Friday, April 18, 2014

Dr Peter Selby on money reform. London Occupy reaches Winchester. Malcolm Brown, Michael Northcott, Richard Werner

Two years after Tent City was dismantled from around St Paul's in London the ripples of Occupy London reached Winchester last week (9th April) when ex-Bishop Peter Selby delivered a paper 'An alternative to Chaos and Fear' that cut to a core problem of capitalism. This was at the Futures of Capitalism conference at the Business School of the University of Winchester, Hampshire.

Dr Selby said that what guides the religious life stems from God's own character and the outflow from that to society is mercy and justice. The religious tradition is that life is not a gamble, but as a result of a departure from faith which the structure of capitalism represents, the current view is that life is indeed a gamble and its effects are random. We have given ourselves over to the rule of money and allowed it to be given sovereign power over life - that is, to be an idol - with appalling effects on the vulnerable. William Cowper who campaigned against slavery in the 18th century was shocked at the purchase of people as slaves and found it to be wrong in principle and not merely an inconvenient way to have access to sugar and rum. Dr Selby finds that capitalism with its supposed 'free market' as we know it, is also morally wrong, and is not something to be endured and merely in need of being changed at the edges. It is unacceptable. He said that whilst the East German command economy failed it did contain some good ideas that started with concern for the poor. He referred to Psalm 82 with its exposure of favouritism to the unjust and its exhortation to prioritise the needs of the oppressed, the weak and the poor.  

He majored on the creation of money of which 99% is now made by private banks and 1% by the government. Historically it was the sole right of the sovereign to make the full 100%. He compared this with the right of the state alone to have an army - why is money so different today? With banks now having the power of money creation they have power over life, and overrule elected governments. International financial power is sovereign without frontiers, and nation states have less and less control under that empire. Thus is the creation of money the root of the capitalist problem.  Jesus said that the kings of the world lord it over others but that was not to be the way of his kingdom. God's love is to be shared to the ends of the earth bringing inclusion and law. Those who profess faith should: ' rediscover the expression of faith in God as one who offers a different economy, specifically one who replaces chaos and fear with mercy as the guiding economic reality'Dr Selby wants the churches to find ways to bring fairness.

He said that the idea that cuts in welfare to the vulnerable are necessary to prevent dependency, whilst more money for the rich through tax cuts will encourage the rich to work harder, is a crass lie and such untruths must be exposed. Another falsehood is that the power of the wealthy is the key to a reasonable standard of life for all. During the discussion he cited a case where a large donation from The Big Lottery required that it must be permanently commemorated by a fixed plaque.  Whilst such a demand brings 'gratitude in perpetuity' to The Big Lottery as an organisation, the truth behind that system is the fact that the poorest are the biggest buyers of lottery tickets. 

Rev Dr Malcolm Brown who at Church House, Westminster is the Director of Mission and Public Affairs (CofE) gave a response to the talk which he said was a prophetic voice, and asked how it should affect our conversation with policymakers? He spoke of the tension between moral principles and economics, between the coming of the Holy Spirit in the past and the full incoming Kingdom of God at some time in the future and having to live in a sinful world meanwhile.  Illustrating the current scene he referred to Charles Clore's bid for Sears in 1953 as a shock to the city establishment culture, and likened it to a person standing up on the front row of a seated crowd to gain a slightly better view, thus forcing everyone else to stand and become slightly worse off with no compensating gains. But how do you legislate between altruism and selfishness? He spoke of the campaign he was involved in (when a Southampton vicar) that banned Sunday trading - they defeated the Thatcher government - but which is now being challenged. On the current issue of capitalism he thought the only way is to engender a new moral consensus, otherwise the only alternative to free markets is authoritarianism. How do we resolve between the 'society of the strongest' and 'the community of communities'? The moral argument can be seen by those who disagree as toxic. He said that banks are a contradiction in a market system whereas credit unions are robust.  

Professor Michael Northcott agreed that the private creation of credit is a core problem and combined with the market principle it brings money supply chaos. Professor Richard Werner said that the last 50 years of economics used the wrong postulates and axioms and when its supposed aim of achieving a  'Utopian dream world' is attempted by governments, unsurprisingly it fails. As to the Dr Brown's search for a moral consensus he said we already have one! When people are asked if they would agree to a fraudulent money system based on fictional deposits (i.e. the current fractional reserve banking system as it is) they say they would not support such a thing. He asked Dr Brown if he agreed that money creation should be in the public domain? Answer: Yes.

I asked Dr Brown about his view that apart from a new consensus, the only alternative to markets is authoritarianism, in that we at Local First CIC in Winchester are pioneering a community bank which will be a full-licence bank, raising profits for the common good.  As a response to the failure of the capitalist model it is not in any way a product of authoritarianism!  Dr Brown had no problem with the vision - but who decides ultimately, who controls it?

It seemed to me that an answer to Dr Brown's worries are in Dr Selby's appeal for the churches to give a lead and at least dare to support such pioneering efforts.  After all as a vicar he gave support to stopping Sunday shop opening in 1986, why not now, as an elevated church leader give support to community banks in 2014?  

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