Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kiwi Anglicans should think about voting for Don Brash

With apologies to overseas readers for a momentary focus on a local matter, I have been thinking that it is unlikely that Kiwi Anglicans will seriously consider voting in November's election for the Don Brash-led ACT Party (which, in political spectrum terms, is far right cum monetarist). For the best of reasons - desiring to support people by supporting the most caring (or apparently caring) political party - Anglicans here will profess to voting for just about any party except the ACT Party. At times our synod resolutions resemble policies of the Labour, Maori and Green parties, but we can be pretty certain that, just quietly, many Anglicans do vote for the National Party.

But here's the thing about our church, how does it run in financial terms? If we "follow the money" in our church, where does the money come from that pays for ministries and missional initiatives? I suggest there are three significant sources. In no particular order of ministry priority or size of resource, first, we have a fair share of the chaplaincies which are funded by government money (health, military, prisons).

Secondly, we have some significant trust funds which pay for offices of the church. The main trust available to the church as a whole is the St John's College Trust which pays some $12 million annually to fund educational via St John's College and via episcopal units. There is also the General Church Trust which pays the bulk of administration costs for our whole church, includng costs of General Synod meetings. Then episcopal units have access to endowments and trust funds. Across seventeen episcopal units there is significant variation so that some bishoprics are completely endowed and others only partially so, some dioceses can pay substantial costs of curacies and others cannot. Finally, some parishes are endowed, and a few of those are well endowed.

Thirdly, there are offertories. In my understanding the majority of stipended parish positions, lay and ordained, rely on money paid through offertories. In general terms city parishes collect most offertories in the "better suburbs" which is more or less commensurate with the suburbs in which there is high employment of residences. In some dioceses a certain amount of socialism may occur in respect of this source of funds as better off parishes may be asked to contribute via their share of the diocese's costs to the subsidization of ministry and mission in the less financially viable parishes.

In short, the economy of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia relies on the overall NZ economy functioning well. Our Trust funds yield greatest returns to the church, along with increase in capital base, where the environment for investment is healthy. Our offertories tend to grow in response to the needs and visions of the church where people are in employment. The warmth of the government's affirmation of the chaplaincies it funds also seems to vary with the health of our economy.

The most important question facing any democratic country in a general election is the question of its future economic well-being under its next government. All the desires in the world for better health systems, improvements in education, appropriate targeting of needs with welfare and so forth are whistles in the wind if the economy is malfunctioning.

Unfortunately in NZ we have often not understood this most important question. We often fool ourselves that the most important question is who is most fit to distribute our wealth, or who offers the most care to the most needy. Prior to those sorts of questions are more important questions such as how is wealth being created in our country? Allied with that is this question, what economic policy over the long term will sustain the creation of wealth in our country?

If I am right, then Anglicans (and others, of course!!) should take seriously what a Don Brash-led ACT Party has to offer our economy. I realise ACT will propose some social and political policies around principles of choice and equality which, however important they may be, tend to put people off voting for ACT. But on the matter of the economy, Don Brash is committed to our economy growing, developing, and rising in wealth but with the catch that his policies will not yield immediate gains. In fact, probably the opposite - a yield of immediate pains.

Now I can almost imagine the comments which may come in response to pressing this challenge. But I wonder if commenters tempted to protest might help us all by offering their recipe for the future prosperity of our country! After all, we Anglicans know the value of being the church which sticks around through all the ups and downs of history. If we still want to be here in 2050, what kind of economy will best serve the financial resourcing of our church through the next 40 years? Our instincts are to vote for wealth distribution, but some careful thinking might suggest we vote for wealth creation instead.

[Disclosure: I have never voted for the ACT Party, or, in his previous political life, for Don Brash].

Being a democracy we have alternatives. Anglicans might also consider voting for the Mana Party whose leader thinks that Osama bin Laden was a freedom fighter.


Anonymous said...

Come on, you Kiwi Anglicans - give the Presy a break!
Still, you have to wonder how long this marriage will last ...

