Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Can Mammon Be Moral?

Bankers should see their job as a vocation and adopt higher ethical standards, the governor of the Bank of England has said. 

More on Mark Carney's thoughts here, in a BBC report on the 'Conference on Inclusive Capitalism'. The conference, pulling together people who own 1/3 of the worlds investable assets between them (the brain-watering sum of £30 trillion). The 'inclusive' bit seems to be how to share the wealth generated by capitalism with more people. It recognises that capitalism has an image problem, so I'm not sure whether the agenda of a more robust ethic is simple self-preservation, or a genuine concern to do what's right, because it's right, not just because it's of benefit.

Christine Lagarde of the IMF at the same conference: said the changes required both investors and the leaders of financial firms to "take values as seriously as valuations" and "culture as seriously as capital". "Ultimately, we need to ingrain a greater social consciousness - one that will seep into the financial world and forever change the way it does business," 

That would be nice, but it's not going to happen within the current system: how do you award bonuses for moral behaviour? And if you wanted people who valued morals as highly as money, then you wouldn't be employing people whose prime motivation was to get a bonus anyway. The bonus system gives the City leverage over its employees, for Lagardes words to come true, the bosses would need to abandon the power the bonus system gives them, and the workforce would need to become motivated by something entirely different. Capitalism is about making money. It spits out social consciousness like a bad taste. Unless you hard wire fair trade, living wage, etc. into the system through legislation and as a precondition of doing business, the system will carry on as it is. The UK governments failed attempts to persuade banks to lend more to small business as a precondition of state support is one small (by global standards) example of how difficult this is. Nudge theory is not going to work, moral responsibility simply will not 'seep into the financial world'.

Meanwhile in the world of mere mortals, Justin Welby is taking the first steps on deliving on his promise to compete Wonga out of business. With 7m people using high cost credit providers, the CofE is piloting a 'Credit Champions Network' in 3 dioceses. More details here, Looks like it will be an evolving thing, a huge challenge to take on, but exactly the sort of thing the church should be involved in. 

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