Archbishop welcomes credit crunch 'reality check'

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The Independent Online

The credit crunch is a welcome "reality check" for a society that has become driven by unsustainable greed, the Archbishop of Canterbury said today.

Rowan Williams also hit out at Gordon Brown's plans to combat recession by boosting spending, likening them to an "addict returning to the drug".

The head of the Church of England's outspoken comments came as he delivered a scathing assessment of "moral" failings in Britain's economy.

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he insisted the country had been "going in the wrong direction" for decades by relying on financial speculation to generate wealth quickly rather than "making things".

The UK had backed itself "into a corner", and must now rediscover "patience" and re-think the way it viewed material gain, he said.

Asked whether that meant the global financial crisis wracking the economy had been beneficial, Dr Williams replied: "It is a sort of a reality check, isn't it - which is always good for us.

"A reminder that what I think some people have called fairy gold is just that - that sooner or later you have to ask: 'What are we making or what are we assembling or accumulating wealth for?'."

Dr Williams went on: "I would like to think that in this sort of crisis people would be reflecting more on how you develop a volunteer culture, how you develop a culture of people willing to put their services at the needs of others so that there can be a more active, a more vital civil society."

The archbishop called on the Government to give more of a lead on "how the civil society is created".

Dr Williams expressed concerns over the Prime Minister's "fiscal stimulus" package, which included cutting VAT to get the public spending again.

Questioned on whether increased spending was the right way to tackle the downturn, he said: "It seems a little bit like the addict returning to the drug.

"When the Bible uses the word 'repentance', it doesn't just mean beating your breast, it means getting a new perspective, and that is perhaps what we are shrinking away from."

The archbishop added: "It is about what is sustainable in the long term and if this is going to drive us back into the same spin, I do not think that is going to help us."

He said people should not "spend to save the economy", but instead spend for "human reasons" - to provide for their own needs.

Dr Williams admitted that he was likely to face criticism for giving economists "advice" on how to tackle the crisis.

"It's suicidally silly, I think, because I am not an economist by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

"But I want to ask where these moral questions are in the economic discourse."