At first glance, the fields of economics, religion, and comics seem utterly apart; a combination of two of them, let alone all three, would seem incongruous. However, in her innovative work, economist, artist, and activist Kate Poole delivers impassioned yet playful critiques of capitalism from a spiritual perspective.
While Kate Poole has been publishing comics online since 2013, her exploration of the spiritual dimension of economics started much earlier. Poole was brought up Jewish, attending a Conservative synagogue, but in a family that she describes as scientific and secular, filled with doctors and professionals. In an experience she has recounted in several comics, after her semester studying at a monastery in India in 2007, Poole lived with the Santi Asoke commune in Thailand. Asoke’s radically anti-capitalist Buddhist economics challenged Kate to reconcile her class privilege with her religious beliefs.
When she returned from life on the commune, Poole was inspired to integrate her spiritual values with her economic actions. Since returning from Santi Asoke, Poole has plunged headlong into the often murky intersection of economics and religion, drawing from Buddhist teachings as well as her own Jewish heritage. After finishing her studies at Princeton with a thesis on the economic and religious thought of Santi Asoke, Poole dove headlong into working on building sustainable and local economies. She has worked with the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, conducted research for Local Dollars, Local Sense and most recently, has been working with Friends Rehabilitation Program, a Quaker affiliated group providing housing and social services in poverty-stricken areas of Philadelphia.
See more of Kate Poole’s art in Tikkun Daily’s Online Gallery
Kate Poole continues to explore the intertwining of religion and spirituality with economic and social justice. While many of her economic views are drawn from Buddhism, she takes inspiration from traditional Jewish ideas of economic justice, such as the Shmita (biblical sabbatical year) and Tzedakah.
Poole says she values the ritual and community in her local queer Jewish family and Philadelphia progressive Jewish groups, including a feminist chavurah group she adores, Fringes.
Poole has turned to the medium of comics to discuss issues of economic justice, divestment and local wealth creation because she sees them as an excellent format for explaining complex concepts in a relatively simple way. Since inheriting wealth from her family, she has been working with Resource Generation and as a core leader of Regenerative Finance, both organizations dedicated to providing information and resources that young people of wealth (like Poole herself) can use to redistribute land, wealth and power. Through her comics, Poole hopes to communicate these tools in a format that is easy to distribute. When asked about her inspirations for comic making, Poole cited her own need for images to anchor her writing, the aesthetic appeal of a balance of word and image, and the subversive history of underground radical zines.
And Poole’s comics are surely at least as fun for her audience to read as they are for her to create. Her style is playful yet didactic, with both expressive line drawings and citations of financial statistics. While the overarching theme of economic justice runs through all of her work, Poole’s comics range from the autobiographical (a series on her time with Santi Asoke) to the instructional (on the logic of investing in local food co-ops). In her most recent work, Poole has taken a fanciful turn, depicting the anthropomorphic characters of Disney’s Robin Hood, including Prince John, organizing to raise taxes on the richest and redistribute wealth.
Poole’s take on Passover is lighthearted, yet draws on the deep well of liberation metaphors that the Exodus story has bequeathed to generations of progressives. She depicts Moses as a contemporary woman, born into poverty but adopted by the CEO of FERO Inc., who after a revelatory experience, decides to reinvest her family’s money into local and sustainable economies. In a clever and effective modern spin on the Burning Bush, Moses sees a burning iPhone with its web browser open to Regenerative Finance during a Black Lives Matter protest. Despite the humor, there is an autobiographical element to Poole’s Exodus, as she acknowledges the strain that the divestment of her family’s funds has put on her relationship with her mother.
Through her comics, academic work, and organizing, Poole seeks to help people understand the concrete steps they can take to build a more just world through their everyday economic decisions. As she says, “the first step is to be clear with what you believe.” She personally holds clear and deep beliefs in a living wage, access to capital for all, and an equitable distribution of wealth. Poole offers recommendations for how we all can build on their own clear beliefs to align their values and decisions by altering how we acquire material objects (for example, switching from mass-produced products and big-box stores to local markets, barter, and exchange), participating in the national movement to raise the minimum wage, and moving our money from Bank of America to a local credit union.
Poole is not slowing down anytime soon and has several new projects on the horizon. Her next art project, while not directly related to her broader project of regenerative economics, is playfully subversive: a coloring book of lesbians in love. Poole is also working on creating an illustrated “Just Transition Toolkit” as part of Regenerative Finance and her broader project of changing the conversation among the economically privileged on the meaning of investment.Finally, Poole is interested in a future project on the tangled relationship of loans, interest, and religion, with a special focus on her own religious tradition. In her own experience, she was always taught the value of philanthropy in the Jewish tradition. Simultaneously money was almost a taboo topic of discussion, perhaps in part due to the centuries of social dynamics that forced Jews by necessity into money lending and led them to be demonized as usurers. In all of these projects and more, the work of Kate Poole will no doubt continue to expose the ills and offer solutions to the economic and social inequity that plagues our modern world of capital, and do so with a cheeky smile and an earnest heart.
See more of Kate Poole’s comics in Tikkun Daily’s online gallery here.
Joshua Brett is Art Intern at Tikkun, and intern at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum.