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Crisis and Recovery book launch: 28th September

Tuesday 28th September 2010

In a new book to be published by Palgrave Macmillan, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Larry Elliott, Economics Editor of The Guardian, have brought together a collection of leading commentators to examine the role of morality and ethics in business.

A transcript of the video follows:

When we all started to become aware of the financial crisis at the end of 2008, all kinds of new conversations started up. People began to ask what are the roots of this crisis? Not just the financial causes, but what are the cultural roots of it? How did we get to a situation where we took for granted that certain kinds of behaviour were to be rewarded, never mind the failure or devastation they left in their wake? We woke up to the fact that a great deal of our economic life seemed to be based on, well, nothing very much really, except the exchange of currencies and speculations.

So in the months that followed the first wave of the economic crisis many of those conversations began to happen. They happened between people who were studying ethics and even theology, as well as economics. They happened among people who were involved in business and the Financial Services Authority. They happened in the pages of various journals and newspapers; and as a result of some of those conversations, this book has come into being: Crisis and Recovery, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Among those who have contributed to the book there are some people involved in those worlds that I've just mentioned: in the Financial Services Authority, in academic economics, in the actual business of business, as well as people commenting from a broader political, cultural and moral perspective. We have working politician's here, as well as people working in the financial sector.

The questions that the book leaves us with are, I think, primarily these: What kind of culture have we allowed to develop? Not only the subculture of financial institutions and money makers, but the culture in which that happens, the whole culture of our society. What are the sorts of behaviour we reward?

What are the kinds of human beings we want to see around, that we've encouraged to be around? And that's certainly one of the issues that's come up very sharply in these conversations. Have we not begun to create a kind of human being, whose default setting is really profoundly selfish, profoundly introverted? And how on earth do we build a society on that kind of basis?

So the questions about culture run very deep. They are questions about what we think is worthwhile in human behaviour. And unless we really tackle that kind of question, really revive our imagination about what human beings might be and should be, then the whole of our economic structure will not really change.

Culture change begins, as one contributor to the book says, with behavioural change. And behavioural change begins with a change of vision, a change of horizon. So that the subsidiary question is, not only what have we taught people to value and reward, but what have we taught people to aim at? Have we shrunk their possibilities? Have we drawn in their horizon in a trivial way, a way that does less than justice to what human beings are really capable of?

The authors of this book ask that question, fully conscious of the way in which the level of reward in the financial sector in recent years has been so enormous as to obscure ethical considerations quite a lot. But it's proved not to be an endless pot of resource, it's proved to be a path of self-contradictory and essentially destructive behaviour in practice.

We need to recovery integrity, we need to recover a sense of the connection between economics and other things; and that's perhaps the other big question that comes up here. Is economics too important to be left to economists? And finance too important to be left to financiers? Don't economic questions always bring with them questions of value in something more than financial terms? How are we to get that back on the agenda?

Well, this is a very ambitious programme for any book, but we've been fortunate in gathering together an extraordinary array of talent; people with very different skills and experience, but profound originality, freshness and courage in the way they approach these questions.

It was said at the time of the financial crisis that some institutions were too big to fail. The awkward question that follows on from that is: are they too big to change? The authors of this book believe that they're not too big to change, or that if we believe they are, we are actually condemning our society to a downwards spiral of insecurity and poverty. So it is a challenge to change, a challenge addressed not just to financiers, businessmen in the abstract, but to all of us, to our political institutions as well as our financial ones.

We're at a very interesting period in politics, nationally and internationally. A period when in our own national politics we're aware that paradigms have shifted, what we thought was possible has changed rather. We have some opportunity of setting a fresh agenda right across the political spectrum, an agenda that draws in environmental, social, intellectual and artistic considerations to frame the questions about economics and what we value.

So, if you read this book I hope it will help you to change. I hope it will help you get a sense that you are citizen with capacity to change the situation you live in. I hope it will confirm a feeling that politics is not just a stale exchange of fixed opinions, but more and more an arena where we can actually change the discourse, change the reality and keep enlarging our possibilities as human beings together.

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