The misdirected folly of Occupy London
Apparently there has been some protest over the past month to occupy Wall Street which is being replicated in all the major cities of the world throughout Asia, Europe, the United States and Canada. Demonstrations have been held in Rome, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Lisbon, Madrid, Stockholm, Athens, Auckland, Wellington, Sydney, Tokyo, Manila, Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, Washington, Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver... altogether, some 80 cities and centres of finance have seen tens of thousands of protesters descend upon them, angered by the billions of their dollars/euros/yen/pounds being doled out to bail out the banks during a time of recession, unemployment and job insecurity.
But the best laid plan of the London contingent was to occupy the Stock Exchange, and it all went a bit wrong. Unfortunately (if not unsurprisingly), they were refused access the Stock Exchange, so they occupied St Paul’s Cathedral instead, which is just next door. There they were welcomed by the very accommodating left-leaning Canon Giles Fraser, who ushered away the police from the Cathedral steps so he could divide his loaves and fishes and feed the confused hordes.
Are these people stupid?
By all means, demonstrate and shout your rage at the politicians and bankers. But if buildings must be occupied (which appears to be the nature of the campaign), the targets in London must surely be the Palace of Westminster and the Bank of England. For it is there that they will find those who are responsible for ruining the economy and condemning millions to hardship through greed and bad government. It is the banks who borrowed from banks who borrowed from banks who lent out Monopoly money, all with the manifest consent of Parliament. If you want politicians to be accountable to the people instead of to quangos and the big multinational corporations, you won’t bring it about by picking on the poor Stock Exchange.
Capitalism has it faults and moral flaws, but ultimately it is concerned with the liberty of the individual and the free society. Its spirit is intrinsically democratic; its ethic is non-authoritarian. The moment you rail against capitalism and economic liberty, you usher in tyranny, despotism, absolutism, totalitarianism and dictatorship. Political authoritarianism within capitalism is authority without democracy, which leads to social unfreedom and cultural illiberty. The Stock Exchange instinctively eschews constraint and coercion, and seeks to create the wealth to improve standards of living and alleviate poverty. That is the theory. If, in practice, it does not always work – principally because of the tensions in the nature of man – it is not beyond the wit of man to devise a socio-cultural-economic framework which permits self-reflection and encourages charity. It is entirely possible to inspire an ethic which exhorts individual responsibility and unashamedly exalts the type of social capitalism that can only be achieved through the nation state, accountability, and democracy. Of course, there are tensions between the market and morality, and between the citizen and the state, but these are not the fault of the Stock Exchange.
Caring for widows and orphans, feeding the starving, and clothing the naked, are at the very heart of the Christian vocation. It is incumbent upon a righteous government to alleviate poverty and suffering, and that requires economic growth and wealth creation. Yes, let us protest against the economic morass into which we are sinking. But let us not do it in accordance with the religio-political precepts of the Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser, who seems content to suffer the blasphemous misrepresentation of the Lord upon the steps of the House of God. One wonders if he would have been so generously accommodating of those who took part in the Rally against Debt, or whether he would have insisted that the police do their job in time for Sunday's Matins.