Long way to Easter 1 – A theological economics

This year’s Lent talks follow the Lectionary readings for the five Sundays of Lent. They will examine our social, political and economic crises and relate them all to a crisis of morale that follows from our uncertainty about the covenant of God. The first talk starts like this:

What the Church says it not only says in Lent and Easter, but in every Church service. Easter simply spells out in large format what is going on every Sunday morning, when on behalf of the whole world the Christian community confesses its sins and receive forgiveness, and so remains a confident people. The Church that is confident of the resurrection is uniquely able to talk about pain and cost, because it is formed by the promise of forgiveness and the hope of redemption.

It continues like this:

We are undergoing a severe economic crisis. What is causing this crisis? Greed is of course some part of the answer but the problem is not only that we have demanded too much, but that we have not demanded enough. We do not value ourselves enough, and all our materialistic impatience and over-reaching is nothing but compensation for this crisis of morale, a failure to value ourselves. We belittle and devalue ourselves in the fear that if we don’t others will denigrate us more. But we denigrate ourselves in defiance of God. God is the true judge of man, and God finds man good and loves him. That is the news of the gospel.

and ends like this:

It is good that creation has limits. It is good that we explore and discover these limits. To burn our way through creation is absolutely impoverishing for us. It gives us no opportunity for moral growth. It does not teach us to husband these resources or to wonder at this creation and care for it. It is only because it is a finite world that we have to learn how to act within it. It is only when we exercise self-restraint that we can act generously and for other people. And it is only the opportunity of acting well and generously, that there is the joy which is the whole point and purpose of creation.

Read it all here

Pause

Sorry, a blog pause appeared there. A sign that some work is underway I always think. I am following Rod Dreher, like everybody else. But if you are desperate for something to read you could have a look at my latest work-in-progress dump at at Scribd. The theological discussion of economics is presently masquerading as Lent talks – skip the first one, which just sets the scene.

Speak up

Here’s one close to home. Rod Dreher is asking what lessons we can draw from ‘St. Cyprian’s writings during an early age of martyrdom that Christians living in contemporary liberal democracies can use to determine when they are obligated to speak up… for their faith, and when they are permitted to keep silent without betraying their faith. He

asked a couple of smart Christian journalist friends who work in secular media why they never wrote about homosexuality, religion and public policy. I know that they’re both interested in cultural and religious matters, and both are conservative Christians. Both of them said to me that they have careers to protect, which is a big reason why they keep their views on that subject to themselves in their writing… One, a graduate student in theology at a Protestant university, told me that you’d have to be an idiot to defend traditional Church and Biblical teaching about homosexuality inside the university today. He said that’s a certain way to end your academic career before it gets started… a professor friend on faculty at a nominally church-affiliated university, who told of a Christian colleague who argued in public for privileging traditional marriage. The teacher had been warned not to do this, because it would end his teaching career at that school. But he felt he had a moral obligation to give his side of the argument. “Sure enough,” said my professor friend, “when the vote on his tenure application came up a few months later, they voted him down. He’s got a wife and small children to support.”

Rod Dreher When do you ‘martyr’ yourself?
Privileging traditional marriage, eh? The man deserves to die, and slowly. When we take his job away so he has no colleagues, no students, no access to libraries or conferences his intellectual contribution will disappear. With no income his self-respect will follow. Over the years he will become a burden to his friends, his family and himself. That ought to do it.
Christians, we have to name these sorts of anonymous processes as martyrdom, and celebrate it as such. And the Church has to teach its own people, not imagine that this can happen in universities, however ‘Christian’.

