Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rethinking capitalism across the pond

Whatever else he may be, Prime Minister Gordon Brown (son of a Church of Scotland minister) is a deeply moral thinker about the capitalist system. The Sunday New York Times (March 29) reported that when he feels most free to speak, as in Strasbourg a few weeks ago, he focuses on the demons that detractors believe are inherent in the capitalist system. Europe, he told legislators, had learned the truth that "riches are of value only when they enrich not just some communities, but all...As we have discovered to our cost, the problem of unbridled free markets in an unsupervised marketplace is that they can reduce all relationships to transactions, all motivations to self-interest, all sense of value to consumer choice and all sense of worth to a price tag."

Today the BBC reported something Mr. Brown said this morning (haven't been able to find the exact quote online yet) to the effect that we cannot look to capitalism to create ethics and values, but that capitalism had to be built on the values of the heart.

In an article last September, when the global financial crisis was exploding, the Times ran an article "Criticizing Capitalism From the Pulpit," about the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York. Rowan Williams (Canterbury) had written that week in The Spectator that placing too much trust in the market had become a kind of “idolatry.” At the same time, he reminded readers of Karl Marx's criticism of laissez-faire capitalism, noting, “He was right about that, if about little else.”

John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, was even less circumspect than Canterbury in criticizing hedge funds that had sold short the shares of a British bank, HBOS, forcing it in an emergency sale to a rival, Lloyds TSB. They were “clearly bank robbers and asset strippers,” he said in a speech on Sept. 22.