Tag Archives: Market Values

The Big Short

“The Big Short,” the film adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, explains the 2008 financial crisis by detailing the actions of four groups of investors who foresaw the burst of the housing market bubble. Lewis (Moneyball, The Blind Side, and Boomerang) is in very familiar territory depicting the dark side of Wall Street; his first book, Liar’s Poker, recounted his days as a Wall Street bond market manager in the mid-1980s “when a great nation lost its financial mind.” According to Lewis, not much changed in twenty-five years – save a few names and outlandish increases in the amounts of money bet and squandered on Wall Street.

big shortOur family has been doing a Christmas Day movie for the past few years. Our initial Christmas Day excursion was in 2007 when we took in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” The next year we saw what still rates as one of the best of the Christmas Day pics: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” “Up in the Air” (2009) and “Hugo” (2011) were good, but not memorable. “Anchorman II” (2013) was, predictably, funny in a juvenile type of way. “Les Miserables” (2012) had a great Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier, and . . . a whole lotta of singing.

“The Big Short” is well worth seeing. The movie title refers to the practice of short selling a stock or bond – betting that it will tank. The protagonists bet, correctly, that the housing market bubble would burst. The movie’s two hours plus run-time works continually to explain this and other components of the 2008 economic swoon to both those who have and haven’t delved into its causes. The movie’s narrative, including “breaking the fourth wall” explanations from Ryan Gosling’s character, and cameos from chef Anthony Bourdain, actress Margot Robbie, entertainer Selena Gomez, and economist Richard Thaler, help explain complex derivative trading, credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, and other roll-off-the-tongue market descriptors.

Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for The New York Times, reviews the movie favorably. He is critical, however, of the movie’s notion that no one – save the four groups of protagonists – foresaw the burst of the bubble. Irwin rightly claims that many other people suspected the bubble’s presence as early as 2005; the ferocity of the bubble’s burst is what caught so many by surprise. Subprime mortgage loans’ ability to corrode supposedly walled-off safer securities wiped out dreams on Main Street and Wall Street. American (and worldwide) common good took a beating: jobs and pension funds were lost; properties were squandered; and social and economic inequalities, on the rise for a generation, were exacerbated.

Steve Carell’s character, Mark Baum (Steve Eisman in real life) – haunted and obsessive – doggedly seeks out some sort of justice in the midst of the darkness. He’s a Wall Street player, undoubtedly, but the unmitigated fraud that imbues the financial side of the housing market won’t let him rest. His pursuit of what turns out to be contorted justice gives a glimmer of hope.

As 2016 approaches, we’re still a society that emphasizes fiscal over social policy. A balance between the two categories of policies would be an improvement. The lures of consumerism continue to take precedence over concern for and care of the environment. The realization and acceptance that we can’t continue to burn through unlimited amounts of oil and coal to fuel our desires of economic growth at all costs would be another improvement. And many yet believe that market activity, like a washing machine working a load of soiled clothing, somehow turns our collective greed into good. It doesn’t – and that’s the simple lesson of the 2008 crash well-told by “The Big Short.”

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Understanding the 2008 crash, which had much in common with the economic crash of 1929, is essential knowledge for citizens who care about their families, neighbors, and communities. “The Big Short” – book or movie – is a good place to start. If you would like to understand the larger panoramic view, I humbly suggest you read Just a Little Bit More. Until Brad Pitt contacts me (ha!) to make a movie version of JaLBM (he co-produced “The Big Short”), this linked YouTube short on JaLBM will have to suffice!

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM, distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

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Ebola in Dallas, Health Care, and an Interconnected and Shrinking World

Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan travelled to the US on a tourist visa, arriving September 20. He came to visit his companion, Louise Troh, and their son. Many suspect Duncan lied when leaving Monrovia (Liberia’s capital) on September 19, claiming on a governmental health form issued at the airport that he had not had contact with someone stricken with Ebola. Multiple reports claim that a few days earlier in Liberia, Duncan had helped carry a seriously ill pregnant woman to the hospital (Duncan’s nephew, Josephus Weeks, denies these reports.) Whether Duncan suspected the woman of having Ebola or malaria remains undetermined. The woman later died of Ebola. Most likely, Duncan contracted the disease from the woman. Duncan himself died in a Dallas hospital on October 8; he was originally sent home on September 25 from the same hospital with significant pain and a 103* fever. Two days later, September 27, he returned to the hospital via ambulance – this time to stay – eventually diagnosed with the disease that would kill him. Back to the fateful day, September 25, when Duncan originally came to Dallas’s Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital: a man of color with no health insurance sent home, after a few hours at the hospital, to fend for himself. Yes, Duncan was a foreigner, but it wasn’t the first time a patient without insurance was sent away in such a fashion.

