The two billion people living in Yemen, Somalia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Honduras and the slums of the world don’t give a damn about stimulus packages, financial regulation and the fluctuations of the Dow Jones average … they don’t fret about free markets, democracy or individual entitlement … these pillars of neoliberal capitalism mean very little when you’re fighting for every scrap of your meager existence in a favela or shantytown. The only things that matter there are the scant bits of food on the table, having a place to go to when you fall sick and the struggle of parents to guarantee their children one more tomorrow. Perhaps, as the disparity between global wealth and destitution continues to grow, people living in the impoverished parts of the world will begin to opt out of the Western model of economic thought and embrace a version of Islamonomics instead. When confronted with the possibility of a brutal future, the central idea of all Islamic thought, that of a “just society” built upon compassion, justice and equity, has powerful appeal.
If liberal capitalism continues to falter and favor the rich and if our market-based economic logic cannot be “the rising tide that lifts all boats,” then a mass reevaluation of economic theory may sweep the globe. In an effort to rectify profound economic imbalance and save themselves, people may embrace a form of Zakat: the practice whereby all who are able donate a portion of their wealth to the poor. They may decide to protect what’s left of the natural wealth of their country by designating swaths of area Hima: inviolate zones that are protected from the reach of multinational corporations. And they may embrace the notion of Haraam: the idea that all wealth obtained to the detriment of others is forbidden.
It would be an epic rethink – a tectonic paradigm shift; a great leap beyond the brand of soulless neoclassical thinking that defines our economic reality today. It would inject an element of humanity into the callous philosophical systems underlying the World Bank and the WTO and forever shift the foundations upon which economic summits and university curriculum stand.