Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Money VI


This is the sixth of six posts.

The previous posts served to relay Martin’s thought.

This post will offer some theological reflections.

If you recall, Martin concludes that money is like a language – no one controls it [278].

But, at two points in the Bible we see God changing language: Babel and Pentecost. (The latter reverses the former.) Whereas Babel symbolises Babylon, thereby connoting a Power that divides people, Pentecost reverses this by bringing people together.

Money is a Power. (Jesus called it Mammon.) And whereas the Kingdom unites, the Powers divide. More specifically, money is the symbol of some monetary standard. That standard bears the real power, because get it wrong, and the poor are divided from the rich in a way anathema to the Kingdom.

So, to paraphrase Martin’s argument, when the standard for money is reduced to the intrinsic (and therefore fixed) value of a commodity (like silver), when the creditworthiness of the sovereign is not taken into account, when financial abstractions arise bearing little relation to “the real world”. When this happens, when insolvency multiples, and the state steps in to ensure solvency, the taxes of the poor are used to protect the bonds of the rich, then this is evidence of a fallen Power – because the poor are violently divided from the rich.

Two things seem to follow from this.

First, engaging the Powers at least entails building relationships with the marginalised. Whereas Roman Citizen marginalises non-Roman Citizen (Acts 16), and Jew marginalises Gentile (Acts 21) – the Powers being Rome and Jerusalem respectively – the Kingdom brings them together by the Spirit. Besides, Jesus made a ministry of blessing the marginalised.

Shane Claibourne puts it like this,

Jesus did not seek out the rich and powerful in order to trickle down his kingdom. Rather, he joined those at the bottom, the outcasts and undesirables, and everyone was attracted to his love on the margins. (We know that we all are poor and lonely anyway, don’t we?) Then he invited everyone into a journey of downward mobility to become the least.*

I sometimes wonder whether an over-emphasis on reaching individual leaders (the rich) is an attempt to engage the Powers, albeit mistakenly through an individualistic grid. It seems to me that we will reach leaders by engaging the Powers, but that we will not engage the Powers by just reaching leaders.

Whereas just reaching leaders redeems individuals within the System – not the System itself – reaching “non-leaders” (the poor) deliberately engages that System (which divides “non-leader” from “leader” in the first place).

Second, the notion of a monetary standard raises an interesting question. Will the economy of the new heaven and new earth have a “perfect” monetary standard, or will there be no standard at all (assuming some semblance of money)? Will we issue our own IOUs, because the work of Son and Spirit has made us all trustworthy, thereby ensuring liquidity? Or will there be some (perfect) standard?

I wonder.



* Shane Claibourne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living As An Ordinary Radical (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 127.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Money V

Felix Martin, Money: The Unauthorised Biography (London: The Bodley Head, 2013), 328 + vi pp.

This is the fifth of six posts.

Death and loss come unexpectedly. Hence the interruption to this series of posts on Felix Martin’s book Money. Further interruptions will follow, I’m sure, but in the meantime let’s attempt a return to that series.

Two aspects of Locke’s legacy were noted in the previous post in the series. First, the temptation to hoard money in a crisis. Second, the temptation for a government not to respond to a crisis. (This temptation arises because of Sayʼs Law, which I endeavoured to summarize.).

Third, but more fundamentally, Locke’s thinking leads to a division between economics and finance. If the creditworthiness of the sovereign guarantees liquidity, then this holds economics and finance together. “We believe the sovereign’s IOUs will be paid.” This is the basis of money.

But if money is reduced to the intrinsic (and therefore fixed) value of a commodity (like silver), then money becomes just a catalyst for the exchange of goods. So economics engages solely with the goods and not with the catalyst (which cancels itself out), giving us the so-called “real” economy.

Conversely, the financial world pursues money without reference to the “real” economy [221]. This is because post-war academic finance proceeds without reference to the sovereign at all. (Consider money created through the creation of mortgages. Since debt is money [IOUs], creating [mortgage] debt creates money. This money is not created by the sovereign. Perhaps that is why the current housing bubble bears so little relation to “the real world”.)* The financial world, therefore, proceeds without the guarantee of liquidity that the creditworthiness of the sovereign provides.