T.R. Reid, in his book The Healing of America (Penguin, 2009), says that the US health care system doesn’t work for everybody because the American health care is more so a market than a system. In a market, people with money are able to buy what they want; others are left out. Reid does a superb job of making the case that the principle of health insurance and the pursuit of profit, in today’s world, are inherently conflicted. Many US citizens are unaware that its country is the only one of the developed nations that doesn’t offer universal coverage to its citizens. The U.K., France, Japan, Germany, Canada, and Australia are among those nations that care for all of its citizens, regardless of income and wealth status. What do to about foreigners – in the country legally or not – with no means to pay for treatment, like Duncan, is a crucial question that has implications for every one of us.

Reid documents the US health care system’s unfortunate inefficiencies and wastes in comparison with other countries: we spend the most on health care per capita and per GDP (significantly so), spend more on administration costs, and our fragmented system lacks the decisive incentive to encourage long-term preventative care. Whereas some 700,000 US citizens annually declare bankruptcy due to health care costs, other countries (Britain, France, Germany, Japan) have none who are forced to do so.

For those under the impression that the “free market” is the mechanism to cure all of our ills (pun intended), Reid’s presentation strongly argues to the contrary. Reid encourages (and I agree) that America go forward in health care by doing what it has done many times before: to pragmatically look around (in this case, to other nations) to see what works best and to incorporate those traits and practices to make our own system – which is the best in the world for a minority of us – much better for all Americans. These mentioned nations use market principles within their systems, but in a controlled manner. We can certainly do the same. Reid says fixing our fragmented system is a moral and ethical obligation, and reminds us that we are better off when all of us – not just some – have access to good care.

At first glance, some of us might not feel responsible for the health of a foreigner visiting on a tourist visa, but inaction or neglect can be deadly for the rest of the population. And it’s not only that Ebola or some other deadly disease might proliferate, as horrific as that would be in itself. We are weaker, more fragmented, and more vulnerable to social ills (violence, depression, higher rates of incarceration, teen pregnancy, obesity, shorter life spans) when social inequalities escalate. My book, Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, establishes and develops this argument in detail.

Thank God for brave public servants – from military personnel going to the front lines of the Ebola breakout in Africa to nurses and doctors fighting the disease in our hospitals here. More so than ever – in this age of modern globalization – we are interconnected and have a shared responsibility for the good health and well-being of all.

 

Just a Little Bit More is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website and through Amazon (paperback and ebook) and other booksellers and retailers.

 

 

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Seeking Common Good and Kingdom Connection

I picked up the first printing (three boxes totaling 100 copies) of Just a Little Bit More from my local printer on the first Friday in May – the day before our synod assembly meeting in Austin. That next day, with more than 400 pastors and lay leaders gathered for the meeting, I sold about thirty-five copies of JaLBM. Some of my colleagues knew of the book and anticipated me finally having it in hand and ready for distribution; by this point it had been a three-year project in the making. For all my preparation, there was one thing I hadn’t readied: a go-to phrase when inscribing the book. And, no, I had neither thought to bring a Sharpie . . .

The next day, a number of my congregants at St. John’s/San Juan Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Austin were kind enough to purchase the long-awaited tome. To close out the first week of JaLBM’s availability, good friends Paul and Marsha Collinson-Streng hosted a book signing party inviting and gathering other good friends. I sold those first 100 copies that very first week. Still at this early point in the process, I had no go-to inscription. I inscribed those first copies with appropriate words of gratitude and support, tailoring individual remarks as needed.

A go-to inscription is especially useful when an author is signing multiple books in rapid fashion. T. Carlos Anderson is a unique pen name, but any confusion at a large scale book signing event between the small-time, first-time author of JaLBM and a mega-selling author like Malcolm Gladwell won’t be happening any time soon. All the same, a sui generis inscription, besides being efficient and giving the impression of situational mastery, adds an additional touch of character to one’s work.

