Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Blibcal Approach to Economics?

NOTE: I found an excellent theological analysis of our current economic mess written by Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggeman, professor emeritus of Columbia Theological Seminary. I am pasting in the first part of the article below. You can access the entire article HERE.
So far as I know, the Bible says nothing explicit about subprime loans and the financial implications of such risky economic practice. There is a great deal, nonetheless, that the Bible has to say about such a crisis as we now face. I will comment in turn on a biblical perspective of an analysis of the crisis and a biblical perspective for an alternative economic practice.

While the specifics of the current market collapse are peculiarly modern, biblical perspectives are pertinent because the fundamental issues of economics are constant from ancient to contemporary time, constants such as credit and debt, loans and interest, and the endless tension between haves and have-nots.
We may identify three dimensions of the theological-moral foundations of the current economic crisis:

AUTONOMY. A sense of the isolated, self-sufficient economic individual is deeply rooted in modern rationality and comes to full expression in U.S. “individualism” that resists communitarian connectedness and imagines the individual person to be the primary unit of social reality. Such an individual is completely autonomous, owes no one anything, is accountable to no one, and can rely on no one except himself or herself.

Such a self (perceived almost exclusively as an economic self) is without restraint and is self-authorized to enact Promethean energy to organize life around one’s own needs, issues, and purposes. The autonomous, self-sufficient self takes as the proper venue for life “the market” and understands the market as a place of self-advancement at the expense of all others who are perceived either as rivals and competitors or as usable commodities.

This same autonomy is articulated in the Bible under the rubric of “the fool” who says in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). The capacity to live without the gift or summons of God has immediate practical implications, for autonomy sets the fool over against the neighbor, most especially the poor neighbor. The one who says in Psalm 10:4 “There is no God” is the one who seeks out neighbors for exploitation: “They lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net. They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might. They think in their heart, ‘God has forgotten, He has hidden his face, he will never see it’” (Psalm 10:9-11).

.... continued at


steve H said...

I like the challenge in Brueggeman's article. I would point, however, that just because the Bible doesn't explicitly mention such things a subprime loans and other specific current issues, does not mean the Bible does not address them or the presuppositions behind them.

A key issue between liberals and conservatives has to do with the relation of the one and the many or the individual and the community. The Trinity gives us a both/and model in which neither oneness nor community is overemphasized at the expense of the other.

A friend of mine who is clearly a conservative American Christian (loaded terms) works hard on Christian/Biblical worldview issues. His latest project which he passionately believes to be a vital word to the churches has been to develop a Biblical economic mindset with a course entitled "Preserving the Free Market." There is much about his material that is Biblical and correct. And it is also rooted in capitalist presuppositions.

I sent him the link to Brueggeman's article. My comments were in part:

"I believe the Bible lays the foundation for personal property and free enterprise. And the Bible calls us to a high level of communal sharing of life and goods both between members of a local community and also from community to community (2 Cor 8, 9). I believe the Bible challenges both capitalism and socialism. Biblical economics must be connected with jurisdictional thinking. The Bible challenges motives and attiudes every bit as much as it challenges systems. Sometimes I think Christian "conservatives" emphasize God's order more clearly and Christian "liberals" emphasize godly motives more clearly."

"I found myself thinking about what you are trying to do. I wonder if it would be more accurate, given the state of things, to call for "rebuilding the free market." Would people be more motivated to rebuild rather than to preserve? But I wonder if people understand the situation we're in enough to see that it may be too late to go back, "to preserve." Is the free market too far gone to go back? Will it have to come to a head (or to a crash) before people are ready to rebuild?

"Researching the paper on the church in the early centuries was an eye opener for me. I could find no evidence that the Christians tried to change the Roman system. They built their own alternative culture based on a Biblical vision. As Rome fell their faith and way of life was seen as the viable alternative. Sadly, THEN, when they had been accepted by the Roman world, syncretism set in. With acceptance came the loss of their "radical" vision."

steve H said...

It's interesting that Brueggeman says that God's ultimate commandment is "Thou shalt not covet."

My friend who is working at "Preserving the Free Market" says that fractional reserve banking is inflationary (drawing from Gary North): it creates credit money "backed only by faith." "New money" is created by fiat. Ultimately this "steals" purchasing power from others which is a "clear violation of the eighth commandment" and also the "doctrine of 'just weights'".

Why does it matter? If we (the Body of Christ) are ever going to clear discernment on how to apply Scripture to such matters as economics then we are going to have to bring our varied partial perspectives together and seek the synthesis that comes from God's perspective, the bigger picture.

Brian Emmet said...

How do we go about persuading people that our current "values" that cluster around personal autonomy, individualism, etc. simply do not work, for ourselves as well as for everyone else? It would be wonderful if we could pass laws that would change people's hearts... then again, laws do serve as "tutors" to a culture: our laws play a role in teaching right and wrong, although probably not the primary role--cf. Joseph's comments on how the first Christians did not seek to "change Rome," but instead simply chose to live differently...

