On the Areopagus – 7 The Economic Situation
“For the form of this world is passing away”, so says St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:31. Paul was referring, of course, to the end of this present world at the second coming, which he thought would soon happen. However, according to some financial analysts, this could equally apply to the present economic crisis that has rapidly developed into a recession. Some economists have gone so far as to say that the present economic woes we are experiencing are in fact the birth pains of the transition to a whole new economic model. Previous changes in the way in which the global economy functions have resulted in times of economic hardship as entrepreneurs, banks, economists and governments struggle to come to terms with a changed economic landscape where the old methods are no longer effective. Whilst it may be possible to lay the blame for the collapse of many banks at the feet of those who recklessly offered vast amounts of credit to those they knew could not afford to pay it back, this may in fact have simply been the trigger that was needed to set off this chain of events. Perhaps something else, not caused by such wanton disregard for the well-being of others, would have had the same effect. Perhaps in retrospect we could have seen it coming, if we remember all the offers for easy credit we used to receive, all the adverts on TV about debt services, it should have been clear that this credit free-for-all was never going to last for ever. People had been living on money they did not in fact have and will now have to adjust to the reality of their actual financial situation. As always, it is those who have the least who suffer the most: let us be sure to keep them in our prayers.
What is both fascinating and terrifying to note is the fragility of the social stability of liberal democracy. Since mutual respect and tolerance of others, in our society, is not founded on love of neighbour but on indifference to those around us, a decrease in prosperity can so easily harm the relations of people who live not in communities, but as isolated individuals. This has been seen in Britain recently with the protests over Italian workers being brought in by Total oil refinery. Whilst one can of course sympathise with those who are struggling to make ends meet in difficult times, it is crucial to remember that the world has become far smaller than ever before. We live in a globalised world where the prosperity of Britain depends, indeed has been achieved by, our openness to foreign enterprise and foreign workers, enabling a much higher degree of efficiency and productivity than would be possible if Britain were to close herself off. It has been demonstrated beyond doubt that the Great Depression of the 1930s was worsened by the protectionist measures of those who thought they could improve the situation by raising barriers to international trade. In our own times, this would not only be disastrous for our economy but would also contradict the scriptural command to welcome the stranger found in our Jewish heritage in Leviticus “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:34) and in the words of Our Lord “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25:35). People coming from many nations, particularly in recent times from former Soviet-dominated countries, have contributed hugely to the prosperity of this country and it would be not only massively ungrateful, but also deeply unjust, to make them feel unwelcome now that times are harder. Let us pray that throughout the continuing economic difficulties, the love of Christ as shown in St. Paul, who became all things to all men, will triumph over greed, selfishness and xenophobia.