Missing commitment to future

During the decade leading up to the crisis, current account deficits increased steadily and became unsustainable. Strong domestic investment (much of it in unproductive residential construction) outstripped domestic saving. Government budget discipline dissipated; fiscal policy became pro-cyclical [ie, not counter-cyclical]. Financial regulation and supervision was weak to non-existent, encouraging credit and asset price booms and bubbles. Corporate governance, especially but not only in the banking sector, became increasingly subservient to the interests of the CEOs and the other top managers. There was a steady erosion in business ethics and moral standards in commerce and trade. Regulatory capture and corruption, from petty corruption to grand corruption to state capture, became common place. Truth-telling and trust became increasingly scarce commodities in politics and in business life. The choice between telling the truth (the whole truth and nothing but the truth) and telling a deliberate lie or half-truth became a tactical option. Combined with increasing myopia, this meant that even reputational considerations no longer acted as a constraint on deliberate deception and the use of lies as a policy instrument. As part of this widespread erosion of social capital, both citizens and markets lost faith in the ability of governments to commit themselves to any future course of action that was not validated, at each future point in time, as the most opportunistic course of action at that future point in time…

Willem Buiter Fiscal expansions in submerging markets; the case of the USA and the UK

See also Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Naked Capitalism, Jesse’s Café Américain and Karl Denniger at Market Ticker.

Purging or detoxing debt from an economy is a strained, long-winded and ugly process. Private creditors exacerbate the crisis by imposing a tough diet on the heavily borrowed: they restrict credit; compound interest on defaulted debt; and impose higher real market interest rates. Yet regulators and politicians turn a blind eye to this financial sector quackery, cause of high mortality and unemployment rates amongst otherwise healthy companies – preferring instead to bail out the quacks. So the US faces a larger challenge. How will it cleanse itself of the money-changers that since the 1970s have acted as parasites on the healthy US economy? Those that burdened thriving companies with debt, and then siphoned off a large share of the profits in the form of interest payments? Or used direct debits to drain excessive interest payments from the bank accounts of hard-working Americans? Will they be purged from the system? Or will American politicians and regulators continue to treat them as delicate “intestinal floraâ€? – vital to the health of the economy?

Ann Pettifor (the force behind Jubilee 2000)

Spengler says

…this is not a business cycle, but a life-cycle malfunction. Your problem is that nervous retirees are making most of the decisions, rather than young families. The trouble is that America is getting grayer. People with young children are spenders rather than savers. Young people take risks, and old people buy insurance. Your country needs more children. Demographic dearth is the root cause of the economic crisis. Too many aging people tried to accumulate too many assets, and created the biggest asset bubble of all time. Lower home prices make it easier for people to start families. The housing price crash transfers wealth from old people to young people. That’s exactly what you want to happen. Rather than spend a trillion dollars to keep overpaid construction union members busy in infrastructure projects, offer enormous tax cuts and subsidies to young families. Increase the per-child deduction to $20,000, and let low-income taxpayers deduct it against payroll taxes. Subsidize mortgages for families with children.
And if you really want to send a message to America, propose a constitutional amendment to reverse Roe versus Wade. Making sex a contact sport rather than a part of life that includes marriage and babies was the beginning of the problem. It’s not enough to tinker with tax incentives, although that surely will help. Americans need to change their own outlook about life. A pro-life Democratic president with a family friendly economic recovery plan would be unbeatable.
The unbeatable Spengler

Maranatha

An Emergency Call to Prayer For Christian Leaders in the UK
11am – 4pm Saturday 28th February 2009 Emmanuel Christian Centre, Marsham Street, London SW1P 3DW

When a nation is in trouble it is right for leaders to call the people to prayer. Our nation is in trouble – more than most people are aware. In December 2008, 80 leaders from churches, politics and business, who are concerned about the state of our nation met in the House of Lords to seek what God is saying to us today about our nation. Those present agreed that:
* The current financial situation is primarily the result of the pursuit of moral choices and values that do not accord with the word of God
* God is calling all churches in Britain torepentance and a season of prayer and fasting for the nation
* The Christian church should reach out to those who are already suffering as a result of the present financial crisis
The United Kingdom, once a missionary powerhouse of the world, is now morally and spiritually bankrupt and our children are left without security, stability or hope. We believe, however, that it is still possible for this nation to be turned around if we turn to God in repentance trusting in His mercy.
The House of Lords meeting is sending out this call to mobilise Christians across the land for prayer and action. You are invited to join in a special day of prayer to bring the national situation before the Lord for his guidance in these troubled times.