Peter P.

Lucy said...

with respect Peter, Hone Harawira thinks many things ... why choose to make a cheap shot when you could have treated him with the respect you gave Brash?

I guess I also wonder if the future of our church is really so closely linked with the affluence of our society. When I look at the courage and integrity and fruitfulness of churches growing in difficult places, I wonder if you're not missing something important??

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Lucy,
Any shot against Hone Harawira is quite an expensive one: as a taxpayer I am paying for his public expressions of wisdom or, as I think, at least in this case, potentially dangerous stupidity in equating a terrorist with a freedom fighter. Are you an NZ taxpayer? Are you happy with paying for Hone Harawira's public prognostications? Do you agree with his also likening Osama bin Laden to Rodney Hide?

In respect of churches and their health viz a viz affluence of society: absolutely the church can be, and in many places is thriving without the aid of funds. The church is God's people.

Perhaps God is trying to wean the Anglican church off our reliance on funds associated with the affluence in society! In which case, we might do well to ignore Don Brash's policies.

But what I do not want to see in this election year is stipended Anglicans dismissing the economic policies of Don Brash. Unless some alternatives are simultaneously put forward.

Lucy said...

Peter I still have difficulties with your comments. For sure, HH is a loudmouth but he does have some important things to say about real situations and real people, and many of these things sit well with Kingdom principles.
No, I don’t enjoy my taxes going to fund grandstanding egoists ... but then not every grandstanding egoist has a runaway mouth, a point you may have missed in regards to Dr Brash.
Everyone knows we need a prosperous economy, and Christians have an important part to play; however, it is not necessarily ostrich-like to want to avoid ‘Brashonomics’. After all, we have seen the precursor in ‘Rogernomics’; the promised trickle down never eventuates because the guys at the top have sticky fingers. Even if there were to be a trickle it wouldn’t be enough, the people at the bottom need a torrent not a few drops dispensed with the easy largesse by the easily affluent. Your original post mentioned ‘a yield of immediate pains’ if ACT’s policies were to become government policy. Peter, there are people in our communities who can’t take anymore ‘immediate pains’ while they wait for the long promised gains.
You would like to see stipended clergy putting forward alternatives to ACT economic policy before disagreeing with its potential fallout. I wonder why you think this is likely to be helpful. Clergy are not economists; they have no academic or professional background in the discipline that would make their input valuable. What they do have however is the responsibility to critique the potential/actual outcome of policies against the standard of Scripture, which has a great deal to say about just societies. It is ‘righteousness that exalts a nation’, not wealth creation policies, and here too clergy have the opportunity to make a significant contribution. It is Christian leaders who know the way back to the Father, to forgiveness and the power to live a new life; it is Christian leaders who know the principles that will help communities build strong families, healthy relationships, a good work ethic, honesty and integrity, compassion and justice. Christians leaders, deeply consecrated to Christ, living sacrificial lives and filled with the Holy Spirit have changed communities and nations before.
You found HH’s comments re Osama bin Laden potentially dangerous, they may well be. But Dr Brash’s well modulated one liners re the Treaty (in the Close Up interview) had some potential of their own. Is it possible that a man of his standing, intelligence and experience ... and ambition ... could be so ignorant? Anyone with a basic Laws 101 knowledge could have reminded him that the real injustices, and consequent Maori grievances, have not arisen from the Treaty itself but from decades of court rulings that emptied the Treaty of its power, rendering it a supposed nullity, and restricting Maori rights to those that could be proved under law, not to those found within the Treaty itself. Now either Dr Brash is inexcusably ignorant or he is playing games with us ... I’d say he has some potential of his own, wouldn’t you?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Lucy,
A brief reply which is not commensurate with the number of important issues you raise.

A. the point of monetarist policies is not that they create wealth and then the poor might or might not get a trickle of it; the point is that freeing the market paves the way for great access to goods and services for the poor. Something lost sight of in criticism of the post-1984 situation in NZ is the range of goods and services the poor have had access to which was not possible previously under a 'command' economy.

