The Common Good
September-October 2002

‘Them’ is Us

by Conor O’Reilly | September-October 2002

THANKS TO Walter Brueggemann for calling on us to challenge the
capitalist system that causes such loss and pain for the powerless ("

THANKS TO Walter Brueggemann for calling on us to challenge the capitalist system that causes such loss and pain for the powerless ("Secretary of Woe," July-August 2002). Much damage has been done both in this country and around the world, but the root of the problem is close to home. With our savings and pension funds, many of us are now capitalists and need to attend to the beam in our own eye.

The market system is a mirror. Sometimes, as in the case of Enron, it is a flawed mirror, but usually it accurately reflects the consequences of the choices we make as consumers and savers. Sometimes we are lied to and so cannot make informed choices, but the facts are usually available if we choose to do the research.

It's tempting to believe that we are such small fish that our choices do not affect the cause of the problems we decry. It would be easier to blame the big guys, the system, or "sinful structures." Like the servant in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) who tried to abdicate responsibility by burying his one talent, we hand over our small savings, and related voting rights, to 401(k) sponsors or fund managers and kid ourselves that we are not accountable for the consequences of our decision. We make no effort to understand the economy or how the market works, while funding it with our savings and consumption.

So yes, we need Secretaries of Woe who will cry out on behalf of innocents who are hurt by market forces. And yes, we need to fix the corrupt system that gave rise to Enron. But let us also become knowledgeable about the economic consequences of our own stewardship decisions, and then let's make informed moral choices about how we spend and invest.

Conor O'Reilly
Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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