Paranoid vs prophetic

burro‘Sometimes paranoia’s just having all the facts,’ William S Burroughs said. Of course, that’s what a paranoid person would say. But I think it’s true in the case of a view I happen to hold.

The view, expressed many times by politicians, charities and justice campaigners over the least few decades, is that corporate wealth and power dominates and distorts the democratic process.

It’s called paranoid (usually by fans of the status quo, Conservative politicians and those working for wealthy, powerful corporations), but last week’s news highlighted its veracity.

In a discussion with Alistair Darling over whether G20 finance heads should radically limit potential bonuses in The City, the central question was the influence banks and bankers wield. If we threaten to crack down on banks and bankers too hard, won’t banks and bankers leave Britain? This is something that clearly frightened the Chancellor. Jim Naughtie rightly asked the question: ‘Do financial institutions in this country have too much influence?’

photo from Guardiian

photo from Guardian

When we consider that the public, to whom a democratic government is responsible, is being ignored in its desire to see banks and bankers brought in line, in favour of keeping banks and their shareholders happy (as we’ve seen so many times before when the subject of taxing large corporates has cropped up); then the answer to Naughtie’s question is clearly: ‘Yes.’

What kind of mafioso-style hold does the banking sector have over Westminster, that it can fail catastrophically, threatening the entire society with collapse, and the response of a supposedly left-leaning government is to allow those responsible not only to retain their liberty and profits, but also control of the economy?

If the nation’s citizens have saved these banks, why are they still effectively privately owned? Why, indeed, are they oriented towards making profits at all, if their most important function to the UK is providing employment and safeguarding savings? Surely a large nationalised bank (or ‘banks’ for those who still believe in the illusory ‘power of competition’), operating in the interests of ordinary citizens, its clients, rather than making profits for shareholders or bonus-huffing City glory-boys would be a better idea? Surely it would be a more democratic idea?bankybags

But that’s not how our society rolls. All three of our major parties still campaign for economic growth while pretending to care about the climate change that is the necessary result of that devotion to growth. All three parties fear and cow-tow to large financial institutions and rich individuals while professing a belief in democracy, which sees no difference between the rich and the poor citizen. Despite the opportunity for radical change afforded by the obvious failure at a practical level of the system of capitalism (which was always defended as being practically valuable if morally suspect), all three parties have done nothing since the crisis began but try to tinker with a machine that is not just fundamentally broken, but actually dangerous when functioning correctly.

Calls are often made for Christians to get involved in politics at a party level. I have made them myself. But I want to say that if Christian politicians are not speaking out like Amos against this ‘shadow cast on society by big business’ (as John Dewey described the mammon-worshipping politics of the 20th Century) and making every effort to oppose it, then they needn’t bother. They are part of the problem. It’s not a conspiracy, just a failure to be prophetic.


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