It’s the 2017 General Election, the Tories had gone into the campaign, fully expecting a landslide victory but had then proceeded to self destruct whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign had too off with the promise of investment and handouts. Central to the Labour campaign was the commitment to abolish student fees. Then you may remember that the Conservatives brought out what they hoped would be the killer argument.
“There is no magic money tree.”
The argument was that we could not suddenly find money from no-where, it had to come either from raising taxes or cutting elsewhere. Except that after they returned to power, they suddenly seemed to find that magic money tree and use it to send extra money to Northern Ireland in return for DUP votes. You see, when it comes to politics, there is really is a magic money tree.
This is because, in terms of economics, we can think of the economy as a bit like a circle where money is going round, my boss pays my wages, I buy things with my pay, the shop keeper pays the supplier who in turn pays the factory and the factory owner (my boss) pays me again (and so on). However, the money going round the economy isn’t constant. Money leaks out of circulation to go abroad to pay for imports or into bank accounts as savings. All the time, money is coming in as well though. I can start spending my savings or the factory can export so that money comes in from abroad. One big way that money comes in is from the banks lending money. The Government puts money back into the economy by spending on big infrastructure projects, cutting taxes, giving welfare benefits and even should it choose by printing new money. In other words, the magic money tree is alive, well and very active.
The assumption of governments over the years has been that one of their primary duties has been to control the amount of money in circulation. Their common purpose has been to grow the economy by growing the amount of money available, nurturing and tending to the magic money tree. What that means is that most political decisions are not primarily about whether to look after the poor and vulnerable or not. Rather, they are about how best to keep the tree bearing fruit.
Now, the problem for politicians is not the absence or presence of a magic tree. The problem is that the absence of that tree is not the real problem. So, what is the real problem for students? It isn’t access to finance. The real tangible issue is whether there are going to be enough good quality courses taught by decent professors and whether the courses available will be meaningful and add value to their lives. Similarly, the issue for home buyers is in the end not about whether or not they are given more money to buy with either by low interest rates, help to buy schemes or cuts in stamp duty but whether or not there is enough decent housing stock in the areas where people want to live.
What I am coming to is this. For us as Christians it may be time to recognise that when it comes to politics the traditional choice between left and right, Labour and Conservative misses the point that over the years, politicians have been fighting the wrong battles. This is because they share the same faulty presupposition that life is about money.
The Bible warns us of the dangers of money. Loving it can lead to all kinds of evil, this is because it can become our master so that we serve it instead of God (and instead of it serving us). The Magic Money Tree really does exist and our society worships at its foot. We sacrifice our lives and families, we sacrifice the vulnerable and sometimes we sacrifice even our hopes and dreams in our worship of money.
So, here is the challenge. What would it mean for us to stop worshipping at the foot of the magic money tree? Even more radical still, what would it mean for us to cut down this idol.