Storytelling in the New Economy

As Christians, we are a people defined by a single story, begun by one man, passed down through history and which has grown into something bigger than a social movement. Stories interact with our faith - but what can stories tell us about capitalism, and how can we use storytelling to encourage a new kind of economics?

‘Stories have long been a key component of the spirit of capitalism’ writes sociologist Nicole Aschoff in her book The New Prophets of Capital. The stories which glorify work, which make legendary heroes of those gifted entrepreneurs who have played the game well and banked their reward. The stories of them and us, tabloid headline tales of the ‘welfare queens’ and skivers who benefit from the hard work of the many. The stories of advertising, which draw us into relationships with brand names and identities and move us to the very depths of our wallets.

These are also the stories immortalised in contemporary economic theory. Feminist economist Diana Strassmann suggests that all economics is storytelling, designed to maintain the power of the established narrators. The assumptions about rational, self-interested behaviour which fill the pages of mainstream economics textbooks are, at their heart, incomplete observations about what it is to be human. Narratives which reduce the rich individuality of our lives to lists of principles which can be the foundations of theories and political systems.

We know, however, that there is also a long history of stories which challenge capitalism. Stories of workers, unions and individuals fuelled by cups of tea and a passion for a different world. Of collectives, campaigners and kitchen table collaborators aching and agitating for an alternative economy. Aschoff goes on to say that ‘on rare occasions, stories grow, often in direct proportion to the power of their teller, to become all-encompassing and… define a people, a social movement, or a moment in history’ – which begins to sound more than a little familiar to those of us engaged in faith-based activism.

As Christians, we are a people defined by a single story, begun by one man, passed down through history and which has grown into something bigger than a social movement. A story of redemption, justice and hope, lived out by Jesus in his forgiveness of personal sin and economic debt alike. I’m not suggesting we can reduce our faith to a collection of nice stories with a picture-book Jesus at the centre. But if we want to see our economy changed for the common good, maybe we need to begin by challenging the stories it tells by pointing back to the one we follow. Because if all economics really is storytelling, I can think of few better stories for us to tell than that of the gospel.


@hannahmerich - Hannah is a volunteer at Christians on the Left, working hard behind the scenes on our social media and website content. She writes articles, tweets and Facebook posts as well as checking and editing content. If you'd like to be involved too, do drop us a line.

The Tawney Dialogue 2016 will feature John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor and Daniel K Finn PhD, Professor of Economics and Clemens Professor of Theology at the University of Minnesota, speaking on the subject of "Economics for the Common Good", with a discussion chaired by Ruth Mawhinney, Editor of Christian Today.

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commented 2016-07-26 17:16:23 +0100 · Flag
The economics of God….as told in Genesis.

God provided manna for the Hebrews and instructed them, ‘Take what you need to live for this day, no more and no less.’

Those who took more than they needed for that day and started to accumulate a wealth in bread found that it rotted and became filled with worms.

We can learn from this ……Take for need not for greed, then there is enough for everyone.

There is the challenge for capitalism.

I therefore fully endorse your article.
commented 2016-04-04 18:22:38 +0100 · Flag
Fantastic, this is so very true and I am convinced that new (or perhaps ancient) story telling is central to reforming our economics and social identity. Thank you Hannah!