In his book “Value(s): Building a Better World for all” (published by William Collin in 2021, and in paperback in 2022), Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England, argues that “the embrace of markets and their ‘subjective’ valuations has led to a society that has been robbed of its capacity to express what is important to us.” He quotes Pope Francis, at a Bank of England lunch, that current trends are turning the wine of humanity into a toxic grappa of self-interest. The market, we might say- like fire- can be a good servant, but a very bad master. Carney hopes that his book may do something to reverse that, turning grappa back into wine.
Covid in many ways reinforced those trends, creating an atomisation which destroyed much former consensus, and making international consensus more difficult. Pension schemes show the effect of the ‘subjective’ valuations of the market- accounting practices forced companies to quote their assets and liabilities as if they were about to go bust immediately, and invest on a very short-term basis (for example in government securities- “gilts”- which are now performing badly). At the same time £2 trillion-worth of public sector pensions are totally unfunded, and paid for wholly by revenue in the form of taxation.
Long ago in the 1980s industrial chaplaincies in the Southwark Anglican Diocese were arguing that accountancy firms needed to build in environmental impacts, including climate change, into their assessments of the future sustainability of companies. But in a system where “value” is purely financial (and short-term), how do you measure intangibles, and the qualities the community needs? What can individuals do? An important resource is the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD-https://www.fsb-tcfd.org/). But a good principle is to start with “micro” examples and scale up from those- for example a Northamptonshire Parish who argued that rather than being sold off for profit a village green could be used to replant an orchard (which was done for the late Queen’s Jubilee).
We read the story of the Garden of Gethsemane and the arrest of Jesus (Mark 14), and wondered how the conversations recorded there could have been clearly remembered by the time the Gospel was written. Papias, the bishop of Heirapolis (in modern-day Turkey) about 130 CE, said that Mark wrote down Peter’s memories “accurately, but not in the order that these things were done”. And the Gospel clearly tries to make sense of them for the situation of the Church at the time of writing (likely to be the Jewish rebellion against Roman rule which broke out in 66 CE and led to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70). In many ways that effort at relevance for their own times is of more value to us now than any precise literal accuracy might be.
Protests against the existing injustices and perilous ways of society are sometimes tolerated until they threaten the material interests of those who have power and wealth. Then the reaction can be deadly (as in the case of assassinations of people in the Amazon rain forest). The disciples fell asleep as Jesus faced his own imminent arrest. We need to make sure we do not make the same mistake while others face the consequences of their work for future justice and humanity.