Friday, January 30, 2009

Jim Wallis on the economic crisis

Jim Wallis writes on the Sojourner's God's Politics blog:
Every morning when I wake up in Davos, I turn on my television to CNN in my hotel room. And every morning, there is the same reporter interviewing a bundled-up CEO with the snowy “magic mountain” of Davos in the background. The question is always the same: “When will this crisis be over?” They actually have a “white board” where they make the CEO mark his answer: 2009…2010…2011…later.

But it’s the wrong question. Of course it’s a question we all want to know the answer to, but there is a much more important one. We should be asking, “How will this crisis change us?” How will it change the way we think, act, and decide things — how we live, and how we do business? Yes, this is a structural crisis, and one that clearly calls for new social regulation. But it is also a spiritual crisis, and one that calls for new self-regulation. We seem to have lost some things and forgotten some things — such as our values.

We have trusted in “the invisible hand” to make everything turn out all right, believing that it wasn’t necessary for us to bring virtue to bear on our decisions. But things haven’t turned out all right and the invisible hand has let go of some things, such as “the common good.” The common good hasn’t been very common in our economic decision-making for some time now. And things have spun out of control. Gandhi’s seven deadly social sins seem an accurate diagnosis for some of the causes of this crisis: “politics without principle, wealth without work, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, education without character, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice.”

If we learn nothing from this crisis, all the pain and suffering it is causing will be in vain. But we can learn new habits of the heart, perhaps that suffering can even turn out to be redemptive. If we can regain a moral compass and find new metrics by which to evaluate our success, this crisis could become our opportunity to change.

More here. Maybe these guys will actually get the memo this time. Or not.


Cany said...

I think this is one of the best posts you have ever written, and so full of things we should all be thinking and talking about.

I thank you so much for this post.

It occurred to me in reading this that these are the kinds of things we should be mentioning in conversation--that it is time to reassess how we, as individuals, relate to and speak about our collective survival and our relationships.

For too long, many of us have flailed around in "me, me, me" think. Whatever happened to "us" think?

When we pay taxes, for instance, we help a child we don't know in Head Start or build a road or rail for transit someone we don't know will drive/ride on to get to work. We cut or manicure a trail in the Sierra Nevadas that someone will tread on. We pay for the medicines and care of someone that needs them. We put food in the mouth's of people here and elsewhere that silences their hungry stomachs.

In a country so allegedly anti-socialism and tax unfriendly, we need to remind ourselves that we already are redistributing wealth and always have.

Every day, each of us--as we use the collective things that our binds bring to us--needs to remember that we, too, benefit in ways we never take stock of, think about or appreciate. Some came from past generations, and some will come from future generations.

But the great majority of it comes from others.

Nathan Empsall said...

I didn't write it, Jim Wallis did, but I'll take credit for having the perception and insight to pass it along. ;)

Thoughtful and important points as always, Cany! Thank you! Liberal wordmeister George Lakoff suggests reframing taxes as "membership dues," but I think I like your line of thought better.

Jordan said...

Well it was well written.

Zsolt said...

Very good post! I agree with most of what you say about this crisis, I would only take it one step further.

Some say that this initially credit crisis turned into a deep and world wide economic crisis will change the very fundamentals of our economies.

Here is an idea to think about. If someone had deposited one dollar into a bank account 2000 years ago for a 2 per cent interest rate only, that deposit would be worth 1,5 raised to the 17th power (an incomprehensibly high amount of money) today. All this means that the idea of interest, the price or cost of money, is in itself nonsensical, or at least unsustainable in the long run. Why do we expect an economy based on an unsustainable principle to function???

The very best explanation of the crisis I have seen is this one: