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Blog // Thoughts
May 31, 2005

Cash Values

I can clearly recall buying and reading Craig M. Gay‚Äôs “With Liberty and Justic for Whom?” It was late 1992 and I was seriously considering a move from the world of corporate finance to the world of full-time ministry and theological education. However, I had a couple of nagging questions. First, I was wondering what […]

I can clearly recall buying and reading Craig M. Gay‚Äôs “With Liberty and Justic for Whom?” It was late 1992 and I was seriously considering a move from the world of corporate finance to the world of full-time ministry and theological education. However, I had a couple of nagging questions. First, I was wondering what a properly Christian understanding of capitalism might look like (my background in economics and experience at the coal-face of finance made a lot of what preachers said seem overly simplistic). Second, I was perplexed as to why so many evangelicals held to very conservative (and often risk-averse) view on economics and economic policy. ‚ÄúWith Liberty and Justice for Whom?‚Äù (an adaptation of Gay‚Äôs Boston University PhD dissertation) addressed both those questions and helped turn many an hour of rail commuting into productive reflection time.

So naturally, when a new work by Gay appeared on my radar, I was keen to check it out. Cash Values is slight book (its actual content after discounting prefaces, notes and so on is not even ninety pages) and being adapted from a lecture series (the 2002 New College lectures), reads like three separate essays. I’m slowly starting to find books of this kind deeply frustrating, because whilst I can imagine this material producing lively after-lecture discussion, as a reading experience it leaves you craving more depth (and for the price of admission expecting more).

That said, “Cash Values” does address two important issues for anyone wanting to think about theology and culture; the nature of global capitalism and the nature of money. On both these issues Gay manages to introduce some important streams of thought not just in terms of economics, but also with regard to cultural and ethical issues (Schumpeter. Weber, Simmel, Smith, de Tocqueville). I suspect this book might be a productive read for the “No-Logo generation”.

As important as these issues are, “Cash Values” felt strangely out of date; with its emphasis on rational economic choice and preference for talking about production, rather than consumption. Moreover, in developed economies money is no longer as absolute an arbiter of value as Gay suggests (though it may surprise westerners that it has almost become such an arbiter of value here in India).

But, towards the end of the book, I found myself deeply in agreement with Gay when he says,

‚ÄúThe solution to our problem … does not so much lie in the reassertion of different values as it does in the recovery of a way of seeing the world that would enable us to begin again to apprehend its value.‚Äù

To me this kind of re-imagination is at the core of a spiritual response to the questions of theology and culture (not just the economic questions) and the voices Gay summons for this task (Buber, Staniloe, Ellul, Qoheleth, St Paul and Wesley) are certainly worthwhile conversation partners.

However, too much of “Cash Values” seemed to assume that economics today functions and is understood in much the same way as it was in the early 90s. This is not the case and finance, globalisation, economics and the consumer society have all changed and evolved dramatically since then. It is all well and good to draw on timeless and classic sources, but without closer reflection on current debates (in this case in economic theory and globalisation), one is always going to left with material that is interesting but lacking in urgency, which is exactly the problem with “Cash Values.”

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