St Paul's Economics debate

My word is my bond? Rebuilding trust – the G20 and beyond
St Paul’s Cathedral Tuesday 31st March, 2009, 11am – 12.30pm

On the eve of the G20, St Paul’s is hosting a high level debate about the moral questions raised by the dramatically changing world we find ourselves in. Can opportunities for society’s good come from the economic crisis? Has there been a disconnection between morality, policy-making and practice? What are the prospects for remaking the global order, rebuilding financial systems and re-establishing trust? How will a new global order actively include development goals and address climate change?

They have already become Muslims

The native Dutch are moving out. Since 2004, more indigenous Dutchmen have emigrated each year than immigrants have moved in. People who have lost faith in God do not fight. They run. Since they do not believe in life after death, this life is the only thing they have to lose. One emigrant Dutchman, a homosexual author who lives in Brussels, writes: “I am not a warrior. I do not fight for freedom. I am only good at enjoying it.” This mentality has affected the whole of Western Europe. A young German woman recently said that it is “better to let yourself be raped than risk injuries while resisting, better to avoid fighting than risk death.” Europe has chosen the path of submission. Islamization is not the cause but the consequence of the collapse of Europe. The very word Islam means “submission.” Many Europeans have submitted already. In that sense, they have already become Muslims.

Paul Belien Reshaping America

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)

Ask Médaille

John Médaille The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace is far-and-away the best book I have seen on the (bad) theology of economics. It puts economics into its political-philosophical context, with plenty of history, Catholic Social Teaching and immediate relevance to our present situation. It is a big but very well controlled book pretending to be a modest one, and the only book I have not resented buying recently: the title gives no idea of its range or intelligence. Médaille blogs at the Distributist Review

Reliance on the government as consumer of last resort has resulted in a structure that favored global production over national income, the FIRE economy (“finance, insurance, and real estateâ€?) over the real economy (real production of goods), low wages over fair ones, and gargantuan size over human scale. It is this last point that is particularly troubling, since this gargantuan institutions have proclaimed themselves to be “too big to fail,â€? and exercise economic blackmail over the whole republic. The problem with this claim is that it is correct. But the proper response is not to give into the blackmail, not to negotiate with crooks, but to make sure that the blackmailers are never in a position to control the whole economy, to demand trillions in ransom whenever they get themselves (and us) into trouble. Now, it would be mere carping by distributists to point out the problems if we could not offer solutions. But we do have solutions, and it is time to offer them, time to end the era of big business that depends on big government, on subsidies from the general public to private profits. I have nothing against profits—when they are earned; I have everything against profits that are the result of subsidies and privileges. The distributist solution to all of these problems can be summed-up in a few words: Buy it up! Break it up! Fund it right!

And keep reading The Market Ticker

Not entirely without grounds for hope

What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitute part of the our predicament. We are waiting…for another – doubtless very different – St Benedict.

Alasadair MacIntyre After Virtue p.263

Local forms of community? The Church, of course – the community that produces saints, like Benedict. What we need is monks, that is, people solely dedicated to singing the praises of God.

23 September 2008

The day humanity starts eating the planet

On September 23, humanity will have used up all the resources nature will provide this year, according to the latest data from Global Footprint Network and its member organisation NEF (the new economics foundation) who devised the concept of Ecological Debt Day. Just like any company, nature has a budget – it can only produce so many resources and absorb so much waste each year. The problem is, our demand on nature’s services is exceeding what it can provide. Since the 1980s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot, using resources faster than they can be regenerated and putting carbon into the air faster than it can be reabsorbed. Globally, we now demand the biological capacity of 1.4 planets.

Our bishop is leading the fast today. There is more fasting to do on 19 October.

In 2000 we made a commitment to the poor amongst us. World leaders signed up to the Millennium Development Goals – 8 goals to halve global poverty by 2015. Those same leaders are making decisions right now which determine whether these goals will be met. On October 19 stand together with thousands of churches worldwide in prayer that the firm commitments we’ve made won’t become broken promises.

Be a part of Micah Sunday.

Meanwhile, Father Tim Finigan finds that our masters at the Treasury appear to be out to lunch.

A Theology of Public Life

I like the look of

Charles T. Mathewes A Theology of Public Life

What has Washington to do with Jerusalem? In the raging debates about the relationship between religion and politics, no one has explored the religious benefits and challenges of public engagement for Christian believers – until now. This ground-breaking book defends and details Christian believers’ engagement in contemporary pluralistic public life not from the perspective of some neutral ‘public’, but from the particular perspective of Christian faith, arguing that such engagement enriches both public life and Christian citizens’ faith themselves. As such it offers not a ‘public theology’, but a ‘theology of public life’, analyzing the promise and perils of Christian public engagement, discussing the nature of civic commitment and prophetic critique, and the relation of a loving faith to a liberal politics of justice. Theologically rich, philosophically rigorous, politically, historically and sociologically informed, this book advances contemporary discussion of ‘religion and public life’ in fundamental ways.

