Sunday 11 November 2012

Why Bankers won't be scared of God's Oil Man

December Dining at Eton College

A full-time post is currently being advertised at Eton College for a Dining Room Assistant. The wages amount to £15,272 a year. The annual fees for this school are currently £32,067. I wonder what it feels like scraping the used plates of teenage boys whose education alone costs more than twice your annual income? 

As it happens, £15,000 is the threshold under which a family of four officially enters ‘severe poverty’ (i.e. must choose between ‘eating and heating’), now endured by 1.8 British children,  according to Save The Children UK.  

God's Etonian Oil Man, Justin Welby
Speaking of Eton, I would like to be able to keep an open mind about Justin Welby, the Etonian and former oil executive who is to become the new Archbishop of Canterbury.  Perhaps now he has completed his meteoric rise to the top of his second career ladder, he will (a) stop being daft about gay marriage and (b) acknowledge the imperative of supporting  the poor so emphatically stated in the New Testament, which, as a fervent Evangelist, he should be taking seriously.  Although I am myself a longstanding secularist, if not quite atheist, I can still have my breath taken away by the overwhelming insistence of the working-class hero of the gospels on the immorality of accumulating large wealth when other humans live in poverty. 

F. Bronnikov, 'Death of Lazarus' (1886)
One of my earliest memories, from Sunday School, is Luke’s story of Lazarus and the Rich Man ('Dives').  Destitute and hungry, his sores licked by dogs, Lazarus died at the door of Dives, ‘who was clothed in purple and fine linen and dined sumptuously every day’.  (I am sure people have historically also died of hunger near enough Eton College dining room). But  guess who won the moral victory and ended up in the Bosom of Abraham? It certainly wasn’t the rich one.

Christian capitalists have always had problems with Lazarus, along with Jesus of Nazareth’s exquisite comparison, also reported in the gospel of Luke, of the rich man’s chances of accessing heaven with those of a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle. I recently spoke to a Christian investment banker who suffers from a guilty conscience and pointed me to the Christian portfolio in STOXX Faith-based Indices which ‘offer investors access to companies that act in line with various religious values’.  When I looked them up I laughed for an hour. They  include such palpable corporate villains as HSBC, BP, NestlĂ©, Royal Dutch Shell and GlaxoSmithKline.

What worries me about Welby is that, despite a few routine displays of anti-greed rhetoric, he has already proved that he is not expected to rock the plutocratic  boat in any fundamental way by getting himself appointed to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. How convenient that an embodiment of piety in a funny hat is available to lend some cosmetic appearance of Integrity and Virtue to a national enquiry ostensibly investigating just how low bankers have recently sunk.  Before I give him the benefit of the doubt (and I would like to if only because his wife is a Classics teacher), I challenge him to identify lodgings anywhere near Eton, in the rich residential area of Windsor, cheap enough to allow him to work there on a Dining Room Assistant’s pay.


  1. You might be interested to know that Stephen Green, government minister for trade and investment and former chairman of HSBC, has in fact all along also been an ordained priest in the Church of England. Several years prior to driving HSBC to a leading role in the financial crisis, he wrote a book called Serving God? Serving Mammon?. I haven't read it. I've no idea which side he came down on.

    Of course, it's the 'established' church, isn't it?

  2. Yes, I do know about Green. There is a surprisingly large literature in which Christians try to justify vast salaries and our plutocratic culture. They always misquote Wesley, who did recommend making and saving money, but they leave out his third recommendation, which was to give it all away!