If They Are Too Big To Fail, Let's Make Them Smaller
We're off and running. I am headed for the airport to go to Detroit for the first leg in our book tour for Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street-A Moral Compass for the New Economy.
Yesterday the Washington Post ran a piece I wrote to begin the tour which they titled, "Let's Topple the Idols of Wall Street" in the print version. I liked their title. The article describes the moral contradictions in how the government extended "grace" to the big banks in order to avoid financial meltdown, but that Wall Street won't extend any grace to the homeowners on Main Street who need it. I suggest the similarities to a gospel parable of Jesus, and that a new modern parable is in the making, "The Parable of the Unmerciful Bankers." Indeed, the article argues that there is a values crisis beneath the economic crisis and that a moral recovery will now need to accompany the economic one. The article, and the book in much greater detail, outlines how many of the values and practices from our diverse faith traditions -- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam -- offer critical correctives to the ways we have gone wrong economically and spiritually, and help point the way forward.
In particular, it describes the beginning of a potential new movement among people of good faith to move their money from the big banks who have behaved so badly to more local banks and financial institutions that have better served their communities. It ends with my two favorite lines from the piece, "The banks say they are 'too big to fail.' So let's make them smaller. That should get the attention of Wall Street."
The greatest danger of the economic crisis now, or the Great Recession as I call it in the book, is that we will learn nothing from it. If that happens, all the pain and suffering so many have known will have been in vain. But if we can learn from this and turn it into a "teachable moment," then this crisis can still be redemptive. An analyst at Moody's commented that "Fear has dissipated, greed has returned," suggesting that Wall Street has learned very little. But another article from Sunday's New York Times suggests that, as a result of these hard economic times, people are "doing more, buying less": spending more time with family and friends, gardening, cooking, reading, and participating in civic or religious activities. My reason for writing this book was to help jump-start a national conversation about what we could learn from the crisis -- not so much when it will end, but how it will change us. And I encourage you to use the book in a variety of small discussion groups to get this conversation going in your churches, schools, work places, and communities.
Each day, I will be doing a little diary reporting on how the conversation is going in the cities we will be visiting. And I would love to hear from you. Keep us in your prayers as we visit almost 20 cities before we are done. Watch the Sojourners Web site to find out when we will be near you. See you on the road!
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street--A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.