In a blatant political intervention ahead of the General Election, the Church of England has published a paper on the economy, “On Rock or Sand?”, which carries clear echoes of its “Faith in the City” thirty years ago — described by one commentator as “pure Marxism”.
This comes from the top of the organisation, with endorsement from Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu, who largely contributed to the essays in the paper. They inveigh against the inequalities in our society.
This however is not simply the view of the Church of England. It is also the view of the Catholic Church, or at least the Pope. Pope Francis has called inequality “Sin”. I am at a loss to find any statement in the Bible that characterises inequality as sin — though it clearly regards helping the poor as a virtue. Our Lord said “the poor ye have with you always”. Clearly He was not supporting or endorsing poverty — but he was recognising what he took to be an economic reality.
Sadly I conclude that senior Churchmen are as economically illiterate as the Labour Party which they tacitly endorse. And Archbishop Welby at least has no excuse, given his experience in industry.
Poverty is not a sin. But it is a bad thing, and it is a duty of politicians as far as possible to relieve poverty. But (in very broad terms) there are two approaches to the question of relieving poverty. The socialist approach is to take money from the better-off and give it to the poor. The approach of liberal economics (liberal in the classical sense rather than the Clegg sense) is to create opportunities. It is a cliché — but nonetheless true — that work, and a wage packet, are the best way out of poverty, and that in a growing and successful economy, more jobs are created and fewer people are poor.
The socialist approach has been tried in many different ways and many countries over the last century, and almost inevitably it leads to more poverty. It may be an exaggeration to say that the only kind of equality we can achieve in human societies is equality of misery — but it’s a generalisation with a large degree of truth. Of course there are always exceptions. Even under communism the people’s Commissars seemed to do well. Almost as well as European Commissioners.
If we start from the stand-point that we need jobs and growth, then we need investors and entrepreneurs and technical innovators. These people have a value. And in today’s global economy they are highly mobile. The can create jobs in Britain. Or they can create jobs elsewhere around the world. We are already driving them away with high energy costs, and over-regulation, and an education system failing to produce capable and motivated workers. If we hang up a sign saying “High taxes and limits to earnings and achievement”, they will quite rightly go elsewhere.
The Church is simply backing the wrong solution, and they have no basis in theology for doing so. Yes, we should all be concerned to deal with poverty, but the “obvious” leftist solution of caning the rich to reduce inequality is simply the wrong approach. Poverty bad: inequality not necessarily so.
But credit where it is due, on another issue. Archbishop John Sentamu reportedly said that “Of course immigration in Britain needs to be controlled”. Well said Sir. Exactly UKIP’s policy. We’re glad of your endorsement.