...although that word simply should be in quotes--it wasn't all that simple!

joe 6-pack said...

I think the public is starting to figure out that naked self interest and trickle down economics are not working ... there is a lot of anger out that. This would be a great time for teaching a new ethic ... a new way to live.

joe 6-pack said...

by-the-way, I am reading Brueggeman's book on Jeremiah -- "Like Fire in the Bones" ...very scholarly but very profound. He makes an appolication from the fragmented structure of the text to the fragmented structure of postmodernism...

John M. said...

Dennis Peacocke for years has talked about a "third way" that is neither communist nor capitalist but the biblical perspective of the Kingdom.

Scot McKnight has recently been talking about "third way" living that generalizes beyond economics and politics to life-style, theology and world-view

In Charles Simpson's new book "Ants, Vines, and Churches", he distinguishes between "indiviualism" and "individualization". He describes individualism as "isolation", and individualization as "interactive".

He associates individualization with digital technology. We are moving from mechanized individul parts that go together to make a whole, to digital chips, each of which are complete in themselves but also interact with others to create exponential change.

Switching to an organic analogy he says, "Both the cell and entire body hve the same DNA." Healthy "digits" of Jesus are whole individually, but are able to interact with and connect with others, cross sectarian and social boundaries, and share His life and mission.

Analog technology is inflexible, digital technology is flexible. Perhaps we are moving from a machine, analog view of economics to a digital approach where each bears his own load, but not in isolation because we also bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Finding the balance and the degree is the tricky part and also the key to the third way.

joe 6-pack said...

The Catholic Church has also used the term “a third way” and has been a staunch critic of capitalism for the last 150 years. At the same time, the official teaching of the Vatican has been critical of ‘atheistic’ Marxism. The Social Teaching of the Church has sometimes been referred to as ‘humanistic socialism.’

Unfortunately, the Social Teaching of the Church has not been successfully implemented anywhere without the imposition of authoritarianism and imposition by force of Catholic hegemony. Catholicism does not coexist easily with pluralism.

According to the human values survey and other studies, the Nordic cultures such as Finland, Denmark and Sweden have what is described as ‘egalitarian’ cultures where there is a high value placed on the greater social good. The United States and Australia have ‘individualistic’ cultures where more value is placed on personal achievement and rewards. Countries such as Brazil and Colombia have ‘collectivist’ cultures where more value is placed on family and kinship ties and status.

The Nordic cultures seem to have achieved a high level of civic mindedness and concern for the whole, which has resulted in social welfare systems AND a high level of prosperity.

I don’t know that I agree 100 percent with Brueggeman, but I think he raises important issues for Christians to thoughtfully consider rather than just blindly following the individualist gospel of opportunity in the kingdom of Limbough – the eventual fruit of which is the kind of greed we see in AIG.

steve H said...

I guess I'm cynical but I'm not that certain "the public" has figured out much. It seems to me that "the public" is largely individuals and special interest groups motivated by their varying self-interests and manipulated by the media.

Case in point: There has been much outrage over the AIG bonuses but how much rational debate in the news reporting that the general public hears? How much did the mainstream media emote over this outrageous behavior and then report on the emotions of the public (largely stirred up by emotive media reporting)? How much actual debate was there about keeping contracts ("swearing to one's own hurt")? How much investigative reporting was there on the collusion of congressmen and the treasury department members in the things leading up to AIG's problems and to the payment of the bonuses? For example, you can be sure that Chris Dodd was not the only government official to have received money from those he has been bashing so loudly.

Yes, the system is messed up. Yes, the "trickle-down theory" needs to be examined carefully. Yes, the roots of the seemingly unlimited flow of wealth to the few, I don't think, will stand up to Biblical measurements. Yes, salaries and bonuses appear to be outrageous. All of this needs close examinations especially at the level of the presuppositions underlying the system.

But I suspect "the public's" discernment is no better than that of the people of Israel who were whining to go back to Egypt.

Oops--a rant that could sidetrack the conversation. But perhaps I'll leave my emotive comment anyway.

steve H said...

By the way, I'm also for discovering this third way. I have been ever since I heard Bob Mumford describe his experience preaching in Jamaica back in the revolutionary days. You may remember Bob account. "I found myself saying, 'It's not about Marxism. It's not about capitalism.' (It isn't?)'There's a third way; it's called the kingdom of God.'"

Brian Emmet said...

Sorry, but I don't see "the third way" is a viable alternative... which makes it sound like I don't think the Kingdom of God is viable in the here and now, which is not my point.

