Bishop Charles Drennan
Christmas holidays are a time we look back and ahead. Like many others I mulled over the significance of our new government. I hope that promises of care for our rivers and coastlines, in collaborative partnership with farmers and industry, will come into effect soon. I hope that the housing affordability priority will gain momentum. And I hope too that our public money will be used in a savvy well-targeted way – tax-free lump sums to all pensioners for winter power bills strikes me as an irresponsible use of our money.
Holidays also see many of us travel in our beautiful country. I did a ‘roady’ with some friends from Christchurch to Oamaru; a route I had not taken in years. Oamaru has been transformed with much development of its magnificent historic precinct. It is now a significant tourist destination with great cafés and a retail sector that puts people (shopkeeper – buyer/browser) and the beauty of buildings first. The antithesis of glittery but soulless impersonal malls.
That isn’t the story of all our provincial towns and city quarters. ‘To let’ notices, vacant lots, and rundown areas are also part of our reality. Some towns are simply in areas of population decline.
Others are victims of landlord greed who prefer a tax loss to offset other income, and so intentionally seek impossible rents in order to ensure their buildings remain empty.
Many feel a disconnect between ourselves and ‘the economy’. Yet, the words household and economy have the same greek origin – oíĸoș. In this sense, our economy should be familiar and comfortable; something to which we contribute positively making us feel good. We should enjoy our town and city centres. There is no need for them to be soulless or impersonal.
“Contributing to and shaping the economy of our towns is an exercise of Christian responsibility integral not outside of our faith.” – Pope Francis, Laudato Si’.
In New Zealand, every day we are reminded that our common home is beautiful by nature. It can also be of beautiful and good not in spite of but because of the economy, with its commerce and trade.
That idea we are less used to. Our economy is a social fabric: it’s about people; it’s about employment ethical or not; it’s about profit, reasonable or greedy; it’s about resources exploited or carefully managed; it’s about personalised smaller shops or anonymous warehouses and malls (or a balance of both). Where do you shop? Whose livelihood and jobs do you support? How our ‘down town’ looks and feels is very much a factor of where we shop and what we buy.
During the holidays, I read about profit shifting. It is an unfair and unjust practice, common with international monopolies. Google is brilliant. But last year it shifted $26 billion to Bermuda in order to avoid paying tax here in New Zealand and many other countries. Amazon is super-convenient. But what is the fall out? It suffocates local, regional and national businesses and it too shifts its profits elsewhere. Amazon contributes zero to New Zealand taxes, preferring instead to feed greed and fill the dodgy tax-haven coffers of Jersey and Luxemburg and the Canary Islands etc. How quickly can we bow down our credit cards before them.
Let’s take time in the wake of our holidays to think afresh about the itinerary of our cash cards. How satisfying it is to shop at Trade Aid and smaller local retailers. On my sorties around the Diocese, I try to fill up with petrol in Patea or Woodville or Shannon, and I support George Street and Broadway and the Square here in Palmy and avoid the already well-supported Mall. In fact none of that is inconvenient. It’s pleasurable. Contributing to and shaping the economy of our towns is an exercise of Christian responsibility integral not outside of our faith (cf. Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 64, 103…).