The Common Good

Greed in the Economy: It's the Morality, Sinner

Everyone has heard the famous phrase, attributed to James Carville, which supposedly won the presidential election of 1992 for Bill Clinton: "It's the economy, stupid!" It's still good advice, especially as the shocking collapse of the financial markets has turned the election campaign into a much more serious and somber discussion than lipstick on pigs.

But the issue is deeper than just the economy. I would now rephrase Carville and say, "It's the morality, sinner!" And I would direct it to the people who have been making the decisions about the direction of this economy from Wall Street to Washington. Here is the morality play:

Aggressive lending to potential home-buyers using subprime and adjustable rate mortgages led to "mortgage-backed securities" being sold to investors at high returns. As housing prices dropped and interest rates rose, homeowners got caught, fell behind on payments, and millions of foreclosures followed. That resulted in the mortgage-backed assets losing value with banks unable to sell the securities. So the subprime lenders began to fail. Asset declines then spread to investment banks. We have now seen the sale of Bear Stearns brokered by the government, and last week, the government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as mortgage defaults threatened them. Then Lehman Brothers fell into bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch was sold. Now another bailout, AIG, the largest insurance company in the country -- whose potential demise threatened the whole financial system even further.

During the height of the lending frenzy, many people got very rich, as they did during the previous technology bubble. Now with the collapse, experts say the most likely result will be further tightening of credit and lending standards for consumers and businesses. Home, retail, and business loans will become more expensive and harder to secure. And the consequences of that will spread to most of America.

In the accounts and interpretation of these events, a word is slowly entering the discussion and analysis - greed. It's an old concept, and one with deep moral roots. Even venerable establishment economists such as Robert Samuelson now say, "Greed and fear, which routinely govern financial markets, have seeded this global crisis

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories

Resources

Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)