I think the economic policies of a country are under the jurisdiction of the political process. Even if we could all agree as to what "third way economics" looks like, we would still need to persuade enough of our fellow citizens to vote into office various "3rd way" candidates. I think that would be well and good, but would run the risk of then being tagged for "imposing" our "religious beliefs" on our neighbors who don't share them.

Socialism seems to work OK in fairly homogenous countries (the Nordic group already mentioned); I wonder if it can be as successful in pluralistic contexts such as the US or Mexico. (I guess we're going to find out!) We should remember that Marx saw socialism as a way station towards full communism, so I'm leery of seeing it as a Really Good Alternative--there isn't much of a way to check ever-increasing State control. Observation: as France has become more pluralistic, especially with the influx of Muslim-background immigrants, they seem to be finding that the generous "largesses" of the government quickly becomes overwhelmed--hence, the election of Sarkozy (sp?), who represents a move to the right, both economically and socially. Similar thing going on in California!

joe 6-pack said...

well, when you put it in those terms, Brian, I am forced to agree with you. However, what did you think of Brueggeman's article?

He is approaching economics from an Old Testament theology perspective -- in which I think we could safely say that some (if not much) of our current free market system comes up woefully short -- on an ethical level, if not in terms of economic efficiency.

I tend to think that an alternative (or third way) would have to be some kind of free market, combined with a moral/cultural ethos in which people feel called to a higher standard of civic mindedness than just personal self interest.

This is actually pretty much what de Tocqueville observed in the United States in the 1830s ... he had not observed it anywhere else in Europe, not even in revolutionary France. He finally attributed it to newspaper and a free press, and the existance of churches that imparted a sense of moral responsability to the greater good along with personal responsability.

I don't think it very helpful to apply the word "socialist" to Obama (or for that matter, Bush last November). It is a buzzword in American culture that inspires fear ... in other cultures "capitalist" inspires might be big government, maybe welfare state but it is not socialist.

The thing i liked about Brueggeman was to begin with Old Testament social ethics and to work our way toward how that might be instilled or imparted into our cultural ethos.

Do you remember when people routinely threw their trash out the car windows in the 1950s? What changed? It is partly an awareness campaign by Lady Bird Johnson to make people reponsable for keeping our environment clean. I still cringe when I throw out an apple core.

Why could there not be a similar movement in the realm of internal values among both political parties -- Republicans and Democrats -- to encourage top executives to be more 'civic minded' about their service to our society in their companies? To have a humane and responsable free market society? People like Bill Gates, John Beckett and/or Warren Buffet could come together to appeal for a more moral and ethical business ethic.

That does not seem entirely unacheivable to me. There would, however, have to be some kind of social 'tipping point' to move our business and political culture in that direction. It could not be acheived through simple electoral politics as Brian pointed out.

Brian Emmet said...

Our values are what enable us to limit and restrict our behavior. Without widely-enough shared values, the approach breaks down. I like Brug. and I like his article, and agree with what I've read so far--but he's making (thanks be to God) a specifically theological argument, and I don't think it's a very staright line from that to national economic policy. It doesn't mean that I'm not in favor of attempting to find a different, better approach--slavery was a fundamental economic policy until it was abolished, largely by Christian activists--but just think that we need to quickly get beyond thinking that "the 3rd way of the Kingdom" is obvious, easy, or even agreed upon. I'd like to see/hear Brug interacting with some economists!

John M. said...

For those who don't regularly read Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog, he has an interesting post today that is tangentally related to our discussion.

The title of the post is "Do You Need God to be Moral?" It is based on a book: "Society wihtout God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Teach us about Contentment", author Phil Zukerman.

The author makes a study of societies (nations) that have strong ethics and a morally "good" ethos without much obviously indicated religious or spiritual content in their personal and nationl value systems.

The Danes are mentioned as are others, most of whom do not practice what we would call freemarket capitalism.

It is an interesting topic and seems to support what Joseph is saying about the possibility of creating a societal ethos that forms a society possessing some fundamentally good moral and ethical values. It also echos Brian's question about whether a pluralistic, ehtniclly diverse society can arrive at a clear consensus.

McKnight pushes back on Zukerman by raising the question of whether the morals of these apparently non-religious countries are actually residual Christian values that are subconsciously held in the collective memory of the population.

joe 6-pack said...

weeeeell.... john .... technically speaking, they DO practice free market capitalism...everyone on the plannt does, including China and Vietnam. There is no way to opt out of it ... (unless you are Cuba)

They modify the effects of the free market with government regulation, a cultural ethos that diminishes individualism and with an extensive social network.

The free market, however, reaches to all the corners of the planet. Just ask Iceland ...they had a HUGE meltdown because their entire economy depends on banking.

Brian, I agree that we need to be suspect of 3rd way thinking to the extent that it is idealistic ... or idealism. and I agree that he makes a good, narrowly theological argument about economic morality ... and I agree that it is not easy to apply that to national policy.

