Summary of the discussion:
We reflected on the way many transactions today have shifted from being person-to-person (eg negotiating with an individual) to dealing with a computer. Is this only unwelcome to older people who were once accustomed to personal relationships, and now have difficulty in adjusting to dealing with machines- do others welcome it as more efficient?
Computerisation is only one recent development of mechanisation, a process which has been going on for many decades. Machinery which increases the efficiency of labour by taking much of the burden of hard physical labour can also multiply many times over the output of individual workers. If the market for this increased production is not expanding, in a growing economy, then it can increase unemployment, or push redundant workers into jobs where wages and conditions are inferior.
If the control of industry and commerce is in the hands of a minority of the population (as is the case in our society today), the economy will be organised primarily to serve their needs. Others’ needs will be met only if they contribute to the profit and prosperity of the minority (and many will be fortunate enough to possess the skills and aptitude to fit that demand). But the ideal that there should be “enough good work for everyone” (see, for example: “Unemployment and the Future of Work: An Enquiry for the Churches”- Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland, 1997) will cease to be a priority, or to have any real place in political discussion. And in a ‘democratic’ society (if ‘democracy’ is understood as government in accordance with the wishes of the majority), provided enough voters are content with the existing economy, an “unsuccessful” minority will be ignored.
Recently the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued “Coming Home: Tackling the Housing Crisis Together” (for the Press release and a number of comments, see: https://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archbishops-commission-on-housing-church-and-community/). This is very welcome in addressing one of the most severe symptoms of deprivation for many people today- but it does not deal with the basic reason why our present economy fails to guarantee every member and family the means to earn a decent and dignified living. Perhaps more of the churches’ resources should be devoted to that question.
Our reading was from John chapter 7, where Jesus says “the world….. hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.” No doubt that the Church will be hated if it challenges the fundamental injustice (“evil”?) at the heart of our modern economy. But the Church cannot only challenge injustice, it must set out to create alternatives, as the early Christians did in ways appropriate to their time (for example Acts 2:44 and 45; 4:32 to 34). International development agencies have long experience of supporting income-generating projects, and perhaps that experience needs to be applied in the UK, alongside the more theological challenge to the ideologies that drive our society today.
There was also perhaps another lesson in John 7, where Jesus at first operated “in secret” (verse 10). Proposed alternatives can too easily be ridiculed and “squashed” before they have a chance to be established- they sometimes need to be developed without publicity, until they are well founded and more confident.