Catherine Parish: What if the economy was run ethically

20 Nov 2008

By therecord

budget_green.jpgNow, I am no economist, but I do still believe that you shouldn’t spend
it if you haven’t got it. There is so much everywhere at the moment
about the global financial crisis, and although we in Australia are
cushioned to a great degree from the worst effects, it gives pause for
thought. How did it come to this?
Its quite amusing to hear many trumpeting gleefully about the demise of capitalism and the failure of the free market economy, while hearing Marx’s name, that we might have thought was at last decently buried where it belonged in the unregretted vault of history’s ghastly mistakes, mentioned in relation to fixing this problem.
But it seems to me that it is not the failure of the free market economy that is a root cause here, but rather, as is usually the case, the irresponsible risk-taking behaviour of those who ought to know better.
Those who are in the position to manipulate the various markets have to be trustworthy; unfortunately if their own integrity can’t be relied on, some wise external regulation is necessary.
This current crisis is illustrative of the fact that once regulatory restraints are removed, as they were in the USA about ten years ago, the same financial chaos will eventually ensue.
But this is an old problem, much older than the modern global economy – as old as the human race really. It is always instructive at these times of difficulty to go back to the Scriptures, replete as they are with tales of human fallibility and its consequences.
There is usually an answer there to the woes we bring on ourselves by our weakness and greed.
Ah, yes, and sure enough, in Luke 3:11-14 we find John the Baptist, answering those who ask him how they can prepare for the coming of the Lord: “(To everyone) whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise… (to tax collectors) collect no more than the amount prescribed for you … (to soldiers) do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
So fiscal shonkiness is an old human failing, obviously, as rampant and scandalous then as now.
And here’s an interesting thing: the changes in the actions of individuals that John exhorts will not only put them right in the eyes of God, they will also make life better for those around them. He is in no way decrying or condemning wealth; only what people do with wealth or in pursuit of it.
Our Lord repeats the message – use wealth here to amass treasure in Heaven by doing good works. Not, prosperity is bad – but selfish greed and dishonesty are bad.
The parable of the rich fool who amassed more and more simply because he could and used none of it in helping those less fortunate does not say riches are wicked – it says the man who refused to relieve his neighbour’s distress was wicked.
It is never wealth or poverty or even social justice that is the target of Our Lord’s teachings.
He is telling us always how to get to Heaven. But He never forces, and as freedom is hallmark of His teachings, so it should be in the world.
It seems to me that the economic choices that reflect a Christian outlook are also the soundest from a worldly point of view. But any real economist out there please feel free to correct me.