May God help us! the devil is always in the details...

Brian Emmet said...

Joseph, I like the phrasing of "moderating" the downsides of f-m capitalism through govt regs and esp. cultural ethos. How might that look, and work out, in the US? How might we complete a sentence like this: "We would moderate [insert specific bad aspect of f-m capitalism] by [insert cultural ethos-thingie that might serve to brake, or redirect, the negative aspect of f-m capitalism].

It seems that both God and the devil are in the details!

joe 6-pack said...

well, I think it is pretty clear that there was a major gap in government regulatory oversight of certain sectors of the banking industry. Clearly, Bernie Madoff had been reported to the entity that was responsible for oversight, and they must have just simply fell down on the job.

Regarding AIG, and the housing market, from the little I have learned from listening to NPR, there were some areas where proper regulatory oversight did not exist, and others that had existed but had been loosened during the 1990s.

I believe there has also been a culture of greed and excess. From the whole 'trickle down' economics emphasis of the 80s, to Rush Limbaugh’s frequent justifications of individual opportunity/responsibility/ and individual rewards ... a lopsided cultural ethos has emerged that exalts individual success and achievement to the extremes, and neglects altruism, collective responsibility for society/future/planet.

This is not to say that trickle-down economics or the conservative right message of individual responsibility is entire wrong -- only that it has been over emphasized to the exclusion of civic mindedness, stewardship and generosity. Any truth that is emphasized to an out-of-balance extreme becomes problematic. It is time that some new radio talk show hosts arise with a new message – not a reactionary angry message, but a call to our society to take some thought for the greater good, to be better stewards and to live generously.

Can this happen? Of course it can! People are nearly afraid to light a cigarette in a public place these days because of the social pressure not to smoke. Almost no one throws trash out their windows – these are values that have been internalized through a changing social ethos. The day could come when executives would be embarrassed to take excessive bonuses, and their CEO’s would be embarrassed to hand them out. Social status is almost as powerful a motivator as financial greed.

The key is changing people’s hearts and attitudes. And this crisis we are in is a golden opportunity that I hope we do not lose.

A legitimate 3rd way – a kingdom economic alternative, will probably look like and work exactly like the capitalist free market but with different people making different choices based on a different set of internalized values.

Let us pray that God will raise up some executive and business type apostles and prophets to begin to proclaim this message and to gather people around it in the higher levels of business.

So -- I would see this kind of change coming about through a combination of appropriate and effective government regulation, and a social movement groundswell toward stewardship and collective responsability.

steve H said...

To be serious about implementing Third Way, I think, points us toward more of a focus on the people of God as an alternate society -- as in Acts 2, Acts 4, 2 Corinthians 8, and 1 Thessalonians 4.

Dennis Peacocke has pointed out that you can't lead someone else in change if you are not already in the change (at least in the process) yourself. That principal is true, I think, for the corporate influence of God's people on nations and cultures too. We must model God's way under the leadership of the Spirit if nations and cultures are to fulfill Isaiah 2, coming to us to be taught God's ways.

I know this is complicated. We are called to be pilgrim community (a communty of "sojourners" if you will and a holy nation) who yet live among a variety of other nations and cultures. It has not seemed right to most of us to follow the example of the Anabaptist's who have historically sought to withdraw from the surrounding societies. (They have referred to their vision as "a third way" in contrast to Roman Catholicism and the Reformation churches.) Most of us seem to think we are called to walk in a both/and posture -- the new community intersecting and interacting with the surrounding community.

What I'm trying to say is that most of our efforts to discover and live the third way should be within the community of God's people. What would it mean if in the local communities we represent and in the relationships we have been cultivating with one another we actively and fully gave ourselves to living out Biblical economics (the laws of the household) at any cost?) How much impact might that make on our sphere of influence in the nations and cultures where we live?

And we also live in the tension of the fact that we are participants in the economic systems of the nations and cultures in which we live. We have not been able to (and probably haven't tried) reach the goal of non-dependence on those systems that Paul set out in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12.

steve H said...

I wrote the last entry and then opened email to find your response to Jamie, Brian. Is there a connection between what I was trying to say and your "modest proposal" for working together?

Brian Emmet said...

Could be, Steve, although my modest proposal was even more modest than trying to figure out how to live differently economically. I was more focused on seeing if we could find ways to work together to provide needed resource-sharing among us. I think we're perhaps bumping up against the limitations inherent in being "independent" churches. I'm not sure that the answer lies in all becoming Roman Catholics, but I think we all of us are more "independent", in some not-so-good ways as well as good ones, then we realize. I, of course, am the chief of sinners.

Jose, amen to your diagnosis and your hope! Government regulation will always be a very mixed bag, which is not an argument for not having any, but a reminder that all the regulations in the world won't stop a greedy populace. Regulations are powerless against idols!

steve H said...

