Comments: weekend opinion

"William's real objection to the market is that it turns its participants into things to one another - and that, he believes, is a blasphemy because we are not things, but, in some sense images of God" - Andrew Brown, in The Guardian,

Well at least, as a Church Leader, Rowan's actions in this matter of discernment could be construed as consonant with the imperative of the Gospel. Both Francis of Assisi and Mary would have much to say to us, in the Tradition, about this important matter of God, man and mammon.

God knows we all need to make a living - but not one with so much dependance on unfair advantage (in the market-place) as to rob others of a share of the bounty that is available for all to share.

'Magnificat' reminds us of the dangers of living high on the pig's back, while others go hungry. Francis called money the equivalent of s..t, a commodity that can encourage both 'affluence' and 'effluence'. What the Church is trying to do here, through the ABC, is to 'influence' the money-makers not to become so hungry as to overlook the right of others to 'simply live'.

On the other hand, the Church is still a part of the world, and has to ensure that it uses its 10 talents as wisely as the servants of the Master in the parable of Jesus. Where does the balance lie, when many are fabulously rich while others have little or nothing to maintain a reasonable standard of living? This is the moral question today - as it was in the time of Jesus.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 27 September 2008 at 11:33am BST

Hmmm the first Archbishop of Canterbury for 40 years to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Karl Marx..

Posted by Vulnerable Bede at Saturday, 27 September 2008 at 11:51am BST

It's odd how George Pitcher's piece can refer to a "balance" between God and Mammon, when surely there is traditionally no balance but a straight choice. I suspect we're long overdue a deeper investigation into whether it is possible to make a (partly?) Christian economic system (which I would guess would neither be unrestrained usury and exploitation nor an inefficient and monolithic Stalinist planned system). It's also strange that he refers to CofE investment as "canny" when the CofE financiers have not been immune to imprudent investment in property and have had a few well-publicised upsets over the years, (along with just about everyone else, of course).

Posted by Joan of Quark at Saturday, 27 September 2008 at 5:05pm BST

"In 19th-century Russian literature, it is almost always nobler to be a serf than a wage-slave. Though the relationship between a serf and his master is based ultimately on violence, it is personal violence, not the impersonal and invisible transaction of the market, and so it has more room for virtue, and for growth."

So - I don't know about how one acquired a serf. How was it different from slavery in the US, which certainly was based on both violence and the commodification of human beings? This is a genuine question, not a rhetorical one. I just don't know what the serfdom system was like, despite having read some 19th c Russian novels.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Saturday, 27 September 2008 at 10:09pm BST

There is one word for the present vicissitudes of the Market, sub-prime or other, Speculation. And – obviously – Speculation upon Speculation. Since my, by now, distant days in the School of Commerce, the Market has gone from making profit for industrial investment to accruing profit for Greed. “Values”, paper, bonds, Art, Gems, Luxury, Bubbles. What the 10th Commandment rightly calls epithumía and pleonéktai, though (hetero-)sexualized already in the Scholastic Versio vulgata to Concupiscentia and Passione desiderii.

Just look the way housing has rocketed!

Many years later, doing theology at Lund, I had a teacher who actually had been sitting in the same bench at school in Trier as young Karl Marx. He talked quite a lot about little Karl’s Biblical roots, a grandson of a Rabbi as he was.

Now, what I find interesting about the oeuvre of Karl Marx is that as a Historian he was so immensely ahead of his Time. He wrote History, even Economic History – a form of Art that hardly existed in his day. Nor were there the Concepts and thought frames at hand for doing what he did – think Michelet. Karl Marx did what he couldn’t in fact do. And he did it, Critically – living in distant exile, living off his industrialist friends.

What seems obvious to me, is that the Market Marx criticised, was not the one of any full-blown Capitalism, erroneously called the Free Market (it is not the Market, that is free, but the Person), but the darker sides of the stage before, the Market of Privileged pre Modern Society, where the Person had to be privileged to even get to the Market. As someone remarked at a House of Knights debate on the abolition of Guilds, “Now, if a poor woman sells her only cow at the market, what’s the point? How is this conceivably good?”