“Seeking Common Good and Kingdom Connection.” Sometime in June, when I was distributing the second round of 100 books, the tie-in between common good and God’s kingdom* came to me. I immediately googled the phrase and discovered only one other theological commentator using it. A researcher and blogger for the Acton Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, calls for societal common good construction via just laws and conscientious moral choices from individuals. Yes, of course, I fully support such thinking and try to live accordingly. There are a few libertarian ideas I like (less reliance on military interventionism in foreign lands, as one), but the uncritical approbation of the “free market” as the arbiter of all things good and just is simply unacceptable. Such a faith fails to take human nature’s degraded tendencies seriously. In Just a Little Bit More, I name the uncritical acceptance of the free market an ideology and label it a bad religion.

We’ve now been living with and under thirty-five years of the elevation of fiscal policy over social policy in the United States. Consequently, we’ve become a market society where market values and considerations trump other ones. The pendulum does swing back and forth; the long-running New Deal era culminating in LBJ’s War on Poverty exemplified the pendulum’s opposite arc, the welfare society. Is there a better balance to be found between the extremes? Here’s a crucial question: Which do we value more – human rights or property rights? A far-reaching common good, yes, includes the contributions of a wide-ranging and robust market system, but not at the expense of its very participants. Eric Fromm rightly critiqued consumerist society years ago: “We must put an end to the present situation where a healthy economy is possible only at the price of unhealthy human beings.”

Jesus claimed that the Divine Realm is in our midst. When and where the gifts of love, cooperation, reconciliation, and compassion are shared – individually and collectively – the Divine presence is more pronounced, and less ambiguous. The common good is uplifted as well. The connection between God’s kingdom and common good is mostly tenuous – but I think we can say it does occur, especially when the needs of humans come before the needs of capital. Yes, the “free market” has fed, clothed, sheltered, and employed millions, mitigating the effects of poverty for many of these; its veracity and utility are indisputable. But the exaltation of property rights above human rights oftentimes leads to the co-opting of market forces by greed and duplicity, life being defined by one’s possessions (the goods life), and abuses and injustices brought about by the myopic pursuit of profit.

The common good is set up by just laws, aided by works of individual and collective charity, and enhanced by positive market forces. Crucially, however, the common good must also be protected from negative market forces (and human destructiveness). The market is not entirely self-regulating. To trust that the market is entirely self-regulating is to endow it with divine-like status. “Seeking Market and Kingdom Connection”? I won’t deny that it’s possible, but I won’t be using such an inscription anytime soon for my book. I already have a much better one.

 

 

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website and through ACTA Publications, Chicago, IL.

* Kingdom, of course , is a word fraught with links to male domination. Empire, as an alternative, doesn’t work for me as it is fraught with allusions to worldly kingdoms and ambitions – Babylon, Rome, etc. I like divine realm best of them all, and use it interchangeably with kingdom.

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Eras of Excess and Church Attendance

One-hundred years ago when John Rockefeller became the first billionaire in the history of the world, he was asked “How much is enough?” He responded “Just a little bit more.” Though the exchange is most likely legendary, it paints an accurate portrait of the man and the age. Rockefeller’s own Gilded Age (1870-1900) was the first of three eras of excess in recent American history. The Roaring ’20s and the current era, beginning in 1980, share similar characteristics with Rockefeller’s era of excess: untenable inequalities in wealth and income, rising poverty, and increased social instability.

In my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, I argue that the dominant religion of American society – using Paul Tillich’s definition of religion as “ultimate concern” – is the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumerism. It’s been a good religion that has fed, clothed, sheltered, and employed millions in the 250 years since the beginning of the Industrial era, many of these lifted from poverty. This religion can go too far, however, and consequently “break bad.” Americans work more hours than we used to – for the same relative pay; our materialistic pursuits enslave us to increasing debt; and, we believe (we are told as if by incantations) the solution to our travails is more and more economic growth. Just a little bit more, instead of serving as incentive for improvement, becomes a burden that shackles and confines.

