“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion.”
Pope Francis’ words in his publication Evangeli Gaudi provided the starter for today’s Year 9 lesson on Christian attitudes to the dignity of human life.
Had I known, I would have pointed out to the students that today was the two hundred and ninetieth anniversary of the first publication of stock market prices. The London Stock Exchange had begun as Jonathan’s Coffee House in 1698. John Castaing had published a list of currency, stock and commodity prices at Jonathan’s Coffee House. The Coffee House list had included prices for gold, ducats, silver staters and pieces of eight. It was on 3rd February 1731 that Gentleman’s Magazine became the first journal in the world to report share prices. Undoubtedly, somewhere one might find the list of companies that were listed and the market value of the total number of shares they had issued.
Share trading in 1731 was an altogether different matter. Gentleman’s Magazine only appeared once a month, the lightning fast speed of deals today would have been unimaginable.
Traders in the Eighteenth Century would have been generally indifferent to the plight of the homeless of the time. London would have been filled with poor people and the death of someone from exposure would have been an everyday occurrence in winter time. Thomas Hobbes’ description of life as something “nasty, brutish and short” would have expressed the reality of existence for much of the population of London.
The Year 9 students were quick to respond to the Pope’s statement, “Sir, if there had not been stock markets then companies would not have given people jobs and everyone would bee poor,” responded one boy. Another said, “the fall in share prices might mean that the company is in trouble and then people would lose their jobs and be unemployed and their families would be poor.” They believed strongly that there would be far more homeless deaths if wealth were not being created.
Of course, it is a long way from Jonathan’s Coffee House to the international financial system about which the Pope expressed concern, but the students recognised that a strong financial system and healthy businesses were important to everyone.
Reflecting on this morning’s conversations and the students’ perceptions, it was encouraging to read a Financial Times report that the government had become a shareholder in a thousand new companies. The students would approve. The FT app on my phone now seems a latter day equivalent of the wall of Jonathan’s Coffee House.