‘On Rock or Sand?’, as edited by Archbishop John Sentamu, was published by SPCK in January 2015. ISBN: 978 0 281 07174 6
The book continues to generate much debate as we approach the general election in May 2015. However, it was never simply intended to help people make more informed decisions in the voting booth, but also to stimulate thought and action on issues that will remain with us long after the election has passed. The following study guide is therefore offered as a free resource for discussion groups and individuals who would like to develop a more thoughtful approach to, and engagement with, the issues addressed by the book.
This study guide provides key quotations and chapter-by-chapter summaries of the book’s main arguments, plus relevant passages from the Bible and a range of questions to encourage further thought and action.
‘On Rock or Sand? Firm foundations for Britain’s future’ is edited by John Sentamu and published by SPCK in January 2015
The aim of this book is nothing less than to assess and reset the terms of the debate about the kind of nation we want to be.
Faced with a period of change as great as that of the 1930s, the continued cohesion of our society is at risk as expectations of ever-rising prosperity are challenged and many struggle to make ends meet. It is within this context that the contributors to this book examine some fundamental questions. How can we draw upon the wellsprings of social solidarity today? What would a new social contract – a new understanding about the respective rights and obligations of the individual citizen and the state – look like today? At a time when budgets and other resources are being reduced, what are the principles we should adopt to distribute them?
In short, what values can the Christian faith bring to the table to help address the problems we face today? These and other core questions about the kind of society we seek lie at the heart of this book.
Chapters by expert economic, political, religious and social thinkers, including contributions by Lord Adonis, Sir Philip Mawer, Oliver O’Donovan, Andrew Sentance, Julia Unwin and Archbishop Justin Welby
Addresses crucial questions about the moral principles that undergird the way Britain is governed
Written for people of any or no religious background who are concerned about the values that influence our political attitudes and decisions
A major contribution to public debate as we approach the 2015 election
ISBN: 978 0 281 07174 6
In April 2010, in the wake of the Financial Crisis, I invited a group of academics and practitioners to come together to take stock, not only of the policies by which our society and our economy should be governed, but also of the underlying values and principles of which that society and economy are an expression. We named the group “The Archbishop of York’s Symposium”.
Participants have included economists, financiers, social scientists and theologians who have been engaged in an open discussion on what we feel are the important public policy issues of the day.
At our most recent meeting, just a few days ago in the Summer of 2011, the members of the Symposium met to examine the issue of health and healthcare reform in the UK.
It was an issue that had been on my heart for some time, but even in the week where we sat to discuss the matter, the newspapers were dominated with stories about possible cuts to health provision and rationalisation of services under a modernisation programme.
It is hard to put into words the way that British people feel about the National Health Service (NHS). There is a sense of national pride not only in the hard work and professionalism of the doctors and nurses (and other staff), but also in the institution itself.
When Aneurin Bevan launched the NHS on 5th July 1948, he probably had little idea that 63 years on the foundations he had put in place would be so interwoven into the fabric of our national identity.
The NHS was born out of a long-held belief that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth.
It was motivated by three core principles:
• That it meet the needs of everyone
• That it be free at the point of delivery
• That it be based on clinical need, not the ability to pay.
I have to say that I am extremely grateful that these principles remain in place to this day.
On 25th May this year, I had been in London listening to President Barak Obama address the Joint Houses of Parliament and had then attended a Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of the great judge, Lord Bingham of Cornhill. There had been no indication that anything at all was wrong with my health. But later that night I was engulfed by illness and I had to be urgently admitted to hospital.
So what did I do? Did I have to check my medical insurance details, or check that there was enough money in my current account to cover my medical treatment?
No. Because of the system we have in England, I was able to go into the local NHS hospital – St Thomas’ in Westminster – and immediately receive the care that was required to help make me better. The doctors and nurses were brilliant.
It is a principle that enables all UK residents to have peace of mind whether they are in their home city, or on the other side of the country. The NHS will always do its best to care for you, regardless of your personal income or place of residence.
Of course, having a service which is “free at the point of delivery” is not the same as having a service which is “free”. The fact is that we all help pay for the running of the NHS through general taxation.
Whilst it is rarely popular for a public figure to sing the praises of the principles of taxation policy, I am always happy to say that if you want better public services then you have to be prepared to put in the investment to ensure that they are properly funded.
It seems only right to me that those that earn more should therefore contribute more to help nurture the common good. It is not about generosity of the pocket, nor about generosity of spirit, it is about fairness or equity.
However, taxes are only part of the solution – there is a strong argument for making better use of the money already in the system. There is nothing wrong with ensuring investment is targeted but at the same time holistic.
For many years, it seems that our society has perpetuated the myth that the private sector is always more professional and more proficient than the public sector. This has never been my experience of public services, and I think this does a great disservice to the many people who devote their lives to working in the public sector to support others.
We should remember that “private” doesn’t always mean “better”. Look at the mess private Banks and their gambling casinos got us into!
We must never allow health provision in this country to become exclusive. Decent health care should not solely be the preserve of those that can afford to purchase it. I am certainly not persuaded by internal competitive markets when one is treating very ill patients.
Let us as a nation protect the principles of Bevan that allow each man, woman and child access to health care whenever they need it.
Good health isn’t simply a case of what is, or is not, provided by the NHS. A recent survey outlined the determinants of health as follows:
40% is due to behaviour
30% is due to genetic inheritance
15% is due to social environment
5% is due to physical environment
This leaves only 10% to healthcare.
Whilst the NHS has focused on addressing inequalities in recent years, devising formulae to spread finance for healthcare more fairly around the country, we can see that deep-rooted societal inequalities still remain.
For example, Manchester health authority gets three times as much investment per person than the health authority in Surrey – however life expectancy in Surrey is still 7 years longer than in Manchester.
It’s not just a North-South divide. The London Health Observatory recently found when looking at life expectancies that in our capital, you would lose a year of life expectancy for every tube stop on the Jubilee Line journey across London from west to east depending on where you lived.
The sad fact is that in our growing consumerist society, and the beguiling mantra: consumer choice, people want more and more, whilst being prepared to pay less and less. Often vast sums are spent on very ineffective treatment, and, although it may not be popular, we need to listen to the doctors and not just the patients. Doctors took up the vocation to treat patients and not to be managers of budgets or fund-holders. Let us not do to doctors what we have done to teachers: made them managers of budgets with targets to meet.
You can’t have a system where those who shout loudest get most. This is especially seen in areas such as GP provision, or when people say it is “against their human rights” not to have an operation on the NHS.
We need to be careful to not create a greater black hole in public finance out of a misplaced sense of duty. We cannot simply solve all health issues by throwing money at the healthcare system. We must look at the wider societal indicators and tackle problems at their root cause.
As our population becomes increasingly ageing, we need to look at how healthcare provision is funded to ensure it is sustainable.
At the moment, I know that I will be looked after in my old age because there are many hard working young people who are currently paying into the pot. But we need to know that when our young people reach old age that there will be someone to look after them too. We need to instil a renewed sense of solidarity.
Whilst life expectancy is steadily rising, disability-free life is dropping for the average person. Let us strive for an improved quality of life for all, not just an improved quantity of life for all. Let us learn to trust each other and invest for a better future that everyone can be part of, no matter where they are born or what their average income is.
We seem to have lost sight of the essential dignity of the human being. Patient–centred care now translates as individuals who have things “done” to them by others. Can this be right?
We need compassion. Consideration of compassion is illuminating. In a social context, we have lost compassion and human dignity, especially where people are at the end of their life or disabled.
We need to make sure we do not create a health system which is inhuman and unresponsive to individual need.
The problem with targets are that they are not based on need, they are based on numbers. I spent 15 days in St Thomas’s Hospital. What was the target for treating someone with a very acute condition which came on suddenly? What was the permissible budget?
It is not just the patients who suffer because of this behaviour. We should not underestimate the impact of bureaucracy on the morale of those working in the health system.
For example, the surgeon who operated on me recently had worked for three days straight and had major operations all day from 10am before he operated on me at 12.30am! I am told this is not an uncommon occurrence. How do we even begin to say thank you?
How do we build up springs of solidarity so that people feel appreciated and valued? How do we help people to feel that it is a vocation to treat others? How do we get a sense of moral compassion in such a big organisation?
The parable of the Samaritan shows compassion expressed appropriately with dignity, and we need to apply this to the Health Service as it provides for a community of the sick.
We forget though that in this parable, although Jesus is talking about those who give help, He is also talking about those who receive. We need to see our own roles in the same way – if we were the injured man, we would want someone to help – so how do we help build a responsive society?
When the credit crunch happened, we learnt a lot. Mammon’s temple showed that money is a means for exchanging goods – and not the determining factor. We also learnt that we cannot keep borrowing to keep up. Mammon was given a severe pasting but I am afraid he is slowly rebuilding his merciless temple.
We are in a fragile economic position as a country, and whilst the 5 social demons of Beveridge are still here, we should remember that the importance of self worth is also still present.
I grew up as one of thirteen children, but my parents were very good at reading to us and telling us stories. We all felt incredibly valued and loved. In fact it was utter happiness. I believe that we need to have the same attitude towards the children of this nation.
We need wholesome environments – not just money in the pocket to make us happy. As a society we are hesitant about the importance of neighbourliness and valuing others. Raising children is more important than material wealth.
Whilst we may strive to deliver value for money, we cannot allow care to be market-led or commercialised to the point where patients’ safety is put at risk. You cannot compare an NHS hospital to a supermarket.
When my appendix was removed, the doctors felt it necessary to keep me in hospital for two weeks – whilst it may have been cheaper for me to have been treated on a production line in a factory, care and compassion for the patient must be paramount.
We need to recognise that there are no easy answers when we look at the demands on the NHS. All health-care systems have their limitations but in the NHS we have a wonderful institution with fantastic staff who are doing their best to serve and treat us, often in impossible circumstances.
