20 October 2014, The Tablet

Politicians and policy-makers see economic solutions in CST

Politicians have backed a Catholic approach to tackling the global economic crisis, as the Archbishop of Canterbury invited young bankers to spend a year praying with him at Lambeth Palace to form them for life in the City.

An essay that argues Catholic Social Teaching (CST) can identify and solve the problems behind the 2008 crash, by author and Tablet columnist Clifford Longley, was welcomed by MPs including Jesse Norman and Jon Cruddas, as well as Blue Labour founder Lord Maurice Glasman.

In “Just Money”, commissioned by the think tank, Theos, Longley calls neo-liberalism “a false ideology that has to be confronted in the name of humanity itself”. It underpins a flawed system that prioritises shareholder profit, he argues, and is undermined by personal greed and unscrupulous behaviour.

As an alternative, CST would make the economic system answer to the common good by prioritising respect for human dignity, workers’ rights and the poor.

Mr Norman, the Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, said the report convincingly showed how market fundamentalism undermined civil society.

Senior policy makers said that ideas contained within CST would influence parties’ manifestos ahead of the 2015 General Election.

Mr Cruddas, Labour’s policy review head, called the report very significant, saying: “This space is a key one for the future of politics.” Meanwhile Jo Johnson MP, chairman of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board, called the document “an important contribution to a vital debate”.

Tim Livesey, chief of staff to Labour leader Ed Miliband, told The Tablet that there was no doubt that politicians and policy makers from across the spectrum were wrestling with some of the underlying principles and challenges proposed by CST.

“I think the question is not so much whether people understand the importance of there being a moral underpinning to our economy and of achieving greater fairness and equality in the way it works. The question is how we embed real and sustainable change that benefits everyone and not just a few at the top.” said Mr Livesey.

But Philip Booth, head of the Institute for Economic Affairs, a free-market think tank, said it was “bizarre” to accuse the banks of operating within a neo-liberal framework.

“It is not an accurate description of the views of those who believe in a market economy to argue that they do not believe in moral restraint and trust,” said Mr Booth. “I welcome the focus on the importance of trust in markets but not the straw man that is erected of so-called neo-liberal economics.”

Meanwhile principles expounded by CST were debated at an International Monetary Fund (IMF) seminar on ethics and finance in Washington D.C. last weekend.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told a panel that included IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, both Catholics, that the Churches could help rebuild the economy by providing bankers with opportunities for self-examination and refection.

Noting that a decline of religion among people in business and commerce had resulted in a dangerous lack of sense of internal responsibility, the archbishop invited young bankers to join a new monastic community he has founded at Lambeth Palace in London.

The Community of St Anselm, for 20-35 year olds, would be “uncomfortable, demanding and rigorous”, he said, adding that the Benedictine, Ignatian and Franciscan rules upon which it was founded would shape them internally.

“As an organisation the Church can make a difference. [We can] set a pattern that reboots the inner value system,” said Archbishop Welby.

Echoing CST, Mr Carney blamed the “disembodiment of finance” for the 2008 crash, saying: “[We] need to rebuild or transmit across institutions a sense of vocation, a sense of being part of the system, of being custodians of system. Ultimately finance is an intermediary: that sense that is lost when finance becomes disembodied.”

He called for a restored sense of personal responsibility among managers and boards of directors.

Ms Legarde said that a reformed economic order must avoid “committing the same sin” of building a system so obscure people could hide behind it.

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