To be continued...

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Sunday, 28 September 2008 at 6:49am BST

So the Market is not in itself “Free”, it’s the focus on the individual as Person, which makes it so. The Church might approve of this. Yet, one of the characteristics of Capitalism is to rid us of the personal bonds of Paternalism; Master – Serf. Under Capitalism, we are innumerably connected in im-personal ways to each other, by way of the Coin.

When at the school of Commerce Keynesianism was still very much the thing. We had one (1) small book, rather a booklet, representing novel Monetarianism, called “Pengar”; “Money”. It was written by a pair: a Mr and Mrs Jonung. We quickly called the book “Pengar, Pengar”.

We don’t want *that* thing here! the teachers said when they mentioned it.

But it is Monetarianism and the Chicago School that has won the day. Since, profits have not been for productive investment, but for Greed. Industry has been “out-sourced” – a word that didn’t exist. Neither did such things as “hedge fund”, “short-selling” or “sub-prime”. The economy since a quarter of a century has become Speculation upon Speculation, it has become more abstract, not less, accomplishing a life of its own...

And Slavery has re-surfaced surprisingly in its many varied forms as a Global problem; a Hydra, as in Antiquity. In Modernity we never thought of – or even remembered prostitution/sex trade as one of its forms.

But, as I understand it, it’s not “the Market” which is at fault. The Market hasn’t got a life of its own. We are wrong to think so. It can be used/abused for good as well as for bad – like everything. Maybe the trouble lies in forgetting this ancient truth.

So, as for anything, there must be “checks and balances” for it not to be destructive. Precisely what has been eliminated in the present euphoria of Speculation upon Speculation.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Sunday, 28 September 2008 at 6:51am BST

"In Modernity we never thought of – or even remembered prostitution/sex trade as one of [slavery's] forms."

Not completely accurate. Since the 19th century, English has had the now un-PC term "white slavery" to describe forced prostitution.

Posted by BillyD at Sunday, 28 September 2008 at 10:37pm BST

Well Billy D, you are quite right in that "white slavery" for Harems has been a theme in certain despised press...

But my point was that has not been understood properly as one of the many forms of Slavery until lately, but rather as a form of kidnapping/folk lore; in Sheik romances and maybe some films of the Valentino genre.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Monday, 29 September 2008 at 7:25am BST

I have just, coincidentally, finished reading 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' by Robert Tressell. It was written between 1906-1910, and finally published in 1914. Of course, 'things have changed' and we all know that Socialism 'doesn't work' with the end of the Cold War, but it's interesting that one of the points that Tressell made about 100 years ago has cropped up again recently - the difference in lifespan between the working classes and the middle classes, which Tressell set at some 20 years. Just a few weeks ago, there was this news:

In some cases now, lifespan is *on average* nearly 30 years less for those in lower social groups compared to their middle-class peers.

I am pleased that there's now at least a way of expressing the old term 'Class War' on the back of this - class as a factor is no longer being denied, since we can apparently speak of 'social injustice'.

Is the market to blame? Is it the result of a feckless mindset amongst the underclass? Tressell struggled with these questions but despite being critical of the working class mentality he encountered, the equation is pretty straightforward - the 'money trick' and private ownership were seen as the root cause of the problems. This may appear to be simplistic to some but what, essentially, is different in the way the economy is run today?

The book is also an eye-opener in a way regarding the current debate between faith and science, and the indifference and hostility of the 'lower orders' towards the Church; the enlightened working man in Tressell's day would choose science over religion, since not only would science be more likely to help improve his lot materially, but it would also hopefully help to destroy intellectually the 'Christian' faith, whose middle-class proponents' sanctimonious hypocrisy helped to keep the system going that created the 'deserving cases' upon which the 'Christians' could lavish 'Charity'. Note however that Tressell often has good things to say about the 'Humble Carpenter of Nazareth'

It's a good read, all round.

Posted by orfanum at Monday, 29 September 2008 at 9:59am BST
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