If we accept that healthcare can only touch some of the factors contributing to the overall health of a person, we need to challenge policy-makers over those aspects of funding and social policy that affect those who are suffering or living under the burden of societal injustice. We need a generation of equity.
We need to re-articulate what is needed in our country in this new modern context, and debate how we can work together to best deliver it.
Over the next few days, some of the contributors to my Symposium will make public their own findings about our health system. I found what they had to say both informative and challenging. As our political leaders embark on reforming the NHS via the Health and Social Care Bill, I hope that these observations will help re-ignite a national debate so that we can ensure our institutions deliver what is best for not only the individual, but also for society and the wider country.
Let us re-examine the relationship between the individual, society and the State – and not be afraid to question our own expectations of health care provision.
In the 1940s, the Beveridge Report set out the Christian ethic. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, wrote that the dignity of every human being had by law been put into a statute. If this Symposium can manage to help to achieve this aspiration for a new generation, we will have achieved our objective.
It is not wrong to want to re-open the public discourse around the provision of public services. We all want to see a system that is compassionate and responsive. We all want to see investment spent appropriately in order to provide the best care possible to as many people as possible. The challenge is how do we achieve that?
Let us aim high as we set out upon this journey – and let us aim together.
If we refer to it as a slogan, that need not be in a pejorative sense. It means simply that “the right to health” does useful duty as a shorthand reference. A cluster of concerns are summed up compactly; it gestures out towards a whole line of argument remaining to be traced. If we discuss “the right to health” as a slogan, we do not discuss anything we are actually doing or proposing to do. We do not discuss redistributing resources or maximising choice. We discuss how we think and speak about what we are doing and proposing to do – though since the “how” has an effect upon the “what”, our discussion may be of practical importance, not merely a philosophical indulgence. A slogan is a tool of communication, and the question we may put to it is what and how it communicates. A slogan, too, is intended to communicate with some immediacy, catching the attention of those who might not be attending. It therefore tends to be artful, and with the art goes an element of simulation and dissimulation, one thing highlighted, another left in the background. A feature of the slogan’s art is a shocking impudence. A small explosion of nonsense at our elbow startles us into attention and makes us lift our heads to scan the horizon.
The slogan, “the right to health”, is, indeed, astonishingly cheeky. It is obvious to anyone who is half awake that no one has a right to health. Not, at any rate, in the sense that one may have a right to those things we are commonly said to have rights to, as in the canonical phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Rights are aspects of social relations, and since social relations are what we make of them, rights are essentially negative, a floor rather than a ceiling for our social aspirations. We are not to be killed, not to be imprisoned, not to be interfered with (especially by robbery) in making our livelihoods; given those protections we are free to marry or not to marry, to study at University or not to study, to trade on the stock market or to put our money in a mattress, to travel or to stay at home. Health, on the other hand, is not an aspect of social relations; it is a function of a person’s bodily constitution prior to any social interaction. True, some health-problems are caused by other people’s wrongful behaviour, those created by knife-wounds, for example. I can have a right not to be caused such problems. But in no sense can I have a right not to be born with leukemia. I may, perhaps, assert a right to such treatment for leukemia as is generally available, but I can assert no right to vanquish the illness for good and all, since nobody could satisfy such a right.
Attempts to analyse slogans can seem humourless, taking too literally something thrown off with a laugh and a swagger. But that laugh and swagger, especially when repeated on all sides, may not be innocent. Something is being suggested, something vast and important enough to require paradoxical communication. What? That any illness is susceptible of alleviation by the right treatment? That leukemia could become a curable illness, and deserves more research-funding? That all illnesses are in principle curable? Here it all becomes vague. The vagueness is possibly an advantage to those who use a slogan to campaign with, since it allows them a great deal of flexibility with their practical agenda. But for those of us who are carried along by it it means that it has a life of its own, and we may never be clear as to quite what is being suggested. That is one reason why from time to time all slogans need to be examined.
I regard this slogan as a lying slogan, not because of its paradoxical form (for slogans may surely be granted their art), but because the hidden suggestion it makes is false. Indeed, I think it a doubly lying slogan, with two bold and impenitent falsehoods contained in it, one about “the right”, the other about “health”. Let me comment briefly on each of these.
“The right” to health is one of the many current coinages that extend the notion of proprietory right beyond its paradigm negative instances, those that affirm the legal defence of the individual subject against wrongful attack or interference, to the point of asserting an immediate claim of the individual to positive social goods. The proliferation of such expressions gives voice to an idea of what society is supposed to be, and can even be taken to legitimate efforts to change society from what it necessarily is to conform to an abstract ideal of what it might be. The idea is that the social system proves its reality exclusively by meeting the demands individuals make upon it. Our membership of society is primarily a power to assert demands on the whole of which we are part. We do not have to work, we do not have to make sacrifices, to be worthy of benefits of membership. We have only to utter our demands. It is the view of society that might naturally be assumed by a child.
“Health” is then understood as a good to be demanded of, and deliverable by, a social system. It must be possible for my “right to health” to be met by society – for how otherwise could it be a right? – but it can be met only by prescriptions, drips and hospital beds. These, then, must be what I demand when I demand health, not energy and mobility, breath in the lungs and a lively appetite. An inflation of the idea of “right” is thus accompanied by a deflation of the idea of health, until the two dovetail nicely together in a possible techno-bureaucratic programme of provision. It is the view of health naturally assumed by a chronic invalid, so that we might conclude that the slogan taken as a whole offers what might be looked for by an invalid child.
Health is thus re-imagined: it is no longer “being well”, but “doing well” (by which, paradoxically, we mean doing nothing much at all!) With the occlusion of a transcendent meaning to our lives, all kinds of natural goods become occluded, too. To “be well” is to be mobile, energetic, active. To “do well” is simply to consume my fair share, or more than my fair share, of available medical aids and supports. The reduced concept of health stands in an interesting relation to the famously expansive definition of health propounded by the World Health Organisation: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Both the inflated and the deflated conceptions of health ignore the relation of health to the spiritual goods, freedom, wisdom, virtue etc., for which each of us alone can be responsible in our own case and no one shares the responsibility with us. Health is not a spiritual good, but it is a platform from which we launch out upon them, to live our own lives and pursue our own tasks.
Among the spiritual goods must be mentioned the freedom, wisdom and virtue to confronts death. But death has no place in the reduced idea of health. Some of the evidence presented for inequality of health-care has taken the form of divergent local statistics for the average age of death. Maps are drawn, we are told, demonstrating the years of life-expectancy lost or gained by a simple journey on the London Underground. There are at least two reasons for viewing such evidence with suspicion. One is that in a mobile society the age of death in a place is related only indirectly to the life-expectancy of those who live in that place. People do not die where they are born and live. And since those moving into a locality can carry the local average up or down by bringing a low or high life-expectancy with them, the age of death in a place is even less directly related to the quality of health-care practised there. That first suspicion, then, is directed to the meaning of local statistics, and would not be effective against an argument based on changing national statistics. A second and more fundamental ground of suspicion touches the use of life-expectancy itself as a measure of health-care: its value diminishes as life-expectancy approximates the “right time to die”. A general increase of average life-expectancy from 48 to 52 might suggest some success in dealing with major health-problems, but what would an increase from 88 to 92 suggest? From the point of view of real health, the health that we “enjoy”, it might be inconsequential.
It is a mistake, then, to talk about health without remembering that there is, though loosely-defined – even the Psalmist was only prepared to state it within a margin of ten years – a right time to die. We always do fail to remember it, of course, and that is because of an inherent paradox in our existential relation to our death. At any given moment each one of us is convinced that now is not the right time to die; yet the suggestion that our lives might be prolonged indefinitely appals us, and for excellent reasons. Living humanly for very much longer than humans normally live is something we have no conception of. It would be terrible to be forty in a world where most people lived to a hundred and eighty, and equally terrible to be a hundred and fifty! Our whole experience of time and action is geared to an expectation of maturing, aging and dying within a certain span. If the whole cycle were to be strung out, and instead of simply being old for much longer we could be young for longer and mature for longer, too, then we would probably simply slow down and take twice as long over everything. What we would not do is what in our greediness for life we always imagine we would do: experience more and accomplish more. In the current climate only the advocates of euthanasia (to whose simplistic and despairing solutions we have every reason not to entrust ourselves) are prepared to speak in public about a right time to die. It is important that we should all learn to do so, and in our health-care planning should have this horizon before us, so that we attend more urgently to ailments that typically blight the life of the young than to those which terminate the life of the old.
So much for what “the right to health” suggests. Who needs this slogan? Who communicates through it with whom?
We live in an age in which the traditional political conceptions of the relation of the state to the individual have seemed to become increasingly meaningless in the face of the huge extension of technological control over life and death. We have, by default, come to conceive of society as a relation between providers and consumers, the ruler-ruled principle which understood government as a task of justice having now become flattened out into a seller-buyer principle that it understands it as a market. In speaking of a right to health, providers communicate with one another, calling on one another to rise to the demands of their role. For those who bear responsibility for health provision have increasingly become deprived of their traditional motivators. Compassion, which drove the Samaritan to care for the wounded traveller, may still operate in the emergency wards, where individual professionals confront the needs of individual patients directly. But with the vast number of those who manage health-care from a computer screen, and deal with patient-records rather than patients, nothing can be stirred up by strumming on that harp. Equally, the sense of the high responsibility of privilege which once accompanied the exercise of powers of government has been drained away by the routinisation of the bureaucratic system.