Yes, I realize that working to change our economy is "immodest" and probably unlikely (although, I do have the concern that it may be part of true discipleship).

I was particularly thinking about the heart of Biblical economics which is to not hold what God gives me as my own for my personal consumption, but share what I have been given (or given the ability to produce) with my brothers in need as a sincere expression of agape.

joe 6-pack said...

sometimes a severe shock or trauma can massively change a society -- like the great depression, or the effects of WWI and WWII on Europe.

One reason that Europe is so reluctant to engage in unilateral military action is the bad memories from WWII.

With the current pain and anger over the economy and unmerited bonuses, executive extravagance, and runaway credit, there is an atmosphere ripe for some godly or kingdom teaching about stewardship ... from someone like John Becket or who knows? God can raise up a voice for such a time as this. Right now, people would listen and there could be a sea-change regarding economic ethics at both the household level and the national level.

John M. said...

The ideas being expressed here fly in the face of the American dream; the value of being "independently" wealthy and having the leisure and resouces to fulfill any desrire at any moment.

The problem with the American church is that it has totally bought the dream, and teaches it as a Biblical docrine and Christian value. It also models these values in the way the local church's finances are used for "executive" salaries for senior staff, along with buildings and programs to meet the "felt needs" of its members.

Some pretty "deep sheep" is being messed with. Joseph it sounds like you are sensing a potential "tipping point"?

Michael said...

I read through the comments agreeing with much that was said. The conversation made me think of Paul's defense to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9:1-23. Don't know if he would say it the way I wrote it, and I am sure I have messed up some of the metaphors but it was fun to write.

Am I not a capitalist? Am I not an American? Have I not read all of the great theories on supply side and trickle down economics? Have I not gone to the great colleges and sat under the best economic gurus of our day (read Warren Buffet). Are you not enjoying the fruit of this teaching?

If to others I am not a capitalist, at least to you, you know that I am.

This is my defense:

Do we not all have the right to make money and earn a living?
Can I enjoy the fruit of my hard work as the other capitalists do?
Or is it just a few of use who refrain from the right to enjoy these benefits.

Who serves in a company as a CEO at his own expense, who works hard in making a business succeed and not get paid for the work?

Isn’t this written into our laws? Those that work deserved to be paid (handsomely) for the work they have done.

If others have made these demands of the board of directors, why not us?

Even religious leaders get paid handsomely for the work they do in their mega churches!

It is clear that their religious teachings state that they have a right to get their living from what they do, so why can’t I?

But I have made no use of any of these rights.

For even if I live in the lifestyle and freedom of a capitalist & democratic society and should expect something for my labors, I have not asked for or demanded this. For my higher calling is to communicate and live with in the context of the gospel of the kingdom of God. I do this of my own will, because I have been entrusted with a stewardship.

This freedom allows me to communicate with and identify with a lot of people (religious, law breakers, and the weak) that I would not normally have a hearing with. They would not listen to me or respond to what I have to say. And more importantly they could not receive the blessings of the good news of the kingdom of God.

joe 6-pack said...

well said Michael!

What did you think of Newbigin's book on the gospel and pluralism now that you have had time to reflect on it?

Bama Stephen said...

This is a great subject, Jose! I found Brueggeman's article to be fascinating. He's obviously a brilliant and caring man. And, he's certainly smarter than I am. Why, then, would I dare disagree with some of his thinking?

The socialism and massive entitlements of the Scandinavian nations is not sustainable over the long haul, and relies heavily upon the import of younger and cheaper labor from other nations, predominately from cultures with religious values that are hostile to the host culture.

Will these younger Muslim workers (growing rapidly in number) be amenable to continue to labor under uncreasingly burdensome taxes in order to sustain a rapidly aging, entitlement-addicted, self-indulgent, morally corrupt, and less productive Nordic populace?

Take that scenario and apply it across Europe, or adapt it slightly for North America. If my mentioning that makes me sound like Pat Buchanan or Mark Steyn, then perhaps it's because I believe those gentlemen have some valid points...much of which is already being proven.

Europe is in deep, deep doo-doo, and America will be next, if we continue to look to socialism as an answer.

No man is an island, and certainly Scripture does not call on us to be selfish, stingy, or solely self-reliant. However, as in the case of Hillary Clinton's book, "It Takes a Village to Raise a Child," the definition of community has been re-defined to mean "the government" or "the elites." I believe that government can never take the place of family, church, or ... yes, personal responsibility.

What the U.S. government has done in the past few weeks is thievery of the highest order. The forced redistribution of wealth and penalization of productivity and good stewardship will have catastrophic consequences for all.

"Trickle Down" economics didn't cause the current financial crisis. But ... I'll save that thought for later!

Michael said...

