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The Christian Faith and the Financial Crisis
Part Two: The Financial Crisis (10)


Griffiths did not address the reputation of the firm with which he is associated and nor was he challenged on it. In fact he took an initiative of Goldman Sachs as an example of what needed to be done. If the problem is a moral problem then clearly the solution must be a moral solution. Not a matter for government regulation or legislation. He quoted Mark Carney, then Governor of the Bank of Canada, now Governor of the Bank of England and like so many of these people a former employee of Goldman Sachs, saying: 'Virtue cannot be regulated.' (13) But happily a committee of Goldman Sachs had laid out principles to be observed as auditing compliance standards. For policy to be approved it must be shown to be:

a) legal

b) profitable

c) right.

(13) The Cardiff talk closely resembles an earlier talk given by Griffiths - 'Reflections on the Financial Crisis - The Niblett Lecture 2011,' Sarum College, Here, although still emphasising the need for a reform of morals he seemed more positive on the subject of the new regulations then under consideration both in the UK and in Europe: 'Taken together these are far-reaching proposals which change the landscape of the financial services industry, provide greater confidence for depositors, increased transparency for creditors and shareholders regarding the business of financial institutions and increased focus on transparency and accountability in remuneration.' Nothing very fundamental. Nonetheless, the list of regulations he mentioned included the Financial Transactions Tax, singled out for attack in Cardiff on the grounds that it would take money out of the City of London (British money!) and give it to Brussels. One is tempted to speculate that the difference in tone on regulation is due to a feeling that by 2013 the heat, quite severe in the wake of 2007/8, was off.

So that's a comforting thought. Though if the defenders of Goldman Sachs I have quoted above are right and the problem was simply a matter of legitimate risk taking, 'a bet on housing' that 'went horribly awry' then moral badness is not the problem and virtuous behaviour can still result in catastrophe. One of two things, as Josef Stalin might have put it. Either the firm with which Griffiths and many other highly influential figures was intimately involved was behaving immorally, in which case a purely moral solution might be appropriate; or it was simply behaving as a rational actor in a competitive market, making mistakes as we all do, in which case the moral solution is irrelevant.

Back in 2001, six years before the crisis while he was still Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs International, Griffiths published an article for the Institute of Economic Affairs on 'The Business Corporation as a Moral Community' (14) in which he argued that companies should adopt a strong statement of moral principles:

'a set of values, norms or ethical principles which are accepted as a benchmark, reference point or criterion for all who work within the company and which as a consequence will guide and influence behaviour. By this is meant not just that certain kinds of behaviour are deemed acceptable or unacceptable, but something stronger: namely that these kinds of behaviour are also categorised as good or bad, right or wrong. This moral standard will be the genesis of the ethical demands made upon each employee and the raw material from which the corporation creates its distinctive ethos and culture. Such a standard is set out in the business principles or mission statements of the corporation and reinforced by statements from the chairman, the chief executive officer and others in positions of leadership.' (p.18)

(14) Brian Griffiths: 'The Business Corporation as a Moral Community' in Brian Griffiths, Robert Sirico, Norman Barry, Frank Field: Capitalism, Morality and Markets, Institute of Economic Affairs/Profile Books, 2001. The full text is available as a pdf from the Institute of Economic Affairs website.

Griffiths believes that this practise is already widespread within the business community:

'in examining the statements of a variety of companies there are recurring themes: the need for integrity, transparency, honesty and telling the truth; a respect for the individual person because of his or her innate dignity as a fellow human being; a sense of fairness in the way people are treated; the ideal of service, especially in relation to customers but also in the style of leadership shown by executives; the value of teamwork; the responsibility of the corporation to respect the environment; and a commitment to support those communities in which the corporation has facilities. In fact, these themes appear so frequently in different sectors, different countries, different continents and different cultures, that they become less a collection of disparate values chosen by individual companies and more and more a set of universals.' (p.19)

An example might be this extract from what might be called a 'mission statement' obtained from the website of ServiceMaster, an American environmental services group. Griffiths tells us (15) that he was on the board of ServiceMaster for fifteen years:

'We Do The Right Thing

Each of us knows the difference between right and wrong. Through the choices we make every day on the job, we show a heartfelt concern for the needs of others. We do an honest day's work. We tell the truth. We obey the law. We don't cut corners, even if it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. We use our talents and technologies in a responsible way.

We Care About People

Creating a positive work environment begins with building meaningful relationships. We value and respect the concerns and feelings of others. This compassion translates into behaviors that communicate empathy toward others, respect for the individual and appreciation of diversity among associates.

We Value Teamwork

We love to compete. We love to win. We count on each person to contribute to the success of the team. We challenge and encourage each other. We don't let our teammates down.'

(15) In the Cardiff talk but also in the earlier 'Reflections on the Financial Crisis'

He went on to argue that the best guarantee of adherence to these moral standards was a commitment to one of the great monotheist religions - not, presumably Hinduism or Buddhism, but explicitly Judaism, Christianity and, one is half-surprised to see, Islam. Since these teach that all these principles are the absolute commandments of God:

'A religion such as those mentioned which sees business as a vocation or calling, so that a career in business is perceived as a life of service before God, is a most powerful source from which to establish, derive and support absolute moral standards in business life.'

I have dwelt on all this at some length but I hope the reader will understand that as an approach to understanding the financial crisis that occurred in 2007/8, I consider it to be frivolous. And far from being specifically Christian or 'monotheist' the moral standards Griffiths outlines are simply the elementary rules of ordinary human decency. Under normal circumstances one would not wish to have any dealings with anyone, regardless of their views on the great question of Eternal Life, who did not abide by those rules. Financial affairs however impose their own rules, which are not those of normal human life. Like war - and indeed like politics - competitive business is not a realm of freedom There is a necessity at work which dictates what can and cannot be done. As Charles Prince III, former chairman of the financial services corporation Citigroup famously remarked: 'So long as the music keeps playing you've got to get up and dance.' Griffiths sometimes reminds us that as a Christian he knows that human nature is sinful (though if he still sees himself as an evangelical saved Christian he also believes that he himself is free of the consequences of sin). As an Orthodox Christian I believe that our sin derives from the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, meaning that the realm of necessity, of the world, of economic activity, is the realm in which the mixture of good and evil is inescapable.