And so we hunt around for some way of expressing a residual moral perception in the desert of lost meaning that there remain urgent responsibilities that impose themselves upon us inescapably. The desperate language of a generalised “right” is the only language apparently left to us to do this work. I am moved to do something for people not because I care for them, not because it is entrusted to a privileged role I occupy, not because I love God and see his image in their faces, but because they have a right. The force of the “the right to health” is thus the force of an irreducible moral compulsion that we have forgotten how to articulate intelligibly as a rational motive. And in this it bears all the marks of the Mosaic law as St Paul described it in 2 Corinthians 3: it has an oppressive weight, it is shrouded in impenetrable mystery, and in the end its power over us will prove to be fading and transitory.
Personal reflections by Dr Andrew Sentance, External Member, Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee(1)
The Financial Crisis and its aftermath have dominated the period of over four years I have spent as a member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England. When I joined the Committee in October 2006, the economic background was of fairly steady growth and stable inflation, with unemployment around 5% of the labour force. If someone had described the momentous events which lay ahead, I would have found it hard to believe. At that point, my main concern was that the economy was picking up too strongly and inflationary pressures might emerge as a result. I earned my reputation as a “hawk” by arguing for interest rate rises during my first nine months on the Committee.(2)
Indeed, interest rates did rise by one percentage point between October 2006 and July 2007 – from 4.75% to 5.75%.
Over the Summer of 2007, we saw the first tremors of the financial crisis – though it was not initially clear how serious it would turn out to be. Northern Rock failed spectacularly in September 2007, but it appeared that its problems could be contained and the economy continued to grow both at home and abroad. Indeed, as we moved into 2008, the MPC faced conflicting signals – with inflation being pushed up to over 5% by rising energy and commodity prices. The normal response to such a sharp rise in inflation would have been to push up interest rates, but the MPC did not do so, because we were concerned about the impact of the financial crisis on future growth and inflation. Indeed, interest rates were edged downward in late 2007 and early 2008 and held constant at 5% over the summer as it was not clear whether higher inflation or weaker growth would be the dominant influence on the economy over the years ahead.(3)
That dilemma was resolved in the Autumn of 2008 in a spectacular fashion with the failure of Lehman Brothers and severe stresses for many other banks and financial institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, UK and many other countries, governments directly injected money and provided financial guarantees to stabilise the banking system and financial markets more generally.
These events in turn provided a massive negative shock to business and consumer confidence, which collapsed around the world. The resulting cutbacks in spending plunged the UK economy and most other major economies into recession.
It was too late by then to prevent the recession, but the damage could be limited by cutting interest rates dramatically and by ensuring that government spending and tax policies were also helping to limit the damage. In the UK, the MPC cut the official Bank Rate to 0.5% – the lowest level in the 300-years plus history of the Bank of England. In 2009, this policy of low interest rates was buttressed by direct injections of money into the economy. £200bn of new money created by the Bank of England was used to purchase government bonds. In the short-term, the object of this policy – known as Quantitative Easing – was to reverse negative trends in financial markets which were reinforcing the downturn. Over a longer period, it was hoped that the money injected and a return of financial confidence would support recovery.
Though the UK and many other economies suffered a serious recession, these policies had the desired effect. The world economy has bounced back – supported by strong growth in Asia and emerging markets. And here in the UK, economic activity has recovered relatively strongly. In UK manufacturing industry we are seeing the strongest growth since the mid-1990s and across the economy as a whole, growth has been stronger than we have seen in the early stages of previous recoveries.(4)
Employment performance has also been better than in the aftermath of the two previous major UK downturns, with unemployment rising to less than 8% of the labour force, compared with a peak of over 10% in the 1980s and early 1990s.
As economies recover and confidence returns, economic policies need to be adjusted to changed circumstances. That means gradually reducing the large public sector deficits which have resulted from the recession, as the coalition government in the UK is now planning to do. And monetary policy also needs to be adjusted as the recovery progresses and worries about rising inflation replace concerns about a damaging deflation. There is an active debate on the MPC about how quickly we need to move away from the current exceptionally low level of official interest rates. I have argued in speeches and articles since the summer that the economy would benefit from a gradual transition to a more normal level of interest rates, starting sooner rather than later. This has underpinned my votes on the Committee since last summer to raise the official Bank Rate gradually from the record low level of 0.5%.
The lessons from the crisis
A large amount has been written and said about the conclusions we might draw from the recent financial crisis and the policy response to it. In my view, the framework for monetary policy here in the UK has served us reasonably well through the crisis and the ensuing recession and we do not need to make major changes in the operation of the MPC or the principle of targeting low and stable inflation which underpins its approach.
Previous UK recessions – in the early 1980s and the early 1990s – did highlight failings in our monetary policy framework, but both of these downturns were preceded by a period in which inflation got out of control and the recession was part of the process of restoring monetary discipline. This recession was different – it was not part of an inflationary boom-bust cycle here in the UK, though there were inflationary pressures in the global economy which emerged in the build-up to the crisis which may point to deficiencies in the management of the global economy. (5)
During the recession, monetary policy has played a significant role in mitigating the effects on employment and living standards here in the UK – through the dramatic reduction in interest rates in late 2008 and early 2009 and the policy of Quantitative Easing. As I have already noted, these policy changes helped head off bigger rises in unemployment and other negative economic consequences. Our inflation target framework permitted these unprecedented policy moves because the MPC rightly saw significant deflationary risks when the recession was deepening. Now the economy is recovering from recession, there are good reasons to question whether these policy settings remain appropriate and are compatible with economic stability in the future.
However, even if there is no need to make fundamental changes to our monetary policy framework, there are still important policy lessons we can draw from the financial crisis and the recession which unfolded from it.
First, we need to buttress monetary policy in the UK (and globally) with much closer supervision and scrutiny of the financial sector and its impact on the activities of households and businesses.With hindsight, we should have paid more attention to the behaviour of the financial sector in the mid-2000s, and a number of individuals did warn about imbalances and vulnerabilities which were emerging.(6)
There is now a recognition that banks need to hold stronger reserves of capital to protect themselves against difficult times, which would reduce or eliminate the need for the dramatic government interventions we have seen in the recent crisis. In addition, we may need to develop new tools of economic policy which would exert more discipline on the growth of bank credit as economic upswings develop. These ideas underpin the approach to “macroprudential regulation” which will be operated in the UK by a new Financial Policy Committee operating in parallel with the MPC in the Bank of England.
Second, we need to recognise the increasing integration of the global economy, with the consequence that an economy very open to international trade like the UK is much more vulnerable to global economic shocks than it was in earlier decades. When I joined the MPC in 2006, it was already clear that most of the shocks that the Committee had had to deal with in its first decade of activity were driven by the global economy: the Asian crisis in the late 1990s; the US “dotcom” boom and bust in the late 1990s and early 2000s; the political and economic turbulence which followed from 9/11 and war in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the upward pressure on oil and other commodity prices in the mid-2000s. We might have seen these events as tremors in the global economy preceding the big earthquake of the financial crisis. But all that is much clearer with hindsight than it was at the time.
The obvious conclusion which we might draw about these global instabilities is the need for more effective international co-operation to address these potential problems. And we had some success in the crisis in developing the G20 as a forum for international policy co-ordination encompassing both developed and developing economies. But it is proving hard to sustain this co-operative approach to policy into the economic upturn. In a recession, the notion that we are all trying to work together to prevent the global economic boat from sinking acts as a powerful galvanising force for action. As economic conditions improve, the tensions between different players in the global economy re-emerge, as we have seen recently.
The third lesson I would highlight is one of humility for monetary policy-makers like myself. A view developed in the 1990s and the 2000s prior to the crisis that monetary policy – the setting of interest rates and the control of the money supply – could successfully stabilise economies in the face of a wide range of shocks. This led many in the financial community and some in the more general public to believe in a “brave new world” of steady growth and price stability which could be sustained into the future.
The views and statements of Alan Greenspan, who was the Chairman of the US Federal Reserve for two decades (1987 – 2006) and other central bankers helped reinforce this belief in a “Great Stability” or “Great Moderation” which could be maintained by the actions of well-intentioned and well-informed central bankers.
This has now been shown to be an illusion. That is not because monetary policy cannot play an important part in stabilising economies. We have seen through the recent crisis and recession that it can. But there are limits to the effectiveness of monetary policy. Central bankers are not all-seeing and all-knowing. And not all economic shocks can be smoothed out successfully with interest rate changes or other tools of monetary policy.
We have seen in the last few years two types of shocks which pose particular challenges to monetary policy-makers: movements in global energy and commodity prices; and disturbances to the financial system. If we look back in history, we can identify a previous period when these types of shocks were very significant – the late 19th and early 20th century. That period is described by economic historians as “the first era of globalisation”, when the gold standard and free flows of trade and capital supported the growth of the world economy in general and the emergence of the United States as an economic power.
With an increasingly globalised world economy and the emergence of new economic powers like China and India we should expect these energy/commodity and financial shocks to continue to be a significant feature of our economic environment looking ahead. And national monetary policy authorities like the MPC will have to develop strategies to deal with them. We have started to do this in terms of the regulation and control of the financial system. But I am not sure we have yet come to terms with the potential inflationary impact and volatility created by movements in global energy and commodity prices, which have been particularly noticeable over the past five years and which are closely linked to the strong pressure of demand created by growth of Asia and other emerging market economies.
A Christian perspective on the financial crisis
There are many insights which can be drawn from Christian thinking which relate to the unfolding financial crisis and the way in which policy-makers have responded to it. Let me highlight three which strike me particularly from a personal perspective.
The first is that there is a moral dimension to the stability of monetary and financial relationships which underpin our society, and when this morality begins to be undermined or questioned, the consequences can be very severe. In the financial crisis, the trustworthiness of banks came into question. Governments and regulators stepped in to reinforce the credibility and trustworthiness of financial institutions, and those interventions appear to have been effective. But this episode highlights the potential fragility of the financial system and the importance of the trust relationships which underpin it.
