Thought for the Day - Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth

Good morning. Like most people I feel that the way capitalism has operated in the last three decades, variously called casino capitalism or vulture capitalism, is a moral outrage. And the stripping of Fred Goodwin of his knighthood certainly expresses that widespread sense of anger. Nevertheless, I also felt uneasy about it-inevitably the word scapegoat came to mind. Now we learn that other financiers might be stripped of their knighthoods too, and another scary word comes to mind, witch-hunt.

In the muddle we are now all in, both a financial and a moral muddle, I believe that the Christian understanding of what it means to be a human being can offer real help. It offers two principles: first, we all share a weak, flawed humanity. What used to be called “original sin”. There is no place for moral self-righteousness. The fact is that our whole society has been living as though the boom would go on for ever. Secondly, irrespective of this we all remain personally accountable. It's not true that everything is equally bad. Real choices have to be made, some are worse that others and some are plain wrong. Another wretched feature of recent decades of course has been the way people have too often siddled out of the idea of being personally responsible.

Putting these two principles together it means we have somehow to raise standards of accountability in all sectors of life, financial and public, without being blind to what Jesus called the great plank in our own eye, that is, without the psychological mechanism of projection leading to scapegoating and witch-hunts. More widely, we need to move away from a bonus driven economy to one motivated by service-service of the customer and service of the citizen. Not long ago I was talking to a man who seemed to have taken surprisingly early retirement. He said he had worked in the world of finance and had prepared the option that he thought was in the best interest of his client. Then a new boss who had come in as a result of a takeover, looked at what he had prepared and said, “But you can make more money for the company if you offer your client a different one”. My friend recognised that something had changed in the culture, and it was time he left.

Jesus put service at the heart of his life and that of his followers. This is not an impossible dream. An American company has what I think is the right approach in its mission statement, which reads:

The business of business is serving society, not just making money. Profit is our reward for serving society well. Indeed profit is the means and measure of our service-not an end in itself.

That gets the balance just right, and if that spirit really permeated and drove our financial services, it could make a huge difference.

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