[A]cademic finance built a theory of finance without the macroeconomy just as neoclassical macroeconomics had built a theory of the macroeconomy without finance ... One was an intellectual framework for understanding the economy without money, banks, and finances. The other was a framework for understanding money, banks, and finance, without the rest of the economy’ [221, 225].

(So when the financial crisis of 2008 is described as a “failure of collective imagination” part of that failure is of economics and finance to be collective in the first place.)

However, it is one thing for a sovereign to ensure liquidity, but another to ensure solvency. If a bank is insolvent – if its liabilities exceed its assets – then no amount of liquidity can help. (Liquidity, again, is the market’s ability to quickly convert assets to their monetary value.)

(Liabilities can accrue because of bad and complex debts, which no-one really understands. The abstraction from the “real world”, here, is further evidence of Locke’s legacy bifurcating financial services from economics.)

When a sovereign ensures liquidity, no-one loses: when a sovereign ensures solvency, banks gain but the tax-payer loses [237]. ʻSpending public money to protect bank bondholders [those who own the bank’s debt] has become an issue of rich versus poorʼ since the rich have bonds, and the poor just pay taxes [238].

But it was not supposed to be like this. ʻIn modern terms, the crown provided liquidity support to the Bank, while the Bank provided credit support to the sovereignʼ [239]. Yet in the recent times the crown has provided both liquidity and credit to the Bank.

The banks – their employees, their bondholders, and their depositors – get both liquidity and credit support. The sovereign – that is, the taxpayer – gets nothing. The crisis revealed that the historic quid pro quo had become a quid pro nihilo: something for nothing [239].

Exacerbating all this is a much expanded bond market, expanded in no small part by deregulation. And the expansion of debt brought with it expanded complexity. So what should be done?

Martin rejects both privatizing and socializing the System [257-259]. Both renegotiate the relationship between the sovereign and the banks. Privatizing puts the latter in ascendancy. (This was Law’s solution.) Sovereign debt becomes social equity. Risks are born by the bank’s stakeholders. But the monetary standard would no longer be fixed by the sovereign. Flexibility could become anarchy. (Think Bitcoin.)

On the other hand, Socializing puts the former – the sovereign – in the ascendancy. Although gains would be shared by taxpayers, ʻ[m]oney would no longer be a tool of government, it would have become government’ [259]. So Martin proposes the work of Irving Fischer as a possible way forward.

Irving’s idea “narrow banking” separates “high-street banking” (which would continue to receive sovereign support) from the complexities of financial services in the City. That way, if the latter implodes, the every-day taxpayer remains (relatively) unscathed.

In the final analysis, Martin concludes that money is like a language – no one controls it [278].**

The next post offers some theological reflections.


* Michael Rowbotham, The Grip of Death: A Study of Modern Money, Debt Slavery and Destructive Economics (Charlbury: Jon Carpenter, 1998); Josh Ryan-Collins, Tony Greenham, Richard Werner, and Andrew Jackson, Where Does Money Come From? A Guide to the UK Monetary and Banking System (London: New Economics Foundation, 2011).

** Are Rowbotham et al. (above) attempting to change our very language of money from debt to credit? If so, is their project doomed to failure?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Dead Weight of Grief

Grief wears one down with its weight. And both Kathy and I are weary of being worn down. We are weary of being weary. We are both physically, emotionally, and psychologically exhausted.

As for me, I hold the pain in my chest. It is palpable – and persistent. I feel like I am carrying Daniel around in his baby carrier all the time.

The Daniel whom I carry is my “inner” Daniel. Sometimes I say a few words to him, just like I used to.

The only time I lay him down is when I am graveside. I tell him, “Sleep well, buddy. Daddy loves you,” just like I did every night.

Sometimes this “inner” Daniel demands attention, just like he used to. Once I caught up with Kathy, Daniel, and a bunch of our friends outside of work. I greeted everyone but Daniel, who looked a little forlorn until he had my full attention.

So the other day, I was walking through the cemetery, within eyeshot of where Daniel is buried. And I remembered this incident. So I walked over to his grave to acknowledge him. My “inner” Daniel had just demanded attention.

(I think this is OK, so long as it doesn’t become obsessive-compulsive.)

