Rethinking economic virtuesJan 5th, 2009 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Ireland
Ian, I wanted to speak to you about last Sunday’s sermon: that reading about the parable of the talents. Of course, the wise man was the one who was given the one talent and went and hid it. He would not have been affected by the stock market crash.
The parable would have to be rewritten for the circumstances of Ireland in 2009. Had the man with the two talents invested it in the Irish stock market, he might be left with one-quarter of his money. Had the poor man with the five talents put his money into shares of the Irish banks, he might have half a talent left, and that would be if he was lucky.
The recession has become more than a dip in the economy; it has undermined confidence in the economic system itself: prudence, saving, investment, the old values have been made to look naive. If cynicism towards the political and financial establishment needed further fuel, it was well stoked at the weekend by the news that a member of the government political party, who had been expelled and then readmitted, still receives an extra allowance of €41,000 per annum for being an independent TD; and news that managers at Anglo Irish Bank received substantial Christmas bonuses when their company is propped up by billions of taxpayers’ money.
Responses to the economic crisis include one that stresses the need for enterprise and wealth creation, despite the cynicism that may be felt about investing more money in a system that seems to reward malpractice and recklessness.
Investing in the formation of people and developing a specific and well-integrated culture of enterprise would seem at present to be the right approach in the medium and long term. If economic activities require a favourable context in order to develop, this must not distract attention from the need to generate revenue. While it has been rightly emphasized that increasing per capita income cannot be the ultimate goal of political and economic activity, it is still an important means of attaining the objective of the fight against hunger and absolute poverty. Hence, the illusion that a policy of mere redistribution of existing wealth can definitively resolve the problem must be set aside. In a modern economy, the value of assets is utterly dependent on the capacity to generate revenue in the present and the future. Wealth creation therefore becomes an inescapable duty, which must be kept in mind if the fight against material poverty is to be effective in the long term.
Perhaps having a German Pope is what is needed when a reinvigoration of business and private enterprise is necessary!
But what about the man yesterday who was challenging the end of year sermon with its stress on work and using resources?
The obvious rejoinder should have been that Jesus recognizes that the world has more self-serving bank executives and TDs than it has virtuous people:
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
” ‘Eight hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’
“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.
Indeed, they are.