The Economics of Unselfishness
by Pat Evans
Patrick Evans spent three years as an assistant technical officer with the Essex War Agricultural Committee. He took an agricultural degree at Cambridge University from 1945. From 1953 until he retired in 1988 he farmed in Herefordshire in partnership with his brother Edward.
Douglas Adams, author of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, was both a comic and creative writer. In reflecting the omnivorous artistic tastes of the second half of the twentieth century he seemed puzzled by religion. “The fact that I think Bach was mistaken doesn’t alter the fact that I think the B-minor Mass is one of the great pinnacles of human achievement. It still absolutely moves me to tears to hear it. I find the whole business of religion profoundly interesting. But it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously?” Yet as Albert Einstein put it – “The presence of a superior reasoning power, revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God”.
So when Frank Buchman declared that “Spiritual leadership must have a content of positive action far greater than the world now associates with that term”, he was addressing a visible need. And it was particularly poignant in the years immediately before the Second World War, when so many could see war coming. Some pondered the challenges while others sought to shut them out. As someone born to a privileged life in the countryside, I had a foot in both camps. Yet it happened that in May 1938 I was off school through illness, and had the chance to attend the launching of Moral Re-Armament in East Ham Town Hall.
“We, the Re-makers of the World – is that not the thinking and willing of the ordinary man?... Moral recovery is essentially the forerunner of economic recovery. We might find in this new spirit an answer to the problems which are paralysing economic recovery. Suppose everybody cared enough, and everybody shared enough, wouldn’t everybody have enough?” - such was the vision which entered into my soul, whatever might be the pitfalls, failures or disappointments to come. It suggested that the decisions we make as individuals play an essential part in the spiritual evolution of humanity, and the commitment we make will determine the inner strength and outreach of our lives on earth.
Farming crucial to future world development
A year earlier, my form master at school had written in his report – “There still seems to be a lack of ambition. Is he to be a farmer?” Although probably the most perceptive of those who taught me, he had still not understood the sense of vocation which was stirring. Nor had he evidently imagined that farming might be so crucial in the war and to future world development. He could certainly be forgiven for that, because its significance is only just beginning to be recognised to-day, as we grapple with questions of climate change, biodiversity and the overall life of our planet.
The programme of MRA initiated by Frank Buchman was a huge liberation to the spirit. Being of an introspective nature, I was often more concerned with the struggle to change myself than focusing on developing a vision of God’s purposes in the world. It was a big shift to move from rules of conduct to a daily time of quiet in which to write down the promptings of the spirit. It meant accepting a responsibility I had never sought, and seeking practical expression for a passion to “remake the world”. That was the phrase of the day and whatever words are used, it still represents the aspirations of those who want to change the course of history whether in politics, economics or science. Human imagination will always leap ahead of history, but though a long life may measure our limitations, it doesn’t dim the conviction that increased potential can still match the problems.
In the post-war world, coal and steel were still the drivers of economic development. They became through Jean Monnet the practical foundation for Franco-German reconciliation. Both Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman paid tribute to Moral Re-Armament as the catalyst in the process. But it was also in the time before money entirely took over from people at the heart of economic thinking, and Frank Buchman always understood that men with a new motivation had to pave the way for new structures. He never put the cart before the horse, and always expected personal change to lead people to take on situations far beyond their expectation.
The story of George Light, a leader of the unemployed, illustrates this. I remember him as a burly but gentle man, but if it had not been for Buchman he would never have entered our home. Garth Lean, Buchman’s biographer, records how George came to an Oxford gathering in 1933, full of bitterness at his own unemployment and that of the men he represented. At the end of a conversation together, Buchman asked him how he was placed for getting home. Buchman then turned out his pockets and gave him the £9 he found, saying “That’s half of all the money I have. So we each have the same amount. That makes us both socialists now”.
When Christianity is put into practice
George Light wrote later – “This was the second talk I ever had with Frank. He did not know me. I might have been a twister or anything. I went home and told my wife and family. That £9 was very useful, but it was not a fortune. Yet my family was so overjoyed at anyone taking such an interest in us that they just wept. Frank never postponed an act of unselfishness on his own part, because a far greater one was needed on the part of society. What he did and what he fought for, had in it elements of true revolutionary action.”
The very next year (1934) George joined Buchman’s party on a journey through Canada. They arrived in Vancouver to find a shipping strike paralysing the Pacific Coast ports. Complete deadlock had been reached, but mainly through the intervention of Light and Walter Horne, a Californian shipbuilder, a fair settlement was reached. “It took them seventy-two hours of continuous effort moving between the men, who had longstanding and justified grievances, the strike committee, union leaders and employers.” The Ottawa Evening Citizen commented: “When Christianity is put into practice, it is spiritual dynamite. There is no greater force for enduring reform known to mankind”.