Introduction: life in the epilogue, during the world

Part I. A Theology of Engagement
1. Life before God
2. Life in the world
3. Life together

Part II. The Liturgy of Citizenship
4. Faithful citizenship
5. Hopeful citizenship
6. Charitable citizenship

Conclusion: The republic of grace; or, the public ramifications of heaven.

Old Testament

Here are a couple of titles that caught my eye while putting together a bibliography for next term’s Old Testament course

Aidan Nichols Lovely like Jerusalem: The Fulfillment of the Old Testament in Christ and the Church

The highly regarded spiritual writer and theologian Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. presents an overview of the Old Testament by showing what it is and its relationship to the New Testament. He explains that it is essential for one to be familiar with the Old Testament in order to understand properly, and in a deeper way, the richness and message of the New. In particular, Fr. Nichols shows how important it is to grasp that connection in order to understand better and to believe in the message and the person of Christ.

Ignorance of the Old Testament makes it impossible to comprehend the entire divine plan that stretches between the two Testaments. Nichols maintains that we are ill-equipped to read and understand the great theologians, saints, and Scripture commentators of the Christian era without a deep familiarity with the Old Testament. Even understanding and appreciating the art of the Church remains limited if the Old Testament is a closed book for us.

Nichols made use of studies by biblical experts from various Christian denominations–notably Evangelicals and Anglicans–in writing this widely appealing work. He also drew on the Fathers and Doctors of the Church to help illuminate the beauty of the relationship between the two Testaments.

“In this marvelous work of biblical theology and patristic ressourcement, Aidan Nichols illumines the pattern of God’s promises in salvation history in a manner that will be accessible and informative to students, pastors, and scholars. Other than Pope Benedict XVI, no theologian writing today has mastered so well the approach to Scripture set forth by such giants as Jean Danielou, Louis Bouyer, and Henri de Lubac. This book should be read by everyone who seeks an understanding of Scripture and of the early Christian Fathers.”
–Matthew Levering, Associate Professor of Theology, Ave Maria University

Robert Wilken Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators

In his extremely thorough work on Isaiah, Robert Wilken brings to bear his considerable knowledge of early Christianity. Drawing on writings of the church fathers — Eusebius of Caesarea, Ambrose, Jerome, Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret of Cyrus, Bernard of Clairvaux, and nearly sixty others — all of them masterfully translated, this work allows the complex words of Isaiah to come alive.

Wilken’s selection of ancient commentators clearly illuminates how Isaiah was used by the New Testament writers and understood by the early church fathers. Each chapter begins with a modern English translation of the septuagint, prepared by Moisés Silva. Editorial comments provide a foundation for understanding the excerpted commentaries and other writings that follow for each chapter.

Read everything by Wilken. And you know Brian E Daley The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology

Cavanaugh: The state parodies the Church

You’ve written that the nation state has become a “parody of the Churchâ€? and that we should treat it like the “phone company.â€? How far do you think the state has overreached itself in this country?

William Cavanaugh: The phone company quote comes from MacIntyre. He says that the nation state is a dangerous and unwieldy organization that presents itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic provider of goods and services which is always about to, but never actually provides, value for money, and on the other hand, as a repository of sacred values which from time to time asks us to lay down our lives on its behalf. He says it’s like being asked to die for the telephone company. I think that really characterizes it very well.

On the one hand, you have this enormous bureaucratic organization which is growing constantly despite all the talk about small government. Even under Reagan and the current president the state continues to grow. People foresaw this as early as the 19th century. When there’s no organic community and your society is a mass of individuals, each with their own goals, goods, and ends, you need a bigger and bigger state to keep them all from interfering with each other.

There’s a spiritual aspect to the state’s claims. That’s why I call it a “parody of the Churchâ€?—it claims to saves us. Currently, it’s saving us from these diabolical terrorists who are out there and want to kill us. The state presents itself as the only protection from this diabolical enemy. The irony is that the state made this enemy for us in the first place.

The amnesia about who terrorists are and where they come from is just amazing. The way the story’s usually told, we were just sitting here minding our own business, and then on September 11, 2001, these crazy people attacked us for no good reason and now we have to defend ourselves. But the truth of the matter is much more complex. It has a lot to do with American foreign policy and American military meddling in the Middle East which we don’t want to talk about. It has a lot to do with the CIA helping to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Iran in 1953 and installing a Shah who ran a brutal dictatorship. These are things we forget, but that other people never forget. The state in a lot of ways is like a protection racket: it defends us against the enemies that it itself creates.

What can or should the Church do if or when the nation state oversteps its boundaries?

The first thing the Church needs to do is stop fighting unjust wars. Take the just war theory seriously. I’m not talking about pacifism. If there’s a war that the Church judges is unjust, then Catholics shouldn’t fight it. That’s the way the just war theory is supposed to work. It’s sometimes supposed to say ‘no’ to acts of violence. What the theory is usually used for, of course, is to justify whatever violence is going on. I can’t think of a single instance where it was used to stop violence. That is the most pressing issue.