Another commonality emerges in the study of the two most recent eras of excess. The Roaring ’20s experienced, as has our current era, decreases in church attendance and participation. Robert Putnam and David Campbell in their 2010 book, American Grace, tell the story of the ups and downs of American church attendance and participation. Undoubtedly a complex subject with many contributing social and cultural factors, declining church attendance in these two eras of excess seems more than coincidental. The 1920s saw the ascendancy of Wall Street; the phrase “playing the market” was popularized and the beneficent stock market was to provide for the young and old, eventually abolishing the need for charity and ending poverty. The promised land was within reach and church attendance and participation were not part of the journey. Church attendance in the United States flagged during the 1920s.*

Post-WW II America, continuing to the early 1960s, experienced exceptional church attendance and participation. It was a much more economically egalitarian era (for majority whites). General mainline church decline, however, has been evident since the 1970s; precipitous drop-offs in attendance and participation beginning in 2001 (to current) are of historic proportions. Again, many factors – busyness, changing modes of belief related to modernity, less reliance on overestimated self-reporting of attendance – contribute to the downward trend. I add another factor: reliance upon and widespread adoration of the religion (ultimate concern) of commerce, materialism, and consumerism. We live in a society that increasingly accepts market values – all things having a price – as the arbiter of what is good and right. Underachieving schools kids in Dallas paid to read books, donors paid to give blood, and people encouraged to think of themselves as brands, are all examples of the intrusion of market values to areas previously unaffected. Two generations ago Americans self-identified as citizens; today we self-identify as consumers.

Let’s do a theological thought experiment with Ephesians 2:19. Does the following slightly transformed text seem out of place? “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are consumers with the saints and also members of the household of God.” Pretty distasteful, isn’t it? One changed word puts an entirely different spin on the text (and it certainly puts the modern phrase church shopping in perspective). Even though the transformation in identity from citizen to consumer has been gradual, it is seemingly irrevocable.  The values proposed by an ethic of consumerism (wants and desires satiated now) and those of an ethic of the gospel (God’s provision for all) are in many ways opposed. Market values do have their proper place in society (and church), and benefit the common good in many ways. In our day and age, however, market values do not self-regulate. (If you ask your child to clean the table tonight after dinner, remember you’ll have to pay her or him to do so.) They tend to be intrusive, and have the ability to erode shared values (volunteerism, for example) that make our communities livable and enjoyable. Churches need to know where and when to draw the boundary lines, announcing to those who have ears to hear that there are values worth caring about other than market values.

Professional religious leaders have the responsibility of encouraging and maintaining boundary formation in and for their congregations. We are proclaimers of the gospel – do we need to be current with the economic theories and practices of the day? Yes – good stewardship demands it. As long as the society we inhabit religiously promises the nirvana of material pursuits and gains, we must stand up and proclaim it to be idolatrous. Filling up the pews in an era of excess is hard work, but countering the very culture of excess helps build a spiritual house in which the Divine Spirit dwells.

 

* Robert Putnam and David Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Simon & Schuster (2010), 83-4.

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

 

 

 

 

 

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Religious Syncretism and “Purity”

I travelled in Latin America as a college student, returning to the States smitten by its history and culture – repeated listens to Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer my panacea of choice. A few years later while in seminary, I consequently made plans to do my internship in Peru. (Since my seminary was in Minnesota, there was a good chance I would have served internship in North Dakota. Enough said?)*

peru 001

Cuzco, Peru, el siglo pasado – last century (1983 to be exact). And, yes – look closely – that is a WXRT “Chicago’s finest rock” t-shirt.

Part of my preparation for a two year internship in Peru included studying aspects of religious syncretism – the fusion of belief and practice systems – in Latin America. The most accessible example for North Americans is La Virgin de Guadalupe, a blending of Catholicism’s Virgin Mary and the mother-god of the Nahautl, Tonantzin. With her combination of features both European and indigenous, La Virgin is the representative first Mexican; her cult is both religious and cultural. There’s a danger, however, in labeling other systems overtly syncretistic: one can easily forgot that one’s own system is also syncretistic. Not all alleged purity is relative, but much of it is.