I have not had much time to think further about Newbigin accept that I believe he was a head of his time in seeing the importance of relating the gospel within the context of and answering the questions asked by a post modern generation.

Brian Emmet said...

It was disconcerting to learn today that the President of the United States apparently asked for, and received, the resignation of the current CEO/President of General Motors, as part of the "administration's policy of reconfiguring the auto industry." On the other hand, GM has not exactly distinguished itself over the past 20-30 years... but isn't that what markets and boards of directors are for?

Wendell Berry, whose acquaintance you should make even if you disagree with him, had an article in Harper's magazine that challenged our sense of "limitless" living, i.e., the idea that our economy is founded on concepts like limitless natural resources, limitless energy, limitless debt, limitless consumption, limitless debt, etc. The subtitle of his article is "Hell Hath No Limits." Let me track down the link; it would make an interesting addition to this subject.

Capitalism IS "self-correcting," but those corrections can be brutal and brutalizing, especially to those at the margins and the bottom of things. Capitalism tends to say to them, "Tough luck, but you're kind of getting what you've prepared yourself for; don't come crying to us, and be ready for the 'correction' that will afford you new opportunity to better your life." Stephen, is that about ther best we can hope for, all things considered, until the kingdom comes?

Brian Emmet said...

Michael, I didn't mean to skip past your comment. I found it insightful and provocative--thanks!

Bama Stephen said...

Amazing, Brian, I was just reading that news report myself when your note came through. It's very disconcerting, and I think we'll see more of these kinds of things happening. Paraphrasing Rahm Emmanuel, "Take advantage of the crisis." The financial meltdown has been hastened (and dreamed of) by the socialists precisely because it affords the opportunity for more government control and nationalization.

Having witnessed the government's performance after Katrina, I don't see their involvement in "saving" anything as compassionate. I don't believe their bailouts will work, and I suspect the motives behind these bailouts.

"Capitalism can be brutal and brutalizing," you said, and that's true. I'm not a raw capitalist, because it can be abused just like any other system. There are reasonable safety nets that can be set up to help people who have fallen on hard times, but there is a question about the limits on bailing out people or companies who made very deliberate and unrealistic bad choices ... repeatedly.

At the same time, with regard to the auto industry, the markets are reacting to some very bad management, less than stellar products, and ludicrous union policies that have helped create the problem. Should the government prop that up? I dunno, ask the geniuses at Renault or Fiat.

The credit crunch is due, in large part, not to conservatism, but due to Leftist social engineering which forced - by law - banks and lending institutions to make bad loans to people who had no means or intentions of paying these loans back. When conservatives in the House started screaming years ago about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they were shouted down, called racist, and silenced. Now, we have radical and corrupt groups such as ACORN - who helped create that problem - receiving potentially billions of dollars in "stimulus" funds to redistribute wealth and "assist" with the census.

We haven't had genuinely conservative economic policies in a generation.

Michael said...

I too find the bullying of CEOs on Wall Street and the banking industry by our government disconcerting. What will be next?

Even though I find the excesses in salaries and other benefits out of touch with main stream and some what inbred in its support - meaning we have CEO's on boards approving salaries of CEOs who in turn are approving their salaries.

Stephen I do agree with you that liberals are laughing all of the way to the bank, literally and figuratively. Even though I don't believe it is the whole story of how our economy got into this mess, they pushed their agenda early on and now get to blame conservatives for the failure of our economy.

Hopefully you can find that article on limits. I do believe we have lived in a fantasy world of easy money and credit and not asked the tough questions of ourselves and others about how long could this continue before it had to come to an end?

Brian Emmet said...

Here's the link to the article by Ken Myers referencing Wendell Berry: This link will also direct you to the full article by Berry in Harper's Magazine, but there are several quotes from Berry in this shorter piece that are food for thought.

joe 6-pack said...

Have any of you heard of Edward Demming? He was the management guy who tried to get Detroit interested in his concept of Total Quality Management after World War II – unsuccessfully. So he took his management principles to Japan and they ate it up and the result was Toyota, Toshiba, Sony and Honda.

There is a great wikipedia article on Demming and his management philosophy. I found the quote below particularly interesting for the purposes of this discussion.

“A system must be managed. It will not manage itself. Left to themselves in the Western world, components become selfish, competitive. We can not afford the destructive effect of competition."

Bama Stephen, remember that Katrina happened under Republicans.

I do not find it very helpful to label Obama and the democrats as “socialists.” For one thing, it is inaccurate. It is also too provocative and generalizing and pretty much stops meaningful dialogue about our country’s problems, about the same as Michael Moore calling us right wing fanatics. Lets get beyond facile labels and start talking across the ideological divide.

Calling Obama a socialist is a cheap and inaccurate appeal to fear mongering… below is what a real socialist has to say about Obama.

