Recently I finished the fourth book of Dominic Sandbrook’s excellent and comprehensive account of the sixties and seventies. Growing up at the time, I had little realisation of the wider picture behind all the strikes and inflation and unemployment that the grown-ups were endlessly discussing. Dominic Sandbrook makes a convincing case for arguing that the late 70s was the time when the United Kingdom finally woke up to the challenge of globalisation. No longer could its markets be protected from foreign imports, and the goods we were producing in antiquated, highly-unionised factories turned out to be no longer competitive on international markets. It was fascinating to read how as a result even in the late 70s the Labour government was abandoning the post-war Keynesian philosophy of providing full employment at any cost, even through massive state intervention, and seeing the need to control the money supply through what would come to be known as monetarism.
Since that point the United Kingdom has well and truly opened itself up to foreign investment and to huge quantities of capital coming in from overseas. But a couple of stories over the last couple of days have led me to wonder if foreign investment is always a good thing. To put it bluntly, while money from overseas may do wonders for the economy, there is an often forgotten moral question that goes alongside the investment – namely where does the money come from?
So on one level the owner of Birmingham City football club has just been jailed for six years by a court in Hong Kong for money laundering. Because football clubs often lose money, there is a constant demand for foreign funds, without always the right questions being asked about their source. On another level, there is the current political turmoil in the Ukraine with its attendant economic impact in global stock markets. This has drawn attention to the vast amount of money Russians have invested in this country – particularly in London – and the question of what would happen if they withdrew their investment.
This isn’t to say that investment from abroad is necessarily more suspect than investment at home. But it does raise issues of accountability and ethics, and sometimes as believers we may need to raise questions others would prefer we did not ask.