POLITICIANS, economists, jOurnalists, radio and television spokesmen vie with one another in trying to explain to us in simple language the causes of our chronic inflation —and the necessary remedies.
But the man in the street, quite rightly, remains a little sceptical of what sounds so simple in terms of academic economic theory. The cause may be too m uch money being pumped into the monetary and economic system or, alternatively, too few goods coming out of it; but the fact seems at the moment largely irrelevant.
The reason is simple. It would be politically suicidal for any popularly elected Government to stop making the money. which pays the high wages and the welfare benefits. It is at present psychologically out of the question to get more work out of the people without manetary bribes whose effect would be to cancel out this cure for inflation.
The truth, in fact, is that inflation is at bottom, like most human problems, a question of morals. Unless people individually have Christian ideas of justice and honesty and live by them, there can be no cure on the political or economic levels. It is as simple as the proverb " you can't have your cake and eat it "—and the massive effort today of our people to do just this amply accounts for the results. The tragedy, however, is that those who suffer the consequences are not the ones who try to have it both ways; it is those who cannot defend themselves.
CLEARLY it is manifestly unjust that a person who in a life-time of hard work has managed to accumulate a small sufficiency, whether by savings or a deserved pension, should year by year lose a portion of the purchasing power of the money earned and deserved. It is equally unjust that unprotected workers in small businesses or industries which either cannot or will not increase salaries and wages in some relation to the increased cost of Living should continue to earn much less for comparable skill and work than those whose industrial leaders are in a position to demand salaries and wages in advance of the rise in the cost of living.
Living in an inflationary economy means that the just wage yields to a kind of lottery in which the winning and the losing numbers are allotted by the sheer chance of where one happens to stand. It is even worse because it may be fairly said that the proportionately higher rewards go to the less deserving and the proportionately smaller to the more deserving. This is not surprising because the consciousness that one ie automatically protected tends to make people lazy and unconseientious whereas it takes a pretty considerable degree of misery to give up the struggle to make just a little more by disproportionate efforts of hard work. As for those who have merited of the community in the past, these count for very little in a community which concentrates on the present and manoeuvres for the best place in the future.
It would be difficult to deny that all this is spiritually and morally relevant. Yet who thinks of the problem in spiritual and moral terms T Modern democratic governments have virtually given up spiritual and moral consider
ations except where it is a question of what is called protecting public morals of respectability. They have openly abdicated in the face of immediate electoral, industrial and financial pressures. In other words, they are content to be the victims of the self-regarding appetites which are strongly enough backed to defy any impartial or moral authority, And let us not fall for the fallacy that what is immoral when done by the individual person ceases to be immoral when it is done by a collectivity under leaders paid to defend a onesided interest. It may be much more difficult to impute the latter immorality to individuals, but the immorality is there just the same and, of course, in far more dangerous measures to the community, THOUGH by no means the only cause of regularly mounting inflation—we are all more or less in it—it is obvious that the continuous wage demands of organised industry are a decisive factor because of the number of people whom that organisation today represents.
Now here let us not mix up two quite different things as is so often done. The wage claims made are made in terms of a decent or just standard of living. In many cases it may well be so, and in such cases the right to better pay or conditions undoubtedly exists. But standards of living are not, in morals, the monopoly of the strong. If certain classes of people, in a position to enforce their demands, have a moral right to a higher standard of living, so have many millions more not in a position to enforce their rights. Morals as such cannot distinguish between the two cases. Nor, therefore, should a just and truly authority-bearing government.
What is actually happening is that under the claim of a right to a higher standard of living
(which may in some cases he justified but is not necessarily
justified in others) the demand for ever higher wages, unrelated to commensurately increased production, is made through force. Full employment has handed to a privileged section of the people a weapon which neither the modern democratic government nor the community as a whole is in a position to resist. By and large, it will be used for all it is worth, quite irrespective of the moral considerations of just wages and just rises in the standard of living.
In the circumstances it is much easier to analyse the true state of affairs than to find the remedy.
Modern democratic governments, as we have said, have abdicated their proper moral authority by a long process of yielding to money power, to electorates and now to the privileged organised workers. The nation and community themselves cannot easily face the personal and economic consequences of prolonged and widespread industrial wars—nor do they want the sufferings which such conflict would inflict most heavily on the organised workers.
Ike at least some advance towards the true realisation of what we have allowed ourselves to drift towards will have been achieved if we at least begin to understand that inflation is a moral problem even before it is a political or an economic one. Surely here Christians as a whole could begin to give a lead by making the truth known and by trying to practice it where the chance occurs.