B. I agree that ministers are not economists. But if they (we) cannot bring forward alternative policy suggestions, perhaps we should hold back on criticism?

C. I suggest that ACT on social matters, including the Treaty, have an achilles heel and will undermine their attempts to secure the 15-20% which some of their supporters have mentioned since the Brash coup.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, I have just discovered this thread, which you began last Thursday, and think it is worth prolonging, as you have raised an important issue for the life of ACANZP. The health of our national economy has significant effects on our life and mission, as well as on the lives of the most vulnerable in our society. So while I agree with most of what Lucy has written above, especially in her last comment, I also agree with your underlying proposition that Anglican leaders addressing political economy in an election year should be concerned with wealth creation as well as impacts on the poor. Here are a few issues we might explore further:-

1. "I agree that ministers are not economists. But if they (we) cannot bring forward alternative policy suggestions, perhaps we should hold back on criticism?" The issue is not whether we are economists, but whether we are economically literate. Having spent considerable effort in acquiring enough economic literacy to teach economics to senior levels in my pre-ordination life as a secondary teacher, I have long felt that economic debate within our church could be improved by more knowledge and less emotion from both sides of our synodical debates on economic policies.

2. This does not lead me in any way to accept that any policies espoused by Don Brash must provide a way towards a more healthy and productive economy. Is he indeed an economic wizard? The argument and tone of your post suggests that you may hold him in such regard! Please clarify...

3. Please give some indication of how carefully you have considered the arguments of economists both here and overseas who maintain any of these views:-
a. That an increasing gap in wealth and income between a rich few and a poor many is detrimental to economic growth.
b. That free markets are not always efficient allocators of resources into the investments that are needed to promote and sustain economic growth.
c. That central governments have a vital role in regulating financial markets so that they do not become the domain of privileged insiders.

Further, I would like you to explain why you think that ACT policies are commendable in addressing any of these three areas of current economic debate... assuming you have thought your new-found enthusiasm that far through. :-)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
You could also have asked me when I stopped beating my wife :)

I am aware that arguments flow to and fro re the best economic way forward (cf. my link to Paul Krugman's blog; a fine Keynesian economist and antipathetic Brashianism).

My enthusiasm is not, of course "for ACT" but for "thinking about" ACT's economic policies. In particular I think our church needs to think about how investments work and what macro-economic conditions give the best return because, as you know, some of us enjoy the benefits of our church's investments while criticizing markets etc!

Must dash - off to clergy conference for a few days.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Howard for entering the fray!

My own limited understanding of Eco is derived from A Level and then first year Uni, which I then dropped, changing to Pol Sci and Th. However, I have maintained a necessary interest in political economy over the years, not least as this affects theology generally, being pretty well top of the list of contemporary idols. In this regard, I have encountered a real dearth of good literature (apart from rather trendy neo-Marxist stuff, which I find rather light weight and very one-eyed ...). The only real help I have encountered is Donald Hay:

What really concerns me however is the rampant ignorance in the field - or shld that be “uncertainty”? On a macro level, there were real pundits mid 2000s who claimed they’d licked the fiscal-monetarist question. Only to see the GFC torpedo any such hubris! Caveat lector!

For what it’s worth, re the political spectrum - and Brash does not seem to me to be that Far Right actually when compared with European politics; nor shld we invoke a comparison with 1984 and RD’s policies thereafter: frankly NZ was just PLAIN BROKE at the time, something most folk conveniently forget! - one thing which truly takes much of the sting out of things is to observe historically it has been Christian culture which has produced BOTH Left and Right wing features, either of which on their own will always be too partial. As proof of such a view, cf. many a commentator upon JP2's death: when evaluating the social dimensions of his encyclicals, were they left or right wing inspired, was a frequent question? The answer is: neither, yet both, since JP2 was resolutely Christian - across the board! All of which suggests Peter is onto something; but also none may really do him justice in such a NZ party political context, freighted with MMP to boot, where tails wag dogs disproportionally!