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A Christian Perspective on Globalisation

Category Articles
Date February 2, 2007

The Christian staff of the Aberystwyth University arranged a meeting at that college for Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach to speak on “A Christian Perspective on Globalisation.”

Brian Griffiths is three years younger than me. He was raised in the bi-lingual gospel hall in Fforestfach, in Swansea, where his father Winston was a leader (though his mother went to a Welsh Baptist chapel). He attended the Dynevor Grammar School in Swansea, the same school later attended by the present Archbishop of Canterbury [Rowan Williams]. He proceeded to London to study at the London School of Economics. He has never lost the faith; as a student he worshipped at Westminster Chapel sitting at Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ feet, but subsequently he has become an Anglican. He became a lecturer at the London School of Economics 1965 to 1976, and then Dean of the City University Business School. He served as a director of the Bank of England from 1985-1986. He also served as head of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit and as Special Adviser to Margaret Thatcher from 1985 to 1990. In 1991 he was made Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach and admitted to the House of Lords. He is now vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

Gary North told me, “How well I remember him! I had come to his office in late August, 1985, to interview him on tape. He kept getting phone calls. He asked me to leave each time. This happened 2-3 times. Finally, he called me back in. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I cannot grant you an interview. I have just accepted a position with Mrs. Thatcher’s government.” If I had gotten there a day earlier, I would have had my interview. I saw him again several years later, after Mrs. Thatcher had been forced out. This time, he was in the U.S. We chatted. As he went up the escalator, I yelled, “I hope you’ll be a nobody again someday, so I can get my interview.” They elevated him to the peerage. No interview. He was kind enough in 1985 to tell me he had never heard of Christian economics until he read my book. I don’t know if he believed my position, but at least he gave me credit.”

Brian Griffiths had caught Mrs. Thatcher’s eye in some lectures he had given on the moral basis of the market economy, which subject she was interested in. He told the meeting in Aberystwyth how when he was reading the Bible he was seeing what it had to say on economics particularly Genesis chapters one through eleven, and then the socio-political-economic experiment of Israel described in the Pentateuch. Again he pointed out how the books of Proverbs and the prophets contain many comments on social responsibilities. Our Lord in the gospels, in his interviews and parables, has economic themes. Paul too in his letters, for example, in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, speaks of grace/generosity as the heart of the faith – Jesus being so rich yet for our sakes becoming poor.

Brian delightfully name-dropped throughout the lecture, his conversations with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Bob Geldof. We country boys were suitably open-jawed. He spoke of Bill Gates and the birth of the movement which seeks to bring free immunization to the developing world.

Globalization has expanded enormously since the 1970s, when Deng Xiaoping opened China to the world economy. Since then, there has been dramatic success in China, as there now is in India. The amount of foreign investment going into China is more than the whole of foreign aid given to the developing countries. But globalization is not a new phenomenon. You saw a lot of globalization in the 19th century and probably the “belle époque” of globalization was 25 years before World War I.

Some people feel globalization has become a vehicle for a very libertarian and non-Christian culture. I would say that the major criticisms of globalization come from people who lose, as there are winners and losers of globalization. The demonstrations during the G-8 meeting in Genoa and those against the IMF and the World Bank were held by people who are ideological Marxists. But there are also members of the American trade unions who fear they will lose jobs, that jobs are moving to China. There are people who represent farming lobbies who also lose out to globalization. In Britain, people are worried about jobs in the service industry moving from London to India. These jobs are in the back offices of accounting firms, investment banks, reading X-rays, etc. These can be easily done overnight in India and the results sent back the next day conveniently.

Then Lord Griffiths went on to basics and asked what does the Christian faith say on globalization?

  1. The physical creation is made by God and is good.
  2. Man uniquely is made in the image of God with stewardship over the world and has the creation mandate to perform.
  3. Our understanding of work is fundamental; we are incomplete without it.
  4. Respect for man requires his freedom.
  5. How important property rights are. Compare Israel going into the land of Canaan. You would expect that here above all places there would be an experiment in communal living. No. There are property rights which are jealously maintained. Thou shalt not steal.
  6. There is a strong emphasis on paying men promptly and fairly for their work.
  7. There is a concern for the poor. Personal debt in the UK happens to be fearfully high.

How do we apply these things to globalization?

