Archbishop criticises government spending plans

LONDON (Reuters) - The Archbishop of Canterbury criticised the government’s fiscal stimulus package on Thursday, likening it to “an addict returning to a drug.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams gestures as he listens to a question during a news conference at the Lambeth Conference in Cantebury July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

But Prime Minister Gordon Brown hit back with a scriptural reference, saying the government should not “walk by on the other side” when people got into financial difficulties.

The government has announced a 20 billion pound financial package which features debt-funded tax cuts and spending increases to try to ease the effects of a crisis that follows more than a decade of credit-fuelled growth.

Anglican leader Rowan Williams, while saying he was no economist, questioned the policy.

“I worry a bit about that, it seems a little like the addict returning to the drug,” he said in an interview with BBC radio.

“I think there are deeper questions to be asked. I want to ask where these moral questions are in the economic discourse.”

The archbishop said the credit crunch was a reality check, a reminder that “fairy gold is just that.”

“Sooner or later you have to ask, what are we making and what are we assembling or creating wealth for,” he said.

He warned that the “quick profit” society had created closed off communities which avoid taking care of others.

Williams said it often appeared as though “we are creating gated communities where we’re vaguely hoping that outside the gates all those people in Africa or Asia who are not making it will somehow be looked after, but not by us.”

He called for an emphasis on more sustainable wealth creation and urged the government to encourage a more volunteer society. People were also waiting for financial bosses to say “sorry” for the crisis, he said.

“A lot of people are waiting to hear some acknowledgment of responsibility for irresponsible behaviour,” he said.

“I think that a lot of people in the financial world are feeling it privately but not saying it.”

Brown said he supported Williams’ views on a strong civic society and the need to act against irresponsible behaviour when it appears in the banking and financial system.

“But I think the archbishop would also agree with me that every time someone becomes unemployed or loses a home, or a small business fails, it is our duty to act and we should not walk by on the other side when people are facing problems,” Brown told reporters, echoing the parable of the Good Samaritan.

“That’s the reason why our fiscal policy is designed to give real help to families and business,” he said.

Editing by Philippa Fletcher