In the October 15/25, 2008 edition of “World Magazine” (www.worldmag.com), Jamie Dean in her cover story article hints at the root cause of our difficulties by highlighting a wonderful organization in Charlotte, NC, called Jackson Park Ministries (JPM), run by Bill Reid. JPM seeks, among other things to help transition people in need using its housing and counselling resources.
Dean’s article got me to thinking.
Now I’m about as conservative as they come. Any way you can get government out of my life (barring the Constitutionally mandated roles such as national defense and the like) is fine with me. I’m often overheard ranting with anyone that will listen that we’ve replaced the role of family and community (that, in my opinion was rightly ordained by God) with the government. Charity from Main Street has been replaced with charity from K Street, and with that a distance has developed between those in need and those with much to share.
So here’s what is rumbling around in my gourd after considering Dean’s article…
This Is Not A Financial Failure – It’s A Moral Failure
I know, I know. Pretty fundamental… Dean even said it in her article. But really… what is at the root of all of these housing and financial issues we’re facing today? A collection of catastrophic, and relatively easy-to-see moral failures.
Moral Failure #1 – The United States Government
The United States Government: Elected officials wanted to “fix” things. In the 1990’s Congress had a vision to expand the American Dream to those who, without the suspension of the financial principles of free-market capitalism, simply could not afford home ownership. Doubtless, they wanted to do this for a multitude of reasons. The “worst” wanted to consolidate power by currying the favor of the poor by “giving” them the American dream of home ownership. These are nothing more than poverty pimps who (if the poor could see beyond their circumstances) would even earn the wrath of those whose votes they are buying. These legislators don’t know (or don’t care to consider) that the American Dream cannot be given, but it must be earned – often through the hard work of several generations. Now the “best” in Congress may want to enhance their self-worth with well-intentioned deeds done for others. But, these prideful legislators, even with their apparently honorable motives, are looking to themselves as the source of the well-being of the electorate. Don’t they know from whence comes every good and perfect thing? Haven’t the read our founding fathers who continually warned us against a society in which we don’t earn but we are merely given, and in which the power of the government is derived directly and completly from the governed? Haven’t they read the Founding Father (from whom the other Founding Fathers derive their considerable wisdom), who by way of the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-11 says,
“7For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. 10For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.” (source: NIV at www.bible.com)
Moral Failure #2 – Corporate America
Corporate America: Much is made of the subject of leadership today. I myself serve on the Executive Council of Linked 2 Leadership, a global network of over 4,000 leaders – students and practioners alike. I own a consulting practice in which I provide people strategies for businesses to successfully implement their business plans. I also provide executive coaching services. And I’ve spent 25 years in leadership positions in the corporate world. So I’m not entirely unfamiliar with principles of leadership.
In our current mess, Corporate America – and by that I mean narrowly those individuals in positions of sufficient power to have made decisions that lead us down this path (or could have made decisions not to) – has displayed an appalling lack of leadership. Not only have they allowed people to assume loans they could not realistically repay (unless, of course they were already assuming that the repayment would eventually happen at the hands of the taxpayer, which is a horrific thought), but by doing so put their firm, its employees and its shareholders at great risk. According to Dean in the World Magazine cover story, “By June 30, 2008, Fannie Mae reported holding subprime or Alt-A loans worth a total of $619 billion, according to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Freddie Mac’s reporting wasn’t as detailed, but AEI estimated the institution carried at least $392 billion in similar loans.” I don’t even need to take the next sensible step of determining what proportion of their total assets this represents – by some accounts it’s as much as one third!
Sadly, this is a familiar theme in Corporate America – decisions being made on a daily basis with no moral underpinnings of any kind – let alone those underpinnings found in God’s word.
Moral Failure #3 – The Borrower
The Borrower: No, despite our perpetually rooting for the little guy, the borrower can not escape culpability. We are all responsible for our own decisions and actions. I’ve made literally hundreds of decisions I regret… and one way or another, they are invariably paid for. Read the passage from 2 Thessalonians, above. Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and an ancient seaport. The members of the church at Thessalonica weren’t all financiers, nor independently weathy. They were just like you and me. Some with plenty and some with little – but the exhortation remains… “we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you”.
We each have a responsibility to examine our means and live within them. In this respect most of us have failed, but it is nevertheless a moral failure for which we are to be held accountable.
Moral Failure #4 – Other Enablers
Anyone Supporting This Unsustainable Lifestyle: In the same vein, anyone supporting this unsustainable lifestyle is guity as well. From well-intention activists, to friends and family sitting idly by while they watch (and even encourage) others commit fiscal suicide. Compassion for those around us should compel us to speak when we see them bringing harm to themselves. We seem more comfortable doing this in the physical realm (drug & alcohol abuse, physical abuse, etc.) than elsewhere. But why not in the financial realm? Is our love for our brother so shallow that we dare not speak up?
As I write this post, I am reminded that I am not free from guilt – I have contributed in my own way. I only pray that God (not the US Government) will forgive me as He has so many times before and that I may continue to enjoy the great blessings of this land – the Shining City on a Hill.
Which reminds me… Ronald Wilson Reagan… Lord, how I miss that man.