Thursday, December 19, 2002

Dimbulb Economics?-Interesting and very disturbing Dimbleby lecture from the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (thanks to Jesus Gil for the heads-up). The excerpts here don't directly call for a one-world, socialist government, but they head in that direction.
In his speech, the Dimbleby Lecture, which will be broadcast on BBC One tonight, Dr Williams argued that without religion “our whole politics is likely to be in deep trouble”.
With the wrong religion, politics is in even deeper trouble.
He said it was inevitable that governments can no longer deliver in terms of setting out a moral basis for ordinary citizens to live their lives by.
You can't expect a post-Christian government such as Britain’s to deliver a moral platform
While governments are successful at encouraging enterprise and consumerism to an unprecedented degree, they are no longer capable of guaranteeing long-term security.
When were they capable of that? They can move towards a more prosperous and secure future, but they can't gaurentee it.
He made it clear that he believes that in a post-September 11 world, it is God that has to define how we live rather than our political leaders.
Brilliant deduction, Watson. What's He been telling you?
At the press conference to mark his nomination earlier this year Dr Williams spoke of his determination to “recapture the imagination of our culture for Christianity”. His lecture was an indication of how he intends to set about doing that. Dr Williams took as his starting point The Shield of Achilles, a seminal work describing how the traditional model of the nation-state is being superseded by the market-state, by the American academic and former White House adviser, Philip Bobbitt
Bobbitt was Clinton's National Security Council director of intelligence. This book review of The Shield of Achilles, points out that modern states are less militaristic and more market-oriented than in the past. However, I want to question this hypothesis from the book review
Nation states in the past promised to look after the material welfare of their citizens, which is why they felt entitled to mobilise those citizens as a mass to fight wars. By contrast, the modern state, born from the marriage of minds between Thatcher and Reagan, defers to the market and contents itself with maximising opportunities for its citizens.
This is a critique of a free-market based state; fans of free-market economics would point out that it does a better job of looking after the commonweal than a more statist system. Was the US better off in 1980 than it is today? I don't think the most statist governments of the 60s and 70s were doing a great job in looking after the material welfare of their citizens. The review goes on to map out Bobbit's dystopic markets-and-technology-run-amok view of our future with a joint channeling of Paul Krugman and Bill Joy. If this is what the Archbishop has on his nightstand, he'll wind up even more of a socialist pruneface. Now, back to more of the Dimbleby lecture.
He said that we were living in a period “where the basic assumptions about how states work are shifting.” He said: “The idea that’s being increasingly canvassed is that we are witnessing the end of the nation-state, and that the nation-state is being replaced in the economically-developed world by what some call the market-state.” A new form of political administration has arisen in which the idea of being a citizen and a politician has changed. Where the job of those who ran the state was once seen as guaranteeing the general good of the community, the state no longer has the power to keep its side of the bargain. The international power of the markets and consumers meant that any one country is unable to guarantee employment — one indication of how things have shifted.
The state still has that power to look after the general good of the community, and opts to allow free markets to do most of the work. Countries weren't able to guarantee employment before globalization.
In addition there are “sinister implications” in the revolution in electronic communication, with international conspiracy harder to detect and frustrate. “Al-Qaeda and similar networks inhabit a virtual world, not an identifiable headquarters in a single place.” The deregulation involved in the new political mode has meant “the withdrawal of the state from many of those areas where it used to bring some kind of moral pressure to bear,” he said.
Moral pressure must equate to regulation of industry and wealth-transference. The question I would pose is whether such "moral pressure" upon businesses to abide by extra regulations is beneficial to the commonweal. Is such "moral pressure" what God would have in mind? If we look at government in a parental capacity, keeping the child (the free markets) from getting into trouble, we have to remember that there is such a thing as overparenting, of being too protective. It's often in the child's best interest to be given a long leash and skin their knees once in a while. To the socialist, the market is a Terrible Two-year-old, and he has to make the country child-proof. Breakable things will be put away, gates put up in key places and doors locked up. However, if the market is more of a sixteen-year-old, an 11PM curfew and proper moral council might be enough boundaries.
Dr Williams described how the educational system, despite the best efforts of teachers, is empty of vision. He said: “It means that government is free to encourage enterprise but not to protect against risk, to try and increase the literal and metaphorical purchasing power of citizens, but not to take for granted anything much in the way of agreement about common goals or social good.”
Where do I start on this one. Risk works two ways, an upside and a downside; if you eliminate risk, you stagnate. Protecting against risk is essentially locking in the status quo. It's possible to have government help people when the free market makes a small boo-boo, such as welfare and educational retraining, but protecting against risk runs counter to the long-term commonweal of a nation. What about common goals? Not all goals need to be managed collectively. This might be something that doesn't quite translate across the pond, but the Declaration of Independence listed our basic rights to be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Beyond a basic police and military (and arguably public health) systems to protect life, the management of those goals is left to the free market, mitigated by a legal system to map out the rules of the road. There are some common goals that can be pursued collectively; a good education for our kids, safe streets, a strong, agile but frugal military, help for the truly needed, a good transportation system, a clean environment (how clean is the debating point) are points that can be part of a governmental system, but most other things are better left to the private or not-profit sector. Even some of these item can be partly privatized while government funded.
One “worrying sign” of this underlying philosophy was the way successive governments have dealt with education, with the emphasis on parental choice and the publication of results. He conceded these in themselves were not “social evils”. But he said: “They also fit all too neatly into the consumer model and allow the actual philosophy of education itself to be obscured behind a cloud of sometimes mechanical criteria of attainment.”
We've had discussions amongst faculty over whether students are the customer or the product. Frequently, it appears that educators (especially more liberal ones) want to be able to teach children the way they see fit and want minimal interference from the parent. A more customer-friendly approach gets in the way of the education system teaching/indoctrinating them in their preferred world-view. The less-quantifiable attitudes and mores that they want to teach don't mesh well with a standardized test. Tests can be poorly used, as teachers will be left to "teach to the test" and leave off anything that isn't on the exam. However, a standard curriculum backed up with exams will at least give some accountability. A kid which is a good, well-rounded model citizen (depending on what your model is) but can't function in a real-world economy isn't a desirable product.
Dr Williams said that modern politics was about sating consumer needs. “The unspoken model of political expectation now is increasingly the consumerist one: the individual confronts the state, asking for what is promised — maximal choice, purchasing power to determine a lifestyle. Policies that restrict lifestyle choices are electoral suicide.” He accused politicians of only concentrating on the short term, bouncing from one election to the next.
Does he wish that choices be restricted? There's an elitism that comes through in that paragraph. I might be wrong, but there is a sentiment that choices that aren't what the educated elite want are sub-optimal.
Religious belief could fill the vaccuum, he said. “If specifically religious tradition has a place here, it is because of those elements that only religious conviction seems to secure in our sense of what is human. To see or know anything adequately is to be aware of its relation to the eternal,” he said. “Without that relativising moment, our whole politics is likely to be in deep trouble.” The challenge for religious communities is how to offer a vision as a way of opening up some of the depth of human choices, he added.
How come I here echoes of Hillary’s Politics of Meaning here? Williams seems to be only offering a vague sense of comfort here. I don’t think the Church is called to make us secure in our humanity, it’s called to secure us to Christ. It’s more important to see our relationship with “the eternal” than to see the corner store’s relationship with the eternal. I don’t think the vague generic theism that Williams is offering is going to be much comfort to British society, nor does his discomfort with the market economy translate into policies that will expand the commonweal. He seems to be campaigning to be Old Labour’s chaplain.

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