But will this persistent pain in my chest ever go away? Will the load ever lighten?

Someone we know proffered an answer. She didn’t expect that it would. But she did expect us to develop the psychological and emotional muscle to carry the weight.

This reminded me of when Daniel was born. When Daniel was born I found that after twenty to thirty minutes of jiggling him to sleep in my arms, he was too heavy to hold.

I should have known. I didn’t really give much thought to being a father ahead of time. My friend Eddie told me that nothing can prepare you. So I didn’t really bother. I began to read one laddish paperback on the subject, but didn’t make it past the first few chapters.

The only thing I took from the book was the need for physical fitness. That all makes sense now. But in hindsight, I realise that my arms adjusted to Daniel. The longer I held him, the longer I was able to hold him.

And so it seems that what is true of the physical is also true of the psychological. The loss of Daniel might be too psychologically heavy to hold. 

I hold the pain in my chest. It is palpable – and persistent. I feel like I am carrying Daniel around in his baby carrier all the time.

But as with our physical arms, so Kathy and I will develop the psychological arms necessary to carry him. The loss may never diminish. But we will find the strength to keep on holding him.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Ten Theses Concerning Death V

This is the fifth of five posts.

SUMMARY

CREATION
  1. Death is created.
  2. Physical death does not, in itself, lead to eternal separation from God.
  3. Eternal relationship with God requires physical resurrection.
FALL
  1. It was the resurrection of the dead that was lost at the Fall.
  2. The loss of the resurrection is accompanied (and signified) by the fall of death, which is marked by prematurity, violence, and unfulfilled lives.
  3. Paul often uses “death” to connote the previous thesis.
JESUS IDENTIFIES WITH US
  1. Through a life of obedience, Jesus puts death back in its place.
  2. He is also obedient to the point of death, thereby reclaiming the resurrection of the dead.
WE IDENTIFY WITH JESUS

  1. Jesus also gives us the Spirit so that we can be part of God’s plan to put death in its place.
  2. Jesus gives us the Spirit so that we can be resurrected too.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Ten Theses Concerning Death IV

This is the fourth of five posts. These ten theses concerning death fall into four parts: CREATION, FALL, JESUS IDENTIFIES WITH US, and WE IDENTIFY WITH JESUS.

WE IDENTIFY WITH JESUS

  1. Before we consider our resurrection in the final thesis, let us pause to note that Jesus also gives us the Spirit so that we can be part of God’s plan to put death in its place. We can conjecture that, through his disobedience, Adam not only lost the resurrection of the dead but also lost the power (of the Spirit) to put death in its place. Where once Adam could calm storms (and so avert death, and so put death in its place), Adam would now drown in them.

  2. But through the obedience of Jesus – obedience to death – Jesus has been resurrected. And the resurrected Jesus has given us the Spirit. This is the same Spirit by whom Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This is the same Spirit given to us to live and tell the resurrection.

    Nonetheless, although we have this same Spirit already, we are not yet resurrected. So, like Jesus, we still live in a fallen world, and will die a fallen death – one that is marked by prematurity, or violence, or by an unfulfilled life.
  1. Therefore, Jesus gives us the Spirit so that we can be resurrected too. By receiving the Spirit we identify with Jesus. The Spirit is like an engagement ring, which identifies us with him, and guarantees what is to come [2 Corinthians 5:5]. So as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, we who identify with him will also be resurrected.

  2. The resurrection shows continuity and discontinuity with this life. On the one hand, the resurrected Jesus bears the scars of his death. The same body that died is resurrected. So we can speculate that our son will be resurrected as a toddler. On the other hand, Jesus is clear that we will not be resurrected as spouses [Luke 20:35], although we can speculate that we will continue to parent him in some capacity.

    Last of all, the resurrection shows us that death is a real end. And in a fallen world, it shows us that death is an unfitting end to an unfulfilled life. So our son is not in some room next door, but is really gone, and unfairly so. This is Easter Saturday. It is why we grieve. It is why we wait. But it is also why our only hope is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    By way of closing, allow me to quote some words of Paul from Romans 7 (italics mine):

    ‘[18] I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. [19] For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. [20] For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

    [22] We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. [23] Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? [25] But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.’

