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Sunday, 22 February 2015

Insisting on the primacy of a public realm that serves the common good

Peter Wilby provides some apposite comment in his review of Will Hutton's How Good We Can Be:

'The trouble ... is that leaders of the corporate sector, particularly those providing “financial services” (services to whom?), are doing so well out of short-termist capitalism that they resist even modest attempts to ameliorate its negative long-term effects and portray such policies as “anti-business” ...

Increasingly, however, it is capitalism that needs structural reform, particularly in persuading private companies that, if they accept the state’s legal protection – in the form of limited liability, for example – they must accept reciprocal obligations to the wider community, not least the obligation to pay tax in full and on time. But reasonable as this sounds, the rich elite – who, as Hutton says, now regard avoiding taxes as a duty and evading them as morally understandable – will resist every inch of the way. Why wouldn’t they? They are sitting comfortably and will not risk their good fortune. Short-termist capitalism breeds short-term thinkers and they flourish in politics, industry and finance at the commanding heights of our society.'

Hutton himself makes a similar point in commenting with real understanding of and appreciation for the letter, Who is my neighbour?, from the Church of England’s bishops which was directed to the people and parishes of the Church of England:

'The bishops are a last redoubt of moral authority that insists on the primacy of a public realm that serves the common good – for all the pushback from Tory MPs and ministers mocking their emptying churches, accusing them of being left sympathisers or reminding them, as the prime minister did, that growth is bringing the jobs and job security they crave. None of these responses spoke the language of common good, or even accepted it as a premise for political action. We live in a world where the utterances of a Stuart Rose, former-chair of Marks and Spencers, or even private-equity magnate and tax exile Stefano Pessina, about what is good for business – good for mammon – have become the new moral authority.'

Hutton notes that the 'Church of England is one of the last few institutions in touch, through its parishes, with the entire country' and that what has moved 'Anglican leaders to write is the distressing condition of so many of the people that the church encounters in its daily ministry – living, increasingly, in a society of strangers, as the leaders would say, often lonely, uncertain about the prospects of a career or to what extent the social bargain will help them out.'

Hutton summarises the argument made by David Marquand in his important new book, Mammon’s Kingdom and concludes:

'Mammon now rules, declares Marquand. But he thinks that the rediscovery of a richer discourse of the common good will necessarily be drawn from religious traditions, even writing as he does as an unbeliever. The bishops have not let him down. They cite Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians as an inspiration that should bind believers and non-believers. “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” They long, they say, for a more humane society that reflects Saint Paul’s injunction – a better politics for a better nation. Amen, you might say, to that.'


Delirious? - Kingdom Of Comfort.

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