Thursday, 10 November 2011

Short Churches?

Ever since protesters were forced by police to retreat from the London Stock Exchange to occupy St Paul's Churchyard, I've been fascinated by the effect of the global financial crisis on our Christian institutions.

While the Vatican has seized the opportunity to issue its statement on 'reform to the international financial and monetary systems', the Church of England, of course, was terribly embarrassed to be caught up in it all. Incapable of grasping a real opportunity to shape people's thinking, instead St Paul's initially offered to convene a nice cosy debate. Then the Cathedral's 'canon chancellor' resigned ahead of the Bishop of London's threat of eviction, which was followed shortly after by the resignation of the dean of St Paul's. Finally stirred into action, the Archbishop of Canterbury called for "robust public discussion" about the possibility of a so-called 'Robin Hood tax' on financial transactions.

The Vatican's statement is typically grand, and I've not had the time to consider it all, but here's an extract of some concrete proposals:
"a) taxation measures on financial transactions through fair but modulated rates with charges proportionate to the complexity of the operations, especially those made on the “secondary” market. Such taxation would be very useful in promoting global development and sustainability according to the principles of social justice and solidarity. It could also contribute to the creation of a world reserve fund to support the economies of the countries hit by crisis as well as the recovery of their monetary and financial system;

b) forms of recapitalization of banks with public funds making the support conditional on “virtuous” behaviours aimed at developing the “real economy”;

c) the definition of the domains of ordinary credit and of Investment Banking. This distinction would allow a more effective management of the “shadow markets” which have no controls and limits."
However, I wonder whether our religious institutions could be a bit more active in the reform of the financial system, rather than pontificating from the sidelines? Their wealth and tax-free status has not gone unnoticed, and there's plenty they can do on the investment front. The Church of England's ethical investment policy is here, for example. And it has lent stocks to short sellers. But that's not what I'd call active

Having previously suggested that short selling would be a useful regulatory tool, and that we could do with a secular version of the old Devil's Advocate, perhaps these are areas where the churches can help, along with voting at AGMs on executive compensation, for example. In fact, sometimes billed as the "shock troops of the Vatican" or "God's Marines", maybe there's a calling for highly-trained Jesuit priests on the trading desk of an ethical hedge fund, short selling the stocks of companies that the faithful believe are operating unethically. 

I wonder how they would rate Mr Blankfein's efforts?

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