Chapter 31: The Reverend Speaks
And now, without further ado, I would like to introduce our main speaker for today, the Reverend Bernard Railing, who I believe is better known to some parishioners as the Railing Reverend. Take it away, Bernie.
Thank you, Canon Fodd ... er ... Hodder. I had heard that you can always be relied on for a snappy intro. Good morning everyone. It surprises me to think that although I have long been a resident of our fair community, I have never before addressed you here. I know that you have often heard from within these walls and others like them, speeches laden with words of fire and brimstone. You will not get that from me. Instead, you will hear a message of comfort. My theme is thanksgiving – and not of the kind most often expressed in this place. I am thinking of how much we owe to so many groups who have been instrumental in making our much-admired society what it is today. Let me mention some of them.
We give thanks to the politicians, reckless spendthrifts on the left and frothing misanthropes on the right, for in the fullness of time they shall meet in the middle and all shall be well. We are particularly grateful that their deeds do not match their words, for if they were ever to succeed in that respect, our leaders would always be doing something and we would never have a moment’s peace. I think it was Will Rogers who said that we should be thankful that we are not getting all the government we are paying for. We are vastly indebted to the foremost statespeople, past and present, who have exalted patriotism and persuaded their populations that foreigners are a devious lot and not to be trusted an inch. Without such cautions, ordinary folk of various countries might have mingled more freely in times gone by, and possibly have become friendly. Perish the thought!
We give thanks to the bankers, for their tireless efforts have satisfied so many of our material requirements. Through the exertions of those in the financial sector, we have, among other things, been able to continue selling our houses to each other at ever-higher prices until recently. That is no small achievement, since it fosters within us a sense of wellbeing. There are those who say that as a result of this phenomenon we are buried under a mountain of debt. But is this not a question of attitude? One might argue that rather than considering our position from under that mountain, we should think of ourselves as seeing the world from its summit, with the magnificent vista such a vantage point offers. Is that not a better way to view the matter? We need only preserve our equanimity to see the merit of this perspective.
We give thanks to the economists, for they remind us that we are negotiating treacherous waters. We are grateful also that every expert in this field is cautious enough to predict all imaginable outcomes, thus ensuring that one or other forecast is likely to be right, whatever happens. I recall hearing somewhere that if all the economists in the world were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion. That is clearly not so, for taken collectively – and sometimes even individually – they reach all possible conclusions. I would rather accept the other well-known remark, to the effect that if all economists were laid end to end, nobody would be in the least surprised.
We give thanks to the rating agencies, whose combination of assiduousness and wizardry led those in charge of monetary affairs to accept that bundles of sub-prime mortgages were first-class securities, almost as good as gold. Without the assurances given by the agencies, we might have thought of the bonds as well-nigh worthless. How sad that would have been. And how beneficial it is to us that these rating people have long been able to do their work unhampered by a credible supervisory body to rate them. I think of the Romans who two thousand years ago pondered on the question of who should guard the guards.
We give thanks to the lawyers, whose serpentine casuistry enables us to resolve our differences by resorting to convoluted legal procedures, rather than dealing with them by the barbarously primitive method which we used to call common sense, but which, thanks to litigation, is no longer necessary. Were we not foolish to trust each other for so long, when we could have availed ourselves of more sophisticated channels?