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Beyond recovery

By Ray Cleary - posted Tuesday, 16 June 2009

In delivering its recent Federal Budget, the Rudd Government made the assumption that our economy will recover in the near future and we can expect an improved outlook in the next 12 months or shortly afterwards.

It’s an assumption the Federal Treasury and many leading economists share. The Federal Opposition, however, has taken a different stance, whether for ideological or pragmatic reasoning, identifying debt as the noose around our necks for a decade or more.

What intrigues me about most of the discussion, at least that which appears in the popular press, is that there is little, if any, questioning on whether or not we want to return to the conditions which have created the present global crisis.


Nor is there any acknowledgement this crisis was unexpected by the majority of economists and they continued to underestimate the severity of the downturn even as it continued to unravel. The public message conveyed was always that we could put our faith and trust in the market.

Now, as General Motors, one of the world’s largest corporations, buckles under the weight of outmoded thinking and declares bankruptcy, we should be learning from the past and choosing a new direction and perhaps a more just future. Do we really want to return to a “status quo” where 80 per cent of the world’s assets are either owned or controlled by 20 per cent of the world’s population?

Some would argue the poor are not getting poorer (an argument about statistics and semantics) but there has been no quick fix to poverty and the reality in many countries is different. In fact, the wealthy have got wealthier.

There is one debate still to come. The recognition that the current global crisis is, at its core, an ethical and moral issue, and then an economic one. The financial crisis is much more than a crisis about money. Rather, it is equally about scarce resources and the failure of the free market to ensure that they are distributed in a manner which provides a living for everyone and justice for all.

The ethical debate which I am suggesting still needs to take place, should have at its core a number of key issues including:

  • work participation, what Professor Richard Sennett recently termed “a job for life”, and the way people suffer when they live in short-term regimes;
  • the future lives of young people impacted by the current global downturn and the shifting grounds around the meaning of “community”;
  • anxiety created by an “overtly capitalist agenda” - the need to succeed at all costs; and
  • climate change and its future impact on communities around the world.

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, suggests in his recent writings on the subject of the need to enlist the classical values into the economic system, namely prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. Prudence he said was “good judgment”, temperance was emotional intelligence, fortitude was courage and justice for all, not the few.

His comments seem a good starting point and something the community and the Church could begin to discuss. Such a discussion may lead to more revelations and not just one of the same with a few changes around the edge. It should be remembered that we all have been caught up in the current crisis and we are both the problem and the solution - are we not?

Simply hoping that greater regulations will protect us in the future is not an option. Nor can we ignore the tiger economies of India and China. New thinking and revisited priorities are essential.

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About the Author

Dr Ray Cleary is the Chief Executive Officer at Anglicare Victoria, the state’s largest provider of support services for children and families.

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