Finance a service industry?
Bill Mathews’ first degree was in electrical engineering, long before he thought of the Jesuits. In the best Jesuit tradition (see the Jesuitica story above) he was attracted to mathematics and he worked in mathematical research in the UK before he entered, at the age of 25. Over the years he has taught philosophy, in Ireland and USA, and was working in Washington DC, USA, at the time of the Lehmann Brothers crash. He set himself to understand why the collapse of a bank had such enormous repercussions. Bill’s take on the affair appeared in an article on Finance Ethics in the Lonergan Review (2010). Peter Scally SJ, asked Bill to attempt a similar analysis of the Eurozone crisis for Thinking faith, the online journal of the British Jesuits. See his highly topical and readable Euro Lessons in Context in Thinking Faith. Read more below.
There is too much in this article to summarise. It is dense but readable and satisfying; partly for that reason, it leaves the reader anxious. The generation that was young in the 1950s remembers what a miraculous phenomenon the European Union, and later the Eurozone, are. For their families, the memory of two world wars is still vivid. The commanding achievement of those great Christians, Schumann, Adenauer, de Gaspari and later deLors, was to create a peaceful market in what had been the cockpit of wars. But the stalls of that market are crashing. Mathews quotes George Soros: long-established forces of integration are in decline and those of disintegration in the political ethos are gaining ground. Old animosities are being rekindled between the core and the periphery. There are even tensions between France and Germany, and Euroscepticism is on the rise in the UK. The danger is that Europe may find itself marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I as a divided continent once again. And why? Bill Mathews was led into this study by the notion of financial engineering – does it serve, as do other types of engineering, to construct a better standard of living for its community?
In order to do this it must be informed and guided by a system and scale of properly human values: vital, social, cultural, personal and religious, through which a vital link with society at large will be established. He now believes that Jeffrey Sachs in his The Price of Civilization is pointing the way forward on this for the US. Europe needs to follow suit.
When Finance is used to serve itself rather than the community, recession and massive unemployment follows. Care is withdrawn from the most vulnerable members of society; the creative potentials of many rot on the vine: those with needs suffer, as does the quality of life. Mathews heads his article with a thought of Christine Lagarde of the IMF: ‘Finance and banking once were service industries.’ Jesus was among us as one who serves, and that profoundly religious insight gives a central thread to this splendid study.