Book Review

Christian Perspectives on the Financial Crash

Edited by Professor Philip Booth with an introduction by Archbishop Vincent Nichols
Published by St Pauls, London (£12.95)
Reviewed by Paul Woolley. Director of Theos, the Bible Society’s religious think-tank

Christian Perspectives on the Financial Crash is a series of essays examining the underlying economic and ethical causes of the 2008 financial crash. The book doesn't assume a high degree of economic literacy, but is designed with the Christian non-economist in mind. It sets out the "various economic malfunctions" that caused the crash and offers some helpful theological reflections on a wide range of issues including credit, the behaviour of the banks, usury and bailouts, consumer debt and sustainable living.

The book is skewed to a Catholic theological viewpoint (the foreword, for instance, is by Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster), but not exclusively so. Unlike other reflections on the crash, it comprises a reasonably diverse range of perspectives rather than a single political or economic view-point.

The editor, who also contributes, is Philip Booth, Professor of Insurance and Risk Management at Cass Business School and Editorial and Programme Director of the free-market think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs. Other contributors include Brian Griffiths, Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs International, Catherine Cowley, Professor of Ethics at Heythrop, the philosophy and theology college at the University of London, Francis Davis, a fellow of Blackfriars Hall, the Catholic studies centre at the University of Oxford, and Iain Allan, a visiting professor at Cass.

The chapter by Samuel Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute for the study of religion and liberty, is called Credit, Sin and the 2008 Financial Crisis and is especially good. If Christians accept that the essence of economic activity consists of individuals and institutions making free choices of a creative and reactive nature, he argues, it is important not only to ask questions about the leverage ratios maintained by financial houses and banks but also to analyse and critically appraise the decisions of individual borrowers. Gregg concludes: "If we want to enjoy the moral and material fruits of economic liberty, then society's moral bonds need to be constantly renewed and strengthened."

The book takes the stance that the economic crisis was caused not only by technical or regulatory problems, but also by deep moral failures - that there can be no markets without morality and that the challenge is to create a new moral economy. In all these respects the book is an immensely helpful and timely resource, a useful counterbalance to some of the other contributions that have been made on the subject.