‘Muddling through’ – bishops, finance & the establishment

Ann Pettifor: 9th January, 2009, 17.00PM

Simon Jenkins writes for the UK Guardian,  and has a splenetic piece in the paper today. Its an attack on the economics profession which “has collapsed in ignominy and if there were any justice the profession would be sacked en masse”.  Could not agree more.  But he also has a pop at bishops. “The Church of England” he writes  “feels we had it coming to us, though it unfortunately omitted to warn us beforehand.”  That’s not true, nor is it fair.  The then Bishop of Worcester, Peter Selby wrote a powerful and insightful book in the early 1990s, titled “Grace and Mortgage” in which he both condemned the ‘hegemony of the finance system’ and warned it would end in crisis.  And he was not alone.

I have clear recollections of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams issuing similar warnings. However, I would concede that Church leaders could have been far more outspoken as the credit bubble inflated, and money was effortlessly and shamelessly made from gambling, speculation and downright deception and theft. Not that their views would have been widely reported by a media largely duped by the predations of richly-funded and rewarded City of London PR machines.  (See the 2008 report from PolisMedia on the ethics of financial reporting in times of crisis and change.)

Jenkins seems to conclude that everyone is barmy –  bar his good self, of course, and the Christian Realist, Reinhold Niebuhr.  Like many in the British establishment at times of crisis ( read Orwell on Rudyard Kipling’s denial and brave bluffing through the disaster that was the First World War),  Jenkins is stung by criticism from the Left. He stoically believes that the British establishment has done, and will do, the right thing, and will somehow,  he argues,  “muddle through”.

That’s about how delusional British Generals were in 1915 as they started ‘muddling through’ a catastrophic war.

But lets explore Jenkins’ attack on bishops a little more, and consider some of the utterances of faith leaders over this seasonal break.

The most striking was the attack by the German Bishop Wolfgang Huber on Josef Ackerman CEO of Deutsche Bank (see image above.)  Huber is leader of the German Evangelical Church (evangelical means protestant in German) and so leads an independent-minded flock.  According to the FT Bp Huber ‘speaking to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, argued that bankers had a duty to look beyond the short term and to ensure stability: “Never again should a Deutsche Bank chief executive set a profit goal of 25 per cent.” Such goals drove up profit expectations to unsustainable levels and amounted to “a form of idolatry”, he said. “In the current circumstances, money has become a god.” Josef Ackermann, Deutsche Bank’s CEO reacted angrily.

Over the  Christmas break the BBC reported that the Bishop of Durham, the Rt. Rev Tom Wright, speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, accused ministers of standing by while “the poor have got poorer”.

“When a big bank or car company goes bankrupt, it gets bailed out, but no one seems to be bailing out the ordinary people who are losing their jobs and seeing their savings diminished,” he said.  Bishop of Manchester the Rt. Rev. Nigel McCulloch said Labour was “beguiled by money” and “morally corrupt”.

And Bishop of Hulme the Rt. Rev Stephen Lowe criticised the government for urging people who were already in debt to spend more. “That is morally suspect and morally feeble” he said. “It is unfair and irresponsible of the government to put pressure on the public to spend in order to revive the economy”.  He added that he wanted to see an end to “the notion of greed, of getting something you want immediately usin the credit card.”

Frankly, I think Simon Jenkins doth protest too much. These bishops are not barmy. They are simply fulfilling their duty to remind society and government of ethical principles rooted in their religion. Like Jenkins, I wished they had spoken sooner, and more loudly – and by that means warned their flock away from mountains of debt. But I dare say that if they had, Jenkins would have dismissed them as ‘barmy’ Marxists.

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7 comments to ‘Muddling through’ – bishops, finance & the establishment

  • Brian P. Smith

    WELL SAID! Especially the last comment. It is all very well to say that the church should have said something earlier, but they would

    have doubtless been told to mind their own business and stick with religion (which is not what they deal with anyway – thier speciality is actually

    faith!) And I agree that Mr Jenkins is delusional – who can honestly say the British establishment has done the right thing and will muddle

    through? Only someone who WANTS to belive that!

  • john fletcher

    Some of the Christmas stuff from the bishops reminded me strongly of the great denunciations by sixteenth century bishops of the rich

    during enclosures and the financial speculation and the social impoverishment which followed the dissolution of the monasteries.

  • Robin Woodburn

    I must say, I read Jenkins’ piece rather differently. I thought he wasn’t complaining necessarily about bishops, but

    about anyone who hopes for a different, and better world. Such people, he implies, are simply dreamers, and the same old order will trundle on, no

    matter what. Jenkins occasionally makes good points, but this was a particularly cretinous article. I think things are bound to change as a result

    of the past few months, and whether or not it will be better or worse is up to us.

  • Nicholas Colloff

    Apart from the dubious equation of ‘German’ & ‘Protestant’ & independence of mind, not borne out by history, especially in

    relation to the state, and beginning with Luther A re-examination of traditional Christian teaching on interest (pre-Calvin) and its relation to

    usury would be very welcome and salutary at this time as we, hopefully, rethink our financial system.

  • Nicholas Colloff

    Sorry I missed a phrase after Luther, a very salutary rejoinder to Simon Jenkins…

  • […] January

    this year (see my blog of that month) Bishop Wolfgan Huber, leader of the German Evangelical Church attacked the CEO of […]

  • […] January

    this year (see my blog of that month) Bishop Wolfgan Huber, leader of the German Evangelical Church attacked the CEO of […]

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