Britain has emerged from recession with a stronger economy than other European countries. There is once again economic growth, but optimism is somewhat muted by a widening gap between rich and poor. The wealthy are enjoying increased prosperity and those on lower incomes are being left behind.
That is the picture painted last Wednesday by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in his landmark speech on ‘The Good Economy’. As a former business executive who worked in the oil industry for more than a decade, he speaks with particular authority on economic issues.
He acknowledges that market capitalism is an ‘extraordinarily efficient’ means of wealth distribution and liberator of human creativity, and that the alternatives ‘have always led to inhumanity or even tyranny’. But he explains that it too easily accommodates human greed and needs to be reconciled with social justice.
Welby’s ideas are familiar to those who have studied Catholic social teaching, particularly his definition of the ‘Good Economy’ as one that is based on the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity requires economic decisions that directly enhance the creativity and well-being of human beings. This contrasts with the Thatcherite policies of conservative governments in the UK and Australia, which are unashamedly pro-business with the claim that they will create more jobs and everybody will benefit in the long run.
The Archbishop says there is ‘a possibility, a great potential, for wealth to act as life-giving water, spreading through all the channels of our economy’, but wealth needs to go hand in hand with a narrative of gratuity, solidarity and subsidiarity that is ‘creative, generous, imaginative, responsible and communal’.
In making the point that a Good Economy is one in which everybody including the marginalised has a role to play, he refers to a speech that was delivered in the House of Lords last month by Jean Vanier, the esteemed founder of the L’Arche communities for the intellectually disabled.
‘We see there that sense that he has that those who the world sees as weak, through their disabilities, are those who can bring hope and strength in a lived out community.’
The context of Welby’s speech is a divided Britain that is preparing for a general election. London and the South East are forging ahead, but much of the rest of the country is still ‘trapped in apparently inevitable decline’. Prosperity belongs to a few but everybody has a vote.
If the UK is at a cross roads with its coming election, Australia is in not too dissimilar circumstances, with a government that is demonstrably out of touch with the majority of the population and going through some very public soul searching.
Among Welby’s solutions for addressing the high levels of inequality is getting big business to pay its fair share of taxes. The same applies in Australia, with Dr Cassandra Goldie of ACOSS urging the Federal Government to tackle inefficient and unfair tax arrangements such as negative gearing and superannuation concessions for the wealthy.
As our Coalition MPs reconsider their direction in terms of leadership, we can hope that they will think about a 'slow cooking' economy that might grow at a reduced pace but has all Australians feeling they are involved and benefiting equally.
Michael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.
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06 February 2015
Thank you Michael Mullins for your article, full of Christian wisdom, and also worldly wisdom..Fairness and justice, must be enshrined in our economy, for progress to be beneficial to all.
. I hope your message will be heard.
07 February 2015
This is an excellent companion piece to Colin Long's article exposing the sham of the Coalition's economic crisis propaganda. However the goal of a 'slow cooking' economy that has all Australians 'benefiting equally' is systemically impossible.
07 February 2015
Thank you for this excellent article and, in particular, giving us access to Jean Vanier's offerings in the House of Lords. One of the most pressing issues that has been identified in recent times is the need to recognise voluntary societal contributions through giving tax credits to this cohort. Carers would benefit greatly (they are mainly women) and those who have little superannuation (again carers - mostly women) would be able to receive an age pension with dignity and respect. This conversation is timely and is gaining traction at last!
07 February 2015
First the Bishop of Rome supporting social justice, now the Archbishop of Canterbury. Haven't they heard of the Australian Christian Liberal front bench which sees "reform" in attacking the poor, the working people and old while protecting the wealthy 1%.
Is there some sort of revival of the teachings of the Gospel going on that Australia has not heard of?
08 February 2015
If views like those of the archbishop became mainstream and acknowledged as part of Christian "fundamentalism" in the true sense of the word, I doubt Christians would be persecuted in the middle east, and whether anti-western terrorism would have such a motive. We must recognise that the link between religious values (of all religions) is all part of the same package with social justice, politics and economics. Everything else is just greed and short term egotism.
09 February 2015
Modern Catholic Social Justice teaching historically descends from Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum. Interestingly, one of those influential in the framing of this was Cardinal Manning, a convert and former priest in the Church of England. Manning, by the request of all parties involved, played an active part in settling the London Dock Strike of 1889. He is also credited with bringing Catholicism into the national mainstream. I think Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis are beginning to make Christianity much more relevant to modern life as far as the average pew sitter is concerned. They are bringing it back into the mainstream. Both seem to have orthodox Christian beliefs and a well developed spiritual life. This is something many of their admirers need to bear in mind. Christianity is not just social justice. Rather social justice in their cases springs from a deep and living faith.
09 February 2015
Joe Hockey's statement that a look at superannuation privileges and negative gearing was never considered,"never on the table," to use his cliché, sums up the mentality of this government.
14 February 2015
Thank you Michael Mullins for bringing to our attention The Good Economy speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also the talk by Jean Vanier, wonderful pieces of valuable insight for us all where ever we live.