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.