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Ten Theses Concerning Death III

This is the third of five posts. These ten theses concerning death fall into four parts: CREATION, FALL, JESUS IDENTIFIES WITH US, and WE IDENTIFY WITH JESUS.

JESUS IDENTIFIES WITH US
  1. But through a life of obedience, Jesus puts death back in its place, giving us glimpses of how it was supposed to be. Jesus can put death in its place only because he obeys his Father. “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” [John 5:19].

  2. Perhaps the paradigm case (of putting death in its place) is the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. ‘Jesus wept’ [11:35]. Premature death is not how it was supposed to be. So Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead [11:43-44].

    Nonetheless, Lazarus
    did die again, if not prematurely, or violently, then certainly without the fulfilled life that is lost at the Fall. So even Lazarus’ resurrection falls short of the (eternal) resurrection lost by Adam. It is this lost resurrection that still needs to be attained.
  1. Therefore, Jesus not only puts death in its place by being obedient, but he is also obedient to the point of death, thereby reclaiming the resurrection of the dead [Philippians 2:8-9]

  2. Because of Jesus death loses its sting [1 Corinthians 15:55-56]. Because of Jesus death has been purified (not so much “destroyed” – “purified” is a better translation of katargeo in 1 Corinthians 15:26.)* Perhaps we can say that death has been put back in its place – at the feet of Jesus [Ephesians 1:22].

    But this can only happen because Jesus identifies with death. Sometimes Protestants can be wary of crucifixes. “Jesus is no longer on the cross: he is risen!” However, we must not forget that it was precisely through his death that Jesus rose again. This is not only a fine point of theology, but is also a source of great comfort.

    On 13 January 2015, we cradled our dead son in our arms. We had previously placed a crucifix next to a photo of Daniel in our living room. It now reminds us that since the dead body of Jesus was not the ultimate end of Jesus, so the dead body of Daniel will not be Daniel’s ultimate end either. Because Jesus identified with death and rose again, he gives us the Spirit so that we can be resurrected too.


    *  Walter Wink, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 51.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Ten Theses Concerning Death II

This is the second of five posts. These ten theses concerning death fall into four parts: CREATION, FALL, JESUS IDENTIFIES WITH US, and WE IDENTIFY WITH JESUS.

FALL
  1. So since death is natural and does not lead to eternal separation from God, and since eternal relationship with God requires physical resurrection, it was the resurrection of the dead that was lost at the Fall.* To reiterate, without the resurrection there is no eternal relationship with God. Therefore, since eternal relationship with God was lost at the Fall, it was the resurrection that was lost there.
  2. Moreover, the loss of the resurrection is accompanied (and signified) by the fall of death, which is marked by prematurity, violence, and unfulfilled lives. This is the sting of death [1 Corinthians 15:56]. Premature or violent death is not the way that things were meant to be. Furthermore, if death is only a fitting end for fulfilled lives, then since no life is fulfilled since the Fall, then death is never fitting in a fallen world. It is always out of place. So where once death was a fitting end, it has now fallen to become the last enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26].
  3. Paul often uses “death” to connote the previous thesis. For example, ‘since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive’ [1 Corinthians 15:21-22]. If the parallel is to put Jesus first, then it does not concern physical death so much as physical resurrection: whereas Adam lost the resurrection, Jesus reclaimed it.

    Furthermore, when Paul writes that ‘the wages of sin is death’ [Romans 6:23] he goes on to clarify that he is not thinking of physical death in itself, as if this resulted from sin. ‘For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death’ [Romans 7:11]. He is physically alive as he writes this.


    Throughout Paul reflects Genesis. God tells Adam, ‘you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’ [Genesis 2:17]. But Adam does not die physically on that day. Rather, he loses his place in the world. Indeed, everything East of Eden is out of place, including death (as per thesis 5).

    * More specifically, it was not the resurrection of the dead that was lost, but the resurrection of the dead to eternal life. Without qualifying this in the main text, I am assuming for its purposes that all resurrection was lost, thereby precluding the possibility of resurrection to (either temporal or eternal) damnation. This assumption is known as “annihilationism”, and unfortunately space prohibits further discussion.