Executive Summary of theological perspectives beyond neoliberal capitalism

1. The cry for justice, especially from the countries of the global South, has become unmistakable. Humanity is on the brink of social cataclysm and global destruction. The foremost crises of the past two decades—climate change, financial crisis, pandemic and migration flows—demonstrated how the international economic and financial architecture not only became outdated, but life-threatening. Economic globalization, which promised endlessly increasing prosperity, has overstepped its limits and is tipping over into its opposite. We are overdue to not only fight the symptoms, but to address the root causes of this radical change. Humanity and the earth are crying out for fairer, more equitable and more sustainable forms of economic activity.

2. Unbridled neoliberal capitalism disposed of its social and ecological framework through deregulation and liberalization: Its sole measure of success became maximum profits. Such economy is addicted to growth and has decoupled itself from any higher goal beyond profit maximization. The impact is staring us in the face: pollution and environmental devastation, disdain for non-marketable values, misleading and fatal progress metrics, military protection of global markets, privatization of common and shared resources such as water, land, health care, etc. The most consequential social effects of this financially dominated capitalism are blatant social inequality and injustice, which in turn provoke the rise of populist movements and autocratic forms of government—the very movements that now threaten our democracies on a broad front.

3. For over 40 years, the Ecumenical Movement and the confessional church federations have condemned “free”, unbridled market capitalism as an unacceptable world economic order. While indifferently demanding never-ending sacrifices from the poor and from God’s creation, it still claims that the creation of even more wealth and abundance will save the world. The ecological death spiral unbridled market capitalism set in motion can only be brought under control if we reimagine our economic framework with urgent priority.

4. Three fundamental insights emerge from the evolution of capitalism from early modern mercantilism through industrial capitalism and the social market economy to today’s financial capitalism: 1) Unregulated and absolute competition leads to the “war of all against all” (Th. Hobbes); 2) The structures and constraints of the neoliberal economic system cannot be overcome by moral appeals to the individual economic actors, but only by a redesigned framework mandatory for everyone; 3) It remains the task of politicians to establish this framework that sustains and serves life. Politicians must relearn to fulfil this task again.

5. Our goal is to work with economists to develop clear strategies and viable paths to transform our current economic system. It must become capable of and assist in overcoming the existential crises that darken our future and threaten life on our fragile planet. The underpinnings of the Christian faith give us a crisis-proven and reliable orientation for this:

6. The dignity of every human being, the protection of nature, respect for one’s neighbor and the hope for a life in justice and peace are the guiding principles of all Christian ethics.

7. Christian faith is thus at odds with all systems that set themselves absolute. Beyond totalitarian systems, this includes our current neoliberal model of finance-dominated capitalism. Christian faith therefore urges economic transformation away from and beyond such economies because they degenerated to now be hostile to life on Earth.

8. We must fundamentally question the spirit, inner logic and practice of neoliberal economies. We oppose the mindset of limitless self-interest with the mindset for the common good and genuine support of life; we oppose the logic of maximizing mammon and profits at any prize with the logic of meaningful, constructive relationships between people and the reciprocal integration of people and their habitat. The practice of needless and resource-devouring consumption in the futile attempt to further glut an insatiable, growth-addicted economic model must end. It must give way to a sustainable economic practice that reliably serves life and its reasonable needs. In doing so it must respect planetary boundaries to protect our deeply interlinked web of life on this planet.

9. In the spirit of an ethics of responsibility, we therefore demand that a new framework order be drawn up to harness national and global economic activities to ensure it delivers on the above requirements. Such a framework must realign the four pillars of the dominant capitalist system—property, money, work, and our utilization of nature—to sustainably serve the essential needs of all people alive today, of generations yet unborn and their joint habitat. Only together can we attain liberty for all acting subjects, live out fair coexistence among all humans, and reestablish conditions for future generations to exist in like manner.

10. Providing specific and competent designs of such a framework order is not the expertise of church. We therefore seek the cooperation with proficient members and groups within and beyond our churches. We request participation of alternative movements and organizations and especially of economists, business ethicists and institutes who share our goals. Our declaration The Cry For A Life-Serving Economy seeks to initiate this dialogue for the design of a new economic order. In an open list we conclude our declaration with a few examples for such proposals.

The full declaration