Monetary stability also has a moral dimension too. It seeks to ensure that the value of money – which underpins our economic relationships in society – is not eroded by stealth through persistent inflation. In the past, we have seen this happen in the UK – with inflation reaching double-digit levels in the 1970s and1980s. Such high rates of inflation are a serious threat to people on fixed incomes and those who have trusted in the stability of prices to underpin their financial planning.
We have taken risks with these principles of monetary stability in the current crisis, reducing interest rates to unprecedentedly low levels and creating large amounts of new money to stave off recession. While these policies were justified at the time they were pursued, they are not sustainable in the longer term. And if they are sustained for too long, these policies will undermine the confidence in monetary stability in our economy by generating high inflation or threatening to do so. We need to be vigilant to signs that this is happening, just as we might have been more vigilant about the threats to the stability of banks and the financial system from excessive risk-taking in the mid-2000s.
The second point I would make from a Christian perspective is that the teachings of Jesus continually emphasised that the easy way is not necessarily the right way. As we read in Matthew Chapter 7 (verses 13 and 14)
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Easy money and broad access to the financial system were at the root of the crisis – particularly in terms of the operation of the US housing market and the generation of sub-prime and self-certificated mortgage loans. We have created easy money to forestall the worst scenarios as the crisis has unwound. But we need to be mindful of the dangers of this policy of continually easing conditions to solve economic problems. Very low interest rates can distort business behaviour and decisions to save and invest, just as very high interest rates and high inflation can also create economic distortions.
The only way we have discovered to avoid both these extremes is to follow the “narrow way” of monetary discipline, which is not always popular. The job of good monetary policy is to take away the punch-bowl before the party has got out of control. Judging when and how to do this is very challenging, and those who judge correctly risk being criticised and derided, just as Jesus warned his disciples to expect criticism and decision for sticking to their beliefs.
Third, we have been reminded continually through this crisis of the limitations of human nature and the fact that we live in a fallen world. The capitalist system which underpins the development of our economic and financial relationships is an inherent contradiction. It is based on self-interest, which can be a highly negative and destructive force. And yet within the market system, self-interest generally delivers good outcomes for society as a whole. As Adam Smith expressed it in his seminal work on the evolution of the market economy and the capitalist system, The Wealth of Nations, in 1776:
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”
This property of a capitalist market system, which generally works well in benign circumstances, is also a source of instability. Self-interest may be pursued in a way which starts to undermine the benign operation of the economic system. This creates an argument for government or regulatory interventions of various kinds. These interventions have their own problems – government failure (eg bureaucracy, excessive regulation, political influence on business) can be as bad or worse than market failure. And so we are continually managing a “second-best” world in which we are trying to find the right combination of market processes and regulatory interventions which will deliver the best outcome for society.
In some areas of economic life, this tension is more difficult to manage than others – and financial markets and relationships seem to be one such area. The reasons for this can be spelled out in detailed economic logic which explains why markets may not work perfectly, such as the concepts of asymmetric information (you don’t know as much as I know) or moral hazard (if you get away too easily, you will repeat bad behaviours). But for a Christian these market imperfections and the inability to correct for them perfectly should not come as a surprise. All our human endeavours will be flawed to some degree. We should view with suspicion notions that human activity can deliver continual stability and progress and that we can always successfully tame the instabilities of an economic system based on self-interest.
If the financial crisis has taught us one thing, it is a salutary lesson that the world economic system is a potentially unstable place. And while long periods of relative stability can be achieved, they cannot be sustained indefinitely. A long expansion in economic activity comes to an end eventually, as we saw in the mid-1970s following the sustained growth of the 1950s and 1960s. And we have been reminded once again of the unsustainability of long expansions as the growth period of the 1990s and 2000s came to an end in the last few years.
The instabilities in the economic system have potentially increased through the process of globalisation, which limits the extent to which any one nation can totally control its economic destiny. We are still learning to live in this new world of global economic integration and there will be many new challenges which it will throw up. We will need to develop better mechanisms of economic co-operation to deal with these challenges. And we will also be better placed to deal with these economic instabilities if we also recognise the limitations of monetary policy and other economic policies to keep us in a world of continued steady economic growth and stability. We should be prepared to deal with economic volatility – though hopefully not too often on the same scale as the recent crisis. And the experience of the past few years should give us some encouragement that we have the tools of economic policy to do so.
Dr Andrew Sentance
(1 ) Based on comments made at the Bishopthorpe Symposium convened by the Archbishop of York on Thursday 21st October 2010
(2) In popular discussion of monetary policy, individuals who favour tighter policy and higher interest rates are described as “hawks” and those favouring a more relaxed policy stance with lower interest rates are labelled as “doves”.
(3) See the Bank of England website for speeches I and other MPCmembers made over this period which reflected this dilemma. Two good examples are my speeches: “A tale of two shocks: Global challenges for UK monetary policy” delivered in November 2007 and “Global inflation: How big a threat?” delivered in July 2008.
(4) See my recent speeches on the Bank of England website for more details – in particular “Getting back to business”, delivered in Belfast in November 2010.
(5) See my speech “The current downturn – a bust without a boom?” delivered in December 2008, available on the Bank of England website.
(6) Bill White at the Bank of International Settlements and Raghuram Rajan, Chief Economist at the IMF in the mid-2000s, were two notable individuals involved in policy-making who issued warnings. For a detailed analysis of the global credit boom in the mid-2000s see Michael Hume and Andrew Sentance “The global credit boom: challenges for macroeconomics and policy” Bank of England External MPC Unit Discussion Paper no.27, available on the Bank of England website.
So says Our Lord Jesus Christ in Luke, chapter 4, verse 43, when the people of Capernaum try to detain him. “I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose”.
The sense of urgency, of the need to keep moving on which Our Lord felt, is clear to us, as is His knowledge that He was called to this task.
Also evident is His firm conviction that the Kingdom of God is a present as well as a future reality, and that its proclamation is truly “good news” for all. “I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose”.
It is the urgent conviction of our own calling to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God which must underpin the work of this Synod over the next five years.
When later in this Group of Sessions, we come to debate the report by the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council on Challenges for the new Quinquennium, we must be guided in all that we say and do by the pressing need to equip the Church confidently to discharge that calling.
Within the context of our God-given calling, I want to offer today some reflections on the first of the themes in that report, namely on what it means for the Church of England to contribute as the national church to the common good. I make clear at the outset that I recognise the enormous contribution to the common good made by other churches and by other religious communities.
I hope their representatives here will understand, however, when I say that, as by Law Established, the Church of England in England has a particular responsibility to advance the common good and in so doing to strengthen the social fabric of England. The call to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to all communities in England is, for us, a particular duty.
Bishop Hugh Montefiore, in his Installation Sermon as the Bishop of Birmingham on 4th March 1978, said, “The first priority of the Church is God. The world has urgent, pressing needs, but the Church is not primarily in the welfare business; it is about God. The Church itself has urgent pressing needs, but these too are not its concern. ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.’ The Church is a worldwide company of people who acknowledge in their lives the reality of God, and who through their discipleship of Jesus Christ, and through the power of his Spirit, speed the coming of God’s Kingdom over all the earth.”
What does the church exist to do?
“It lives towards God and towards the world. Towards God it worships: towards the world, it preaches the Gospel, it brings people into fellowship with God, it infects the world with righteousness, it speaks of divine principles on which the life of humanity is ordered.” So said Archbishop Michael Ramsey.
The report which the Bishop of Birmingham will later introduce to us rightly sets out something of the enormous investment the Church of England already makes in advancing the well-being, generosity and safety of communities up and down the land.
It quotes, with appropriate modesty, something of the particular contributions the Church has made to the advancement of the common good in recent years.
I do not need to repeat that material now, although I hope that every member of Synod will heed it and be proud to reiterate, whenever appropriate, something of the breadth and depth of our church’s contribution to national life. Instead I want briefly to review the context in which we are currently making that contribution and to suggest some ways in which we can, during the lifetime of this Synod, add further real value to public debate and to the development of the common good.
The context in which we find ourselves is easily, if depressingly stated. It is one of economic uncertainty; of worryingly high levels of unemployment, particularly but not exclusively among the young; of a gulf between those who have and those who don’t have and are struggling to make ends meet; of fiscal deficit and deep cuts in public expenditure; of rising levels of student and trade union unrest; and of low levels of trust between elected representatives and those they govern. We live in fractious and uncertain times, in which the role of the national church, like other elements in the social fabric, is constantly questioned and often attacked.
What is the particular contribution the Church of England can make in such a time and how should we go about making it? First, we must assert the value and importance of the contribution of trust in God to our national life. Believers in God and their communities are part of the glue which holds our society together.
Of course, religious faith can be a source of division in society, but so can many other differences in human understanding and allegiance. The fact is that all our communities benefit from the contribution of those who adhere to the worship of God, expressed in a life of service to their fellow human beings.
Secondly, among the religious communities, the Church of England, as the national church in England, is, as I have said, particularly called to the task of building up the wellsprings of solidarity in our society. Those outside the Church of England often see our established status as being about privilege.
From the inside, the privileges (in the sense of benefits solely available to us) appear to be rather few (particularly perhaps from the perspective of a bishop forced to endure yet another long sitting in the House of Lords!).
The greatest privilege we have is, of course, not a unique benefit but rather our greatest responsibility – that of living alongside and ministering to every community, large and small, up and down the country. That is both the opportunity and the obligation we have, which sits at the heart of how we in the Church of England seek to give expression to the duty we share with other Christians to proclaim to everyone the good news of the Kingdom of God.
It is fashionable among some contemporary religious progressives, as well as among secularists, to question the established nature of the Church of England. But in its contemporary expression, Establishment by Law, and the obligations it brings with it, witness to certain enduring Gospel truths. One is the fact that the love of God extends to all, rich and poor, saint and sinner, believer and unbeliever. A second is that everyone, and every institution in society including the Church itself, sits under the judgement of God.
