Political and financial leaders across Europe may not be entertaining notions of an apocalyptic end to the world, but the language being used in relation to the Euro certainly has an apocalyptic and religious ring to it. There were only six weeks left to save the Euro according to George Osborne back in September. Now the German chancellor, Angela Merkel has spoken of “sinners” being dragged before the European Court of Justice.
In all the panicky talk about economic well being, there has been noticeably little discussion about the ethics and morality of either the problem or any possible solution to it. There is a clear impression that finance and macro economics exist in an alternative, though all powerful universe, framed only by economic pragmatism and global politics.
Yet there is at least one Irish voice crying in this wilderness – that of Professor Ray Kinsella, who is Professor of Banking and Finance in the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business in University College Dublin. In a fascinating book published in 2009 he said ‘The Global Financial Crisis is Primarily a crisis in Ethics…The…Crisis – and its economic and its political counterparts – represent a catastrophic failure in the system of corporate capitalism, which had no regard to the dignity of the Individual, or to the Common Good – at the heart of which is the Human Person.’
The bare statistics that unemployment in Ireland currently stands at over 14%, and the prediction that unemployment in the UK will hit 8.7% next year barely hint at the intense pain that ordinary people will continue to suffer for years to come. I see this pain in my normal pastoral ministry in North Belfast. Only last Sunday there was a 19 year old girl at the church door after our morning service seeking financial help in her dire personal circumstances. Very alone in the city, yet not alone, for there are too many like her.
Yes, of course action is needed to deal with the sovereign debt crisis. Yes of course a stable euro and British pound is essential. But Ray Kinsella is also right. Man – and every 19 year old woman – does not live by economics alone. We would do well to demand that the needs of the increasing numbers of people just making ends meet or suffering on the margins of our society for the catastrophic financial failures and ethical bankruptcy of others are properly understood and factored into the solutions being discussed. The ethic of the common good is not satisfied by further limiting of social support to those in deepest need whilst the banks are recapitalised and a new EU treaty is considered.
People matter to God much more than financial markets. Any society which forgets that will be an increasingly bleak place for us all to live in.