Last month I read a keynote address by the Archbishop of Canterbury at an economics conference held by the Trades Union Congress. It begins:

‘Economy’ is simply the Greek word for ‘housekeeping’. Remembering this is a useful way of getting things in proportion, so that we don’t lose sight of the fact that economics is primarily about the decisions we make so as to create a habitat that we can actually live in.

He goes on to say

If we are not to be caught indefinitely in a trap we have designed for ourselves, we have to ask what an economy would look like if it were genuinely focused on making and sustaining a home – a social environment that offered security for citizens, including those who could not contribute in obvious ways to productive and profit-making business, an environment in which we felt free to forego the tempting fantasies of unlimited growth in exchange for the knowledge that we could hand on to our children and grandchildren a world, a social and material nexus of relations that would go on nourishing proper three-dimensional human beings – people whose family bonds, imaginative lives and capacity for mutual understanding and sympathy were regarded as every bit as important as their material prosperity.

Human Well-Being and Economic Decision-Making

Later, I ran across a great post by Sharon Astyk: Moloch’s Children: Do Climate Skeptics and Climate Change Activists Need to Agree?. She is speaking about climate change, but what she says applies to all our ideological battles.

I’ve watched the battles of left and right, the old enlightenment political battles go on my whole life, quite literally, and mostly, I’ve watched scorched earth that left no one happy or satisfied. Both sides have had their victories and defeats, some good and some bad has come out of this. But the fixation on means here, rather than ends – that is, the fixation on alliances with political parties and traditional battles has done more harm than good, and cost us many good ends. And in fixating on the scorched earth battles, we’ve built up barriers of anger and contempt, a fixation on fights lost and battles [won], to the radical loss of both common ground and perspective about what matters the most.

…what we need now is a place to stand and build. I get angry when I see someone believe passionately in something I think is deeply wrong – but I am adult enough to know that what matters is not that you believe as I do, but that we find a way to live and go forward into our common center.

She describes the “children of Moloch” as

the great mass of Americans and other rich world denizens whose central ideology is technological progress and consumption – Moloch is their god, the overarching center of their world is the urge for more and more comfort, more and more possessions, more and more wealth, more and more technology in complete disregard of the fact that these things are not possible….At the center of their value system is something empty and deeply wrong, and that emptiness stretches out and empties their world. They do not know what is missing from their lives, so they seek out more to fill the empty space.

and the “People of the Center” as

anyone who has something other than Moloch at the center of their world, a hope for the future, an investment in the past, the love of a G-d, the love of humanity in general, an ethical paradigm that actually trumps the desire for more – and thus perceives, sometimes instinctively, sometimes after long study, that we cannot go on this way, and must find something else.

She also points out that both categories cross all political, cultural, and religious lines.

It strikes me that what all of us, of all faiths and political persuasions, are ultimately looking for is a home – a place where, as Robert Frost famously said “When you have to go there, they have to take you in” – a house, a neighborhood, a town where we feel we belong, where our needs are met, where we feel at home. Sometimes we believe that we can buy that comfort and happiness with food, with things, with plastic surgery, with alcohol, drugs, nutritional supplements, and all other kinds of interventions.  And all of those inevitably cost money, so we have to work longer and harder, and have side-effects, from obesity and ill-health to poisoning the environment to poisoning ourselves.

The saying is not “Home is where the stuff is.”  This winter I’m going to continue exploring the meaning of home, its relation to economics and politics, and what I should be doing about it.