Moments from life at IBTS,  Theological musings/personal reflections

Unethical free-market economics

From time to time it is good to expose yourself to ideas outside normal parameters. On Thursday we had an informal seminar with David Cowan, formerly on the staff of the World Bank. He gained his Master of Theology at Regent’s Park Baptist College in Oxford University and is now working on a doctorate at St. Andrew’s University. He has written a book on Economic Parables (Paternoster).

David expounded the view that free market capitalism is the only appropriate form of economic system given that, in his view, communism and socialism have both failed. He also asserted capitalism worked best with the minimum of regulation by the State. He further argued that Fairtrading initiatives are also counter the market and useless as a way of really assisting the poor in the two-thirds world.

Well, the assembled community of faculty, doctoral students, master’s students and sabbatical colleagues were not convinced. The thesis, as expounded, seemed to imply Christianity was entirely an individualistic matter and that the inter-action of the markets would self-regulate. A certain incredulity ensued in the contemporary environment when minimal regulation has led to the collapse of countless banks and building societies, yet seen CEO’s walk away with massive personal bonuses – avarice, greed, lack of care for their investors and savers seem only to show how individualism and rampant capitalism lead us into recession, if not a new global depression.

Those present came away with a stronger commitment to life needing community practices and a view that capitalism itself may have a tendency to destroy society and community, unless regulated from a strong ethical communal base.

It made me think again about how the church used to worry about usury, following on Jewish insights and the Old Testament expounding of Jubilee. Am I wrong, or wasn’t it dear old Jean (John) Calvin who “rescued” Protestantism from this anxiety? Is it all his fault that Northern Rock, Bradford and Bingley, HBOS and RBS are all in their present mess?

David, thank you for the stimulation! Saturday morning I went out and bought as many fair-trade products as possible and switched my limited savings to the Co-operative Bank because of its ethical policy.

– Keith

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