Obama's No Socialist. I Should Know.
By Billy Wharton
Sunday, March 15, 2009; Page B01

Brian Emmet said...

Jose, I don't know how you have time to read everything you do! Thansk for this piece from TWP, although methinks he doth protest too much. Part of the problem is, of course, definition of terms. Marx, if I remember correctly, saw socialism as a necessary "evolutionary" precursor to full communism, but I'm not at all sure of how Marx actually defined "socialism." It has come to mean "too big/too much government," but without any clear sense of how too big/much is actually measured. Power does tend to concentrate: 5% of the population controls 85% of the wealth... but market forces are reallocating some of that (GM as parade example; or look at the fits Apple and Google are giving Microsoft... or the reallocation of political power via the last election). I'm not persuaded that the government will automatically do a better job than the market...

...and yes, we already live in a "mixed economy."

Bama Stephen said...

Thanks, Jose, and like Brian, I remain amazed at the sheer quantity of your reading. I appreciated the link to Wharton's article in the Post. I also appreciate your ability to engage my thinking and to dialogue frankly about important issues. What I will write here will sound pretty tough...I apologize in advance if any of it sounds reactionary or angry. Any "heat" in my words is not in any way directed towards any member of this Covenant Thinklings group. I am deeply concerned about the direction that our President is taking us - at "warp speed," no less.

Basically, Wharton is saying that Obama is not "socialist enough," though John Conyers might be (LOL, I just KNEW it about Conyers).

He also introduces an interesting new term ... "neoliberal." I will have to think about what he means by that, but it may fit to a degree with Obama. However, I believe that I have been far too kind to our new President's policies and worldview. I pray God's blessing and wisdom upon the President - but I believe the President is profoundly, breathtakingly, and disastrously wrong. He may not be a "true socialist" according to Wharton, but when Obama said, "change," he wasn't kidding. When he said, "spread the wealth around," he wasn't kidding. He seems hell-bent on engaging in class warfare, penalizing productivity, and obscuring the primary reasons for our economic breakdown in order to advance his own far-Left agenda (as Emmanuel said, "take advantage of the crisis").

In short, I believe that Obama did indeed absorb much from his spiritual and ideological mentors such as Rev. Wright, Father Pflegar, William Ayers, and many others I could name. Of course, President Obama is more intelligent and clever than all of those gentlemen combined, but I am even more convinced today - based on the unprecdented speed with which he has jerked our nation onto the path of socialism - that he will make LBJ and FDR look like Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan before he is done.

The radical and forceful re-distribution of weath being pushed by Obama, Reid, and Pelosi is thievery, and unless arrested, will lead to a collapse of the American economy, with dire consequences for major portions of the globe.

The fervent embrace of internationalism by our President and members of his party - including looking to foreign courts for legal precedents - should be deeply troubling to us all as well. For Obama, the era of Big Government under George Bush and the "neo-conservatives" was mere child's play compared to his own dreams of massive government expansion of control and nationalization.

My calling Obama a socialist is not just a right-wing, knee-jerk reaction to him. I've read all of "Audacity of Hope" and chunks of "Dreams of My Father," and his core thinking alarms me. His very real associations (including George Soros) alarm me. I do believe he is a chameleon. Call me paranoid, but the act of saying what I just said in a public forum makes me wonder if my words will come back to haunt me under this creeping fascism that I am witnessing out of Washington.

As far as Hurricane Katrina is concerned, it would be popular to say that it happened under Bush, but those of us in proximity to Louisiana realize that the state was being governed as a third world toilet by a galactically incompetent, obtuse, and uncooperative governor; the chronically corrupt city of New Orleans was under the purview of an unprepared and hysterically unbalanced mayor.

Bush made errors also, but the politicization of the disaster by a hostile media and Democrats seeking to score cheap points was not only nauseating, but unconscionable. It made recovery more difficult, and possibly cost more lives...and billions of dollars.

Hehehe, and that's my "short take" on all of that. I could write a book on Katrina, but someone already has: Marvin Olasky's "Politics of Disaster."

Sorry for the length of the note, and again, my vitriol is not directed against Jose or Brian or anyone else here. Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

joe 6-pack said...

hi guys,

I was just on my way in here to "delete" my comment ... after reflection, I felt that my use of the word "cheap" was a little over the top. I meant it generically, it was not meant to be provocative toward you Stephen. I am sure in your case, it is a thoughtful comment and not a cheap shot. I feel differently, however, about Hanity and Limbaugh and others ... I do believe in their case it is a cheap shot and is fear mongering.

However, I do continue to object to labeling Obama and the democratic administration as "socialist" ... it is way too broad a term and can mean about a dozen different things, all the way from Tito's Yugoslavia, to the democratic socialism of a Denmark, Sweden or even France.

