I am vicar of a church in Waterloo, London. When I opened the front doors of the church one recent morning I saw two young rough sleepers, a man and a woman, wrapped up in sleeping bags on ripped up cardboard boxes. Ben, formerly homeless, now one of our key-holders, was selling Big Issue. Stallholders were setting up their street food market (a Turkish woman selling wraps, two Lebanese men selling falafel, one Ethiopian man selling coffee, an Ethiopian man running a Thai food stall, and one British man selling burritos). And a stream of students from around the world passing the church gates on their way to King’s College London. Beyond that two hundred buses an hour carrying commuters into the City; and further afield trains streamed over the bright blue viaduct into Charing Cross. In the background, the redevelopment of the Shell Centre was proceeding apace for seven new high-rise buildings, providing hundreds of flats and offices for powerful individuals and companies servicing global capitalism.
It’s a palimpsest of Britain, and my work as a vicar reflects that. One minute I am responding to a request by a homeless addict for something to eat, somewhere to go, help finding a job. The next I am engaging with the National Theatre on a new jobs scheme we’re running supporting young people into technological skills. Then I find myself counselling someone whose job prospects are unclear or working with a banker who took early retirement and is helping with our finances. Inside the church, I pray about the challenges the world faces – meltdown in Syria, global migration, climate change, society’s fragmentation. Loneliness. Insecurity. Fear.
David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, Profile Books, London, 2015.
Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything, Allen Lane, London, 2014
Paul Mason, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, Allen Lane, London, 2015.
Arundhati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story, Verso, London, 2015
What is going on? Responses to the current economic situation fall into two broad categories – those who argue that we need more of the same but more carefully moderated, and those who lay the responsibility firmly at the door of what is broadly termed neo-liberal economics. Paul Mason, Naomi Klein, David Harvey and Arundhati Roy fall into the second group. In broad terms their argument is similar – we are seeing the outworking of an economic approach which was first seen when President Nixon tore up the Bretton-Woods agreement in 1971 and developed by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, influenced by the Chicago School of economists led by Milton Friedman. Neo-liberal orthodoxy called for a fundamental transformation of the relationship between the state and the individual, liberating private enterprise to create wealth wherever it could on the basis that a rising tide lifts all boats. These books challenge that premise, arguing in different ways that this vision of capitalism is fatally wounded, tottering under the weight of its own contradictions; and that we are seeing – in the resistance to capitalism shown by movements such as the Transition Towns in the UK, Occupy, local energy companies and above all the radical transformation of information brought about by the internet – the beginnings of a new structure which has the potential to change the world.