St Paul’s hosts debate on goodness
SPEAKING to an audience of over 500 people in St Paul’s Cathedral, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, said that financial institutions and other bodies needed to be staffed by ‘good people bound together by a good purpose’.
Giving the keynote address for the first of three panel discussions organised by the Cathedral on the subject ‘The City and the Common Good: What kind of City do we want?’ the Archbishop called for a recovery of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage. Faced with the pressures of a consumerist society, he said, people need to learn to desire well.
Calling for ‘enterprises of good purpose’ he instanced Stafford NHS Trust as an example of an institution where leaders had lost their vision of a moral purpose. ‘Unless you get that right, you will never get anything else right’, said the Archbishop. He went on to argue that instead of just thinking in financial terms, businesses should aim ‘to deliver a profit that adds to human wellbeing’.
Archbishop Nichols clashed with Tracy McDermott, Director of Enforcement and Financial Crime at the FCA over the role of legal sanctions. He agreed that ‘law and regulation matter’ but warned ‘new rules usually deal with the last problem not the next one’ and pointed to the dangers of a ‘compliance mentality’ that creates ‘perverse incentives’ and increases bureaucracy.
Ms McDermott disagreed with the Archbishop saying that rules were a ‘necessary but not sufficient’ instrument to insure that ethical standards were met. Most people in the City were dedicated and hard working she said, but one of the features of financial crime was that its consequences were not always obvious. It was easy for people to see the harm done by burglary but the consequences of financial fraud were not immediately apparent and victims were less obvious. More and more financial transactions are done by computer with the result that people do not know and see the people they are doing business with.
The two other speakers on the panel, Baroness Helena Kennedy and Bishop Peter Selby, favoured a more radical overhaul of the capitalist system. Bishop Selby said he ‘appreciated the aspirations of Archbishop Nichols’ but worried that he had underplayed the impact people of power in the City have on other, less wealthy people. Instead of ‘schools of virtue’ he wanted ‘schools of resistance’.
Commenting on the debate, the chair, BBC Economics Corre- spondent, Stephanie Flanders, said that other economic systems also ruined the lives or ordinary people. A change of system might not bring benefits. There were a number of questions from the floor. In response to one person who asked whether adopting high ethical standards in Britain would harm international competiveness Archbishop Nichols argued that firms ultimately benefitted from having a good purpose.
Two future events are planned in the same series. On May 7th the keynote speaker is Robert Skidelsky and on June 12th it is Archbishop Justin Welby. Admission is by ticket, free from St Paul’s.