Many of Frank Buchman’s insights have had an enduring quality in the sense that they were a challenge to action and had universal appeal. Bill Wake, a Canadian farmer, describes his first meeting with Buchman in Bill’s home town of Saskatoon. “It was a time when the drought and wind were at their worst, and the skies were filled with the drifting soil. ‘Is this,’ asked Buchman, ‘one of the dust storms I’ve read about?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘it comes from drifting farm lands’. He walked on a few steps further, and said quietly, ‘It is bad, very bad,’ then added, ‘But our real problem is moral drift’.” Bill felt a challenge to his farming world in that moment, which led him ten years later at the age of 46 to work full time with the force of people who, inspired by Buchman, set out to tackle the needs of the post-war world. It took him into situations he had never dreamed of in a variety of countries, but he also left his mark among the farmers of North America and New Zealand.
It was in New Zealand that Bill Wake was invited to the farm of Alpheus Hayes. Alpheus had been impressed by a performance of the play The Forgotten Factor, and as a result had been invited to give a report on MRA to his church’s annual meeting. But he felt the need to know much more about it, so he invited Bill to visit. Bill was impressed with the farm, but it was immediately clear that the urgent need was the breakdown of Alpheus’ marriage with his wife Myrtle. Bill became the catalyst for a new relationship which grew out of honesty and the rebirth of love.
Later Bill was able to greet both the Hayes in the United States, where the new life they had found together broadened out into reaching many others including US farm leaders. At one point Frank Buchman had the conviction that they should be present at the signing of the Japanese Peace Treaty in San Francisco (1951). Despite being only two days before the event, this was duly achieved and the Hayes were the only New Zealanders present, apart from officials.
A generation later Alpheus’ son Garfield, at the Caux Conference in Switzerland in 2005, told how the farm was progressing on the same foundations. “I was on the National Council of the New Zealand Farmers Federation when the Labour government decided to drastically change the economy. A 10% goods and services tax was introduced. The New Zealand dollar was floated, the reduction of tariffs was started, and overnight all farm subsidies were terminated. We were receiving 20% of our income from the New Zealand taxpayer. Our farmers marched in the streets, but as one of their leaders I knew in my heart that New Zealand had no alternative. We exported 90% of our agricultural production and our trading partners had threatened us to either remove subsidies or face tariffs.
The most secure, satisfying and stimulating advice
“The next years were difficult. Some farmers, big and small, lost their farms. Some committed suicide. I worked so hard my hips gave out. We survived by selling a city property we had been led to purchase when we were receiving subsidies. But the fact was we were over-producing a product which was hard to sell.
“During the past twenty years there has been an enormous turnaround. New Zealand’s sheep population has fallen from 70 to 40 million. Farmers have become very innovative and, where possible, have successfully diversified into producing trees, venison or dairying. Sheep farmers and our meat processing industry have substantially improved efficiency and quality. We now cannot meet demand, and product prices are the best they have been. During this time I could purchase farm advice from specialists, but by far the most secure, satisfying and stimulating advice came from my early morning times of silent reflection. If God could steer us through such changes, I am convinced that he can supply the answer to the problems and challenges of world agriculture, if we choose to listen to him.
“For instance, for twenty years we baled our wool in jute packs instead of synthetic packs to give trade to the jute growers of Bangladesh. To keep things transparent all our farm sales go through the company books. Historically there has been division between farmers and trade union leaders in our meat processing industry. My wife Helen and I have met these leaders, had them to stay in our home and arranged meetings with local farmers.
“Alcoholism is a big problem among our sheep shearers. Although contravening custom we ran an alcohol-free wool shed. But with Helen giving excellent meals, the shearers were always keen to return. In a global world where the need for change and innovation is always constant, there has definitely been a good life for New Zealand agriculture after the removal of subsidies.”
The post war years were a Helen time when many committed their lives to make a difference, and fifty or sixty years later their impact can be appreciated, and not only in their own countries or on the farms where their experience was honed. Roly Kingwill, in the dry Karoo of South Africa, tackled soil erosion, education and the provision of training and jobs for unskilled workers. It opened his eyes to a new vision for all the races in Africa. Reducing the number of sheep on his land by one third meant tightening his belt, but it paid in the long run.*
Trusted for the moral battle against corruption
Alan Knight, a white farmer in Kenya, led the way for an independent Kenya when he apologised for his attitude of white superiority to hard core Mau Mau prisoners in Athi River Camp, of which he was the commandant. He was trusted to his dying day for the moral battle he sustained against corruption and all that threatened to derail the new Kenya.
Stanley Barnes, a dairy expert trained in Aberystwyth, established the first pasteurisation scheme for the goats’ milk in Malta. After service there with the RAF, he worked for many years in Australia for Paul’s Ice Cream and Milk, and then the Australian Dairy Board in Asia. Even in retirement after a heart attack, he wrote the book, 200 Million Hungry Children† and worked single-mindedly for the proper nutrition of children world-wide through the better functioning of the dairy industry and its milk producers He took a special interest in the National Dairy Board of India, and was a friend of Dr V Kurien who inspired and led its progress.
