Thought for the Week (Archive)
So much for the deficit – What’s it really all about? (12/04/2010)
With the election in full swing the arguments about the government's deficit and public spending have been intensifying. Whilst the politicians argue about whether we should cut spending now or later and what the effects will be, there is a bigger question that the economic crisis has raised that they don't address. That question is: ‘What's the economy for?'
At the moment we are allowing ourselves to be driven by economics. Everything we do is driven by anxiety about numbers and by those who claim to control finance. Instead we need to say economics and finance are tools for enabling people to live, not something that controls our lives.
We then need to ask the question: ‘What is life for?' Is it for work, to be on a treadmill to produce things, as in the past? Is it for us to be consumers, to continually fulfil our wants and make some people very rich, as seems to be the case at present? And what about the cost in the quality of our life and the degradation of the environment, God's creation?
John Maynard Keynes, the British economist whose theories got us out of the depression of the 1930s, thought economics should be to enable us to lead a good life. By this he meant that we should have enough to live on to be able to lead a cultured and leisured life, which may sound rather dated to us today. But at what point should we feel we have sufficient and that we are satisfying wants rather than needs? And what do we, as Christians, have to say in terms that connect with our present age about what life should be for - about ethics rather than morals, about purposes rather than actions?
The Archbishop of Canterbury, in a speech last autumn, said that we need to adjust the place of work in our society so that there is a better balance with the needs of families and parenting for the sake of children's emotional security; we need to look to ways of enlarging people's minds and feelings; we need to increase our understanding and sympathy for others rather than being focussed on our individual self-interest. This is a way of making us what he calls ‘three dimensional human beings'. For him, emotional security is a reflection of the unconditional love of God for us; enlarging our minds and feelings reflects the world we live in being rooted in an infinite life, and human mutuality connects with the Christian belief that we are all dependant on one another's gifts. He also says that as we put increasing pressure on our finite natural resources we need to discover ways in which we can have prosperity without growth - the title of a report by the Sustainable Development Commission.
My challenge to politicians would be for them to look beyond the present, urgent though some of the problems may be, and ask them what they think about the really important questions that will shape the future. Are they trapped in the present economic model or are they able to work with us all as citizens to find a way that is more sustainable for us as people and for our planet?
Phillip Jones, Team Leader,
Faith at Work in Worcestershire