More Maranatha events in London

Christians and Capitalists

Professor Philip Booth Catholicism and Capitalism, ‘Faith Matters’ lectures Westminster Cathedral Hall, Ambrosden Avenue, London SW1, 18th March 7.00pm

The Catholic Church has never supported socialism and has often spoken against the excesses of welfare states. However, the Church has never been totally comfortable with capitalism either – and certainly not with the materialism which some argue is encouraged by capitalism. Indeed, individual bishops, priests and laity have often been at the forefront of arguing strongly for government intervention in the economy both in the UK and internationally. At a time when the premises of economic liberalism are being questioned due to the financial and economic crisis, we should ask whether Catholics should feel comfortable with capitalism? Do the economic problems surrounding the financial crisis change the arguments? And can a market economy deal with the grave challenges of environment problems and extreme poverty?

There is plenty of downloadable discussion of Christian economic thought by Philip Booth and others at the Institute for Economic Affairs

Secularism and Justice

The Tyndale Kirby Laing Institute of Christian Ethics is co-hosting two day conferences
Responding to Secularism: Christian Witness in a Dogmatic Public Culture 24 April 2009, Tyndale House, Cambridge – a day conference on mission and contemporary culture with the Gospel and Our Culture Network

Dr Dominic Erdozain (King’s College, London) on the growth of secularity in modern British culture
Prof John Stackhouse (Regent College, Vancouver) on public engagement in a secularised culture
Rev Dr Andrew Kirk (formerly University of Birmingham) on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age
Dr Elaine Storkey (TEAR Fund) on responding to the secularist worldview

and
Justice: Rights and Wrongs. A Colloquium with Prof Nicholas Wolterstorff May 21-22 2009 Christ Church, Oxford with the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Life

Prof Onora O’Neill (British Academy; Philosophy)
Prof Roger Crisp (Oxford; Philosophy)
Prof Timothy Endicott (Oxford; Law)
Prof Julian Rivers (Bristol, Law) (former KLICE Advisory Council Chair)
Dr Bernd Wannenwetsch (McDonald Centre; Theology)
Dr John Perry (McDonald Centre; Theology)

Like St. Benedict

I disagree with the assumption that law is what holds our society together. In his work on the decline and corruption of a culture, C.E.M. Joad correctly notes that decadence is the identification of means with ends. Or as Mr. Wilson puts it ‘When our masters have destroyed the schools.’ When wealth becomes the end, for instance, there exists economic decadence. Or as Mr Wilson would have it, when ‘Our masters have seen to it that middle and working class families need two incomes to survive…’ When power becomes the end, you have political decadence; When pleasure becomes the end, you have moral decadence; and when emotions become the end, you have psychological decadence.
We must always remember that politics is more important than economics, that culture is more important than politics, and theology is more important than culture. In this way we can see that divorce was initiated when we lost the theology of marriage, it accelerated when sexual pleasure became the end of marriage (instead of the procreation and education of children) This assertion that we are a nation of laws and not of men is misleading. We have become a nation of lawless men (culturally), who elect people to lead us (politically) who believe ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’
If we passed a law tomorrow in America that prevented divorce before the yougest child born of the marriage was 18 years of age, the pleasure seeking people we have become, would prefer to ressurect the old whore house rather than the old homestead. The collapse is upon us, Humpty Dumty has fallen. The question is where and who will carry the elderly and household Gods out of the burning city. My thinking is it will be folks like burdened Aneas or men like St. Benedict living in the woods, where some old crow will bring them bread from time to time.
Robert Reavis

How it ends

Many people are wondering how the current problems came about:

3. No-one, other than the British Government, believes that the rate of inflation has ever been less than 7% over the last decade and today it is clearly more than 15%.
7. The ‘growth’ in the profits of most western companies since 2000 are really due to understated inflation figures.
8. The governments of the Western Nations have depended upon their people borrowing more and more as their manufacturing capability has been lost.
10. Low interest rates that do not reflect the real level of inflation will always encourage people to borrow and spend but the consequence is that saving is pointless.
11. It does not benefit the pensions industry, the banks or the Government to admit that any young person that saves for their old age is wasting their time.
20. Although it has not been spelt out to them most young people know that they have no real future and that many of the opportunities that their parents had will be denied to them.

How it endsQuotations