Capitalism primer is published

09 November 2011

by Ed Thornton

THE Mission and Public Affairs division of the Archbishops’ Council has produced a reflection on capital­ism, in the light of the Occupy pro­tests.

The paper, published on Monday, includes “some preliminary thoughts to guide ethical and theological re­flection”, and suggests further read­ing. It carries the names of the division’s chairman, Dr Philip Gid­dings, and its director, the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown.

The paper states: “The recent events surrounding the Occupy pro­test camp in the City of London, and its impact on the life of St Paul’s Cathedral, has led to many sharp questions about the Church of Eng­land’s view of capitalism and about how Christian ethics engages with economic issues.

“To ask whether the Church is for or against capitalism is to pose the question too starkly — there are many capitalisms and a number of ways to analyse it theologically.”

The document compares the Oc­cupy protesters, who “have been accused of having no alternative pro­gramme”, to Old Testament prophets, “whose message was to point to the vast gap between what the nation said it believed and the abuses which, in practice, it allowed”.

The authors are sceptical about a wholesale attempt to replace capital­ism. They say, however, that: “The existence of different kinds of capitalism worldwide, coupled with the lack of credible alternative eco­nomic models, suggests that focus of debate must be about the relative moral strengths of the different kinds of capitalism and about how capitalism is practised.”

The report warns that “Christian theology does not offer a definitive account of how an economy should be ordered. . . One cannot use the Bible and Christian tradition to ‘read off’ a model for the perfect economic system.” But, it says, scripture and tradition “point towards the ends which a good economy ought to pursue”.

It encourages a reassessment of “goods” that the market does not value: “the atmosphere we breathe, the beauty of a view”. And it warns that God’s view appears to be at odds with the present market forces: “The overwhelming message of both the Old and New Testament is that a society is judged by its treatment of the most vulnerable, that their con­di­tion is threatened by greed and the rapacious pursuit of wealth, and that the possession of great wealth is spiritually risky.

“All the virtues that an economic model might possess are of little account, in any Christian assess­ment, if these basic insights are neglected or contradicted.”

Acknowledging that “the Churches are deeply implicated in the struc­tures of capitalism,” it argues that this does not make “any church criticisms of capitalism illegitimate . . . since few, if any, are entirely outside its reach.

“Because the important argu­ments are not about capitalism versus some other system, but about the relative merits of different modes of capitalism, criticism from within is entirely legitimate.”

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