Syncretism has been a part of Christianity’s development and that of all major religious systems since their very beginnings. These systems could not have achieved worldwide status without being syncretistic. The church’s ability to adapt, thriving or surviving, in situations diverse such as the Roman empire (with emperor Constantine’s approval of the religion in 314) and communist Soviet Union (with its proposed eradication of organized religion), shows its vitality. Not all religious syncretism is bad; it is oftentimes necessary in order that an intended message be contextualized. Too much syncretism, however, can render the original message altered beyond recognition. Danger of another type ensues when religious leaders demand purity in belief and practice from adherents, acting as if their “true understanding” of the system is devoid of syncretism (and its supposed evils).

As the church in 21st century America continues on its downward trend, it has a great opportunity to differentiate itself from the dominant materialist-consumerist societal creed that has infected some of its quarters in the last thirty-five years. Money is a necessity, but Jesus turning over the money changers’ tables in the temple shows money’s supposed primacy as concocted. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy economy, but Jesus’s parable in Luke 12 of the rich fool who, thinking he was entirely “self-made,” considered all his gains for himself and no one else, is a blatant indictment of those who trust in the Market above all other things.

It’s a fine line between material blessings appreciated and properly utilized and those same objects venerated and pursued as life’s ultimate goal. Part of the church’s job in this society is to remind and teach: where you place your treasure, there you will also find your heart. There’s some purity in that understanding that shines like gold for numerous societies and cultures, past and present.

 

*No offense intended against the great state of North Dakota and its inhabitants! Peru was a much better option for internship – for me. And who knows? Maybe it was good for North Dakota that I didn’t make it there for internship . . .

 

Check out my book that covers this and similar themes. Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

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Brand This

I’m not the first to complain about the overuse and adulation of the words brand and branding. Naomi Klein effectively sounded the alarm in No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. Written fifteen years ago, No Logo indicted consumer culture that elevates image over represented product. Hers is still a valid critique today; to it I will add just a twist of updating: branding in the 21st century includes not only products, businesses, and corporations, but people. You are your brand.

Tom Peters, business management consultant and author, is one of the persons most responsible for the above statement that equates humanity and commerce.  Like Klein, he also published a book in 1999, The Brand You 50. Despite the book’s cheerleading demeanor and its overuse of italics, bold, ALL CAPS, (and parenthetical side comments), it has a loyal following. The main point of the book – the importance of showcasing one’s unique skills, in business settings and in life – is unassailable. Distinction, as exemplified by the term Me, Inc. (used by Peters extensively in the book), makes the brand.

A few years before Peter’s book came out, I participated in a “thinking expedition” for innovators. Led by Rolf Smith, a recently retired USAF colonel, this conference gathered executives and leaders from companies such as Proctor & Gamble and Exxon, among others. I was Rolf’s pastor at the time, and he was kind enough to sponsor me as a participant. I was first exposed to the term Me, Inc. at the conference, and consequently encouraged to broaden my vocational identity through a Me, Inc. mapping exercise. (Rolf Smith – not Tom Peters – created the Me, Inc. concept.) As I look back on it, the expedition played a small but vital part to inspire me to write Just a Little Bit More.

It’s a good thing to take personal inventory – to see how one measures up and to contemplate future possibilities based upon one’s skill set and capabilities. That is precisely what happened for me when I did the beneficial Me, Inc. mapping project in 1996; Rolf never encouraged us to think of ourselves as brands.

Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel (What Money Can’t Buy) correctly warns us that market values have been on the rise for the last thirty-five years. He reminds us that there are some things that are better off not having price tags attached to them: giving blood, helping older ladies across the street, encouraging underachieving elementary school kids to read (and paying them to do so). The intrusion of market values storms forward as people are increasingly encouraged to put price tags on all things, even to the point of considering themselves as brands. How far will we allow it to advance? Not everything is to be bought and sold, and not all things (especially people) are to be branded and commercialized.

Brand this: I have unique distinction for who I am as a person, completely unrelated to brand and branding. I am not my brand, and I won’t be branded any time soon. Brand that.

 

Rolf Smith wrote The Seven Levels of Change in 1997. It’s now in its third edition. Highly recommended.

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, is available in paperback at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website. Ebook to be released later this summer!

