IN THE 2015 speech announcing his candidacy for president, Donald Trump declared, “The American dream is dead.” The people of Lancaster, Ohio, a small town at the edge of Appalachia, heard him loud and clear and later gave him 60 percent of their votes. Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town , by Lancaster native Brian Alexander, shows in fine-grained detail how the American dream of opportunity and fairness died in Lancaster and in similar towns all across the middle of the country.
Lancaster should have been the last place you would look for evidence of American decline. In 1947, a Forbes magazine cover story depicted it as “the All-American town.” It had a thriving manufacturing economy, a burgeoning middle-class, and enlightened civic leadership. For reasons of history and geography, Lancaster also had a reputation as “the whitest town in America,” but that didn’t bother Forbes too much back then.
The Lancaster of Alexander’s childhood and youth sounds a lot like Bedford Falls in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, but as the 20th century wore on, the town turned into Pottersville. When Alexander went back to write this book, he found that the glass factory where his father had worked was demolished. Most people had to drive an hour or more to Columbus for a job, civic life was deteriorating, and opioid addiction was rampant.
The main foundation of Lancaster’s All-American past was Anchor Hocking, a Fortune 500 glass manufacturer. According to Alexander, the industrialists who built Anchor Hocking in the early 20th century were real George Bailey types. Sure, they wanted to make a buck, but they were suckers for fuzzy-headed notions about the common good that led them to subsidize various public amenities for the town and cooperate with the unions that delivered a family wage to generations of Lancastrians. In those days, we learn, executives and managers might live on the same block with machine operators and share beers at the same local tavern.
“Fearless Girl” — a statue of a young girl standing with her hands on her hips, as though in defiance — is a temporary installation installed in commemoration of International Women’s Day. Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor of “Charging Bull,” is now calling for the statue’s removal, with his attorney Norman Siegel stating in public that there are “copyright and trademark infringement issues.”
The statue will live on Wall Street for a year, after popular support pressured to city to allow the statue beyond its one-week permit. The extension is a small victory. But her removal next year will be a quieter, yet no less important visual: Wall Street’s unwillingness to feature women in a public space without an end date.
You probably don’t think of Christmas as a revolutionary holiday. Twinkling lights on trees, Starbucks gift cards, and sweet carols are not exactly the stuff of subversion. A domesticated Christmas is comforting, but considering our fraught political landscape today, we might find better lessons by reflecting on the disruption caused by Jesus’ birth, and the radical implications of his life.
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus reminds us that we cannot serve both God and money. Serving money above all else means that we pursue our own greed, usually at the expense of others’ well being. To serve God is to care for our brothers and sisters. To serve money is to forget that their problems exist.
Director Adam McKay’s new film The Big Short, about the events leading up to the 2008 economic collapse, is a scathing indictment of the culture of greed, shortsightedness, and self-interest that allowed millions of people to lose their jobs and homes. It’s a comedy, but one whose dark humor derives from a passionate sense of disappointment and anger.
The interesting thing about human nature is that even among the oppressed, people will seek supremacy, a pecking order. We human beings have great capacity for tenderness and compassion, and we’re also the meanest things in the world! And even when we are oppressed together, we will try to find some advantage or superiority over others.
“As for you, my flock, saith the Lord, I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture?”
In other words: Do you have to get what’s yours and at the same time mess it up for others?
In a marketplace unfettered by ethical restraint, a sense of duty, concern for others, or even basic shame, 25 hedge fund managers gave themselves a 50 percent pay boost in 2013.
Never mind that hedge funds’ performance, on average, tanked for the fifth consecutive year.
These 25 men wanted big bucks, so they took them: a total of $21 billion. All for managing wealth that someone else created and, except for a few, not managing it particularly well.
The top earner paid himself $3.5 billion for 2013.
New York Times op-ed columnist, David Brooks, responded, this week, to an intriguing article in the Washington Post about Jason Trigg, a recent MIT graduate, who chose a career on Wall Street as a way to redistribute wealth.
