Welby walks into the C4 lions' den
The Archbishop of Canterbury was interviewed yesterday on Channel 4 News. Perhaps he was fatigued by the christening and his prior weighty lecture on business ethics, but there were some distinct 'rabbit in headlights' moments when it appeared that His Grace was trusting the Holy Spirit to give him the words, and inspiration came there none.
Jon Snow probed him on a number of socio-religio-political themes, from banking standards and wealth distribution to Ralph Miliband and the possible future religious beliefs of Prince George of Cambridge. He declined one question on economic policy, insisting it was "party political"; and demurred on the consequences of Prince George becoming a Buddhist with a "let's wait and see". If you walk voluntarily into the lion's den, bringing a tin of cat food is not adequate preparation.
Archbishop Justin says there is much work still to do to mitigate the potential social impact of any future financial crisis. "Even if the push-back does not win, we have not dealt with the 'too big to fail' or 'too big to manage', and there's a danger of not dealing with 'too big to rescue'." He did not appeal to 'Moral Hazard': he is a firm believer that corporate actions should have consequences.
UK economic growth is a good thing, and he is of the view that the benefits flowing from that growth should reach all corners of society: "Part of the problem we're facing is that where there are inequities, people don't really know how to deal with them. Politicians can't say that, but the reality is that a lot of people don't know the answer. I don't think we've found the answer, and you look across Europe or north America - Detroit would be a very good example - and it's clear it's not for lack of effort, it's perhaps for lack of understanding of how to change things."
He is right that politicians can't or won't admit to not having answers, but what, precisely, is the Church of England's solution? Inequity is endemic: the poor will always be with us. But punitive levels of taxation for wealth redistribution and expansion of the welfare state invariably deter enterprise and diminish philanthropy. You don't solve the struggle against generational deprivation by pledging to put Wonga out of business.
The Archbishop appears to have an aversion to Milton Friedman and an inclination toward collectivism, apparently oblivious to the fact that voluntary exchange yields benefits for both parties. Free-market economics has a place for non-market systems and values in order that it operate morally (and so effectively). Buyer and seller both derive gains from trade where competition prevails. We ameliorate the human condition and help to alleviate poverty by serving others in the supply of goods for which they choose to pay. The pursuit of self-interest is not antithetical to the common good of the wider community. Friedman's view was that you have to do good to do well: not that you must maximise profits at all costs. Entrepreneurs may seek riches, but it is the Church's task to change hearts in order that that wealth might enrich society far more.
And as for Prince George being a Buddhist king, well, the answer here was not: "He's perfectly entitled to be that and we'll cross that bridge if we ever get to it, who knows?" He is indeed perfectly free to be any faith he chooses: that is his human right. But should he decide to be Buddhist, Muslim or Roman Catholic, under our present Constitution he may not then be King. But to be King is not a human right: it is a role with responsibilities and constraints. As with Edward VIII, one either accepts the limitations of the office, or one defers to the next in line. It appears that Prince Charles may be preparing to do precisely that.
Archbishop Justin warned against what he termed a "bully pulpit". "A number of us... have the capacity to make comments, or structure interviews, or preach from a pulpit... We have to be very cautious about the use of that responsibility."
His (present) Grace is right to exercise caution; His (former) Grace paid a heavy price. Turbulent priests have a tendency to meet unseemly ends.