Editorial: February 2009
IN THE MARKETPLACE
No country is likely to escape the disastrous consequences of the global financial crisis, the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. "It did not develop overnight; neither will it be solved overnight."
Caution was advised by world leaders concerned about the financial markets becoming a dangerous bubble with little relation to the actual flows of goods and services. All those warnings went unheeded.
One of the major IT giants, Satyam Computers, recently reached the verge of bankruptcy, taking with it the fortunes of 53,000 employees and lakhs of shareholders. This white collar crime was conducted not by a fly-by-night operator, but by a doyen of aristocracy, an MBA from the US, and a corporate icon held in great reverence by his peers. His crime was 'creative accounting' -showing a profit that does not exist. In plain terms, he overstated the revenues he did not have, understated the debt he did, and cooked up the profit. Members of the public are wondering how such a fraud, amounting to over Rs.7000 crores, could be perpetrated without the financiers, bankers, auditors, directors, credit rating companies and the regulator not being able to detect the crookedness, for such a long time. It is surprising that this fraud would not have come to light but for the declaration of the culprit. The question that comes naturally in the minds of the common man is: How could such people sleep peacefully after committing such a fraud on the people who trusted them blindly? It is hoped this is an isolated case and not the tip of an iceberg. The system should respond fast effectively and give exemplary punishment to these corporate crooks.
The corporate economic model is based on maximising profit for some, by abolishing regulation aimed at protecting the interests of society as a whole. For decades we were told that the system benefits everyone: "a rising tide lifts all boats." The idea of free trade has been presented as the panacea for all problems. The roles of state and civil society are diminished and human beings are seen as mere consumers.
The current globalisation model has led to the deindustrialisation of entire regions, deteriorating infrastructure, dysfunctional social structures, and tensions caused by uncontrolled and unregulated economic, social and migration processes. The moral damage has been enormous. It is necessary to reconsider the foundations of the socio-economic model of modern society. The time is now ripe to combine morality and business.
Corporates believe that profits are essential. How it comes is immaterial to them. It does not matter even if it involves many being crushed by the power of the rich and mighty corporations. The pursuit of profit is often selfish, not a true contribution to society. Greed grows and the fodder for growth is the death of competitors, ill health of employees, destroyed families. The very same corporates, which brought doom to many around the globe, will window-dress their annual reports and show how well they have performed despite the catastrophic downturn.
Business must make profit; otherwise, it will die. However, the businesspersons operating without transparency and morality produced devastating results. The alliance of politicians and businesspersons to decontrol everything has not only been corrupt, but also destructive.
The world became more efficient, but at the same time became more efficiently unfair. The headlong, compassionless pursuit of financial reward was without restraint. The crisis was the natural consequence of reckless spending. The market economy is weak in its foundation, since it is without values.
It is hoped that some genuine society builders will arise to bring about the much needed change. A new model will have to emerge and this cannot be based entirely on consumerism and profit. A moral component should be an essential part of this new model. Peaceful change cannot happen without a seismic change of heart.
New Testament is vigorously opposed to selfishness and it clearly distinguishes possessive individualism of self-centredness from self-interest. God gives us the spiritual resources to grow through our weaknesses and to recover when we succumb to the ever-present temptations.
Jesus did not come to give us a new form of spiritual life disconnected from the world. Christianity involves our whole lives. We therefore need to live our lives according to Christian values in every area of our lives. Real trust, not the advertised variety, should pervade all our operations. Our actions at the marketplace have the potential to advance the Kingdom of God or to hinder it. Our daily working lives are so focussed on earning and advancement that we have neglected to find the source of sustainable happiness. We try, sometimes subtly, to manipulate the people close to us-at work and at home-so that things proceed the way we want them to. Temptation never leaves us once and for all. It is something we learn to live with.
The world cannot recognise the hand of God; it is on a trajectory of destruction and so, we Christians are not to set our hearts on it. We should be examples for the world to emulate.
To be truly happy requires something greater than the satisfaction of self-interest. Helping others, being generous with time as well as with money, and being prepared to put the interests of others before those of one's self, is inherent in the search for happiness. Happiness will not be found in more possessions, more spending, greater material prosperity or greater job satisfaction. Kant has commented: "The concept of happiness is such an indeterminate one that even though everyone wishes to attain happiness, he can never say definitely and consistently what it is that he really wishes and wills." Harry Truman said: "It does not matter how big a ranch you own, or how many cows you brand; the size of your funeral is still going to depend on the weather."
Human beings need other human beings, not just as disciples, but as friends. Living a moral life is not a solo flight. The advent of television has so diminished the frequency of personal interaction in civil society that what is seen on the screen bleaches out what goes on next door. To be the kind of persons we want to be and to make sound moral choices, we need to converse with each other honestly, at a deeper than ordinary level. We should be accountable to them and hold others to account.
If we are to hold our ambition lightly and avoid self-deception, we should ask the Holy Spirit to show us our true intentions. Our aim should be to complete the task He has set for us and to reflect Jesus in our God-given callings. No one wants to step off the ladder of success into thin air. We should also learn to base our decisions on what we know, rather than on what we guess.
The Sermon on the Mount is full of difficult, but not impossible, tenets to follow. He preached: "Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet your brother only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:44-48). Warm, cosy feelings are not enough for loving one's enemy, but a genuine desire for his well-being. This was the central theme of what Jesus spoke.
Jesus said: "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. Don't worry about the speck in your neighbour's eye, when you are carrying a log in your own. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." "You shall know them by their fruits."
Christianity went wrong when it became the religion of the kings. Both the salt and light metaphors suggest a kind of humility, almost anonymity that the Christians should assume.
The spirit of Jesus' warning against religious ostentation still seems to be sharply relevant. Protestors periodically decried the worldly affluence of the church and even raised doubts about whether a rich church could really represent the message of the Man who had clearly warned against the spiritual dangers of possessions. He asked:" Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?"
"God who created and sustains the universe is also the God of the marketplace. If the Christian faith is not relevant in the marketplace, it is not relevant at all." Christianity is not a pie in the sky, by and by, but a 'kingdom come on earth.'
The church has tried to urge people to live by the values of Christ without paying adequate attention to the pressures of daily life. Christians are called to confront anything that draws people away from God, but at the same time comforting those who are struggling. Many people accept just enough of Christianity to be miserable. Our task is to find God's way in the world and work to change the world. Integrity, honesty, fairness and social responsibility must mark the dealings in the marketplace. True security can only be found in God's promises of security, both now and in the hereafter.
In Shakespeare's play King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey tells Thomas Cromwell on his death bed: "Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, He would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies." We should not end up in this plight. Learn to serve God faithfully in the marketplace.
If love is central to our faith and if we are to be known by our love, how can it be excluded from the marketplace? It is a mistake to believe that good service to customers and clients can somehow be divorced from the internal attitudes. When there are good internal attitudes, the external service flourishes.
Christian values, based on the teachings of Jesus, are often counter-cultural. It is simply not possible to live in a cocooned world expecting to be happy every moment. To believe this would be to live in an unreal fool's paradise. World's longing for happiness will not be obtained through the pursuit of material possessions and materialist solutions. Our search for happiness will be most fulfilled when seen through the lens of Christ's teaching on the values of life: honesty, sacrifice, service, contentment and joy, instead of being enthralled by the world.
We do not just need a financial bailout; we need to establish balance between ethics and the martketplace. Eternal life starts while we are here on planet earth, as we live well for God, reflecting His original intentions by participating in turning around the broken image. For each one of us, work at the marketplace is a ministry empowered by God, for the benefit of ourselves and others, and ultimately for His glory.