PROFITS FALL AND PROPHETS RISE“Markets are good servants, but bad masters.” Keynesian saying/Sukhamoy ChakravartyLuke 12:48: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
Never has the discrepancy between “profits” and “prophets” been so great. It is generally acknowledged we are in the most serious economic slump since the Great Depression and there is no end in sight. “Profits” are down, not only in Detroit, but around the world, including in our retirement funds. It is easy to assign blame, depending upon your perspective. While the left proclaims the “greed” of the “haves” as the culprit, those on the right believe it must be the fault of liberal bureaucrats. Others would counter it was the “greed” of those who dreamed of mansions on a starter-house budget that is to blame, or those who seduced them into loans they could not repay. Deregulation in monitoring new financial instruments was also cited. Incompetence and sheer stupidity are not to be discounted, even among “masters of the universe.” I think that probably all these analyses contain some kernel of truth.
However, this economic crisis raises an even more basic question: “How much do we deserve?” (coincidentally the title of my Skinner House book of the same title). Our nation has been on a drunken orgy of getting and spending – consumerism run amok, especially for the affluent among us. We may have become the “greediest generation” of haves alongside the “neediest generation” of have-nots, both at home and abroad. While welfare roles have been cut in half over the past dozen years, poverty has ballooned to over 37 million – not taking into account the past several months. And there are those who say poverty, based on a 1965 “market basket” measure, is grossly underestimated. There are 47 million people without health insurance (a growing figure); food stamp use is up, soup kitchens are busier than ever, etc. etc. etc. Meanwhile I would be bemused if I weren’t so angry at CEO multi-millionaires who are willing to sacrifice their salaries and bonuses after they bankrupted their companies and came with hat in hand to the government, which Ronald Reagan told us was the problem. Have they no clue? (Evidently not in a company jet – or even in a hybrid car.)
Barack Obama has been chastised for his “spread the wealth” comment to Joe the Plumber. Francis Bacon said money is like manure, of very little use until it is spread around. Fair distribution is not only an ethical imperative, but it is an economic imperative to drive the economy (70% of which is consumer spending).
Profits are falling; but are prophets rising? Based on a personal experience, perhaps slowly. At a ministers’ meeting I was moaning about my diminishing retirement funds. A colleague serving a congregation in an impoverished inner city reminded me that, despite everything, she and I would be OK, but the people around the church she served were hurting desperately. I had been gently reminded about justice. It is time to reflect and act on the proposition that we are all in this together. And if income and wealth gaps continue to grow, we will continue to have economic instability as well as economic injustice. How about a “bailout” of those who have not benefitted from the unbridled greed of our society; how about a “bailout” for the common good?
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