Economics Upside Down: A Conversation with Andrew Trump

A Conversation with Andrew Trump //

SC: Andrew, can you tell us about your journey and work in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Hawaii?

Andrew:  I graduated with a degree in Economics from Wheaton [Wheaton College, IL], and, during my senior year, I spent six months in rural Cambodia interning for an organization that did agricultural work in development. That’s where I got a taste for both the developing world and a desire to see farmers and people in poor settings uplifted. I got to work alongside them to change my own life so that I’m living more justly towards people that aren’t coming from a place of wealth and riches like many of us in the Western World.

I did that six months in Cambodia, and, after graduation, I worked in the Philippines with Samaritan’s Purse, a relief agency that was still in the island of Leyte in the city of Tacloban, where a typhoon hit in 2013.  A couple years later, they’re still transitioning the area to more long-term development work.  I worked in water and sanitation, and specifically with local enterprises to meet the need for safe water and toilets through market interventions.  We did things like link customers that were well below the poverty line to microfinance so that they could afford toilets and water filters, and we were trying to get local enterprises to take that up.

After a year-long contract in the Philippines, I wanted to get back into agriculture.  Working in water and sanitation is a great thing, and it’s much-needed, but my heart’s in agriculture, so I decided to go back home to where my family owns a business in Hawaii. We manage 750 acres of certified organic macadamia nut orchards.   I’ve been here for the past 7-8 months as a project manager on different aspects of the business, whether that’s applying for grants, or looking into different product development. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.

These are all very different contexts you’ve mentioned.  What is the most important thing you learned about economic justice in these contexts?

The phrase “economic justice” is an interesting one, because it can be pretty broad, and I think people can interpret it in many different ways based on their setting.  Some might think that economic justice has to do with inequality or poverty. For some people economic justice is just doing business ethically, or maybe something that’s anti-Wall Street.  In the context that I’ve been in, the most prevalent way you see economic justice is when you see the injustice.  While working with poor farmers you see people that are working in very difficult conditions, yet sell their crops for profits that are hardly sufficient to live.  You see something like that, and you say, “That’s injustice.” So in some ways the best way to define “economic justice” is to say, “What’s economic injustice?”

In Cambodia, the Philippines, and even Hawaii, there are farmers at disadvantaged points of the market chains that feed consumption.  When I was in Cambodia, I saw these rice farmers sell their rice to middlemen, and the middlemen took off a big chunk of the price. And if that rice is exported, the exporter takes off a bigger chunk, and eventually it gets to the consumer, but what was paid to the farmer is only a percentage of that.  So you look at that and say, “That’s injustice.” If we’re pursuing economic justice, in whatever context, whether it’s me selling macadamia nuts, or a poor family in the Philippines trying to buy a water filter, I would say that it’s when we see injustice that we understand what justice is.

How can we identify injustice then?  

I think what you see on the surface is an indicator of injustice—and sometimes it can be tied back to economic injustice; sometimes it can be tied back to the unjust world that we live in. You see people living in conditions that are not suitable for human flourishing.  For instance, in the Philippines, we worked with poor families that were low wage earners, and they didn’t have enough to even buy their own toilet, or to afford a water filter, and that affected their children, their ability to attend school… numerous things. So when a human can’t flourish where they’re living, injustice must be present.

That’s at the surface.  I think at the root, and this is the thing I would emphasize, a lot of injustice is the result of human selfishness.  We’re taught, particularly in the Western World, to maximize our profit if we’re working in a business. We’re taught to negotiate higher pay or focus on gratifying our own desires, and that trickles down and affects those who are also part of our own economic systems.  For instance, you buy coconut oil at your grocery store in the United States, or wherever you are in the world, and there’s a good chance the coconuts came from the Philippines. There’s a good chance that farmer is really poor and may not even have some basic needs met.  All this arises from the grocery store and middleman wanting to get the coconut oil at the cheapest price, and they have more money to leverage the poor farmer, so he has to accept whatever price he’s given, and you, the consumer, also want it at the lowest price. It all trickles down to a system that’s largely connected—globally connected, although sometimes it’s locally—where we’re trying to serve our needs the best we can, and that derives from human selfishness.  

What I’ve been learning is that to counteract this is to counteract your own selfishness. In everything that you do, ask yourself, “What does it look like to care for others who are maybe in a position where they’re not as able to care for themselves?”  And when you look introspectively, you think, “Well, maybe I don’t need to consume the way I consume, maybe I need to be wiser about my consumption, or maybe I just need to give it all up and give up my desire to have money, to have wealth, to have the life that I want, and pursue a life that serves others above self.”  To me, the only way to do that is to have a change of heart and really flip the world upside down in the way that we view economics. Instead of trying to make more, we should try to give more, and that’s not the way that our economic systems work.

Is this how you would envision a world with “economic justice”?

Yes.  I think that the only way to pursue true “economic justice” is to give up your own selfish desires and start living in a way that serves others and serves those at the margins more than yourself.  And the thing is, to envision a world that does that, you need to envision a world that doesn’t have human selfish desire, and that’s just not the case. We’re inherently selfish, and our world has been built on a system that has probably favored those who have been more selfish in their lives.  I think that the only way to do that is to have a change of heart, and that change of heart is Jesus and living in the way that he lived to kind of put the world upside down. He didn’t favor the rich, he favored the poor; he didn’t serve himself, he served others, and he was willing to sacrifice for others and not for himself.  When we take those principles and we apply them to economics, and to yourself, you start to say “Oh, I’m going to no longer treat rich people better because I can get something from it. I’m going to live simpler, so that I have more money to give, or [so that] I don’t consume as much.” There are real actions that we can take, but it all starts with flipping the way that we view ourselves and what we want out of life, to instead say what we want to sacrifice.  

Thank you. Do you have anything else to add?  

The one thing I would like to add is that when we talk about topics like this, it’s easy to envision what the ideal answer is.  At the end of the day, we’re all working on it, and I struggle with living in a way that’s not selfish and that honors and favors the poor.  I struggle with doing that because I’m selfish just like everyone else. I sometimes beat myself up asking, “Why would I live like this? Why would I pursue this?”  So there’s also room for grace. But we can also think about what we do differently. All that said, it’s a struggle to reach what we want to reach, and part of pursuing economic justice is the process itself.  We’re all going to fail along the way, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue it.

*NOTE: This transcript has already been edited for clarity by the transcriber, Johanna Depenthal.  Original transcript available upon request.


Andrew Trump is currently working as a Projects Manager at Island Harvest Inc, a 750 acre macadamia nut farm on the Big Island of Hawaii. Previously he has spent time in the Philippines working for Samaritan’s Purse in water and sanitation and in Cambodia researching rural agricultural development. Andrew wants to continue to look for opportunities to integrate his education in economics and passion for agricultural to come alongside farmers, particularly in the developing world.


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