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Leader: Restoring a human scale to the City

09 November 2011

THERE are perhaps other interpretations, but it is reassuring that 76 per cent of the bankers interviewed for the St Paul’s Institute do not think that they should listen more to the guidance of the Church. Had they thought otherwise, and the present injustices of the City been practised by sermon-listening citizens, it would have pointed to a much more fundamental problem than the Church’s being just a bit feeble at putting its arguments across. Now, at least, its task is clear: to develop the sort of knowledge that professionals in the financial sector will respect, and use it to argue the case for the imposition of the checks and balances that will bring the City back in touch with some sort of moral code.

The problem will be to find allies. There might be some in the City, but, even when 51 per cent of those surveyed thought that deregulation had led to less ethical behaviour in the financial markets, 82 per cent asserted that their own firm maintained high ethical standards.

Neither will it be easy to find allies in the Government. For one thing, many in the present Cabinet have links with City firms; for another, the Government has come to rely on the tax revenue from those risk-taking transactions that it ought to curb.

Proponents of the free market are notoriously hard to convince that any sort of regulation is beneficial; but the teetering economies of Greece and Italy have made the need for greater accountability obvious to everyone. And if the common good is not enough to convince the banks, then their own good ought to be. One of the paradoxes of the 2008 crash was that the state, in order to fulfil its function of protecting its vulnerable citizens, was forced to protect institutions which had come to treat the citizens with indifference. The scandal that brought the tents to St Paul’s is that, after state help, those institutions have been allowed to carry on essentially as before.

The Church, knowing how deeply it is involved in the financial markets, is reluctant to blame anyone. It prefers to criticise the system. But this chokes off both its prophetic and its pastoral voice. The St Paul’s survey is a reminder that the City is populated by individuals, for whom making money is their chief object. They are not unique in this, of course, but their very success puts them at greater spiritual risk, if the scriptures are taken seriously. They might have resisted spiritual regulation so far, but they remain the Church’s responsibility. No one is suggesting that the Church take the lead in reforming the City, but there is much that it can do to humanise it.

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