Anti-CaPaulitalists?

The irony will not be lost on many people: a Body of people who claim to be the disciples of a master who drove the money-changers out of the Temple now find themselves in danger of driving out those who would question our modern-day money-handlers from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. It is a great sadness that someone with the ability and insight of Giles Frazer has now been lost to the Church as a voice in this debate, and equally sad that we have also, seemingly, lost an opportunity to side with those who are asking us to pause and consider whether we have, indeed, got our economic system right: a system which has become ‘profit for profit’s sake’ and with, apparently, no brakes at all that can be put on the multi-national, globalised companies, including the banks, that now run the world in every meaningful sense as national governments tinker around the edges of power. Unelected and seemingly unaccountable, they continue to persuade us that making money is the only goal in a sane society and that we will all benefit from the ‘trickle down’. Well, here we are with massive unemployment, the erosion of social support infrastructure, the increased marginalisation of the most poor and deprived in our society and the degradation of much-needed charity provision ( I am still stinging from the loss of Lincoln MIND, which has recently closed its doors because of lack of available grant funding, taking with it a valuable service to some of the most challenged and vulnerable people in our local society). Surely, we have the right to question an economic system which does all this, especially when those who created this crisis are rumoured to enjoy ever bigger bonuses?

In a recent Radio 4 series on ‘Capitalism’ its presenter, Michael Portillo (himself an enthusiastic capitalist) had to acknowledge that poverty and monetarism went hand in hand: the one a necessary consequence of the other. Yes, poverty levels differ as economies rise and fall, but if you support Capitalism as a system, then ‘the poor are with us always’. The programme was a public acknowledgement that Capitalism is now at least under the microscope as an economic system and also a nod to the fact that things can be done differently. In times past, stringencies and austerity have largely been accepted by the vast majority of people who suffer most because of cut-backs and redundancies: I bring to mind the sycophantic labourer in the old comedy programme ‘Brass’ saying to the mill owner ‘you are a saint in human form, Mr Hardaker’ as every manner of insult and oppression was visited upon him by his boss. It seems that some people will no longer accept that there should be such a disparity between rich and poor, with statistics telling us that, worldwide, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. It also appears that there are those, some of whom are camped in the steps of St Paul’s, who do not believe that the pursuit of profit and gain is the highest calling of humanity and pose the possibility that it may be possible to have a just, equitable society if we are prepared to look at things in a different way. And here’s the rub, for the guardians of the Cathedral  follow someone who constantly challenged us to look at things from a different angle and not to accept that the status quo was necessarily good or, indeed, how things ought to be. The is the one who said ‘sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath’ and ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’: all the time questioning the, too readily,  accepted totems we erect for ourselves. In looking kindly upon and working alongside those who are asking us to look at Capitalism from a different angle, the Church would be being true to its great Teacher.

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~ by Tim Ellis on October 30, 2011.

5 Responses to “Anti-CaPaulitalists?”

  1. Bravo. There seems to be a sudden stony silence in the C of E, apart from a few brave but consequently pilloried souls. Not just a lost opportunity for the Anglican Church, but a disaster. Where’s the Church that published Faith in the City gone?

  2. So the Church is to become involved in a debate about our economic system and give us moral guidance. Good. But you need to understand the real problem and be evenhanded. Currently we have two basic systems of combinations thereof. Capitalist or some form of centrally managed economy. In the former resouces are allocated according to the millions of buying choices made by INDIVIDUALS on a daily basis. (The buying decisions of governments and corporations merely reflect the needs of citizens and customers). In a Centrally managed economy a few officials make these decisions on our behalf. This has always failed due to a combination of malficence, greed and inefficiency by the officials.
    Bankers have behaved disgracefully but if you are to give guidance you need also to address the responsibilities we all have. The fundemental cause of this crisis is the global inbalance of credit. We, as individuals, have been spending more than we earn and have not saved. Money is now in the hand of the Chinese and foreign wealth funds who lend it back to us so we can go on spending what we don’t earn on credit. If you want evidence of this, see the comments in the informed financial press about shadow banking. As the banks are forced to pull in their horns by regulators, the vast pool of credit, like water, must find a level, It is being lent back to us through shadow banking operations: lending by non-banking businesses. So when a friend of mine, very middle of the road in income level, buys on his credit card a TV for his summerhouse, he represents our contribution to the crisis. Of course the church has a duty to speak for the poor, but it is neither the poor nor the very rich who are the main contributors here. It is the mass of us who spend on credit for things we dont need! By all means explore a new system but human nature may be harder to change.

  3. You and others in the Church’s leadership (I use the term loosely) keep telling us two things about capitalism: it’s terrible for the poor and there must be an alternative.

    The first statement is straightforward claptrap: thanks to free market, capitalist globalisation more people have been able to lift themselves out of poverty than at any other time in human history. You seem much more worried about the ‘system’s’ alleged unfairness than any of the poor: they are more concerned, I suggest, with prosperity and the wonderful opportunities it brings for their children than unattainable and meaningless notions of ‘equality’.

    Capitalist enterprises make profits when they produce goods and services that people need or want at prices they can afford. Anybody who goes into business with no thought of anything except profit is courting disaster, as many – not all – financial institutions – have discovered. Those institutions are not the whole of capitalism: sensible banking reform is needed precisely in order to forestall the tail wagging the dog in the way it has recently.

    Your second claim – there must be an alternative – is both meaningless and irresponsible unless you can show that viable alterantive systems of economic organisation are possible and can deliver the levels of prosperity and opportunity of modern capitalism.

    No pious waffle, now: tell us about the mechanisms in your alternative economy for measuring supply and demand and determining prices; the means by which innovation, risk and enterprise will flourish; the role of competition; the replacements for the profit motive; and the means by which capital for investment will be accumulated and invested.

    Unless you have concrete and convincing answers to these questions neither you nor Rowan Williams have any business exploiting your authority as Church leaders to imply that those who call for the overthrow of capitalism have a point.

  4. So refreshing to hear a relevant opinion on a very serious matter.
    too often campaigners are received badly by the press and authorities of the sites they inhabit. Lincolnshire church leaders should be in this debate and praying for our youth and employment issues. Bishop Tims voice is welcome and timely.

    • Of course it must be right that the church supports those who wish to challenge our financial leaders with pertinent questions.
      But we also need to challenge ourselves – the master had much more to say to us than the moneylenders. Our financial system is ultimately driven by the wants and desires of the population at large. Just take one figure, whilst government debt is some 80% of GDP, the total national debt includes a massive element of personal debt bringing to total to well over 300% of GDP. In the end, we will have to examine how the ‘want it all now’ approach of modern living is consistent with a stable and fair economy.

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