While in the USA this week I only picked up the odd headline about the Archbishop of Canterbury and Wonga. Now I am back I am rather surprised and encouraged at what is going on.
First, it is encouraging that the Archbishop of Canterbury is taking a shameless lead in addressing the cancer that such businesses as Wonga represent. Go on to any English urban estate and see the havoc created by desperate people needing immediate cash. Yes, some of them might be 'chaotic' (to quote Iain Duncan Smith), but almost all of them will find current government policy regarding welfare cuts (but not banking reform, obviously) existentially challenging.
The iniquity of pay-day loan sharks has been oft iterated, yet rarely heeded. Such a socially destructive and corrosive business is allowed to continue because (a) most people don't want to face up to it and (b) the implications of tackling it will also cast doubt on the ethical propriety of other elements of our social systems. It is all as corrupting as the win-at-all-costs loadsamoney greed culture mocked by comedians during Thatcher's eighties, but now rooted in our current polarised culture in England.
It was further encouraging that the Archbishop, on discovering that the Church Commissioners invest indirectly in Wonga, went straight into the radio studios, faced the world and pointed out the obvious: that the is no 'clean' money in a complex capitalist world that depends for its pension funds (for example) on investments from sources that will give the highest returns. At least, because of his immediate response, the Archbishop has ensured that this current business will open up deeper questions than simply the adequacy of credit unions for providing alternatives to the spivs.
The task now is to make sure that the debate does not go away when the media's attention shifts elsewhere, and that the deeper questions about “what is money for” and “is society really to be simply a market directed by profit and fantasies of endless growth” get addressed seriously by politicians as well as churches.
I am pleased that in the midst of all this there is a quiet – reluctant, maybe – recognition that the Church is ahead of the game in addressing debt (why do we keep calling it 'credit'?) both at local and regional level. Credit unions are being set up all around the country.