Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Economics is too important to be left to economists’.
But the Archbishop of Canterbury has said something quite interesting (yes, indeed) which rather merits some priority attention.
And his matter is not unrelated to Gordon Brown’s capitulation or his refusal to admit (until yesterday) that cuts would indeed be necessary to restore the nation’s finances.
It is not, of course, that Dr Williams does not say interesting things, but they are often so obscured by complex and subtle sub-clauses that the necessary simple and unsubtle ‘soundbite’ is difficult, if not impossible, to elicit. And so he never makes the front page of the tabloids or lead a BBC news item, for what he says is generally irreducible and inaccessible. And when his thesis is occasionally summed up in a few words, it is such a distortion of his meaning and intention that it is virtually impossible for him ever to be treated fairly by a media which has all the subtlety, finesse and taste of instant mashed potato.
The Archbishop has said he fears financiers feel no ‘repentance’ for the excesses which led to the economic collapse.
Repentance is a most interesting word for anyone to use in the media, for it smacks of puritanical misery, racks of guilt, cruel discipline and flagellation.
And these are so passé.
He is, of course, quite right. But Cranmer warned a year ago that the Government bailout of the failing banks simply yields ‘moral hazard’, as the party insulated from risk behaves differently from the way it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk.
And the Archbishop simply reminds us that when we do not bear the consequences of our actions, there is a consequent false sense of security which stems from a delusion of confidence that we are immune and untouchable. And so we become indifferent and complacent.
Why bother with condoms when you can get an abortion for free?
Why should one need to repent when one has not been forced to confront one’s sin? If one is absolved by the Government, what need the forgiveness of God? Why should one reform what is ultimately shielded from the need to change?
Dr Williams is a theologian entering the realm of economics in exactly the same way as Pope Benedict did with his recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate. And, compared to the weighty tome of His Holiness, the Archbishop of Canterbury has, at last, learnt to communicate in the vernacular.
That is why he has made the BBC. Indeed, he is all over the place.
Thus does he call directly for a cap on bankers’ bonuses. He warns that the gap between rich and poor would lead to an increasingly dysfunctional society. He also said that the crisis was a lesson that ‘economics is too important to be left to economists’.
The Prime Minister ought to understand this, for he is equally persuaded that theology is too important to be left to the theologians. And so he perpetually talks of his ‘moral compass’ or preaches that ‘markets need morals’.
Of course economics should not be the preserve merely of the economists, not least because they are frequently as wrong in their economics as the theologians are in their theology. There is indeed room for ‘awkward amateurs’ in all walks of life.
God knows No.10 has been occupied by one for the past two years (and No.11 for a decade before that).
Dr Williams bemoans the lack of ‘closure’ on the events of last year, the effects of which the world is still enduring, and will for some years to come. He said: "There hasn't been what I would, as a Christian, call repentance. We haven't heard people saying 'well actually, no, we got it wrong and the whole fundamental principle on which we worked was unreal, was empty'."
And he identifies the precise reason for this: "It's a failure to name what was wrong. To name that, what I called last year 'idolatry', that projecting (of) reality and substance onto things that don't have them."
But the failure to name what was wrong requires an admission of error, of culpability, of guilt.
And why should one so debase and humiliate oneself when one has been rescued, redeemed and rewarded for one’s failure?
The bankers are simply following the example set by the politicians, who never seem to name what was wrong with their policies and programmes, and are perceived to be incapable of repentance as they are increasingly shielded from the final judgement of the ballot box.
Perhaps politics is too important to be left to the politicians.