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The Christian Faith and the Financial Crisis
Part One: The Christian Faith (4)


Brian Griffiths had been very much involved in the work of the Institute of Economic Affairs, publishing or contributing to several pamphlets they published - Competition in Banking in 1971, Money and Economic Policy in 1972, 'Stricter monetary and fiscal controls' in 1976. In 1971 he published a book on the banking system in Mexico and another on inflation in 1976. In 1980, after Bullock had been defeated (not, as it happens, by the right wing of British politics but by the left) the IEA published a little booklet, the record of a symposium - Trade Unions, Public Goods or Public 'Bads'? - with a contribution by Griffiths: 'The Economics of Labour Power - Can Trade Unions raise real wages?', arguing that the unions could only force wages up for one sector of the working class at the expense of other sectors of the working class. It was beginning to be possible to envisage a world where the trade unions were no longer a power to be reckoned with.

In all this, Griffiths appears as a straightforward economist with a view of the world more or less in line with that of Friedrich Hayek, uncomplicated by other factors such as, for example, a commitment to evangelical Christianity. In 1980, however, he gave a series of lectures which were to be published in 1982 as Morality and the Market Place, arguing for the relevance of Christian values to the business world. Morality and the Market Place, somewhat disingenuously subtitled 'Christian alternatives to capitalism and socialism', presents itself as a critique of Friedman and Hayek. 'The lectures', he says in his preface (p.7), 'were a response to a challenge posed some years earlier by Milton Friedman. "How can you be a Christian" he said, 'and advocate the market economy? After all, didn't Jesus say that it is more difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?"' What Griffiths tries to do in response to this is not so much present alternatives to capitalism (not to mention socialism) as to show that 'Judaeo-Christian' values provide a better support for capitalism than the secular libertarianism of Hayek and Friedman. (5) In 1984, he developed this argument further with The Creation of Wealth. These two books laid out the basic arguments that were to underpin the talk he gave in Swansea.

(5) He says (Morality and the Market Place, p.14) that his thinking in response to Friedman was much influenced by 'one of the leading neo-Conservative commentators in the United States, Irving Kristol.' Gordon Brown has acknowledged an intellectual debt to Kristol's wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb. Their son, William Kristol, very consciously continuing their legacy, is editor of the Weekly Standard and was one of the leading figures in the Project for a New American Century and as such very active in promoting support for the destruction of Iraq and other recent US overseas adventures.

Essentially what Griffiths wants to argue is that the market - in industrial products, in food and in services, including financial services - should indeed be left to its own devices as recommended by Friedman and Hayek. However, the markets will only function correctly if very high standards of moral probity are applied. This cannot be imposed by government regulation and so we have to rely on a freely chosen moral culture. The best source for such a culture is religious belief, and the particular strength of religious belief is that it imposes certain moral absolutes given by God. For a Bible-believing Christian like Griffiths, these moral absolutes are revealed in the Bible. The Christian, in his view, makes a particularly good business man or business woman because he or she is concerned with the wellbeing of society as a whole but able to rise above the shifting sands of public opinion - the moods and fashions that might influence the electorate - to which a government would have to respond. (6)

(6) In his Swansea talk, Griffiths expressed his admiration for James Buchanan, who had only recently died. Buchanan was an American academic who was also closely associated with, and wrote for, the IEA. He was the founder of the Centre for the Study of Public Choice which aimed to uncover the complex of motives other than simple notions of the public interest which determine government allocation of resources.

There is an obvious practical difficulty that comes to mind and I have not yet found a place where Griffiths addresses it. This is that, in order for these highly moral Christians to temper the market in such a way that it will serve the common good, they have to be in positions of authority, they have to seize what Anthony Benn used to call the 'commanding heights' of the - well, Benn would have said the British economy but in the age of 'globalisation' I suppose we must say the world economy. It is difficult to see how this could be assured without legislation to prevent atheists or Hindus or animists from engaging in business, or at least from rising to the commanding heights. However, in this talk I am mainly concerned with the theoretical or theological side of things rather than the practical - intriguing though the practical side might be.