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Welcome to St Paul's Institute

by The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Rowan Williams

Posted: 23 Jun 2010

An ethical approach to economics requires us to move away from the illusion that economics can be considered separately from questions of the health and well-being of the society we inhabit. It also involves recognising that we exist in a world of materially limited resources, so that environmental degradation has to be taken into account in any assessment of the cost of projects or transactions.

I suspect that getting this right would in itself introduce into the language of economics a sense that it couldn't be only about the mechanics of generating money and might help keep issues of ethics, justice and trust in perspective.

So I welcome the continuing focus the St Paul's Institute brings to these issues by providing a challenging and well-resourced space for conversation and I wish the Institute every success in this new phase of its work.

Rowan Williams, 21st June 2010.

About this author

The Mst Revd and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams is the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

Giles Fraser - Posted: 23 Jun 2010

Great to have the Archbishop's support.

Malcolm Whitmore - Posted: 07 Jul 2010

The Archbishop is looking in the right direction, but I suspect is holding back on what is needed. The whole basis of economics is critically flawed as it places no value on the global commons, this means that all activity is valued from selfish and short term perspectives. Clear examples are the growth of the consumer society, global warming and the increasing gap in society between rich and poor.

There is a fundamental role that ethics can play in putting economics in its rightful place and the church is in a key position in society to help correct the situation. We are borrowing from future generations common rights to satisfy the selfish desires of our society and need to return economics to its role of ordering a sustainable society. This is an ehical issue of the highest priority.

Richard Wilson - Posted: 21 Jul 2010

It is good to see this initiative by St Paul's. From the perspective of the Church in Australia, the integration of social values as they are understood in Christian and Jewish terms is essential both for business and economics, and the Church to ground their relationship with community interest.

Our Church has not had a voice in the business community and is yet to develop a vocabulary and a theology to enable an engagement on mutual terms. Also, we have expected the community to come to us. This must change. I am working on this now and it is encouraging to see a similar initatiave in another part of the world.

Karl Oles - Posted: 21 Jul 2010

I welcome engagement between economics and theology/ethics, just as I welcome engagement between any field (physics, medicine, film) and theology/ethics. We should not seek, however, to make theology or ethics part of economics (or physics or medicine or film). All knowledge is ultimately interrelated, but it is useful to maintain boundaries because different fields have different methods. Physics tells us that if you put certain materials together, you make an explosion. Physics does not tell us whether it is good or bad to make that explosion. Economics tells us that certain business methods and governmental regulations are likely to produce certain kinds of results, but economics does not tell us whether those results are, on balance, good or bad. Theology and ethics can shed light on those sorts of questions.

One danger in blurring categories is this. If someone says "economics (or physics or medicine or film) tells us that we must pursue policy XYZ," what could be a legitimate theological or ethical discussion may be shut down by the improper suggestion that "science has shown" the answer.

The comment above, lamenting that "economics places no value on the global commons," appears influenced by this mistake. Economics itself does not place value, though it can reflect values imported from outside. If one values "global commons," one can use economics to learn how to promote them, and also to learn what trade-offs of other values might be necessary. Ranking those values is not an economic question.

Another danger is to assume that individual economists are interested solely in "the mechanics of generating money" and that they must be corrected by religious people who have a more enlightened perspective. This is unfair to the many business people who are also religious or ethical people. An opposite danger is to assume that individuals count for nothing and "the system" is to blame for all undesired economic consequences, and consequently that changes to "the system" will cure our ills.

Good actions originate in the human heart, particularly in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Economics (and other fields of study) can give us information to help us make choices that more effectively promote our values. Theology and ethics can help to illuminate and clarify those values. That is why engagement is important.

Martin Little - Posted: 28 Jul 2010

I offer my sincere thanks to the Arch Bishop for the intelligence and courage he brings to a difficult role: this resonates even with a largely secular person who feels more aligned with Bhuddist thinking. My thanks also to St Pauls institute for engaging in this important debate and for continuing to offer food for the curious mind with such generosity. I wish you every success.

Robin Smith - Posted: 03 May 2012

The Land. Is it God's. Or is it ours. Does it matter?

We must have access to it to live at all. It must be equal access to be justice if God gave it for free.

I'd like to gather a few of us together to discuss this idea.

Not to agree specifically, just to think carefully about it. Mainly its context in the bible and if that is relevant to the modern world today, if so why and if not why not. Both morally and practically.

Using the bible to arbitrate. Using our minds to cooperate in thought. Using our hearts to dig deeper when our prejudices want to stop us.

Do you know anyone else interested, particularly religious people the most for and against the idea.

Please let me know and I'll arrange it further.

Robin Smith robinsmith3 AT gmail.com


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