The two top Anglican leaders have spoken out against the unproductive financial sector which has come to dominate our economy at the expense of productive sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture.
Says Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in an article for The Spectator:
It is no use pretending that the financial world can maintain indefinitely the degree of exemption from scrutiny and regulation that it has got used to. This crisis exposes the basic level of unreality in the situation — the truth that almost unimaginable wealth has been generated by equally unimaginable levels of fiction, paper transactions with no concrete outcome beyond profit for traders.
Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves; he was right about that, if about little else.
The last bit leaves the impression that Williams hasn’t read much of Marx, who wasn’t some kind of anti-capitalist Nostradamus. But good on the Archbishop for saying it.
Kudos too for Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York for saying the following in a speech to the annual dinner of the Worshipful Company of International Bankers on Wednesday night:
To a bystander like me, those who made £190m deliberately underselling the shares of HBOS in spite of a very strong capital base, and drove it into the arms of Lloyds TSB, are clearly bank robbers and asset strippers.
We find ourselves in a market system which seems to have taken its rules of trade from Alice in Wonderland.
Our country has built its financial strength historically on the manufacturing of goods, where money was the medium of exchange. In the last week, we have seen its systems come close to ruin because now money is no longer being the medium of exchange for goods, but rather is the very item that is being traded.
One of the ironies about this financial crisis is that it makes action on poverty look utterly achievable. It would cost $5bn (£2.7bn) to save six million children’s lives.
World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they tell us that action for the poorest is too expensive?
Pertinent questions indeed. The answers are clear enough: the system works best for the capitalists, they rule. What do they care about eradicating poverty? They won’t be able to have any more lavish charity dinners or auctions.
At the A World To Win blog, Paul Feldman has some criticisms of Sentamu and Williams:
The archbishops would like to return to a more benign form of capitalism of the 1960s, before the globalisation genie was let out of the bottle. Those of a mature age like myself would love to go back 40 years, which shows how the imagination can run riot. It is far easier to conceive of a future based on co-operation expressed through common ownership and democratic control of the resources of the global economy.
Of course, the Church of England cannot help in this respect. Since the Reformation, it has provided the theological justification for capitalism. Money-lending and the accumulation of individual wealth through land grabbing, slavery and colonial possessions were generally blessed and approved of by the church, which is an integral part of the British state. Rather than limiting ourselves to Sentamu’s and Williams’ criticisms, the action of Jesus in driving the merchants and money-lenders out of the temple would be a far better starting point!
Mind you, there are signs that the CofE will act, in as much as it can, by changing its investment rules:
The Church does not regulate the practice of “short-selling” by firms in which it invests.
However, a source close to its Ethical Investment Advisory Group said he thought the archbishops’ intervention “might prompt a rethinking of the rules”.
“It would not surprise me if the General Synod (the Church’s governing body) did not raise concerns about investment and business practices in future,” he said.
A Church spokesman said that while its fund managers were banned from short-selling, the rules do not apply to the firms it invests in.
The CofE already has an “ethical investment policy” governing how it invests its money. Examples include a ban on armament and tobacco firms, and any companies involved in the pornography industry.
Although the Church’s investment in private equity firms, which aren’t listed on the stock exchange and are subject to less regulation, is worrying. (The bit about fund managers above makes me think: one very important reform under capitalism would be to allow more ethical investment, to give incentives for investment in the domestic economy – in manufacturing and agriculture – most especially to worker co-operatives.)
I look forward to hearing what England’s other faith communities have to say on the economy. A multi-faith alliance to tame the multinationals? I live in hope.
By the way, plutocrat Richard Branson was yesterday forced to defend plutocracy in the Daily Mail. (Well, actually he’s written a book. Not surprising really, greedy pig.)
And again in the Mail today he’s bitterly whining that he didn’t get Northern Rock.
Politicians shouldn’t be allowed to run businesses, he says. True, but beither should capitalists. Democracy, Richard, that’s what we need in our economy!
The mutual banking sector hasn’t experienced much trouble. In fact, the Co-operative Bank’s profits are up, despite the trade turned away on ethical grounds. Depositors are rushing to building societies to stash their cash.
And north of the border, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) is arguing for a national bank to be set up, asking the nationalist-led government to “establish a Scottish Investment Bank to provide patient, committed long-term capital to growing Scottish companies”.
One hopes the English TUC will suggest the same. Northern Rock was a lost opportunity…