These truths have informed the development of all our social institutions. Of course, the Church of England was born out of political as well as religious motives and to our shame we have not always behaved as we should have done towards those whose theological views differed from our own.
But, as the influential social and political thinker, Philip Blond, has argued, the established nature of the Church of England, as it has evolved over the centuries, has helped to create conditions favourable to the development of “a more diverse political and social life, prevented religious extremism and helped to minimise partisan conflict and secular violence”.
So, within the context of asserting the contribution all faith communities can make to the common good, the second contribution the Church of England can make to that good is confidently and vigorously to exploit all the opportunities we have been given as the national church to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to all of the communities in this land.
Nor should we fail to engage with those who would seek to take our particular responsibility as the national church away from us. They do not understand the damage they are potentially doing to the social and political fabric of our country.
Thirdly, we must actively continue to seek to influence the terms of the national debate on key issues affecting our society. I do not accept the arguments of those who try to confine the church to purely private matters; who say that Christian convictions should have no place in questions of public morality.
For example, Dame Mary Warnock, a philosopher who has made a prominent contribution to the public debates about ethical issues, in her recent book, Dishonest to God, is concerned with “what part Christianity should continue to play in legislation and politics and what influence it has and should continue to have in Parliament, whose responsibility is to Christian and non-Christian alike.”
From where she stands, religion and morality must be prised apart, however close they may both have been in the past.
I am a considerable admirer of the contribution Lady Warnock has made to public life but, on this, I cannot accept her argument. This is false prophecy, and potentially fatal to our social fabric. It is false because morality is or should be increasingly a matter of public concern and not just a private matter. It is false because societies in which religious belief is weakened are weaker societies. It is false because, unless informed by a conception of the Divine, moral principles are always in danger of fading away into moral relativism.
Then there are those who claim that we are unqualified to participate in the great debates of our day. Of course we cannot assume a right to be heard and must establish that right not only by our demonstrable commitment to the common good but by the competence of the contributions we make.
If we are to do that, we have to begin by ensuring that we properly understand the nature of the issues confronting our society.
One of my own relevant initiatives in the past year has been to bring together economists, social thinkers, contemporary historians and theologians at Bishopthorpe to reflect on some of the implications of the credit crunch and its aftermath.
I am today publishing, on a new website, (www.archbishopofyorksymposium.org), linked to the Bishopthorpe website, (www.archbishopofyork.org), some papers presented at two symposia convened by me, so that the contributions made there may be available to a wider audience.
The material I am making available is too rich and diverse for me to be able easily to summarise it. But a number of themes stand out.
The first is the need for a more honest, informed and measured style of public debate on the great issues of the day. It is understandable that politicians on all sides will want to present their case as persuasively as they can. The media appears to believe that stories written in stark terms are more likely to attract attention and therefore readers. But if public debate is constantly conducted in sound-bite terms, the public can end up frustrated, confused and alienated. The Church needs to stand among those who represent the “still, small voice of calm” as the debate swirls around us.
The second is the urgent case for focussing on and repeatedly affirming certain essentials of the Gospel which should underpin our contemporary social understanding:
- That all men and women are of equal worth in the sight of God.
- That the purpose of human society is to enable all men and women to flourish in relationship to God and to each other.
- That society should be structured in a way which both encourages enterprise and creativity, and meets individuals’ basic needs.
- That work is not simply a means to an end – the end of making money – but a means through which individuals gain dignity and a sense of self-worth and through which social bonds are strengthened.
I commend the powerful reflection by Professor Oliver O’Donovan on the nature and significance of work – whether paid or unpaid – in the papers I am publishing today as essential bedtime reading for you all – far more enlightening than most Synod papers!
In his reflection, Professor O’Donovan expounds three theological propositions:
- First, that work is material, a fulfilment of the vocation given by the Creator to Adam to tend nature. Work, whether paid or unpaid, satisfies our intelligent nature as human beings, our destiny to be in a responsible and formative relation to the material world.
- Second, that work is social, a communication with other human beings and, as such, formative for our relations with our fellows, satisfying our social nature as human beings.
- Third, that work is liturgical, a condition of rest and worship, and rest and worship are a condition of work. Work satisfies our destiny as human beings called to fellowship with God.
Work is: material, social and liturgical.
I realise that these three points are hardly an immediate guide to Government Ministers or to economists contemplating what to do about rising levels of unemployment. But if we as a society are to understand and respond appropriately to those who lack opportunities to express their full humanity in work, we need to find means which take fully into account all three of these dimensions.
The third theme to emerge from the papers is the need to nurture and sustain the many Christians who day-by-day seek to live out their faith in the context of work or of their contribution to civil society.
The report by the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council reminds us of the observation by Archbishop William Temple in Christianity and Social Order, that, “Nine-tenths of the work of the Church in the world is done by Christian people fulfilling responsibilities and performing tasks which in themselves are not part of the official system of the Church at all”. How can we do more to nourish and sustain that vital contribution to the building of the Kingdom of God?
The final theme I wish to identify is the crucial part played by the Church of England, through Archbishop William Temple in particular – in collaboration with his Balliol College, Oxford contemporaries: William Beveridge and Richard Tawney – in forming the shared moral as well as political understanding that led to the development of the Welfare State after 1945. For me, and I’m sure for many others, a major concern is the extent to which the social compact which the Welfare State represented is now under threat. There is an urgent need for the Church once more to rise to the challenge and to lead reflection on how the social compact can be re-fashioned in ways that make sense in the light of today’s serious social and economic realities.
What is the vision of the Kingdom of God which should inform us as we approach that task? Our mission statement was set out by Jesus of Nazareth in the Beatitudes.
They describe God’s summons to us to respond to His invitation and to become agents of His movement of transforming love and outreach by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Beatitudes describe what human society looks like under the rule of God. They give us the qualities looked for by Jesus in His agents of change – people and communities called to extend God’s invitation and to promote His movement of transforming love. And each one carries within itself the promise of great transformation in ourselves and in society, if only we can behave as God wants us to.
1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” – people who are not satisfied with the status quo but are full of longing for God’s transforming love – for they will be members of the Kingdom of God.
2. “Blessed are those who mourn” – the broken-hearted – for through being part of God’s family, they will receive comfort for their sorrows and share in the joy of the Kingdom.
3. “Blessed are the meek” – the gentle, the unassuming, the little people – for they (not the great or the celebrities of the moment) are the ones who will inherit the earth. The church is not only concerned with the big headline grabbing issues but with small things. Indeed, the important thing in the church is the local congregation, the unassuming local cell on whose soundness the welfare of the whole community depends.
4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” – those who are passionate to love God and to love others as we ought – for God will fill our longing.
5. “Blessed are the merciful” – the compassionate, those who can see the likeness of Christ in the face of all their neighbours – for they will obtain mercy.
6. “Blessed are the pure in heart” – not the naïve but those who, while aware of the sinful nature of the world, are focussed entirely on Christ – for they shall see God. The big priority for each of us is an unceasing renewal of commitment to Christ.
7. “Blessed are the peace-makers” – those who break down barriers of hatred and mistrust and who build up the wellsprings of solidarity in society – for they are joining in the work of the Father, as His children.
Of course this vision is entirely counter-cultural. In a world focussed on power, it speaks of and to the powerless.
In a world obsessed with the confident and successful, it speaks to those who are broken-hearted. In a world focussed on celebrity, it talks to the little people. In a secular world, it addresses those whose eyes are set, not on the fleeting and transient but on the eternal. In a world which is often harsh and unforgiving, it speaks of mercy. In a world of many distractions, it demands a single-minded focus on God. In a world of strife, it speaks of peace.
Those who adopt this vision as their own are not promised a life of ease but of criticism, even persecution. For the final blessing is to stand in union with Christ in His suffering as well as in His glory.
So as we, in this part of the One, Holy, Apostolic and Universal Church known as the Church of England, seek to live out our duty to minister to everyone in England as the national church; as we seek to build up the wellsprings of solidarity in our society; as we try to be that still small voice speaking calm, reason and Gospel truth into the public debate. As we try to re-articulate, in today’s circumstances, how the moral order should be reflected in the compact underlying our society, we cannot expect to be universally welcomed or applauded. But to do these things is, quite simply, our God-given duty and our particular calling. For we must reconnect and refresh the wellsprings of solidarity in England.
“I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose”.
Beloved in Christ; let us do it, and let us do it now.
(From Presidential Address to General Synod, 8th February 2011.)
 Hugh Montefiore, “An Installation Sermon”, in Taking Our Past Into Our Future, Fountain Paperbacks, London 1978, p.13
 A M Ramsey Introducing the Christian Faith, SCM Press Ltd, London 1961, p.72
 Blond on Britain, BBC Radio 4, 22 December 2010
 Mary Warnock, Dishonest to God, Continuum, London 2010, p.1
 William Temple, Christianity and Social Order, Shepheard-Walwyn (SPCK) 1942, P39
 St Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 4 verses 1-12
 Luke 4:43
When the Welfare State was created, Archbishop Temple argued that it was an expression of national benevolence and believed would be a means of enabling community. We are now faced with a financial situation where it is not possible to continue the aspirations that created the Welfare State without raising taxes. But it seems that the willingness to pay for services through taxes has diminished. Do we now have different aspirations from those which made the Welfare State possible? The Church has a responsibility to provide theological and ethical reflection on our understanding of the situation which faces us.
GDP now four times as high as it was in 1948 (in real terms)
As GDP has grown, spending patterns have changed radically, with ‘luxuries’ growing much faster than necessities such as food.
This shift is not restricted to private consumption, but has been seen, for example, in a steady growth in the share of NHS spending.
This growth has continued throughout the post war period.