Meanwhile, in the post-war years when a host of new policies were being sought, Buchman and his party were guests at a Sri Lankan government rice transplanting demonstration in 1952. It was an official attempt to re-popularise rice growing after excessive emphasis on export crops had reduced the country to importing rice. At that occasion he declared, “Empty hands will be filled with work, empty stomachs with food, and empty hearts with an idea which really satisfies”. It is the outline of a comprehensive programme which puts people’s needs first, and assumes everyone will have a part in doing what needs to be done to make things work properly.
Fifty years on it could be said that the truth is beginning to dawn that the food market needs regulation. Growing inequality reflects a lack of care, so it is not just regulation but a fresh motivation which is required. Only a change of culture can meet the varied needs of society. Life is meant to be creative for everyone, and agriculture could be the sector which illustrates this on a global scale.
Lifeblood for the European Union
Frank Buchman foresaw the vacuum which would be left by the collapse of Communism. In the event, it came so suddenly that nobody was prepared. Yet my friend Stanislaw Choma in Poland was one of those whose branch of Rural Solidarity did not collapse with the sudden removal of opposition. In many cases former Communist officials still had their hands on the levers of power, and were looking to profit from the new situation. Stanislaw himself had suffered from unprovoked aggression from the police, which landed him in hospital. But, lying in a hospital bed, he had time to reflect and was freed from the bitterness that could have taken hold and colour his subsequent attitude. At a time when the membership of Rural Solidarity had fallen dramatically, Stanislaw’s local branch boasted 5,000 members.
This can be mainly ascribed to the care and service he provided both officially and unofficially. From a strong family base he offered contract services with his machinery at a reasonable price, which helped him keep in touch with local families.
One friend who had fallen on hard times turned to drink, and very soon his marriage was breaking up. Stanislaw, who like many of his countrymen is a devout Catholic, had the thought to visit him and see if he could help. When he knocked on the door, husband and wife were locked in a fierce shouting match and didn’t hear him. Standing there, he felt he had come too late and, getting cold feet, was tempted to turn away. But he persisted and crossed the threshold to find himself warmly welcomed by both antagonists.
To cut a long story short, his friend found freedom from alcohol, his marriage was remade, and, with a loan from Stanislaw, he was able to get a viable business going. Such care beyond the call of duty is the lifeblood of village communities. In all essentials it could also be the lifeblood of the European Union, if we focused on such values, and committed ourselves to making it people-friendly.
More recently Stanislaw has met the Ukrainian farmer, Mikhail Marinichenko, usually known as Misha, and they have found much common ground. Both Poland and Ukraine have had a chequered history, with wars moving frontiers or even obliterating them altogether. In such circumstances people become toughened to blows they cannot effectively resist, and resourceful in making the best of a bad job.
The settlement of the Second World War saw Stanislaw moved from eastern Poland (which became part of Ukraine) to Silesia in the west, which Germany had ceded to Poland. Misha meanwhile grew up as a Soviet citizen and a loyal young communist. He rose to responsibility on a collective farm in the Dnepropetrovsk region, and has been one of the few to lead a successful transformation to a private company. Part of the land has gone to independent farmers, whose rugged character has brought them individual success. But Misha has succeeded in welding 18 partners into a profitable enterprise farming some 2,500 ha, which includes a number of smallholders who trust him to deal fairly with their land.
Misha has always been a man of the people, and has ignored the perks he might have acquired as a leader. But it has not been easy to see the ideals of his youth crumble, though he did not shrink from showing us the vandalised farm buildings in the neighbourhood, and the terrible state into which some livestock enterprises had descended. Yet he has stuck to the work of transformation, and has faith in Ukraine’s future. I was present for the opening of the new village church, which replaced that destroyed by Stalin in the Thirties. His effort in support of it was evidently inspired by his mother, and a memory of values which have stood the test of time.
So the historic paths of Poland and Ukraine meet again in a new chapter symbolised by these two farmers, both struggling with large areas of land and slender resources. The dialogue which they have begun is growing across their nations. So the fact that they trust each other will enable a new spirit to shape the next developments.
“The electronics of the spirit”
Frank Buchman spoke of “the electronics of the spirit” as a way in which technology could serve the development of humanity. As he put it, “Electronics is a new science. Spirit has been known for a long time. It’s an old science. But linked with electronics, it hitches the world to a new dimension of life and thought. Millions can speedily, automatically yield to this practice, the electronics of the spirit”. Outlining the instant communication which we know today through the internet, he marvelled at the possibilities then unexplored. He continued: “Then take the electronics of the spirit. It works with an infinite Mind. It taps resources hitherto unexplored, and forces hitherto unknown. Take the whole question of guidance – God’s mind and my mind. The thought which slips in, any time day or night, can be the thought of the Author of mind. We are dealing here with facts which no one can measure”.