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Inexhaustible Unlimitedness

I like listening to guest commentators David Brooks (The New York Times) and E. J. Dionne (The Washington Post) on Friday afternoons during their segment on NPR’s All Things Considered. I am usually in the car – the 5:00pm hour is when they grace the airwaves of Austin’s NPR affiliate, KUT – and if Denise (my betrothed) is in the car with me she knows that the seven minutes of exchange between the “conservative” and the “liberal” commands my attention. You can drive astutely while listening to the radio, but not while playing with your phone – an apt example as to the limitedness of our ability to multi-task.

David and E. J. don’t call each other names – it’s NPR, not Fox News – but they had a spirited discussion on the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling (April 2, 2014); the five-to-four decision abolishes the biennial limit of $123,200 that individuals can donate to federal candidates and national political party committees. Even though they disagreed on the ruling, both made valid points as to what it will mean for future elections. Brooks: The current situation is not good with “all the underground money, [and] all the candidates deciding that they have to go directly to the special interests to kiss up to them.” The decision points us in the “right direction.” Dionne: “The number of people who hit that limit that you described, all giving to congressional candidates, was 591. So this court has empowered a very tiny number of Americans to exercise even more power than they already have. It’s a terrible decision.”

While both make legitimate claims, Dionne is right (as he also states in the discussion) that the ruling follows in the path of the court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. In today’s America, “free speech” is becoming costlier and costlier. Market values – all things bought and sold – infiltrate an arena (political democracy) that runs the risk of being captive to only the highest bidders.

Both rulings give further assent to the spirit of unlimitedness that has dominated American society since the late 1970s (what I call the short era of excess). The unlimitedness credo was articulated by George Gilder in his 1981 bestseller Wealth and Poverty: “The United States must overcome the materialistic fallacy: the illusion that resources and capital are essentially things, which can run out, rather than products of human will and imagination, which in freedom are inexhaustible.”* Gilder’s sense of stretching the boundaries—for positive gain—is admirable; dreaming, envisioning, and reaching for the stars makes the supposedly impossible attainable. But, not so fast – history is chock full of examples showing that the ignorance or disregard of limitations breeds corruption, social injustice, and economic chaos. Complex derivative securities and credit default swaps helped lead to the economic derailment of 2007-08. Yeeeaaahhh, the formulation and implementation of those financial products was a great and glorious moment for the unlimitedness of human will and imagination.

Because we worship unlimitedness in matters financial and economic, we now somehow think that fewer boundaries in the political realm is the better way forward. Forgive my limited will and imagination, and redundancy: Yeeeaaahhh.

 

* George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty: A New Edition for the 21st Century, Regnery Publishing (2012), p. 315.

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What Happened to Egalitarianism? Part 1

Market values-infused religion exalts individualism over and against societal common good. Its defenders claim, rather, that individual pursuits comprise the best method of achieving common good (albeit as a secondary by-product of market activity). While there is some legitimacy to this claim, when pushed to the extreme, it becomes an ideology that creates detrimental social effects. Egalitarianism – all humans accorded equal worth and social status – is thoroughly eroded by the ideology of market values. We live in a day and age where the value of egalitarianism, a grand construct of American society, appears to be increasingly forgotten.

The following is an excerpt from the book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, to be published in May 2014.

Egalitarianism – where economic and political opportunity are accessible to all – is a grand human-societal achievement. In the last five thousand years of civilization, purposeful egalitarianism is the best hedge against the natural human tendency toward uncivil hierarchy that has produced slavery, monarchies, and plutocracies. Egalitarianism is not a naturally occurring reality. It needs advocates; we need to struggle for it and continually lift it up lest it disappear in our midst. Egalitarianism is what helped end slavery and welcome American minorities and women to voting booths; egalitarianism generates social progress. We are constantly challenged by the first of Thomas Jefferson’s self-evident truths in the preamble of the Constitution: “All men are created equal.” We haven’t fully reached our destiny; as a matter of fact, the farther we travel the more we see what is in need of amendment. The current struggle for egalitarianism has a formidable foe in the cohabitation, since the time of Rockefeller and the Gilded Age, of business and government. The struggle has seen advances for egalitarianism after extreme social crises, such as the age of Rockefeller and his cohorts and the combined traumas of the Depression and World War II. The battle is on for egalitarianism to advance once again after the 2007-08 economic swoon.

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, Blue Ocotillo Publishing. All rights reserved.

Click here to read What Happened to Egalitarianism? Part 2.

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