|Everyones feeling the pinch except the supermarkets|
Given that our Bishops are largely only the Pope's men on paper, it is not surprising that they interpret Caritas in Veritate through ideological lenses only. The Holy Father, on the other hand, does not apply socialist reasoning in response to today's economic woes. The Holy Father does not appear to agree that the State can provide for its citizens or even that the State must bear the economic 'burden' (for want of a better phrase) of correcting the market's proclivity to produce poverty and injustice amidst incredible wealth.
'37. The Church's social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence. The social sciences and the direction taken by the contemporary economy point to the same conclusion. Perhaps at one time it was conceivable that first the creation of wealth could be entrusted to the economy, and then the task of distributing it could be assigned to politics. Today that would be more difficult, given that economic activity is no longer circumscribed within territorial limits, while the authority of governments continues to be principally local.'
In other words, Keynesian economics is dead. Or perhaps I'm putting my own spin on the Holy Father's words. The idea of the Big Society is wonderful. You could even say that the idea has been ripped off from the Church Herself. The Church's social teaching encourages the rich to be generous to the poor, even calls them out on a moral duty, towards the alleviation of the plight of the poor. In days gone by, the Big Society would have been more popular since people actually listened to the Church. Nowadays people listen to the Church less than they listen to the Government and respect of both is really rather low.
I suspect that the Bishops Conference of England and Wales do quite like the vision of the Big Society, but probably only on terms defined by the left. They're CAFOD men, after all. The Big Society, defined as something achieved by the charitable sector (known to be most charitable of all to their own employees) is to be funded by the State. The left sees the charity as something funded by the State. Of course, now the State is saying it has no money (even though we've launched another war, we're about to bail out Portugal and we've just given billions of pounds to Pakistan, presumably so that more Christians can be killed under their blasphemy law) so, when the cuts come - because the State can't be arsed anymore, whether there's any money left in the till or not - the Bishops Conference of England and Wales will be singing from the same hymn sheet as the Church of England and student anarchists campaigning for the cuts to be stopped.
The reality is that much of the 'cutting' will be unfair. In this respect the Government will exercise the social darwinism it was unprepared to exercise when the banks were considered too 'big' to fail. Libraries and public toilets are important for the homeless for example. The other reality is that the cuts will happen anyway. So, what are the options? Well, for a start, the Holy Father reminded the Bishops at the end of his Apostolic Visit of their duty towards their flocks in encouraging real and practical assistance to the poor and unemployed...
'The spectre of unemployment is casting its shadow over many people’s lives, and the long-term cost of the ill-advised investment practices of recent times is becoming all too evident. In these circumstances, there will be additional calls on the characteristic generosity of British Catholics, and I know that you will take a lead in calling for solidarity with those in need.'
More poverty and more unemployment are on the horizon and the State isn't going to rescue the poor and unemployed with the same tender pity that they showed to the major banking institutions of the United Kingdom. That, the Government will say, is the job of the 'Big Society'. What the Big Society really means when Cameron says it is 'anyone but us'. That means that coming to the assistance of the poor and unemployed is the job of charities, the Church, voluntary organisations and last, but not least...business.
It is here that Catholic social teaching and the Government's Big Society link up quite nicely. The profits of supermarkets are so high that people don't believe they are committing a crime when they steal from them because it is perceived to be a victim-less offense. We can never condone that, of course, but, for what it is worth, my advice to the Bishops of England and Wales is this: The Government are going to do this whatever you say. They have decided to pull away from what previous generations saw, rightly or wrongly, as their duty. They say they have no money. Therefore, in order to help the Church in the upcoming bad times, and in order to help the Church to help the poor in the upcoming bad times, in keeping with Her mission, the Church should befriend, instead of the Government, big business.
Even in the midst of a huge recession the supermarkets are opening up new branches every week. Not only do they get rid of loads of food and waste loads of food, but their profits are going up in line with unemployment figures. The Church should, in my opinion, befriend big supermarket chains and charitably remind them of their duty towards the poor and unemployed. The supermarkets would get good publicity out of it, they might not get ransacked when the real riots hit and the burden of helping the poor would be lightened on the Church.
I would imagine that if all the supermarkets donated food to the Church soup runs, sandwiches, soup etc, they could do it quite easily in every town and city, even donate food hampers for the poor who come to the Church's door and still continue opening up new branches at the same rate that they already do. I'll bet their pre-tax profits wouldn't even be hit a percentage point. If the supermarkets did this, they could avert an upcoming PR disaster and instead obtain a PR coup when times get really bad, help the Church, help the poor, help the Bishops and even help the Government. This week I'm going to ask Sainsbury's whether they would like to play their part in the 'Big Society'. I'll let you know how it goes...