Matthew Henry John Bartlett

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Friday 30 January, 02009

I vote Milbank

by Matthew Bartlett @ 9:37 am

A helpful discussion of Christian Socialism on BBC4’s Beyond Belief programme. It’s relevant to Ben’s earlier comments.

7 responses to “I vote Milbank”

  1. Ben Hoyt says:

    Thanks, Matthew.

    Heh, I was wondering who or what Milbank was, but then I listened to the MP3. Yeah, he’s the only one of those fellas I’d even half-agree with — good vote. :-)

    In fact, the Wikipedia article on John Milbank (FWII) make his views sound quite Calvinistic, or Constantinian, or at least something starting with a ‘C’:

    “… theology itself offers a comprehensive vision of all reality, extending to the social and political without the need for social theory.”

    I’d prefer to say that Christ is King over the whole world, politics and social theory included, but close enough.

    Anyway, you mention that “in a fight between labour and capital I’d back labour”. Fight? Here I thought you were a pacifist? :-) Seriously, doesn’t labouring give you capital? In that discussion one of them also sets labour up against wealth, but again, doesn’t hard work usually produce wealth? I don’t mean millions of dollars wealth, but working with one’s hands so that you can have something to share with those in need.

    In fact, that passage is I think my main problem with Christian Socialism. It says that we, those who labour, should share with those in need … it doesn’t say, “that we may have something to give to the government to share with those it thinks are in need”. Is that overstating it?

    I don’t quite understand how what Milbank is advocating is socialism, but I think that what he is saying — that the government should do a lot of staying-out-of-it and the Church getting-into-it — is very good advice. I believe that our government centrally throwing money at lots of problems makes it harder for you and I to know where to be generous, to know who’s in need, etc.

    Basically, I think our social problems are religious problems. Church problems. Greed problems. People problems. Not, by and large, problems the goverment can solve.

    Something ticking over in the back of my own mind is doing budget advice. Helping people see that (most) debt is Nasty and Wrong. Showing by example how to use our money wisely and frugally, and that if we do that, we can be generous with some of the excess (instead of buying that 100-inch TV, paid off over 3 years).

    In short, “living within one’s means” is something Kiwis don’t seem very good at. I’d be keen to help out in that area, and see the Church encourage such help.

    Just to be tongue-in-cheek, I’d be curious to see how NZ would fare if the government stopped all welfare for a year. We might learn surprisingly quickly. It would help with national debt, too. :-)

  2. Ben Hoyt says:

    FWIW, just some random notes and stuff that I wrote down while listening to that MP3:

    Alan Michael – Labour MP and chair of the Christian Socialist Movement

    John Milbank – professor of religion, politics, and ethics at Nottigham Uni

    Jonathan Bartley – directory of the social and theological think-tank, Ekklesia

    Milbank: “I believe that it’s the Church itself that is the ultimate site of the true society … so I think it’s wrong for Christians en masse to tie themselves too closely to the interests of one party, and secondly, I think that Blair is not a socialist, he’s a mere liberal … and to my mind this is the absolute antithesis of socialism.”

    Bartley: “General reticence about the ability of the state to fix things … CSM emphasis on looking to government to solve the problem … I’m more of a social anarchist … embracing the ideals of Christian Socialism but not looking at the government to sort out the problems.”

    Someone: Beatitudes, love your neighbour as yourself — this is fairly widespread in different religions. Christians differ by who they consider their neighbour.

    Michael: “I worry about this idea that somehow you can have politics and political action without political parties, so to say I’m not a card-carrying member of any party, should be described as an apology, rather than a proud claim.” [BEH says: I might actually like politics if it weren’t for the political parties]

    Someone: “Suspicion of making money out of money without doing any work. Suspicion of buying things as cheaply as possible, selling them for as much as possible” [BEH: me too, but IMHO that’s greed, not capitalism]

    The Most Honourable Rt Reverend Giles Fraser: “… diversity … tolerance … gender theory … blah blah blah …”

    Someone: “He’s running away from the point that capitalism isn’t about producing real wealth, only abstract wealth, so it structurally tends to impoverish people. Socialism is about trying to fulfil people in terms of their ethical … match virtue to real material goods.” [BEH: Hmmm. That’s not socialism, that’s “being kind”. I thought socialism was about the state owning and/or distributing wealth.]

    Someone: “Christ offers the Table to all, and doesn’t charge a dinner-ticket price. What is missing from the market is that act of gift-giving.”

    Someone: “Socialism is about economic theory … not for me it isn’t” [BEH: Okay, fair enough, but aren’t you redefining the term then?]


    When asked to sum up what they thought of the future of CS, they said:

    Milbank: I think that there is a great future for CS and CS teaching in general, because I think the only alternatives to what we’ve got now are going to come from a C religious vision.

    Michael: Well I think that a value-driven party which I think is what … gives a tremendous opportunity for the hope of the next few months to become a … positive contribution to renewing the labour party government.

    Bartley: Movement first, politians follow, rather than the politians setting the agenda for the movement …

  3. Matthew Bartlett says:

    Thanks very much for the comments & notes, Ben.

    Re. labour / capital, this graph (again) is helpful:

    The trouble is that labourers usually get only a small percentage of the value they generate by their labour, and the rest is creamed off by the capitalists / executive class. Co-operatives are a remedy that I favour. They don’t require the government to manage allocation. Another partial remedy is a progressive tax structure (which I also favour).

    Enough for now — bedtime.

  4. Ben Hoyt says:

    (Oh dear, one more comment this evening, and I’ll leave. :-)

    I’ve never understood how a progressive tax is either “progressive” or fair. (Not that life always needs to be fair.) But a tax rate is already a percentage, so with a fixed tax rate someone earning $100k would still pay tons of tax, and a person earning $10k would pay only a little. Each in proportion to his earnings.

    About the graph, I have mixed feelings. I’m not an egalitarian, so I don’t see that graph as terribly evil. (I think it’s silly that a newsreader would earn $500k, but not evil.) Saying it’s qualitatively wrong implies that everyone’s equal, but everyone isn’t. Equality is a mathematical nation, like 2 is equal to 1+1. As for equity — being just and impartial — now that’s the real deal.

    Just thinking out loud here, but the outrageous pay scales may reflect the risk involved. A worker makes a bad mistake, the company loses $1000. But the boss makes a bad mistake, and his company loses $100,000. And vice versa: an Apple engineer does a great job, the iPhone sells a little better. But if Steve Jobs does a great job, the iPhone sells a lot better.

    I’m all for cooperation (a previous boss used to say that “New Zealand is too small for competition”, and I think I agree). But in many areas, competition is healthy. I did well at (and loved) my last two years of high school due to healthy competition.

  5. Matthew Bartlett says:

    Or our dashing risk-taking executives make a big mistake and the global economy takes a dive…

  6. Matthew Bartlett says:

    Also — the Biblical concept of Jubilee surely points to some degree of economic levelling as a holy thing. Or not?

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