Significant growth is also seen in social security (the peaks in the mid 80’s and mid 90’s reflect very high unemployment at those times)
Education has also grown steadily, more than doubling its share over the period (the peak in 1975-6 reflects the school years of the post war baby boom)
Half the households in the UK lived in 2005-6 on incomes of less than 18,800 (adjusted for family size). Only 10% had incomes in excess of £40,000.
The inequality of the income distribution leads to inequality in tax payments, especially income tax payments, with the top 1% paying almost one quarter of all income tax paid.
The net effect of government in the UK is very substantial redistribution.
This shows the redistribution in percentage terms, and underlines the central message of the presentation. The activity of the state in the UK in the post war period does not reflect a model of behaviour based on narrow individual financial self interest. Activities like the NHS, the social security system and the education system do not respond to the need to make the economy work more efficiently (although they may to some extent achieve that too). They are fundamentally about doing what is felt to be right, and in particular about protecting and supporting those who cannot protect and support themselves. The western welfare state grew up in a period dominated by a Judaeo Christian understanding of the world, and the redistribution we see reflects such a world view, and explains what we do much more effectively than one based on a narrow model of self interest.
There is a genuine choice to be made about the size and role of the state, as reflected by the diversity of levels of taxation across the OECD
The growth of the National Debt looks daunting …
… until set in historical context.
There is, though, a serious problem presented by public sector borrowing. We do not have to cut public spending, but we do have either to cut public spending or to raise taxation. There is an urgent need to consider how reform might be achieved, and a significant role for the Church in taking forward theological and ethical reflection on the nature of the choices to be faced in deciding what sort of health care, education and social security systems we should aim for. Such choices are inescapably moral – it was from moral debate that these systems grew, and any reform and redirection should be steeped in the same discussion.
First, that work is a fulfilment of the vocation given by the Creator to Adam, to tend nature. The Lord God “put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Work satisfies our intelligent nature as human beings, our destiny to be in a responsible and formative relation to the material world.
Second, that work is a communication with other human beings, and as such formative for our relations with our fellows, satisfying our social nature as human beings.
Third, that work is a condition of rest and worship, and rest and worship are a condition of work. Work satisfies our destiny as human beings called to fellowship with God.
Let me comment briefly on each of these:-
(1) Work takes place within the material world, and makes an impact on what occurs in it. Yet the impact is not that of one material cause on another, like a storm starting an avalanche. Work does not merely affect things, it effects things. It is the deployment of a spiritual and intellectual power given to mankind. The first example of Adam’s work that we are given is not digging or sowing. It is “naming the beasts”, giving intelligible order to the uncategorised richness of nature. When we work, we use our intelligence to devise and execute purposes. We understand the power and limits of our material; we conceive and deliberate upon the impact we shall make on it.
(2) Our communications with other human beings through work determine the complex patterns of human society itself. Co-operation is one basic condition of friendship.
Some patterns of cooperation are free and fluid, formed for an occasion and then dissolved, others set and determined in a variety of ways for various periods of time. One of the important distinctions between what we call “work” and what we call “leisure”, which may involve many of the same activities, is that when we work, our communications can be relied on. The amateur chef and the professional may equally deserve their cordons bleus.
The difference is that the professional must turn up when the restaurant is open. The waiters and clients all depend on it. This contributes to the sense of necessity that distinguishes our work from our leisure. The constraints of the diary, the obligations of the deadline etc. etc. are not a malfunction of work or an inhuman burden, part of that “sweat of the brow” with which we experience work as toil after the Fall. They can easily become that, as we know too well, but in principle it is an aspect of our human dignity that we can sustain obligations of this kind. That there are some communications for which we are depended on secures our place in society, makes us “a something” for other people.
(3) Theologians are often inclined to rush into the discussion of work from the third point, starting from the sabbath-command in the Decalogue. The rhythm of work and rest brings home the truth that work is not its own justification, not an end in itself, but a path towards encounter with God’s holy being. Starting at that point may, however, make work look like a mere instrumental means, something to be got through in order to enable rest and worship to happen. The seventh day in the creation narrative is blessed by God, not only because he rested, but because it is the seventh, on which God rested from the work of the six days, which was “very good”. The blessing was the sign of accomplishment; and work is constructive only because it has the blessing of accomplishment always in view. The sabbath-rest is given as a point of reflection upon work, a moment when we may present an offering of our service to God, a fulfilment of what we have been called by God to be and to do before him. And this helps us to understand the mutual implication of rest and worship. It is worship that makes rest a culmination of work and a moment of satisfaction. For it takes into view the whole context of our work in God’s purposes that make our work of itself purposeful, and not merely an assertion of our own aggressive purposiveness.
Worship is rest that finds an object to rest in; apart from the object of worship rest will be empty inactivity. In this way, because it is presented before God, work becomes constitutive of our selves, a “vocation”, a way of being, not merely a way of doing. As we find our destiny in fellowship with God in bringing to him what we have been and done, we receive ourselves from God. Through work accomplished we are given to be someone.
Work, then, has these three aspects, material, social and liturgical, bound up together. Our social communications with our fellow-humans are mediated through our work upon the material world which we handle directly; together these provide the form in which we offer service of God, the goal of our existence.
All things of thee partake;
Nothing can be so mean
Which with this tincture, “For thy sake”,
Will not grow bright and clean.
Herbert begins with the twin poles of the divine and the material, held together in the worker’s intention through the phrase, “For thy sake”.
But immediately the social dimension enters the picture:
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine;
Who sweeps a room as for thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.
Not God’s servant only, but someone else’s servant, too; and the room is made fine precisely for other people to occupy.
Work can go wrong, and it does so when one or other of these three perspectives is lost sight of. Let me illustrate this, taking the three in reverse order:-
Work may fail to provide us with a vocation, a scope for the service of God which can allow the labour of our lives to amount to something with eternal validity. An age which has trouble believing in God will have trouble believing in work, because it cannot see what work is “for” in any sense that establishes the meaning of personal existence. It is, of course, unfashionable to make this connexion and conceive God as a necessary point of reference in our aspiration to fulfil ourselves in work.
Men and women have always looked to work as the medium by which their existence is given significance. They are satisfied when they feel that something real is being attained by their work, something worth the lifetime of a thinking reed to accomplish. But this attainment of reality is precisely what the appreciation and rewards conferred on us by other people cannot assure us of.
The value of our work is connected with the wisdom it affords us, and it is wisdom that puts us in touch with the real as distinct from the merely apparent. With the denial of God there comes the denial of philosophy and the denial of the dignity of practical wisdom as well as the denial of worship as the form in which accomplishment may be celebrated.
It is possible, as we know too well, for the division of labour in a complex business to be managed in such a way that the performance of many operations requires little or no wisdom of the operatives, so that the good of work is destroyed for them. But the problem of wisdom is not only a problem for the unskilled (or perhaps de-skilled) labourers. Imagine a successful banker, much rewarded in conventional terms and always on the head-hunters’ lists, who is consumed by anxiety about what his life amounts to “ultimately”. What is meant by that “ultimately”? However little he or she is conscious of it and articulates it, what is meant is, “before God, not merely before the standards of society”. We know what a banker is in society, but it is not enough for me to be just that, a perfect example of what society looks for in its bankers. I must also be a complete me, one whom God calls to himself by conferring upon the work I do a value that it cannot possess in itself.
Here is the question referred to in theological terms as the problem of “justification”: the problem of how my life may stand for something before God. We are familiar with the catchphrase that we are not justified by works. But that catchphrase is empty if it stands on its own. Its point is precisely that there is nothing that could possibly justify me other than my work, since justification means precisely living effectively in this world with the blessing of God. The worldly purpose of our living is our work. (Not only paid work, be it noted!) Yet my work will not by any means justify me merely by being done, discharged, added to the infinity of little individual exertions that are lost in the vast sea of history. It is possible, even inevitable, that “ultimately” this work of mine will be worth precisely nothing. Only if God in his outflowing goodness will redeem my work, will confer a point and value upon it which it does not have of itself, can it become what I most need it to be, a way into the presence of God.
Work may, in the second place, fail to set us into relation with society. It may afford us no sense that we are rendering others a service of cooperation. Adam Ferguson in the eighteenth century already noted how labourers “are made like the parts of an engine to concur to a purpose without any concert of their own”. We may describe this problem as the “displacement” of work – using “place” as the most general determinant of social communications, the broadest context within which all the more special communications arise. A society where we cannot see and encounter those we work for will feel this problem acutely. Certain types of work are constitutionally exposed to it: the manufacturer who never meets consumers, the broadcaster who never meets listeners, and so on. The tiresome phone-calls one gets every time one rents a car – would you say you were very satisfied, quite satisfied or not satisfied? – bear testimony to the want of social feedback that besets much work. In our own time displacement has become extraordinarily acute, and tends to undermine quite ordinary political and social relations. Telephone helplines run from Delhi (and in my experience, incidentally, sometimes run very well), parking tickets handed out in Edinburgh and payable in Bournemouth, all have the effect of leaving us uncertain where we are, who we are communicating with. But more important than these typical side-effects of globalisation is the way the all-pervasiveness of the market-conception destroys the stability of work itself by forcing it into conformity with the model of manufacture and purchase. Neither labour nor activity is well suited by a social mechanism designed for occasional exchanges. They require stable social relationships, expectations and roles. The “contracting out” of many forms of work can only result in the destruction of the social good that work affords.
(3) Work can, in the third place, suffer from a failure of effect, when it does not place us in the Adamic relation to material nature, moulding and shaping it to contribute to the good ordering of the world, acting upon it to some intelligent purpose.
We may call this the “trivialisation” of work. Labour becomes separated from achievement, “work” from accomplished “works”. An age in which a great deal of intellectual work is done – much of it, despite the pompous sound of the word “intellectual”, quite trivial – suffers acutely from this problem, which is why, I suppose, when white-collar workers get home, they like to rush into their gardens and do some digging.