Imagine what would have happened if Catholics in the previous war had said in significant numbers, “No, sorry, this is an unjust war; we’re just going to sit this one out.â€? The world would have turned upside down.

Another thing is to stop buying into the idea that all significant questions of money and power need to be funneled through the state, that the only thing we can do about issues like health care is to get the state to do something.

William Cavanaugh in interview with GodSpy

Christopher Roberts on Marriage

Christopher Roberts Creation & Covenant: The Significance of Sexual Difference in the Moral Theology of Marriage

Does sexual difference matter for marriage? Are there good theological reasons why the two main characters in a marriage should be a male and a female, or is marriage a more flexible covenant, which any two people can keep? Creation and Covenant analyzes latent but under-examined beliefs about sexual difference in the theology about marriage which has been dominant for centuries in the Christian west. The book opens by studying patristic theologies of marriage, which rested on mostly implicit and often incompatible beliefs about sexual difference. However, Roberts argues that Augustine developed a coherent theology of sexual difference, according it a shifting significance from creation to eschaton. Roberts traces how Augustine’s theology influenced and was developed by subsequent theologians, such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Luther, Barth, and John Paul II. Finally, Roberts engages today’s debates about gay marriage.

Before becoming an academic, Dr. Roberts was a journalist. On behalf of PBS television, he covered both the Lambeth Conference in England and the World Council of Churches in Zimbabwe. During those years, he was disappointed by both the liberal and conservative arguments on homosexuality. Left-wingers seemed more interested in privacy, autonomy, and experience than in theology, and right-wingers seemed to have lots of prohibitions but little good news. In the final chapters, this book tries to do better, inviting liberals to improve the standard of their arguments, and explaining what is beautiful and persuasive about the traditional case.

This book articulates often latent and under-examined, but nonetheless significant, beliefs about sexual difference in the theology about marriage which has been dominant in the Christian west. Chapter one explains that patristic theologies of marriage rested on mostly implicit beliefs about sexual difference, and sometimes these beliefs were incompatible with one another. However, chapter two argues that Augustine developed a coherent theological anthropology of sexual difference, according it a shifting significance from creation to eschaton. Chapters three through five show that for the major subsequent pre-modern theologians, the significance of sexual difference was rarely the subject of direct discussion. Nevertheless, Augustine’s most important successors both presupposed and occasionally developed his beliefs about sexual difference. Bernard of Clairvaux shows how sexual difference in marriage is privileged material for allegories of God’s love; Aquinas emphasised the procreative significance of sexual difference; and the Reformers argued that because God made the sexes, marriage should be central to Christian life. Chapters six and seven study Barth and John Paul II, who each discuss sexual difference with a hitherto unknown degree of sustained systematic attention. Their anthropology and biblical exegesis is rooted in Christology, which leads them to conclude that humanity is created for fellowship, and that sexual difference is necessary for this fellowship. Chapter eight explains why certain contemporary and revisionist theologies of marriage, notably ones which seek a rationale for gay and lesbian marriages, are problematic. These contemporary theologies have not yet reckoned with theologically important and defensible claims about the meaning of sexual difference. The conclusion suggests that renewed clarity and selfconsciousness about the theological significance of sexual difference should strengthen any Christian ethic of sexuality and marriage, enabling the church to be more articulate in its dialogue with contemporary culture and science, and more coherent in its own internal practices.

“The question of the significance of sexual difference is at the heart of many divisions within contemporary society. It is producing hurtful tensions within all of the major Christian Churches….Roberts’ contribution to the debate is forceful and scholarly, while always charitable. This powerfully argued case for the abiding importance of our sexual identity shows how rich can be the contribution of the Christian tradition to our society’s present search to understand the meaning of our lives. Even those who do not accept all of the author’s conclusions should be grateful for this beautifully written and profound book. It will help us all in our journey towards understanding who we are in Christ.â€? – Timothy Radcliffe, OP, former Master General of the Dominican Order

“Sexual ethics and gay marriage — Creation and Covenant is essential reading for anyone who wants to think about these issues in light of the Western Christian tradition. Roberts helps us see and resist the Gnostic temptation that so dominates the moral imagination of modern culture….A very fine book – just the sort of patient survey of the classical tradition we need, and absolutely on target as far as the core theological issue is concerned. It’s the sort of book that will be very helpful for teaching a seminar on sexual ethics.” – R. R. Reno, Creighton University, and editor of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible.

“In Creation and Covenant, Christopher Roberts has done both church and society a great service. …We cannot go forward with any of these issues in the future without Roberts’ excellent guide to the past.â€? – Don Browning, University of Chicago and author of Marriage and Modernization Creation and Covenant

You would like a publisher’s discount? How about $78, or £39? Get in touch and I’ll pass you right along