When the archbishop and the central banker are singing from the same hymn book

Welby and Carney in harmony

The spiritual and the financial don’t have a great track record when it comes to consensus: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” we’re told.

Not to mention the messy collision of the rich man and the eye of the needle.

So when the Archbishop of Canterbury (Justin Welby) and the governor of the Bank of England (Mark Carney) start singing from the same hymn book, it’s worth paying attention.

In this case, Welby has just published his first book: Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace.

Dealing with the theology of how Christians should treat money in both material and spiritual — and individual and social terms — Carney was famously pictured reading a pre-release version book on the tube.

The governor of the Bank of England has had a rocky 2016, what with general Brexit woes and associated criticism of bank policy therein, but he too was recently on the offensive to warn about the longterm implications of our current strain of globalized capitalism.

Giving a lecture at John Moores University in Liverpool (John Moores’ fortune ironically first built on the back of the UK Football Pools gambling empire), Carney spoke about how the rise of such business has created great wealth unequally, destroying jobs and livelihoods before creating new ones.

“Rather than a new golden era, globalization is associated with low wages, insecure employment, stateless corporations and striking inequalities,” he said.

Of course, criticism of financial inequality is hardly something new coming from the church. In an early citing of relative poverty theory, Jesus reportedly said the poor will always be with us.

Yet what’s significant about Welby’s intervention is his background in high level corporate finance (in the oil business), and the fact he views the consumerism — which provides the cheap clothes and electronic goods cited as a key positive result of globalization — as a key (negative) spiritual issue.

Social inequality is part of that, but his argument is more powerful and more personal.

As for Carney’s intervention, it’s a mark of the striking failure of business leaders to reign in their priority on profit — and bankers’ priority on bonuses etc— that the oft staid governor has stepped into the intellectual argument concerning the wider responsibilities of businesses beyond their employees, shareholders and consumers.

In this way, the archbishop and the central banker are attacking different ends of the economic consensus that has shaped global business since the days of the Chicago Boys.

Yet it’s now clear that currents in political, fiscal, demographic, technological, cultural and moral forces are combining to create something that has the potential to be very different and hopefully much more holistic for society, and maybe even the individual.