A professional thinker and writer may understandably be paralysed by the anxiety that his thoughts will blow away with the wind, but so may the bureaucrat with his endless documents. Or the banker, again: there was a moment of truth a couple of years ago when billions were wiped off the value of financial institutions, and simple souls (journalists and social reformers for example) asked accusingly where all the money had gone. The answer was worse than they feared. It had gone nowhere, because it had been nowhere; the rows of disappearing noughts were the symbolic representation on a balance sheet of a mood of public optimism. Yet, for all their unreality, those noughts had eaten up hours, days, months and years of the energy of human beings, human beings with just one life to live, spent, as it turned out, contributing nothing real to the world. The gap that opens up between the worker and the material world in which, as a living body, life must be lived, is a product of abstraction – not only intellectual abstraction, as in the illustrations I have given, but other abstractions, too, not least the abstraction of forcible labour, where the effort involved in work has no character of self-determination about it, so that it is not clear what, if anything, the worker is “doing”. Marx’s “helot” is a human self-consciousness with thoughts, loves and hopes for the world, but the life of this self-consciousness is entirely unrelated to the forced relations with material nature. These are unhappy, because, essentially, they are purposeless, giving no effect to the worker’s purposes but only to someone else’s.
I want, finally, to offer some ad hoc remarks on what I regard as an important new threat to work in our time – not necessarily the greatest threat, absolutely speaking, but one of which we have become conscious in recent years, though it bears some relationship to threats longer recognised.
That is the formalisation and homogenisation of the organisation of work – “managerialism”, we may call it, though we should not allow it to reflect unkindly on those managers and students of management who really do understand what running a business is about, and whose wisdom, humble and aware of its own limitations, is as far removed from the “management-speak” of administration as is the legal advice of an able lawyer from the bureaucrat’s ideas of what the law requires to be done. What we mean by “managerialism” is a bad confusion of two things: the disciplines of the office, on the one hand, the conception of a managerial skill on the other.
The government of work comes to look like a skill of bureaucratic organisation, a specialism which a given class of bureaucrats has made its own and which disempowers specialist workers from exercising the wisdom inherent in their work. One might ask, “What’s new? The disempowerment of the worker by the manager is an old story.” What is new, I think, is the extension of the old story from manufacturing and labouring industries into spheres of work which have seemed, because of their specialist requirements, to be immune from them, spheres where workers have in the past been allowed to exercise their discretion because this has seemed inseparable from getting the work done. But now we hear of doctors, teachers and even lawyers complaining of their managers. Something new is afoot, even if it is only a universalising of a problem that hitherto has been class-specific.
Let us put our finger on what is complained of here. First, it is the corruption and constraint of specialist decisions which need to be made on their own terms if they are to be made well. The management function ceases to serve the art, and refashions it according to its own canons of efficiency. Doctors are told that they must be more alert to the diagnosis of – let us say – domestic violence. No good diagnostic decisions can be reached on those terms. Secondly, it is the generalisation of managerial conceptuality, so that the interests of the enterprise itself are trumped by the demands of managing it. There is at the heart of managerialism a collusion: on the one hand, the managers do not want to understand what they manage; on the other, the specialist workers do not want to make the effort, and perhaps incur the unpopularity, of upholding and sustaining the specialist wisdom they have received to the highest level they can.
It is easier for them to think in managerial terms. The growing influence of Human Relations departments in big, even in medium-sized businesses has excited much comment recently. In principle the purpose of such managerial specialisms is simply to follow the logic of division of labour and allow those who are appointed to do the core work to get on with it and leave it to others to cope with the intricacies of employment law. But the effect, brought about by the constant employment of new staff to suit alien criteria, is that the task itself is re-conceived, not in critical conformity with the wisdom that is inherent in it, but in conformity with some alien set of goals and practices which have nothing to do with it.
In this way all businesses become identical, and the specialist gifts which fit us for one service rather than another are set at nought.
In the Collect for Trinity XVII we pray that God’s grace may “prevent and follow us”, that we may “continually be given to good works”. Every word in that prayer is worth pondering. The “we” means not just “each of us separately”, but society as a whole, the only context in which work can be undertaken and effected. That we, as a society, may be continually given to our work, it is necessary that our works be “good” – well conceived, well fitted to their circumstance, broadly and wisely designed, and that we be fit to attend to “all” good works, and not only those fashionable ones with which we feel our tradition is at home, those which grace our culture or put us at the cutting edge of progress. And that can be so only if they can call not only on such strength of labour as they require to execute but on such wisdom as is needed to conceive them well – for which we must ask the “grace” of God, not only “accompanying”, as the scholastic phrase had it, but “preceding” and “following”. God’s grace is required not merely for the execution but for the prior imagination of good works and for their successful outcome. Which is why “we pray”, and pray, since good works are a cultural gift of such vast importance to us and all too easily lost above all by our own complacency, forgetfulness and negligence, that we may be “continually given” to them.
Our social contract is being rapidly re-drawn, and there are few spaces and opportunities for discussion, and little time for consideration or reflection. The defining political debate for the next few years concerns the relationship between the state, the market, the community and the individual – and as lines get drawn, and the consensus about the social contract alters, there are three features on which I would like us to reflect.
The stereotyping and stigmatisation of people who are poor
There has been an audible coarsening of the tone of discussion about people who live in poverty. While the poor and dispossessed have always been described as ‘other’ there is new tone which ignores evidence, assumes poor people have entirely separate and different motivations and desires, and clouds debate. The most overt example if this is the conflation of poverty and worklessness. Instead of acknowledging that half of all children living in poverty have a working parent, that many working families claim housing benefit, and that therefore state benefits are going to make life tolerable for very poorly paid people, a lazy discourse has developed which allows a low level of income to be seen as irrefutable evidence of idleness.
This coarsening then allows for some disturbing pieces of policy development, all based on an apparent assumption that poor people are either permanently infantilised or in other ways entirely different. The changes to housing benefit mean that someone on a low wage is required to remain living in a shared house, effectively a bed sit, until they are 35, not 25, as is currently the case. The pronouncements about housing benefit equate low pay with no work, and so in effect insult those who are poorly rewarded. And the desire to build a ‘big society’ fails repeatedly to acknowledge the vast contribution that very poor people make to community resilience. Any search for the springs of social solidarity will rapidly point to communities in which the poorest of the country support each other, and make the work of public services possible. Stereotyping and stigmatising people who have very little does not just coarsen our public debate in a profoundly un-Christian way, it also negates the major contribution made by poor people to the society in which we live.
Closely associated with this, and made possible by this discourse, is the willingness to use the threat of destitution as a means of driving behaviour change. To threaten the withholding of benefit is to threaten destitution. Such a threat, even were it tolerable in a civilised society, does not drive the desired behaviour, and indeed, the evidence suggests, will tend to do the opposite. But crucially, from a moral perspective, it applies sanctions to people living in poverty that cannot be applied to the rest of us.
Just as damaging is the current tendency to ignore the distance between those in poverty and those deemed to be well off. The Daily Telegraph headline the day after the CSR which claimed that ‘middle income people were paying more’ when the accompanying article described the top 15% of income earners, confuses the territory in an unhelpful way.
Careless criticism of the agencies of charitable and public support
It has become commonplace to dismiss the efforts of those who seek to help and build social solidarity.
This approach assumes that there are contributors to public expenditure and there are recipients of benefits from such expenditure. But in fact we all benefit from an education system, a health service, a benefits system that insures us against our own vulnerability. And we benefit not just on the occasions when we use these services, but because the services exist at all. Our lives are immeasurably happier, safer and more pleasant because there is limited evidence of destitution on our streets. Collective sharing of risk does not just insure us as individuals, it also enhances our society and makes it a better place in which to live. The development of common good is a worthy goal of public policy which goes far beyond the series of transactions to which the Welfare State can be glibly reduced.
Closely aligned to this is a willingness to castigate parts of the apparatus of state or philanthropic support, without necessarily considering the evidence that shapes these judgements. During his CSR Statement the Chancellor criticised housing associations for, in effect, housing the very poorest. Never mind that this might actually fulfil their charitable and philanthropic objectives, it was acceptable to dismiss these independent bodies as failures for their provision of housing to the poorest. So too it has become seen as normal to decry the complex system of support to people whose lives are very complicated, and to describe it as having failed. While JRF evidence does make it clear that we need a radical overhaul, this needs to be a carefully considered and planned one, and one that respects the knowledge and skills of those who use the system, as well as those who work in it.
Careless dismissal of institutions that support people in poverty can very quickly become dismissal of those people.
Failure to think about the future
So where are we now? The Government is committed to reducing public expenditure considerably over a short period of time. That in itself is a challenge. It is also committed to decentralising significantly, and ensuring that power is devolved to local and neighbourhood level. That is demanding. Changes need to be made with a scalpel not a chainsaw, otherwise the outcome of this major transformation will be increased poverty, more people in housing need, and a failure to address the most pressing social problems of our time.
The current benefits system is being overhauled in an effort to simplify it and make work pay. There is no question that the existing system is complex and there are very high financial disincentives to work for many. But there are problems that need ironing out with the Universal Credit, the new system.
The rate at which benefits are withdrawn in Universal Credit, and interaction with income tax and NI, means that some people are facing higher financial disincentives to earn than they did under the old system and many important areas are still to be resolved. So, whilst the Universal Credit could help take people out of poverty by making them more likely to enter jobs (especially short-hours ones), the risk is that the system does not help them to progress into work. We know that poorly paid insecure work does not provide lasting routes out of poverty.
However a flexible and sensitive welfare system is only one element in any anti-poverty strategy. Jobs need to pay enough, training needs to be available to allow for progression and we must remember the need for flexible and affordable child-care that enables parents to work. To make a real difference, we need to tackle poverty in a holistic and comprehensive manner. The way communities are shaped and built is also set to change. The planning system is being localised in a way that will make it easier for better off neighbourhoods to protect their environments, and will make it extremely difficult to build new housing. And the introduction of shorter term tenancies, while sometimes useful, will make it harder to build communities. There is a real risk that these new planning laws will increase segregation between the poor and everyone else.