Frank Buchman, himself, was always reaching out for what each individual could do with a new aim and a readiness to take responsibility. He didn’t think in terms of blueprints for a new society, but of the millions of ordinary people whose individual decisions would shape a new direction. He was always questing in his spirit, and when questioned about his own life, would say “I have been wonderfully led”.
Neither military nor economic power can shape the world most of us want to see. Power may buy time, but it is an idea which must win the world - an idea which can grow and to which all can contribute. That is the soil for consensus. From the earliest days of Moral Re-Armament, Buchman believed that ordinary people could take responsibility not only for families but for nations. In fact it was the integrity and creativity of family life which would bring a new dimension to democracy. “A world philosophy will be brought to power through the cumulative effort of millions of people beginning the experience of listening to God. True it may be only an initial experience. Enlistment does not immediately make the trained soldier, but we can all begin”.
Something of where this has led me personally, I have tried to express in my book A Hand to the Plough as a vision for the 21st century. Buchman’s Moral Re-Armament is still spreading into the far corners of the world under the name of Initiatives of Change. Such initiatives and programmes may multiply and reflect a variety of cultures, but the original concept remains at the core of them. The whole adds up to a growing unity of the spirit.
The Farmers Dialogue
The international Farmers Dialogue is one of a number of programmes seeking to weave the positive influences at work into a coherent pattern. The dialogues of a farmers’ world network may not yet have progressed very far, but they are already clarifying the need to keep family farming at the heart of the engine power, even if the design of the new model is changing. Specialist development makes it more important to ensure that it addresses the fulfilment of human nature. The adventure lies in the vision of an overarching purpose shaping millions of personal dreams. It is in one sense the difference between a partnership and a collective. The whole is only possible through popular participation, and will never be static. It will always be shaped by those who commit their lives.
It is interesting that one of the first labels attached to Buchman’s work was coined by a journalist, Harold Begbie, who dubbed it a First Century Christian Fellowship. This was accurate in the sense that it was founded on the following of Christ himself, before added doctrine and the human failings of succeeding centuries. Christ came with a message for the world, and was making a universal appeal. In today’s climate of constant change, we need a spiritual anchor more than anything else, and we may be destined to find a unity of spirit against all the odds. It will not be attributable to a single source, but there can be no doubt that it will be seen unmistakably as a turning point in the modern world.
Such a change of culture involves something which can turn the huge growth in knowledge into a blessing rather than a threat: the fruits of peace rather than war, of change rather than of conflict. It needs to be a banner borne by mankind rather than any kind of elite. That may be the task which democracy is meant to shoulder. It is not a perfect mechanism for enforcing our will which is required, but a clear reflection of overwhelming public opinion.
Cultivate the inner voice rather than human power
That perhaps is the secret of a change which begins in people: so many diverse characters, not only finding a new purpose in life, but also the daily application to develop it. Money plays an important part in everyone’s life, and the way we handle it may be more significant than researching new economic laws. Some writers on the ‘post-capitalist economy’ talk of the ‘knowledge economy’ defining the future. Peter Drucker in the United States (Post Capitalist Society) says we need to understand knowledge as an economic resource: “We have not had enough experience to formulate a theory and test it. We need an economic theory which puts knowledge at the centre of the wealth-making process”. He foresees that this will be quite different from any existing view of economics. But it is also quite possible that the growth of unselfishness will create something even more unrecognisable in today’s terms.
Economics is increasingly dominant among those forces which shape our present. It is not a science, but it is bound up with the development of human society. Hopefully public opinion is moving to support a culture of caring rather than the celebrating of successful tycoons. So it is significant to find that Bill Gates intends to lessen his money-making role in favour of finding the most effective ways to spend it. He is a fresh and formidable recruit to an honourable tradition, which expresses the need to give disenfranchised people opportunities rather than simply encourage economic growth wherever it may be. In a sense it is seeking a strategy to put right some of our most glaring failures.
Yet even spending money to produce a desired result can raise complex issues, which depend on the vagaries of human nature. It seems more likely that in the long run a complete change of culture is needed. Only such a change could produce the economics of unselfishness. But the growing obligation to meet the challenge of climate change points in that direction. It will increase the awareness that the most effective steps may be in the evolution of the human spirit, and this is something which is not sure to command. We live in an age of transformation when the exact shape of the future is uncertain and eludes definition. But for all who seek it, there is evidence that a clear road ahead will come from those who cultivate the inner voice rather than human power.
* see video: The Promise of the Veld, obtainable from FLT Films, 24 Greencoat Place, London SW1P 1RD
† published by Grosvenor Books