Economics

#OccupyWallStreet: Rediscovering Values

golden calf greedEditor’s Note: In light of the recent protests at #OccupyWallStreet and around the world, we have revisited Jim Wallis’ 2010 book Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street and picked out some passages that are particularly pertinent to what we are seeing in our nation today.

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
– John 2:13-17

Interestingly, in his turning over of tables, Jesus specifically targeted the merchants who were selling doves. Doves were the least expensive sacrifice permitted to be offered in the temple, and, therefore, were often bought by the poorest of the pilgrims.

99percentIt was a marketplace that took advantage of the poor, who had little other choice. It was a “subprime” marketplace in which a few accumulated great wealth for themselves at the expense of those who could least afford to pay. The money changers had taken a place reserved for the values of God, and used it to put their profits first. No doubt these money changers would have argued that they were only responding to a demand of the market, but Jesus didn’t seem to see it that way. What was happening in the marketplace was a spiritual and moral problem, not just an economic one…

[When Jesus turns over the tables] we see a man enraged at injustice and passionately confronting those who exploit the poor. We also learn that there are some things that we all should get angry about, that there are situations where the only appropriate response is confrontation…

golden calfFirst, we were sold a lie. We were sold an illusion that promised the American Dream was as close as our next purchase. That we could pursue our selfish interests without thought to the consequences, because the “invisible hand” would work it all out in the end. We were told that we did not need to work for wealth, that it would come if only we put our money in the hands of the right stock broker, mutual fund, or stock…

Second, the rules of the game failed. It was supposed to be simple. Work hard, get ahead, buy a home, and tuck some money away for the future in a 401(k). If you followed those rules, everything would work in your favor. But good jobs have disappeared, wages have been garnished, and 401(k) savings have disappeared. The rules of the game seem to have worked for those who set the rules, but not for those who played by them.

Third, our good was supposed to trickle down. We were promised that as the rich got richer, the rest of the country would prosper as well. If we handed our finances and ultimately our lives over to those who knew the market the best, it would benefit us all. If we took the virtues of the market and made them the virtues of our lives, we, too, would experience boundless prosperity. Fulfillment would come if we could just trust the market enough to work for us…

false idolThe market has become our “golden calf,” our idol of ultimate allegiance… This is when God—and then Moses—got angry. Why? Just because they built a golden calf? No. The calf could have been just a work of art, a statue to enjoy. What made the calf an idol was that the people gave the newly created calf the credit for leading them out of Egypt. They gave to the golden calf credit and attributes that belong only to God…

Today, instead of statues, we have hedge funds, mortgage- backed securities, 401(k)s, and mutual funds. We place blind faith in the hope that the stock indexes will just keep rising and real estate prices keep climbing. Market mechanisms were supposed to distribute risk so well that those who were reckless would never see the consequences of their actions. Trust, security, and hope in the future were all as close to us as the nearest financial planner’s office. Life and the world around us could all be explained with just the right market lens. These idols were supposed to make us happy and secure and provide for all our needs. Those who manage them became the leaders to whom we looked, not just for financial leadership, but direction for our entire lives. That is idolatry.

Rich and poor alike were sucked into making heroes out of those who seemed to be able to turn everything they touched into gold. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel lost virtually all of his personal wealth and his foundation’s, up to $37 million, to Bernie Madoffs Ponzi scheme. “We gave him everything, we thought he was God, we trusted everything in his hands.”‘

(All pictures are courtesy of Catholics United, who produced the ‘golden calf’. Extracts come from pages 19-29 of the hardcover edition of Rediscovering Values.)

Behind the Numbers: We Are Mobilizing!

As you are reading this, the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (a.k.a. The Super Committee) is making choices about who and what our nation will protect.

Will we protect the wealthiest 2 percent by preserving $690 billion in Bush era tax cuts?

Or will we protect children by preserving $650 billion in special education, student aid, and assistance to low-income schools?

Will we protect corporations by preserving $97.5 billion in subsidies for big business or will we protect families by preserving $98 billion in Head Start and child care programs?

We have 32 days left to remind Congress that, "Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss" (Proverbs 22:16).

#OccupyWallStreet: Without a Vision, the People Will Perish

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After an hour or so of echoing statements of faith, prayers and petitions aloud and in unison, when the hundreds-strong crowd began to disperse, I caught up with one of the event's organizers -- the Rev. Michael Ellick of New York City's Judson Memorial Church.

Standing at the top of a flight of stone stairs at the west end of the park, looking down on the massive crowd as it moved through the rabbit warren of tarpaulins, lean-tos and the occasional portable sukkah (it is Sukkot, after all) below, I turned to the vaguely weary clergyman and asked, "So ... what now?"

An Open Letter to the Occupiers from a Veteran Troublemaker

You have awakened the sleeping giant, too long dormant, but ever present, deep in the American democratic spirit. You have given voice and space to the unspoken feelings of countless others about something that has gone terribly wrong in our society. And you have sparked a flame from the embers of both frustration and hope that have been building, steadily, in the hearts of so many of us for quite some time.

Throughout history, often it has been left to the youth of a society to do that, and you boldly have stepped into the role of the emerging generation, which sometimes means saying and doing what others only think. You have articulated, loudly and clearly, the internal monologue of a nation.

Jim Wallis on #OccupyWallStreet: "This Could Really Change Things" (Video)

Last week, Sojourners CEO, the Rev. Jim Wallis, visited with #OccupyWallStreet demonstrators in New York City. "As I listen to them, I recognize what I felt as a young student-activist in the late '60s and early '70s," Wallis said. "I just feel from them what I felt a long time ago, that we're part of something much bigger than us, much larger than us...The visceral feeling [here] is, 'This could really change things.'"

Columbus Day, Wall Street, and Alabama Immigrants: "It's About Power, Stupid"


In our own time the "jobs" rhetoric from both the right and the left ignores the power grabs and power differentials that led to the hemorrhaging of American jobs in the first place. The simple truth is that multinational corporations could make more money for their shareholders by outsourcing jobs to third-world countries so that is what they did.

This was not a moral dilemma for CEOs; it was a "sound business decision." And the gospel according to free-market capitalism (the USA's true religion) preaches that what is good for American business is good for America.

#OccupyWallStreet: Hand Gestures, Health Care and the Birth of a New Paradigm

generalassemblyThroughout the day here at the #OccupyWallStreet mass demonstrations in New York's financial district, you can find small and often somber groups meeting.
They have agendas, a facilitator, a time keeper, and someone to keep track of the "stack" -- the list of people waiting to make a point or ask a question.
And they also have a system of hand gestures -- a sort of gonzo sign-language adaptation of Roberts Rules of Order -- designed to keep the discussion and decision-making process both democratic and efficient.
When someone agrees with a point the speaker is making, the crowd raises two hands in agreement. When the crowd disagrees, hands quickly go up, making a downward pointing motion. To call a "point of process" crowd members shape their hands into a triangle to stop discussion. Speakers who wander off topic are quickly redirected and reminded of the point being discussed in the agenda.
These working groups bring their recommendations to the #OccupyWallStreet General Assembly, which takes place once a day. A vote is taken to determine consensus before a recommendation is passed along to the G.A.
Anyone participating in the General Assembly can block a proposal by forming an X with their arms. Participants make their case and then a revised proposal is put forth. The revised proposal can then be passed with a 90/10 consensus.

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