Looking on the right hand side of this blog you will note that one of the blogs around the world which I follow is Paul "world famous Novel Prize winning economist" Krugman's blog on economics. Along with that I read widely each day on the political travails and turmoils of the world. Even if you do not read widely on these matters, you probably know that at the weekend both France and Greece held elections which has resulted in voters choosing new economic directions for their respective countries, less clearcut as to implication, voters in Britain in local council elections may have signalled their displeasure at the current coalition government's economic direction, and over in the States the endless electioneering for the next president will almost certainly turn in November on economics. Ignore headlines about Romney's Mormonism being a factor in the election.
In all such countries, as well as in my own, the big picture economic problem is the relentless expectation most citizens share that the government and its funds will support us when we need it, paying for schooling, hospitals, unemployment and sickness benefits, pensions, as well as a military force to defend us, and, possibly, an airline, bus service and railway to transport us on networks created with government money. From country to country the list of such services varies a little, but the situation is essentially the same: most of us have expectations about financial support through the whole of life that assume money grows on trees in a hidden government orchard. In my experience those expectations presuppose 'government' means some kind of endless supply of money rather than defining 'government' as we the people as wealth creators who pay tax. A fixation on the latter conception of government would assist in drawing the conclusion that there is no endless supply of money, just a finite source of funds belonging to us all, which need careful governance lest they run out.
One of the difficulties I have with Paul Krugman's approach to the global economy and its many problems is that, when all is said and done about the complexities of high finance (often superbly graphed and simply explained by him), including certain kinds of magic tricks which economists can play so that "spend now, pay later" is slightly different for governments compared to individaul citizens (e.g. governments can "quantitatively ease" new money into the world, but you and I cannot do that to pay for our credit card bills), the idea that government funds might run out does not occur to him.
Locally, I applaud our NZ government for its prudence in seeking to govern our economy as though we have a finite supply of money rather than an infinite supply. My heart sinks when I hear some of the naff criticisms of the opposition parties (e.g. to a recent proposal to pay for long-term contraception to reduce the years a parent might spend on the benefit) which presuppose the hidden orchard of money trees. But no one is perfect and I loath our government's cosying up to Sky City re a deal to build a national convention centre out of the profiteering from the human misery which is gambling.
Our world, then, may be in a precarious state which we cannot fully comprehend because of the fog our expectations and misconceived understanding of government have created. Around the corner could be the most dire of depressions, a new rise of fascism (Neo Nazis were elected in Greece!) and Stalinist communism (he still has his admirers in Russia!). The first half of the twentieth century was dominated by wars which erupted out of economic convulsions. There are no guarantees that we will not repeat the disasters of the twentieth century.
A question for Anglicans in the West could be this: are we theologically, missionally, and politically ready for the onslaught to come in the twenty-first century?
I do not ask this question of Anglicans in Africa and Asia: they face day to day crises we in the West know nothing of.
The first part of answering the question I suggest is very simple. Say after me, Money doesn't grow on trees.