarily have 20 times as much house cleaning done as a head of department in a school. Toilet cleaning and vacuuming is roughly the same whoever we are – there may be a bit more carpet in a larger house or, weird as it may sound, oysters and caviar may lead to more bowel movements. But there is no guarantee that the richer you are the more you will spend on local goods and services. I read this week that sales of Champagne are at an all-time high – in fact stocks are running low. Spending is happening but not necessarily in the right places for trickle down to work as it is proclaimed to do. A higher proportion of income may go into investments or goods that don’t make that many new jobs or prompt new work. There is certainly a flow, but trickle is the best word for it and what is needed right now is more than a trickle or crumbs from the table.

There is a moral or spiritual dynamic that is at work is around these ideas of ‘trickle’ and ‘down’. For most of us, the more we have, the more care-full and selfish we become. We have a tendency to hoard because our fear of scarcity is built into our corrupted natures. The example that is set by God, as described in the bible, does not use the vocabulary of trickle. The bible is about overflow, torrent, pouring out rather than trickling down:

Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and trickle down/pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.
Malachi 3:10

28 “And afterward, I will trickle down/pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will trickle downpour out my Spirit in those days.
Joel 2

Also, God does not so much hand down as give out. His generosity is about spread rather than hierarchy or being first in the queue. The love of God has been poured out into our hearts (Romans 5). He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, (Titus 3). The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1). “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” (Mark 14).

When Jesus gives away – such as the feeding of the 5000 – what starts small ends up very large – in fact too large and excessive for even a crowd that size. The secret is in having open and generous hearts. There are plenty of very wealthy people with generous hearts and these people really do pour out rather than trickle down. There are also poorer people who pour out – like the woman who gave to God just two coins which was all she had (Mark 12/Luke 21). Trickling down out of our abundance may help a bit but it does not enliven the community – the oikos or household - that we are called to form. When, even in our lack, we share with those around us, then the oikos becomes rich and joyful, full of energy, life, hope and confidence: all the qualities I was taught at school that are needed for an economy to grow.

God’s oikos – his economy of the household of humanity – is one where resources are poured out on those who are needy. The hungry are fed and the naked are clothed, here in the UK, and also in all the many places of the world where even inflation is irrelevant because there is famine and starvation. The role of the church is to practice such pour down oikonomics among its members, and also its neighbours. And to be a voice that resists the fear of scarcity and promotes the plight of the poor. History generally shows us that at this point good oikonomics becomes good economics.

I want my life to pour and not trickle. I want to spread goodness out and not down.

Martin J Young


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