Article in German paper written in response to the posting of the 'Economic Well-Being Award'
Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany, Oct. 24, 2014
By Nikolaus Piper
Even in these days it is still rewarding to read newspaper ads. Last Saturday I found a half-page ad in the New York Times. In it an “Economic Well-Being Award” was announced. The Award will go to an economist, or a group of economists, who can explain why the American economy did so much better between 1946 and 1971 than it did between 1972 and 2012. Remarkable is not so much the Award itself or the prize money of 33,000 Dollars. It is its sponsor – the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, a tiny congregation of merely 40 members in Southern Brooklyn.
How the Award was created, is one of these stories that is possible only in America. The pastor of the congregation is the Reverend Robert Emerick. Emerick, who is deeply rooted in the progressive true-to-life tradition of Methodism, discovered his interest in economics during the last Presidential campaign. “I’ve got the impression that nobody talked about facts, the discussion was led by propaganda machines,” he says. Consequently Emerick looked for the facts himself. His friend, Tracey Mott, head of the Economics Department at the University of Denver, provided him with a reading list and so Emerick took a crash course in basic Economics: Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, the Polish economist Michal Kalecki, and American economic history. Finally he came to the conclusion that even the experts couldn’t explain certain facts. So he got the idea to offer an Award.
This past September the council of the church voted with a strong majority for the unusual project. For Emerick this all has to do with the Bible. “Jesus teaches us to create Heaven on Earth by loving each other. We shall be radically committed to the physical, social, economic, and spiritual well-being of mankind.” The idea of looking for facts, not for ideology, is part of the American tradition as he sees it. “Pragmatism is a core American virtue,” Emerick says.
And how does a small church get the money to offer an award of $33,000 Dollars? The answer is: from its past. The Methodists in Bay Ridge owned a big property with a big church that no longer fitted the needs of the congregation. Therefore, they sold three quarters of their property to the City of New York and decided to build on the remaining land a new, smaller, solar-powered church. The proceeds from the sale are, together with the offerings of the faithful, not only sufficient for the expenses of the church, but also for finance projects like the Award.
The pastor has received a lot of responses to the ad from all over the U.S, some of them from professional economists. Maybe something significant will grow out of this initiative.