He was democratically elected by the majority of the electorate, so whatever this is, and it IS a sea-change, it is a democratic process. Part of me feels like the conservatives have gotten what they deserved, in the early primaries, I was an enthusiastic supporter of McCain, and I remember well how all the conservatives dissed him at the time, including Dobson. I bet they feel differently now.

And it bothers me all of this intense criticism toward Obama coming from people who seem to blithely ignore the HUGE problems of corruption and greed that have led us into this mess. Please don't tell me it was all democratic social engineering ... although I am sure there was that... that does not explain the malfeasence of Madoff, or the outrageous corporate bonues, the 12 million dollar renovation of the CEO"s office at Myrille Lynch or the corporate jets of Ford, GM and Chrysler.

To keep harping only one side of this problem and to ignore a whole other side is very biased and political. Let's rise above that and be kingdom people first... not conservatives, and certinaly not liberals ... lets recognize that there are serious social problems that have been ignored ....

nah ... I'll stop there. I'm wasting my time right? This ideological positionalism gets us nowhere productive. Oops... I slid back into some negativity. Time to have a drink and put on some mellow music.

Bama Stephen said...

Jose, you are absolutely right on many counts, the most important being that our hope is in the Kingdom.

Also, as you note, this crisis is not Obama's alone, of course; the previous Administrations (Bush 43 and Clinton) also bear some blame. The gross greed and malfeasance of Wall Street, of manufacturers, banks, and, yes, even the American people at large all share in the blame. Many principled Republicans and Democrats were raising some concerns about certain lending institutions over the past four years, but they were sadly "shushed up" by a few powerful people in government and media.

Obama was democratically elected. However, so much of what he said to sell his candidacy had a patina of moderation ... even in the face of his own more leftist background and record. I recall many who voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976 became enthusiastic supporters of Ronald Reagan in 1980. I am wondering if some Obama voters are already having "buyers regret."

I don't want America to fail...and I want Obama to succeed in being a great President. However, like Limbaugh and Hannity and others, I do not want to see many of Obama's plans enacted. Sadly, I think it's too late. The $3.5 trillion budget which was ramrodded through Congress - without any allowances for any Republican-generated amendments, discussions, or changes - is a true picture of how Team Obama plans to govern.

I hate to see the partisan divide in the country, but it is reflective of some very real and deep philosophical differences. Republicans are indeed getting severe recompense for their failures in the past few years, and I hope they are learning some valuable lessons. Maybe they can recover their souls.

Brian Emmet said...

Sorry, haven't checked here in a while--the conversation is still percolating!

Part of the problem is the lack of any credible Republican alternative to Obamaism. I just don't find anyone from that side of the aisle presenting much in the way of alternatives... perhaps all the R's feel they can do right now is fight a rearguard, delaying action until they find their souls.

We should mention that Bush 43 had a definite agenda to reduce the size and scope of government. They articulated, but only haphazardly practiced, one form of conservative small-govt thinking: attempt to "starve" our "bloated" govt of the funds it needs to continue grow. We may agree or not that this was a good approach--my point is that the Repubs came to power under Bush with that sort of agenda clearly in their minds.

Obama won, convincingly, by presenting a different vision of govt, a more classically "liberal" one. No one has any right to be surprised by what O is undertaking--it is perfectly consistent with everything we know about him. In fact, as any Prez usually has to move towards the center to govern effectively, we're probably seeing less of Obama than he'd actually like!

I'm not a big Obama fan, but hey, it's only been three months of what could be a 96 month residency in the White House. Wasn't GW Bush's presidency a major disappointment in a wide variety of areas?

joe 6-pack said...

yes, Bush's government was a disappointment in a number of ways, although I am personally sympathetic with him and voted for him twice. I think he got swept with a bit of paranoia after 9-11.

What bothered me regarding the Obama presidency was the immediate and almost vicious attack against him from the right even before he took office... partisan poliitics is not the same thing as kingdom principles. I have no problem with principled critique against either Bush or Obama, but you can easily predict what a Limbaugh or a Hannity is going to say on any subject, not on the basis of godly principles but on the basis of pure poltical ideology.

The difference is the starting point ... Brueggman may be a bit "left" but it seems to me that he does not start with a political ideology but rather he starts with an Old Testament ethos... I don't mind people taking a principled stand on the "right" or on the "left" as long as their starting point is some kind of scriptural ethic rather than a political philosophy.

Brian Emmet said...

Stephen, like you, I voted for Bush twice, feel let down by his stewardship of the White House, and also find some things in him to admire and respect on a personal level. And his administration will look vastly different, for "up" or "down," in 10 years, in 25 and in 50. I'm willing to wait and see, although don't expect to be personally present to see the 50-year report!

I likewise agree that the right's viciousness towards Obama is paralled only by the left's viciousness towards Bush...except that the left was able to critique Bush's actual performance and record, while the right is teeing off on Obama after 3 months.