Guy Brandon, 22 January 2015
Here’s a quick look at a few of the stories of interest in the news this week, with a brief comment from the Jubilee Centre’s perspective of a biblical vision for society.
QE in the Eurozone
The ECB begins its programme of Quantitative Easing, with suggestions that it could create up to a trillion Euros to boost the Eurozone’s economy. Quantitative Easing (QE) is a process by which central banks create money to use to buy bonds from banks – pushing up bond prices and lowering interest rates, thereby enabling people to borrow more money and boosting the economy with additional spending. It’s a controversial practice, not least amongst the Germans, who associate printing money and the hyperinflation to which it can lead with the rise of the Third Reich. QE has already been used, apparently with positive effect, by the US and UK – and also Japan, arguably less effectively.
QE is, of course, a solution to the latest in a series of problems that never should have arisen in the first place. We spent beyond our means, we borrowed huge sums of money at interest and we are now struggling to pay them back. From a biblical perspective, borrowing is supposed to be a last-ditch solution to absolute poverty, not a way of routinely accessing future income in the present. Debts were forgiven every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1-11) and charging interest was strictly forbidden (Deuteronomy 23:19-20). Rather than being the convenience we see them as, debt and interest were considered a form of injustice: a way for the rich to extract money from the poor (Proverbs 28:8). To find out more, read our Debt and Interest booklet.
If interest is viewed as a form of theft, then the same can presumably be said of inflation, since it gradually decreases the value of the money you hold. This is one risk with QE – the possibility of high future inflation. There’s no research on how likely this is, since this is unchartered territory, but at the moment, it seems we have little choice but to find out.
In this instance, the fear is that without such a vast stimulus, chronic deflation will take hold, leading to long-term economic depression across the Eurozone, the kind of 50 percent youth unemployment rates currently seen in Italy and Spain – and with it, the rise of political extremism.
We have already seen the rise of far right and extremist parties in response to the ongoing financial crisis: UKIP in the UK, the Front National in France and Golden Dawn in Greece, amongst others. However it is Greece’s far left that is currently in the spotlight, as Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party is set to win power in the Greek elections on Sunday. The party’s anti-austerity policies raise the prospect of Greece defaulting on its debts and leaving the Euro – something now being openly discussed by European leaders.
Again, the Bible’s views on debt are radically different to our own; we think of taking on debts as trivial and defaulting on them as potentially serious but often the easiest way out. The Bible takes debt so seriously that it uses it as an image for sin – not least in the Lord’s Prayer. An old Cambridge Paper, written at the inception of the Eurozone, details the risks inherent in maintaining a monetary union without a political one, and some of the biblical warnings we might apply to such a project.
Also in the Eurozone, tensions remained high after the murder of 17 people in France by Islamic extremists protesting against cartoons printed in satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Whilst condemning the acts themselves, many leaders have now begun to ask how we can defend both freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
Charlie Hebdo’s new editor-in-chief argued that the magazine supports freedom of religion as well as freedom of speech; what it satirises is politicised religion. ‘Religion should not be a political argument... We have a problem when faith and religion become political, then we become worried and we attack. Then we respond because we are convinced that religion has no place in the political arena. Because once religion injects itself into the political debate, the political debate becomes totalitarian.’
The pope, meanwhile, has stated both that there must be limits to freedom of expression when religion is insulted, and that killing in the name of God is an ‘absurdity’. ‘One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith… one cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is, in the name of God.’
Elsewhere in the news, the vote on plain cigarette packaging has been brought forward to before the election, something that experts claim could save thousands of lives. UKIP leader Nigel Farage tweeted his objection, ‘Plain packaging is an appalling intrusion into consumer choice and the operation of the free market. Jobs and tax revenue would suffer’ – raising the question of what role we expect government to play in protecting us from ourselves. For a biblical take on a related public health issue, take a look at our recent article on obesity.
Is there anything that’s struck you in the news this week – and how do you apply a biblical worldview to some of the big issues of our times? Please leave a comment if you would like to share your thoughts.