Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Showing there is an alternative - while we work out what it is

The great John Gray weighed into the debate over the future of our current form of capitalism in yesterday's guardian. The former LSE professor and author of False Dawn, among a slew of other prescient works, suggests that the protesters outside St Paul's Cathedral - and camped in other cities across the globe - are engaging with reality somewhat more effectively than our political leaders who remain in thrall to 'a defunct market utopia'.

It's hard to disagree. He points out that the calamity facing the Eurozone - with French bond yields now twice those of Germany and edging closer to the danger zone - is mainly because political leaders have no idea what to do. Unlike previous global crises of the same magnitude - and there haven't been that many - there is no global institution with sufficient cash and clout to sort out the mess - by knocking heads together if necessary.

Some people suggest, of course, that the markets over which governments have no control, are the ultimate expression of democracy, millions of individual investors exercising their choices through buy and sell orders. This is self-serving rot trotted out by brokers and politicians in thrall to their every whim.I might have a pension with a provider who bundles lots of pensions together and buys and sells on world financial markets, but I have no effective say in those buying and selling decisions. All I can do is vote for governments whose sovereignty is severely compromised by the operation of the markets. Every time I hear the Chancellor say that our economic policies are keeping the markets happy, I know that the UK's austerity workout is dictated by people I am not offered a chance to elect.

Gray argues that Europe's elites 'have yet to face the fact that radical change is unavoidable'. This is because they remain in thrall to a busted market utopia. The question is what kind of radical change is needed? And I come back to what I talked about last week - that at root this is a moral not an economic crisis. Gordon Gecko said greed is good in the film Wall Street but Paul points out that greed is idolatry and idolatry always brings calamity on its practitioners. So the radical change needed? Groups of Jesus followers taking him at his word and showing by their actions that it is possible to live in a way where our actions are not driven by greed but by generosity, not by hubris but humility. If as followers of Jesus we can learn to be content and live out of that contentment, we might show our neighbours that there is an alternative.

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