Archbishop challenged on fresh approach to economics and banking

Archbishop challenged on fresh approach to economics and banking

By staff writers
17 Sep 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, told the BBC yesterday that he fears all those involved in the financial system feel no "repentance" for the excesses which led to the recent economic collapse.

But the Church of England is also being challenged over its own investments and policies and encouraged to put its money where its mouth is on seeking alternatives.

Dr Rowan Williams said the government should have acted to cap bonuses and warned that the gap between rich and poor would lead to an increasingly "dysfunctional" society.

Gordon Brown is seeking an agreement on greater regulation of the global financial system at the forthcoming G20 summit in the US, but financial institutions and corporations are working hard to minimise the impact of this on their free-wheeling practices.

Dr Williams told BBC Two's 'Newsnight' television programme: "There hasn't been a feeling of closure about what happened last year. 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'."

When asked if he thought the City was returning to "business as usual" Dr Williams said: "I worry. I feel that's precisely what I call the 'lack of closure' coming home to roost. 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."

He declared that "economics is too important to be left to economists" and went to suggest there was a role for "awkward amateurs" in examining how the City operates.

He also appeared to accept that the church, amongst other institutions, was complicit in bringing about the financial crisis.

Dr Williams also said there was a sense of "diffused resentment, that people are somehow getting away with a culture in which the connection between the worth of what you do and the reward you get becomes more obscure."

He declared: "What we are looking at is the possibility of a society getting more and more dysfunctional if the levels of inequality that we have seen in the last couple of decades are not challenged."

The Archbishop's comments come after a centre left think-tank warned that the lessons of the economic crisis have not been learned.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said the rapid return to the City's bonus culture showed real reform has been "very limited".

US President Barack Obama has also warned of complacency in the banking sector.

Meanwhile, the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, have called for swift action to cap bankers' bonuses at next week's summit of leaders of the Group of 20 industrialised nations in Pittsburgh.

However, radical economists, most notably those associated with the 'Green New Deal' which calls for a major restructuring of domestic and global priorities to confront sustainability, say that the focus on bonuses can detract from more fundamental economic issues.

Questions have also been raised about the economic and investment policies of the Church of England of which Dr Williams is the head.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia commented: "Dr Williams' call for economics to be re-rooted in personal, social and ecological commitments and his reminder that the self-garnering mentality of the 'casino economy' does not appear to have changed significantly among those with key levers on the system, are welcome. However, faith leaders are also challenged to match their words to the actual behaviour of the institutions they head.

"The Church of England has substantial assets and the way these have been utilised and invested has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. In addition to general criticism of predominant economic attitudes and policies, it would be good to hear more from the Church concerning an alternative approach - how to put more of their own resources into human-centred economic activity that actively seeks to redress poverty, inequality and environmental destruction."

Earlier this year the think-tank published a research paper entitled 'Where is the Church of England's heart invested?' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/church_of_englands_investments

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