Friday, 16 January 2009

Green Shoots?

Baroness Vadera was asked whether she thought there were any ‘green shoots’ in the economy; a phrase which effectively shot Norman Lamont during the last economic recession. Well, Lamont had seen signs of hope, and the Baroness gave a clear example of positive news, even on a day when the job losses were huge.

We cannot live without hope, and the very fact of life itself is proof of that. The life we have on earth is not just bound to repeat the past, and run down and decay, deteriorating from an original perfection. Rather, new life emerges, new life evolves, and possibilities arise which the past could never have foreseen.

For the Christian, this hope is exemplified in the recognition that in Christ there is a new creation. What emerged from the shameful death of Jesus Christ on the cross was unimaginable, even to people who might have professed a belief in a final resurrection. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus did provoke outrage. Many people, including St Paul himself before his conversion, were filled with fury at the claims of Jesus’s former disciples, and both James and Stephen were put to death. But those who continued to live in hope triumphed in spite of the odds against them. In the Easter season we sing ‘Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain’. We are people who believe in green shoots.

So, as a Christian, I will see signs of hope even in the present situation. First, and most importantly, house prices are readjusting to the level at which ordinary people might reasonably expect to be able to buy a home. It may not look like an investment, it may not yield great profits, but it will be a place for people to call their own. Too many people have been shut out of the housing market for too long by inflated prices and by the greed of buy to let landlords who have taken so many properties at the lower end of the market out of the reach of first time buyers.

Next, we shall all have to learn to spend just what we earn. For home owners this has been difficult. There has been the temptation to finance large items by re-mortgaging homes which have appeared to be rising in price, and having unaffordable treats on the back of an unsustainable bubble of debt. Instead of re-mortgaging for the holiday, the car, the new kitchen. people will need to learn to make their demands more reasonable, and cut the new suit according to the cloth in hand.

The banks and investment bankers have taken a battering. We have seen that the emperor had no clothes. The rich were creaming off not only their profits, but helping themselves to money which in the end did not exist. The result of this exposure may be a society less driven by greed, and one which sees the value of work rather than gambling huge sums and rewarding the lucky. Perhaps people will choose careers on the basis of the good that they will do rather than on just the money which might come flooding in. At one level the result of all this is a recession. The estate agent, the holiday company and the kitchen fitters will see a reduction in their business that may well be permanent. The car manufacturers are already feeling the pinch. In sectors of the economy in which much of the spending has been supported by large scale re-mortgaging there may never be a return to the levels of activity which we saw until eighteen months ago when the credit crunch hit first the U.S.A. and then the rest of the world. On top of this has been the problem that we have wanted cheap goods, particularly clothing and electronic goods. Once, as in the proud days when Marks and Spencer’s sold home produced clothing, we paid a fair price and the producers received a living wage. But now the producers are unseen, their employment conditions are questionable, and we import with little to offer in return apart from the opportunity to help finance our own debt. This is a nettle which the U.S. economy must grasp first, but all western economies must also face.

The huge hike in oil and commodity prices last summer finally persuaded people of the seriousness and the sense of the green agenda, with the need to consume less oil and, on the way, protect the future of the planet. It has forced a change in attitude.

And then for Britain and the U.S. in particular there has been the enormous cost of funding wars which have stretched not only our troops but also the government purse beyond the limit for far too long. This legacy of the Bush and Blair administrations is not sustainable in the long term. Perhaps it has taken until the money ran out of everything for the voices of reason and morality to be heard in relation to our spending on war.

It may be that those who started these conflicts could look back and see that previous wars, in the Falklands, or removing the Iraqis from Kuwait, had looked short and, in balance, profitable. These wars gave the opportunity to showcase new technology that the world would want to buy, and the major arms producers saw an increase in sales when the superiority of high tech forces over those more traditionally armed was made apparent. But Afghanistan and Iraq have not lent themselves to such displays of superiority. Baghdad did not need to be razed to the ground before the western forces moved in. No-one was impressed by the destruction of the city’s infrastructure, and people are even less impressed because preparations for peace were so inadequate. The death toll is what commands the headlines today. Our continued presence in the Middle East, and our financing of Israeli aggression in Gaza have the effect of driving desperate people to take desperate measures. War mongering breeds extremists. Our Foreign Secretary now declares that the ‘war on terror’ was a mistake. I am reminded of the medal won by my grandfather which bears the inscription ‘Afghanistan N W F 1919’. He was firmly of the opinion that we had had no business there and that no conventional army could ever win there. I don’t think things have changed.

So, are there ‘green shoots’? Yes. The American people voted that they didn’t want more years of the same. They wanted change and the election of Barak Obama is surely a sign that the Americans have hoped for something different. That deeply religious nation has expressed a wish for a more compassionate Christianity, rather than the values of a gung ho cowboy who saw himself as a crusader. I pray that the green shoots may herald a new creation, a new attitude, and a determination not to repeat the mistakes, financial and moral, of the first years of the 21st century.

Posted by Tom Ambrose on Friday, 16 January 2009 at 7:39am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking

I wouldn't get too carried away. It was Bill Clinton who used the phrase 'It's the economy, stupid' to telling effect against the first George Bush, who had also prosecuted foreign wars while struggling with the effects of recession at home. The same Bill Clinton also came very near to bombing North Korea, hit targets in Sudan, and sent troops into Somalia.

The US is more than just its presidents' apparent personaility quirks. Sure you might feel more comfortable with Clinton (jazz player) in a bar than with Bush (cowboy) but when it comes to geo-politics, you might also find they drink the same brands of beer.

