Thursday, 13 January 2011

Epiphany and bankers bonuses - a revelation of grace and greed!

Epiphany is the season in the Church calendar when we reflect on God’s revelation of grace to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ by his baptism at the hands of John the Baptist in the River Jordan and the commencement of his public ministry! In some Christian circles it also celebrates the arrival of the magi bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the infant Jesus in honour of the King of the Jews born in poverty in Bethlehem. It is above all a celebration of God’s gift of love and grace expressed in the birth of Jesus Christ initiating a message of good news of great joy for all people – God’s economy of grace and fullness of life in opposition to the economy of scarcity and greed!
In stark contrast, falling at the beginning of the year, Epiphany coincides with the announcement of banker’s bonuses which reveals a very different reality – that of human greed and excess! This was poignantly captured by Barclays CEO, Bob Diamond’s appearance before the Treasury Select Committee yesterday which sparked outrage in the media by seeking to deflect blame for the financial (and ensuing global economic) crisis from financial institutions and to justify the culture of obscene bonuses as an industry norm. This reflects the failure of the both Labour and the Coalition Government to persuade bankers to limit bonuses in the midst of the on-going uncertainty and volatility in the financial markets and the human misery which cuts in the private, public and third sectors continue to cause in the UK and abroad.[1]
Clearly the time for appealing to the goodwill and conscience of the bankers is over and the sooner that a regulatory framework is put in place which separates the investment wing from high street banking and a financial activities tax (FAT) is imposed on financial institutions (which could raise an additional £20 billion in the UK alone), the better. Some of our churches are members of the Robin Hood Tax coalition which is calling for a FAT as a first step towards a Financial Transaction Tax and have criticised the scale of the Bank Levy of £2 billion proposed by George Osborne over the next 3 years. This is small change to the large banks who are preparing to spend ten times that amount on bonuses this year alone!
For let us not forget that the economy of benevolence and grace inaugurated by Jesus Christ is also an economy of equity and justice and that the Servant of the Lord will bring forth justice in faithfulness and that ‘he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth (Isaiah 42:3b).

[1] In five years up to 2006/7, the finance sector paid 203 billion pounds in taxes.  In their report for the G20, leaked in April, the IMF calculated that the cost to the UK of the bailout and lost GDP resulting from the financial crisis to be 700 billion pounds.