Wall Street, the financial crisis, government, and our moral compass

Five years after the 2008 financial crisis, leaders still have not learned their lesson. Christians, stand up. Photo: Tourists take pictures in Times Square on Sept. 15, 2008, as the day's financial news about the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers is displayed on the ABC news ticker / AP

FORT SMITH, Ark., September 18, 2013 ― September 16 marked the fifth anniversary of the government bailout of the American International Group (AIG), the day that Wall Street started to lose the last vestiges of its credibility.

After the AIG debacle, more bailout packages followed. The beneficiaries promised to clean up their acts, but they are already retracing some of their past steps, perhaps most notably on the subject of bonuses.


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According to CNN Money, Alan Johnson, a Wall Street compensation consultant, estimates that bonuses alone – never mind total compensation – could reach $23 billion this year, which would be the highest amount since the 2008 financial crisis.

Some religious people might be tempted to dismiss much of this as the unsurprising result of unrestrained secularism, but Wall Street is not godless. It has a polytheistic system of two gods: the crazed bull and the destructive bear. One of these gods is even honored by a popular bronze statue in Manhattan that eerily reminds some of the story of the golden calf in the Book of Exodus.

This financially religious system has embraced an unholy trinity of supposed virtues: crony capitalism, psychotic risk-taking, and general apathy towards others.

Our government fosters these “virtues,” openly exemplifying them in the hallowed halls of this country’s ruling bodies. Every day, we hear of more waste and more pork-barrel spending, more politicians violating their marital covenants, and so on. Such things have become almost synonymous with power in America.


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What have these ideas produced lately? A sluggish economy, high rates of unemployment, and Fed-led stimulus and “quantitative easing” that will inevitably lead to higher inflation. These all, of course, hit the poorest Americans the hardest.

Meanwhile, Christianity has traditionally enshrined the principles of solidarity – that society should share duties among and for all of its members, especially the poor and struggling – and subsidiarity – that things should be handled at the most local level possible. Wall Street is the antithesis of both. Like Pope Francis said, “The word ‘solidarity’ frightens people in the developed world.”

Secular leaders that shun religion always seem to end up bankrupt, in more ways than one: Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao), and Kim Il-sung serve as just a few examples.

Modern leaders stand in contrast to many of the powerful leaders of history in this respect. Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, realized the usefulness of religion – Catholicism in particular – writing that it “can make a stable community happy, and establish the foundations of good government.”


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Christians should actively champion the return of fair economic principles. Like the first sentence of Gaudium et Spes, a document resulting from the Second Vatican Council, tells us, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”

Pope John XXIII issued a statement, as part of his encyclical Pacem in Terris, to advise Christians on how they should interact with society.

“We exhort Our sons to take an active part in public life, and to work together for the benefit of the whole human race, as well as for their own political communities. It is vitally necessary for them to endeavor, in the light of Christian faith, and with love as their guide, to ensure that every institution, whether economic, social, cultural or political, be such as not to obstruct but rather to facilitate man’s self betterment, both in the natural and in the supernatural order,” the pope wrote.

The stock market titans on high, comfortable in their intimidating skyscrapers and their mega mansions, have largely only achieved their success on the backs of others. And our government has signed off on their immoral manipulations, at the expense of the common man. This is wrong and must change, for the future of our republic. Christians must rise up on this occasion.

Wealth should be directed at improving eternal souls, too, not just temporal bodies. Unfortunately, it seems that our leaders do not realize this.


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Matthew Olson

Matthew Olson is a journalist in Fort Smith, Arkansas. His primary interests are theology, Church history, and ecumenism. He enjoys the thrill of politics, and always seeks to enlighten politics with Catholic principles. He writes for The Washington Times, Ignitum Today, and other outlets.

 

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