The Word on the Week

Cowen the Captain

The speech this week to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce given by our Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, has been hailed as the first signs of leadership since the recession began. One journalist likened it to Pilot Chesley Sullenberger’s crash landing of US Airways Airbus A320 Flight 1549 on the Hudson River on the 15th January. The black box flight recorder revealed, in excerpts played by the media yesterday, a cool Captain gliding his plane to a safe landing on the river. In the background was a cacophony of voices as various air controllers tried to understand what was happening and offer advice to the stricken craft. Captain Chesley’s voice was clear and concise as he explained that he did not have much time and the alternative airfields were outside his gliding range. As a country we do not have much time either. The cruel joke; “What is the difference between Iceland and Ireland?” The answer; “One letter and 6 months” is far too near the bone for comfort. In Iceland the top bankers are found today in the dole queues. In Ireland the suggestion has been put to their counterparts here that a salary decrease in the order of 25% would not be inappropriate. Banking is not difficult to understand. You simply have to ensure that you lend at a few % points higher than you pay for the money and that the borrowers can repay in the agreed timeframe. Alas defaulting on repayments has become the order of the day to such an extent that the banks have not been able to get the supply of new money to fund their operations and few want to lend to them. Our Government has granted a €7,000,000,000 re-capitalisation to the two main banks so that they can continue trading but no one knows how much of it will be written off against bad debts. As C S Lewis has pointed out that in the Bible and the Koran it is forbidden to use money to make money, i.e. to take interest — and that our entire modern western economy, and now more or less the global economy, is built on that system and nothing else. If we add in a liberal portion of greed whereby the rich get richer and the poor get poorer we have a situation where we need to change. As John Piper puts it, we need to rely on God…in his grace, not our goods, in his mercy, not our money, in his worth, not our wealth. St Paul knew something of this when he wrote to the church at Philippi, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” And it was Christ who enabled him so to live. May we recognise our need of Him in the months and years ahead.