RESPONSIBILITY for the present financial crisis does not rest solely with bankers, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a lecture in Cardiff on Saturday.
“It is a little too easy to blame the present situation on an accumulation of individual greed, exemplified by bankers or brokers, and to lose sight of the fact that governments committed to deregulation and to the encouragement of speculation and high personal borrowing were elected repeatedly in Britain and the United States for a crucial couple of decades. . . We are left with the question of what it was that skewed the judgement of a whole society, as well as of financial professionals.”
In his lecture, Dr Williams dismantled capitalism into its constituent parts, finding an element of ethical purpose at its centre in the way it sought to limit risk and share wealth. Present-day capitalism, however, had lost sight of these principles, not least the links between money and labour, and power and powerlessness.
Successive governments colluded with the concept of reducing financial risk for the people and increasing choice: “Government rests its legitimacy upon its capacity to satisfy consumer demands and maximise choices.”
Two essential elements of capitalism — the handling of risk, and the husbanding of finite resources — had been forgotten in recent years, Dr Williams suggested. Investments in financial services helped to “foster the illusion that the money market is effectively risk-free”.
Dr Williams argued strongly that an ethical economy had necessarily to be a global one. This was highlighted by the harmful consequences of protectionism, “one of the most effective ways to freeze developing economies in a state of perpetual disadvantage. . .
“Morally, protectionism implicitly accepts that wealth maintained at the cost of the neighbour’s disadvantage — or worse — is a tolerable situation, which is a denial of the belief that what is good for humanity is ultimately coherent or convergent.”
Implicit in a global perspective was care for the planet. “There needs to be a robust rebuttal of any idea that environmental concerns are somehow a side issue, or even a luxury in a time of economic pressure.”
Dr Williams concluded by questioning the “unexamined” goal of growth. “Growth out of poverty” was a manifestly good and ethically serious goal. But “a goal of growth simply as an indefinite expansion of purchasing power is either vacuous or malign — malign to the extent that it inevitably implies the diminution of the capacity of others in a world of limited resource.”