Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


The Archbishop of Canterbury's advice for Joe Hockey

  • 09 February 2015

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