Morals and Money……

Morals and Money……

I thought this worth reading as world leaders gather today

in London

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Interview with Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme ahead of G20 summit

Tuesday 31 March 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams spoke with Jim Naughtie on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ program about the moral impact of the recession, ahead of the G20 summit in London. Listen to the interview & read the transcript.

Jim Naughtie:

Well as the G20 leaders start to arrive in London for their summit and the wrangling begins over the precise wording of the communique that they’ll issue when it’s over, what is the nature of their task? They want to get the banks lending obviously, help businesses to stabilise themselves. Hold out some hope that the recession may be shorter and not as deep as people have come to fear. But according to some there is a moral challenge too. It is a moment, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, to re-affirm commitments to the poorest people in the world and to give attention to the state of the planet that will be handed on to future generations. Dr Rowan Williams is with us, good morning Archbishop.

Archbishop of Canterbury:

Good morning

JN:

What is the nature of the moral challenge they face?

ABC:

Commitments have been made. The Millennium Development Goals I think provided a really important focus over the last few years for the responsibility of the developed nations to the less developed ones. This is no time to think of alibis for that because there is no economic problem that is just local in our world. We’ve already seen growth rates slowing down in Africa. It’s estimated that perhaps as many as over 50 million people could be in absolute poverty in the next few years – so I think that has to be at the top of the list this week.

JN:

Do you see any evidence that the leaders collectively are thinking in those terms?

ABC:

I hear quite a bit around the place from some individual leaders who seem to be very clear about this. The Prime Minister has said certain things about this, the Prime Minister of Australia has been very clear about it. I think that will be there in the discussion.

JN:

There’s a difficult question here about ‘recession’ isn’t there, because clearly the recession is going to be very bad for many people. People will lose their jobs, businesses will go down, people will find life more difficult. On the other hand, you seem to be among those who say ‘Well, yes that’s all true but it is a useful moment for reassessment’.

ABC:

I’m certainly not saying that this is just a wake-up call and we ought to be glad for the bracing message, not at all. People really are suffering and that’s a major problem. But if we can at least take the opportunity of saying ‘How did we get here? Is this a sensible way to run an economy – is this a sensible way to run a human race? That’s the fundamental question, and that’s why I’d also say with the other faith leaders who signed the letter to the G20 leaders that we can’t lose sight of the connection with the environmental issue as well. If, as someone said, the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, then again there’s no way of isolating the problem.

JN:

Do you think we’ve become too greedy?

ABC:

I think we’ve become very short sighted. Human beings are always greedy, that’s just par for the course. We have in the last decade or so, allowed ourselves to be lured into tunnel vision – we’ve not seen the signs of coming problems. We’ve thought that there are cost free and risk free kinds of investment, and we’ve wanted a kind of economy where we are so much in control that risk is minimised. The more we go on in that, the more we create these, what somebody called ‘virtual reality economic products’, and the more we lose touch with the actual limits of where we are in the world.

JN:

Do you fear that historically the chances are that once we get through this we’ll just go back in another cycle and there will be another bubble, maybe of the same sort, maybe of a different kind, but a bubble none the less – which in it’s time will burst. We’ll go through a period of hand wringing and introspection and then do the whole thing again.

ABC:

There’s always the risk of that, I think, and that is again part of the human condition. But from time to time it is important to take stock and to say ‘Well, can we at least minimise the damage that’s done to the most vulnerable people here and now, and for the foreseeable future’.

JN:

There’s another argument running through this, which is the one we heard from the parents of Jimmy Mizen – the boy who was killed in South London – in the studio the other day, and they talked, obviously, of their heartache. But they also spoke of a society which they thought had changed in their lifetimes, and that had become angrier, more violent, and more divisive in some kind of fundamental way, and was approaching a point from which they feared there mightn’t be a return to the kind of society that they would want to see. Do you share that alarm?

ABC:

I think they’ve put their finger on an anxiety that’s very widely felt, and to some extent I would share it. The sense that we’ve got a culture where the expression of immediate emotion, and the going with immediate instinct is the first thing. People don’t seem to be scrutinising their emotions, their desires in the way that one would like to think mature people do, very often. And the prevalence of casual violence in the streets, especially in the streets of this city, is certainly an aspect of that. I think we have somehow to recover a sense of what it is to be ‘a grown up’ almost, what it is to be able to look at ourselves with clarity. To value courage, fidelity – all those classical virtues, and rediscover something of what it is to be human.

JN:

We live in a moment where there is a great of cynicism around, particularly, let’s just take the issue of MPs pay – not in detail but as a question. A lot of people around Westminster say there may be something wrong with the allowances system, some people may have played the system in the wrong way, it does need to be cleaned up but the cynicism that it engenders – perhaps for some good reasons, is really corrosive in the long term.

ABC:

I agree entirely. I think cynicism is one of the worst things that can afflict a society. Scepticism, the capacity to ask tough questions and not allow people to get away with things is healthy in a society. Cynicism, which simply assumes the worst and assumes that there’s nothing you can do about it except throw blame around in an endless kind of ‘paint-balling riot’ – that’s no use to anybody.

JN:

Which brings a last question to mind: Do people still listen to an Archbishop of Canterbury?

ABC:

Occasionally – they don’t always agree with him

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