  1. It has a legitimacy as it is concerned with wealth creation in our generation when half the world lives on $2 a day.
  2. It has to be attached to a greater respect for people. In China, for example, property rights are now increasingly recognized.
  3. Economic benefits should be accessible to all kinds of people everywhere. The world is created for everyone. In Reformed thinking (and also in Roman Catholic social thought) you find this emphasized. Unless all nations have access to globalization there will be no benefit for the developing countries. African countries make it complicated, bureaucratic and lengthy – months – for people to set up business. In New Zealand, the world leaders, a business can be set up in 48 hours.
  4. Protectionism must end – in the UK we have to take down our walls.
  5. The mismanagement of globalization must be dealt with. There is a great need of changing the architecture of economic institutions. The powerful new nations of India and China must be brought into the G8 and the World Bank. Foreign Aid has not a good record of helping developing emerging nations. A power of the market is that it supplies information to buyers and sellers. It brings together people, while one government usually talks just to another government.
  6. There is a great challenge to influence the culture of globalization. For example, in China this is taken increasingly seriously and corruption in business practices pointed out. The leadership of globalized companies is filled with leaders of Christian values and they are influencing the market in the developing world.
  7. In sub-Saharan Africa churches have great influence in what is the poorest area of the globe. In 1960 there were 60 million people who called themselves Christian in sub-Saharan Africa; today there are nearly 400 million. If you think of the potential of those people in terms of their own economic development, it is tremendous. The challenge to us in the West is find ways we can help them develop. They are in closer touch with the poor than anyone else; they are themselves the poor. The church brings them the message of dignity and responsibility. It tells them that they are all created by God and that gives them hope. The churches have the structures to help the poor. The leadership of the church is trusted by 75% of the people (whereas politicians are trusted by 10%).
  8. Micro-finance is growing at a phenomenal rate in the developing world. We have a chance to deal with the world’s poverty. Our challenge is to encourage education, hydrology, clinics etc

I believe that we live in a fallen world. However, at the heart of the market economy there is greater respect for human beings. There is an appreciation for the dignity of people. We are asking the question how we can use business to serve and not to get. This is moving in the right direction and we should be involved in it.

The key difference between Marxism and Christianity is in their two approaches to life and their views of the human person. A Marxist sees the human person as just an atom in a society, totally materialistic, culturally determined, the product of evolution. Whereas a Christian sees the individual as created in the image of God, needing freedom to express himself and develop himself, which therefore requires private property rights, the freedom of a market and so on, but obviously within the context of justice.

The success of globalization depends on a Christian view of the human person rather than a Marxist view on the human person. The Christian faith is directly relevant to issues of world poverty. When Jesus started his ministry in the synagogue, he said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach the good news to the poor.” As Christians, we have taken that very seriously and the Catholic Church has expressed it as a preferential option for the poor. If anything, we haven’t realized the potential the Church has to tackle poverty.

When I was advising Margaret Thatcher it was a frame of reference, a way of thinking about social, economic and political problems which I think is really very profound. And I would say that the great danger today is that the whole debate on globalization is seen almost entirely in secular terms. The terms of the debate and the way it is conducted, it is all about money, it’s all about foreign aid, it’s about trade liberalization. It’s that kind of debate. But we know as Christians that the heart of life is fundamentally spiritual. The challenge is how can we as Christians express our concerns as Jesus did for the poor, but also how can we ensure that we are not simply doing the same thing as government departments, international agencies. How do we really bring that Christian spirit to bear in the way that we do things?

At the end there were some sympathetic questions and also some hostile ones from some Marxists and to all Lord Griffiths responded well. He said, “I don’t like the word ‘capitalism’ because it is an ideology and it comes with a lot of baggage. I prefer the expression ‘market economy.’ The market economy is far from perfect because companies want to be monopolies, and sometimes you get enormous imbalances in the market economy, in income distribution. People can become very successful, they can make a lot of money and some of them have no regard for others, so we can’t justify all outcomes in the market economy. But if you compare the market economy with all its faults to a Marxist system, there is no question in my mind that it is infinitely better for anyone.

If you ask, ‘Why don’t more people in Eastern Europe recognize the failings of socialism?’ I think it is because people have very short memories. There are young people who know nothing of communism. Someone who was 5 years old in 1989 is today 22 or 23, so they didn’t really experience communism. People can be very naive and idealistic about socialism. They think socialism is about justice; in fact, Marxism was about power. When people have political power, they use it for their own interests and the result is a disaster for the rest of us. After the failure of communism, why is capitalism still criticized so much, even in Eastern Europe? What are people missing or deliberately ignoring?

What people lack is a Christian vision of the human person, created in the image of God, but nevertheless very willful and fallen – whereas the Marxist thinks of the human person as somebody who can be perfected. This is the ultimate fallacy of socialism. When people get power, what they do is abuse it, misuse it. I think socialism and Marxism is a religion for them. They will not accept the evidence because they deny the reality of sin; they still feel human beings can be made perfect.

In the Bible it says that the god of this world has blinded the minds of people. There are seriously intelligent people who, in my judgment, can’t think straight in this area. When you confront them with the past, they always say that was a special case, if we did it again in a slightly different way today, the outcome would be different.

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