All these changes are taking place during a period when the global challenges of our overheating planet and ageing population are becoming more and more pressing.
We know a number of things about the future. We can say with some confidence that:
Demography will follow its current trajectory – we will live longer, more of us will have disabilities and people with learning difficulties will more readily live into old age.
We will face shortages of carbon, oil and money over the next few decades.
What we don’t know is what will happen to the labour market and what it means for people in poverty although all the labour market projections suggest that the divide between the well off and the poorest will only increase, and that the rungs on the ladder of aspiration are disappearing fast.
As stewards of the planet we are also stewards of those who are in need, and the failure to account for the future, or to prepare for that future seems to me to be a breach of stewardship. A number of indicators point to just such a failure:
A benefits system that for decades has promoted work as the only alternative to poverty, even while recognising that more than half of all really poor children live in a household with a working adult. In other words, for them, work has not paid.
The use of the housing benefit lever to control expenditure, not to drive the building of new, greener housing
The long delayed failure to grapple with both the costs and the quality of long term care. (The appointment of Andrew Dilnot to lead this review makes me feel so much better), but it is a problem that has waited for a long time for adequate response.
All three of these weaknesses in our current discourse about poverty, inequality and the nature of the new social contract diminish the debate, and make the development of an ethical or moral framework for considering this contract inaccessible. Any new social contract should be based on an understanding of:
- The reality and complexity of people’s lives;
- An understanding of the common values, common desires and common needs of all people, whether poor or wealthy;
- A concern to consider evidence – from lived experience, from research, from practice, and to consider all of this in a framework which attends to what the future might hold, not a misplaced nostalgia for what the past might once have held.
Our social contract is always, and will always, be changing. But the damage to people who are already struggling is enormous, and the costs of this will be borne by future generations. We will all pay the long-term price for social change that is not managed in a way that protects the very poorest.
Understanding in the form of both compassion and evidence is essential if we are to live in a better society.
We begin by looking back to the recent financial crisis, and asking about its causes and about what light Christian theology should cast on them.
To some extent, as worldly wise economists observe, the crisis was just another bubble in the natural economic cycle of boom-and-bust, of ‘animal spirits’ getting out of control and over-reaching themselves, of hubris meeting nemesis. The story is so perennial that it has become the stuff of myths. For sure, hubris and imprudence are vices, but sin—like the poor—will always be with us until God’s kingdom comes. The credit crunch may be damaging, but it is a long way short of the End of the World. So let us meet the problem with christian patience rather than unchristian hysteria. That’s the first point.
Christian patience, however, should not amount to complacency. While it does not expect to eradicate sin, its faith in God and hope for the ultimate rectification of things nonetheless moves it into opposition. But what forms should this opposition take? In his book, Good Value,(1) the Anglican priest and former Chairman of HSBC, Stephen Green, argues that bankers—and the rest of us—need to expand our understanding of what is valuable beyond the mere maximisation of financial returns to shareholders. We need to recognise the value of such things as the healthy family lives of employees, loyalty within firms, trust between firms and customers, and the flourishing of local economies and communities. This may not be the sum of the Gospel, but it is surely part of it. Part of the Gospel involves liberating us from the enslaving idolatry of Mammon to recognise and appreciate other, relational dimensions of the flourishing that is proper to human creatures.
How might this expanded appreciation of human goods be brought about? Green finds grounds for hope in the fact that, in his experience, most people are aware that shareholder profit is not the beginning and end of value. Nevertheless, it remains true that institutions appear to find it difficult to pay much more than lip-service to goods that can’t be quantified and measured—in monetary terms.
Thus the Government, in its pursuit of ‘value-for-money’, has reduced Arts & Humanities departments in universities to justifying their existence in terms of their contribution to the tourist and entertainments industries. There is a crying need for the development of a robust account of non-economic goods that can be taken seriously by commercial firms and civil servants in the Treasury, and therefore by shareholders and the electorate.
A third point is made by John Reynolds in his contribution to the collection of essays recently edited by Rowan Williams and Larry Elliot.(2) Here he locates one of the causes of the financial crisis in the tendency of investment bankers to prefer short-term over long-term value; and he suggests as one reason for this the weakening of the social bonds between firms and their members. Those who work for banks are no longer partners but employees, who can be made redundant at will. Employees respond, quite reasonably, by making no emotional investment in the long-term future of the firm. If this analysis is anywhere close to the truth, then one challenge that the financial crisis poses is that of reversing the culture of reciprocal disloyalty between firms and their members. One could start by pointing out that while the freedom of a firm to shed employees at short notice might seem efficient, the long-term evils that mutual disloyalty breeds confound that appearance. Again, the fostering of mutual care and loyalty (a.k.a. ‘faithfulness’) is not the whole of the Gospel, but it is part it.
Prospect: the Coalition Government’s Cuts in Public Funding
One of the complaints made about current public discussion of the Government’s planned cuts in public funding concerns the media’s carelessness with the data, in particular its over-dramatisation of the issues and consequent feeding of anxiety and anger. The reasons for this, it seems to me, are complex and are not simply attributable to the ill-will of journalists. On this matter, it is important that Christians first play empathetic pastor lest they proceed to play moralistic prophet. One main reason for the hyperbolic and histrionic tendencies of the British press is the intense competition between too many newspapers, all of them based in a single city (London), for a shrinking market of readers. Advertising revenue is declining, with the result that fewer journalists are employed to produce more copy with less time.
Under such conditions, it is no surprise that journalistic carelessness is on the increase. In addition there is the fact that in Britain most newspapers are sold from newsstands, not by subscription, which means that copy-editors are under commercial pressure to attract consumers by screaming at them through headlines. Given these structural, economic conditions, it seems to me that the only way to raise standards of accuracy and interpretation is by means of regulation across the sector as a whole, so that no newspaper is disadvantaged by keeping its journalism honest, the playing-field being level. And since the press has signally failed to regulate itself effectively through various forms of Press Complaints Commission, the time has come for statutory regulation with serious powers of enforcement. Law is not a social luxury; and sometimes sin proves so intractable and socially damaging that only law can curb it effectively.
Naturally, the prospect of severe cuts in public funding raises worries about rising unemployment. Some reckon that the private sector will more than compensate for the loss of public sector jobs; but even if that does prove to be the case, some people will not be able to make the transition and will face many years without paid employment. Therefore, the Christian churches need to reacquaint themselves with the considerable literature that they generated during the economic downturn of the 1980s, much of which argued for the need to upgrade the social status of work that is worthwhile, even when it is not paid. While it is true that faith in God and in his calling can be a vital support for those who lack the esteem of their peers, it remains true that local and social esteem is enormously important, and the lack of it enormously painful. So the churches should also give some hard thought to the kinds of practical arrangements that are necessary to foster such social esteem.
Finally, the withdrawal of public funding raises questions about the future of the communal support of the poor. Christians, with their belief that humans are dependent and limited creatures, all subject to the grace, judgement, and calling of the same God, naturally adhere to some notion of social solidarity. Not everyone else does. Aristotelians, Nietzscheans, and Social Darwinists, for example, don’t have much time for the weak. The influential moral philosopher, John Harris, has recently announced that he does not regard humility as a virtue. Still, if Christians recognise that the stronger have a responsibility for the weaker—and that, since they will always be with us, we need to be patient with them—that still leaves open the pragmatic question of how best to aid the weak without infantilising them.
It also leaves open the question of what are the most efficacious means of keeping the rich invested in state support of the poor, and of whether the universal provision of welfare benefits is necessary for that. The groundswell of support for the creation of welfare state after the Second World War was considerably inspired by the experience of war, in which the upper and middle classes actually found themselves living alongside the poor, whether in the trenches of Picardy and Flanders or by opening their homes to evacuees. What will constitute comparable springs of solidarity in the first half of the 21st century?
Conclusion: Where is the Christianity in the Analysis and Assessment?
Not everything that is characteristic is distinctive. Something may be characteristic of Christianity—integral to it—without being distinctive. Whether it is distinctive is an accident of what it happens to be compared with. More important than distinctiveness, then, is integrity. It is important that Christian ethical analysis and assessment be properly integrated into the basic theological structure of the Christian world-view.
Let me conclude, then, by bringing right to the surface the ways in which the preceding analysis and assessment has been shaped by features of Christian theology and anthropology. First, faith in the one God who is creator of the world, and who loves it, leads the Christian (as it does the Jew and the Muslim) to view all human beings as fellow-creatures, deserving of due respect and care. Abrahamic monotheism generates human solidarity. To paraphrase I John 4.20a: he who claims to love God without loving his neighbour does not know what the word ‘God’ means.
Second, Christians do not collapse value—that is, human good or flourishing—into money. Money may be an instrumental good, but it is no more than that; and if it fails to serve other goods, among them relational ones such as faithfulness, then it ceases to be an instrument and becomes an obstacle.
Third, Christians take the presence and persistence of sin seriously, and are therefore do not become hysterical when its operations are exposed.
Fourth, acknowledging their own sinfulness and moral weakness, Christians will have sympathy even for those whose carelessness with the truth is the part-result of severe commercial pressures or whose poverty is partly due to their own habitual fecklessness.
Nevertheless, fifth and finally, the Resurrection and the eschatological hope that it inspires do not allow Christians to rest easy with sin, but encourage them to take up arms against it—if need be, by means of law.
(1) Stephen Green, Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality, and an Uncertain World (London: Allen Lane, 2009).
(2) John Reynolds, “Investment Banking: The Inevitable Triumph of Incentives over Ethics”, in Crisis and Recovery: Ethics, Economics, and Justice (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010).