Posted by: orfanum on Friday, 16 January 2009 at 9:29am GMT

Thank you for article on hope. Like Desmond Tutu I affirm every day that I am a 'prisoner of hope'. It is a matter of faith. Thanks for your article

Posted by: Una Kroll on Friday, 16 January 2009 at 11:05am GMT

Actually, it was Bush I who sent the troops into Somalia -- after he lost to Clinton, IIRC -- hard to figure out how to withdraw them from what was supposed to be a humanitarian mission

Without wanting to defend "Slick" it could be argued that his responses were minimalist in terms of necessary domestic political action -- firing a few missiles into a country is simply not on the same scale as an unprovoked invasion & occupation of a country that has resulted in the displacement, wounding or death of almost half the population (IMHO)

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Friday, 16 January 2009 at 2:18pm GMT

REAL Hope holds promise for genuine and sincere acts of positive and good...Bush, and his cronnies, were, and some still are, spoilers and twisters of hope...they live and have acted-out in a convulted manipulated reality of their own greedy grabby, exploiting and reshaping...however, their hope realized has stopped them and dumped many of them into the pit of empty arrogance and grandstanding gone sour...perhaps, that will save them in the will certainly save the rest of us who have another HOPE for Change we can believe in!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Friday, 16 January 2009 at 2:43pm GMT

"Baroness Vadera was asked whether she thought there were any ‘green shoots’ in the economy; a phrase which effectively shot Norman Lamont during the last economic recession."

Translation for ignorant Yanks, please? [Who??? What (shot)? When?]

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 16 January 2009 at 6:29pm GMT

Actually it could be claimed that the third Afghan War was the one Britain won - courtesy of the Royal Air Force!

Unfortunately rather primitive and crude airpower was used to shock the Afghans, and King Amanullah's palace was directly attacked in what was the first case of aerial bombardment in Afghanistan’s history, forcing an armistice and an angry rebuke from King Amanullah who wrote:

"It is a matter of great regret that the throwing of bombs by zeppelins on London was denounced as a most savage act and the bombardment of places of worship and sacred spots was considered a most abominable operation. While we now see with our own eyes that such operations were a habit which is prevalent among all civilized people of the west"

Mind you the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement and its latter conclusions enabled Afghanistan to establish a surprising amount of independence, its own foreign policy and diplomatic relations with most major nations.

Meanwhile the British use of airpower to police the empire and quell unrest continued during the 20s in Mesopotamia....

Posted by: andrew holden on Friday, 16 January 2009 at 7:19pm GMT

The effective sign of hope is Obama's election, at least for the moment. An African American senate long-shot candidate won against all insider, especially against Republican, odds. Now Republicans are busy saying to each other that they lost the election because they probably were not extremely conservative, consistently. Looks like they might come out of the closet in all their meanness, finally, and stop pretending to be a big tent. Rather as the conserve realign campaign wants all Anglicans to do, globally.

Meanwhile, certain right-leaning Republicans in house and senate are busy figuring out how to attack and oppose Obama on change. Red meat Republicans?

How war could ever be anything besides a grim necessity, even under the best of so-called Just War circumstances, is way way way beyond me. If Pres O can somehow manage both Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the Middle East while starting changes in green energy resources, health care access, and stablizing the economy - well, all a real hoot if he more or less pulls it off. Our part? Being ready to consider, investigate, understand, and help row the boats.

Posted by: drdanfee on Friday, 16 January 2009 at 8:40pm GMT

What this article highlights is the end of open-system economics. Once upon a time, a regime/nation/lordship could extent its life/credibility/economics by taking over another nation or part thereof (the US intervention in Mexico early last century springs to mind).

Peter Senge would tell you that this paradigm has come to an end. There are no new frontiers within this earth to be raided with impunity, and if there are any, they contain insufficient resources for one nation, let alone one generation.

It is time to take stock. The era of dodging responsibility is past. Humanity must accept consequence and co-operation or die from its own paradigms. There are some Christians that claim that it is time for humanity to end (if "their" economics won't work then everything must go). They are the witch killers of this generation.

God chooses Life (NOT the Book of Death). This planet was formed to be inhabited not empty (Isaiah 45:18). Souls are either for Life and able to imagine beyond existing paradims (including deceiptful abusive Christian ones), or they are for death.

Jesus is judged by the conduct of his disciples. Do they choose life and diversity (including ending abuse of children and misogyny) or are they for war and tyranny (including insults to Eve and genocide)?

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Saturday, 17 January 2009 at 3:03am GMT

Many plants die back in winter only to start re-growing with Green Shoots in the spring.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 17 January 2009 at 9:12am GMT

JCF -- here's a quick survey of Lamont and Vadera:

Norman Lamont (now Baron Lamont of Lerwick) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1990-93. In 1991 he remarked that the recession would be short-lived, and that he could see the green shoots of recovery springing up everywhere. Following the failure of policies designed to support the value of the Pound and budget measures that failed to achieve their stated aims, Lamont left office in 1993 after pressure from PM John Major. Julian Clary made a famous quip when Lamont appeared on the British Comedy awards to general hissing and booing shortly after resigning as Chancellor.

Baroness Vadera is Parliamentary Secretary for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Her appointment is an unusual one because she was not elected to Parliament before being appointed to the Secretaryship (normally held by an MP), but was appointed to the House of Lords at the behest of Gordon Brown. Her remarks about green shoots were made in a television interview last week, and have been taken as a gaffe reflecting the circumstances that led to Lamont's removal from office.

Posted by: kieran crichton on Saturday, 17 January 2009 at 10:32am GMT

Thanks, kieran, for clarifying the Briticisms. [I'm not quite THAT ignorant, Erika! ;-/]

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 17 January 2009 at 8:06pm GMT

I did wonder:-))
But then, idioms often don't travel well...

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 17 January 2009 at 10:45pm GMT
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