“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light ” John 1:6-8
“The wilderness … had taken him, loved him, embraced him got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation.” Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
These contrasting passages describe two human beings in the wilderness. In the first extract, taken from last Sunday’s Gospel reading, John is ‘the voice crying out in the wilderness’ and calling for repentance; in the second extract, from Joseph Conrad’s book The Heart of Darkness, Kurtz has no spiritual resistance, no internal restraint, and has become corrupted by the forces of darkness.
Who personifies Kurtz today? Is it the shadow banking system in Europe which appears thoroughly unhinged? Like Kurtz the bankers have piled up the contemporary equivalent of his ‘ ivory’ except that it is leverage upon leverage of assets that in reality have no sound basis; almost nothing lies behind the infinite layers of debt they are creating. I hear the whisper of Kurtz, ‘The horror! The horror’ as he gazes into this ‘heart of darkness.’
When I read Ann Pettifor‘s excellent article in The Guardian (6 December 2011) ‘Standard & Poor’s is right, ‘austerity’ has no economic clothes’ I thought of the other ‘vox clamantis.’ Even if she is not the camel hair wearing, locust and honey eating John the Baptist, she is crying “I am an economist with a plan to get us out of here.” The ‘new economics’ that Ann Pettifor is advocating rejects the policy of Europe’s deeply flawed politicians who are resolutely refusing to focus on remedies for the crisis – the broken banking system – and are instead obsessed by austerity measures. As Ann Pettifor says,
“austerity has no economic clothes. Austerity is destroying investment and jobs, and therefore income. Without employment, individuals, households, firms and governments are deprived of money. Without employment income, governments cannot collect taxes, and banks cannot collect debt repayments. So banks face bankruptcy and government deficits rise. It’s not complicated.”
Indeed it is not. Eventually the crowds flocked to the wilderness to hear John the Baptist. It’s not too late for the bankers and the politicians to repent.
Have a Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.