A row has broken out between the Church of England and the Coalition Government. The Church has accused the Coalition of ignoring the plight of the poor, focusing too much on Middle England, and “selling” the lie that economic growth is the answer to Britain’s problems.
Writing in last week’s Daily Telegraph John Bingham, the religious affairs editor, set out some of the objections put forward by the Church of England:
“Questioning David Cameron’s slogan ‘we’re all in this together’, they condemn inequality as ‘evil’ and dismiss the assumption that the value of communities is in their economic output as a sin.”
Some of the observations are relevant, but the attacks on free market economics are flawed and the Church appears to be promoting socialism.
Economic growth is good. However, it is true that we can’t dismiss social problems like the increase in family breakdown, the growing obesity epidemic amongst children, and the general rise in depression and anxiety rates. We now have more stuff, more gadgets, and better purchasing power, but it can still be argued that it’s actually the simple things in life like family, friendships, relationships,communities and faith that create sustainable happiness. Economic growth and greater material wealth won’t solve these problems and neither will the State.
The Archbishops attacked the Coalition for selling the idea that the value of communities is based on their economic output. However, they failed to highlight the Labour Party’s hypocrisy on this issue.
Ed Milliband frequently argues that free movement of people is important because it boosts the economy and drives wealth, and we also often hear Labour politicians pointing to statistics showing that immigrants from the EU put more into the economy than they take out. So on the one hand Labour promotes welfarism for indigenous Brits, while simultaneously praising EU citizens for not making as many claims. Free movement of people is not a necessary prerequisite for free trade and is more to do with utopian idealism.
Binghman referenced a 1985 book published by the Church of England which “characterises the welfare state as the embodiment of the Christian command to ‘love thy neighbour’ and warns that people should not rely on what the founding father of free-market capitalism Adam Smith called the ‘invisible hand’ of the market to create a fair society.”
A great example of the benefits of the free market is the rising emergence of Aldi and Lidl as major competitors in the supermarket business. Free market economics has allowed both stores to thrive and the result is that shoppers can now benefit from even better discounts. It also gives hope to small business owners on high streets who may have feared that they could not compete against large supermarkets.
Free markets are an expression of free exchanges between free people. In a free market economy, consumers freely chose which businesses to support and as a result businesses must innovate and compete for customers. Competition means that the customer needs are always paramount. In order for Tesco to win back its market share and entice customers who’ve moved to Aldi, it will have to offer better discounts and tailor its business to suit better the needs of shoppers. The free market punishes arrogance and weak strategies, and rewards innovation.
Archbishop John Sentamu says: “If God has created us unique, [and] all of us have got his image and likeness, is it ever right that I should have more when somebody else has nothing?”
A free market economy promises equality of opportunity, and a planned socialist economy promotes equality of outcome.
In order to achieve equality of outcome and a socialist utopia, were all to have like-for-like salaries the government would have to control the people. A big government and highly regulated society inevitability result in the rise of a police state. Social justice ideology sounds inoffensive and cute but the result is often the rise of authoritarianism. I can’t see how authoritianism and a police state are compatible with the values set out in the Bible.
In a socialist utopia, the state is revered in a God-like manner; Jesus said that my kingdom is not of this world (John 18:6) therefore it can be argued that a socialist utopia which promises heaven on earth is not of the Bible and is incompatible with Christian teaching.
Encouraging those on low salaries to be envious and resentful of others who are on higher salaries is harmful to the poor, and encourages victimhood and a negative mindset. An entitlement society fostering envy and hatred is dangerous. Proverbs 14:30 states “A sound heart [is] the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones”.
It is important that everybody pays taxes, but as shown in France, where wealth creators are fleeing socialism and unreasonably high taxes, regressive tax policies harm business and enterprise, stifle entrepreneurship, and harm the economy, which is bad for the poor.
Sentamu states that a “post-war vision through which the welfare state and NHS developed has given way to an individualist and consumerist vision, with public goods such as health and education increasingly becoming privatised, where society has become a market society, with everything going to the highest bidder and the poor being left behind in the unceasingdrive to increase the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.”
The NHS is used as a political football, which is not good for service. The centralisation and one-size-fits all nature are counterproductive and ideology has triumphed over the values of service and care. This has resulted in a high turnover of staff with many British-trained doctors simply moving to countries like Australia.
According to a major report from the General Medical Council, the number applying for certificates to work abroad has risen by afifth since 2008, to nearly 3,000 a year. Just over half have applied to work in Australia and New Zealand.
The NHS has been politicised and as a result no politician would dare openly suggest ideas for reform outside the centralised one-size-fits-all box idea. There are other methods of service delivery which could keep it free at the point of delivery, and it can’t be ethical that politics comes before care, service and fiscal prudence. Throwing money at the NHS hasn’t helped and it needs reform.
The welfare state as a safety net is good but the primary objective should be to help people back to work and not keep them dependent. It shouldn’t become a way of life and personal responsibility is better than over-reliance on the State.
The Church of England talks a lot about entitlements but very little about personal responsibility and family values which is worrying. It’s encouraging worshippers to rely on the benevolence of an all encompassing State instead of the wisdom and teachings of the Bible.
Church pews in the West are emptying and perhaps if the Church of England stopped promoting modern day socialistleftist ‘social justice’ utopian ideals and returned to biblical values the church would be more respected.