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Reform Magazine | August 17, 2018

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Chapter & verse: Micah 3:5-8

Chapter & verse: Micah 3:5-8

Catherine Lewis-Smith on finance and false prophets

A man sat in my office at a little Christian charity, his cheque book open. He asked: ‘Can’t I pay the donation into another bank account?’ It was the spring of 2007 and he was concerned that our bank was about to go bust. That afternoon, I hunted widely on newspaper websites but nothing even hinted that a bank was in trouble. A few months later, Northern Rock couldn’t pay its debts. Whenever commentators claim that no one anticipated the global financial crash, I recall the donor in my office and wonder if we could have seen it coming.

The false prophets of Israel and Judah, around 750-700 BCE, would predict prosperity for those who kept them well fed. They foretold doom for everyone else. The modern world economy has its own free market prophets, who taught that borrowing for homes, however vulnerable your employment or tight your household budget, is necessary, logical and beneficial to everyone. Only a fool, or the poorest, waste money renting houses – they said. The same banks of prophets were borrowing to lend, and occasionally to repay their own debts, confident that profit would follow profit. When gaps in this logic were exposed, along with some sharp practices, money suddenly stopped circulating. It was the poorest home owners who suffered, especially black and minority ethnic communities, who had been targeted with the riskiest loans.

Micah’s listeners knew well what doom looked like, having seen the northern kingdom of Israel ruined by a series of wars, land grabs by Assyria, and around 30,000 people taken captive. Our own images of empty streets in Las Vegas, Detroit, Cleveland and more would have shocked the prophet Micah. He was sickened by the global elite profiting at others’ expense: ‘They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance,’ (Micah 2:2). Turning cities into ghost towns full of empty repossessed houses is a curious modern land grab that hardly benefits anyone. In Britain too, more than 10,000 houses have stood empty for 10 years, bought for their land value – not their human worth…

Catherine Lewis-Smith serves the United Reformed Church in Darwen and Tockholes, Lancashire

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This is an extract from an article that was published in the February 2018 edition of  Reform

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