Trigg’s plan is simple. Make lots of money. Live simply. Give lots of money. It’s not far from John Wesley’s advice of, “Earn all you can. Give all you can. Save all you can.” Actually, it’s almost identical.
Brooks perceptively sees the dangers and pitfalls in the road ahead. Most specifically, wealth and the surrounding environment can have a corrosive effect, no matter good our intentions. Brooks writes:
…the brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before. Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you.
Gradually, you become a different person. If there is a large gap between your daily conduct and your core commitment, you will become more like your daily activities and less attached to your original commitment.
But, while I echo Brooks concern, I disagree with his ultimate conclusion. He goes on to argue that we should pursue careers that elicit passion (seeming to indicate that hedge funds couldn’t be a passion for some people) and that if we truly care about children in Africa, it’s best to go there – not Wall Street.
"Senators are planning to introduce a bipartisan bill on Monday to give the country's securities regulator the authority to seek tougher fines for alleged Wall Street criminals.
Politicians, pundits, concerned citizens alike are all looking for the magic bullet to generate revenue without alienating an entire voting bloc or causing the American people more angst. Celebrities, pastors, and community leaders think the Robin Hood tax—taxing less than half of 1 pecent on Wall Street transactions— is the answer.
What say you?
Our friends at #OccupyTheology caught up with Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Sojourners' Director of Mobilizing Lisa Sharon Harper and others at the Wild Goose Festival to talk about the Occupy movement, faith, politics and culture in a series of engaging videos.
When Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman stepped up this year to defend Goldman Sachs – a company that was reeling from former employee Greg Smith’s New York Times op-ed decrying the change in culture at the company (and is now reeling from a sex-trafficking website scandal) – Gorman intimated the need for compassion by noting “there but for the grace of God go us."
This got my attention immediately. Not because Gorman, in the lead up to the “grace of God” intimation, asked that Smith’s commentary not be emailed around by Morgan Stanley staff. Not because Gorman suggested that the New York Times was out of line for printing public opinion.
No, Gorman got my attention because while it was out of line for Morgan Stanley’s CEO to suggest grace in considering Wall Street culture, that phrase has been a mantra of mine ever since my youth.
The barricades that have kept them out since the park was cleared November 15 are gone and steady streams of protestors are returning to their adopted home.
It remains to be seen whether the camp will be allowed to return to its former glory, or whether the security guards who have been controlling entry to the plaza will keep the returning protestors on a tight leash. According to The Associated Press
One security guard told a group of protesters: "No sleeping bags allowed, either, OK, folks?"
This analysis is not from Occupy Wall Street: It’s from those long-haired, hippie radicals over at Bloomberg News, whose Freedom of Information Act lawsuit finally pried the bailout details out of the unwilling Fed. Turns out the banks made $13 billion in profits off the government’s sweetheart-deal interest rates, which New Deal 2.0 is calling maybe “the biggest subprime loan operation of all time.”
The contrast couldn’t be clearer: While the government swung into extreme, double-secret action to save Wall Street, it’s sitting on its hands as long-term mass unemployment hammers Main Street.
If you thought all of the occupiers would go indoors for Thanksgiving, think again. In spite of the recent police raid, hundreds of occupiers, activists, and community members are breaking bread together in Zuccotti Park.
The OWS Kitchen working group estimates over 3,000 meals will be served with the support of local families, restaurants, and organizations who are opening their kitchens to the movement.
When I got down to Zuccotti Park around 2:30pm there was a joyful calm in the area—friends and strangers eating together on the now bare marble benches, others walking around offering pecan pie, vegan meal plates, and other holiday snacks to anyone interested, and a small group of folksy looking people singing “This Land is Your Land” and “We Shall Not Be Moved” with guitars and cymbals.
A nice reclamation of the Thanksgiving meal—less like the oppressive tale of pilgrims and native people we learned about in school; more like Jesus feeding the thousands, the beloved community, etc.
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There is something fundamentally wrong with our education system when the draws of a huge salary and big bonuses consistently trump the aspirations and dreams that were front and center in our lives just four years earlier. Debts, a lack of job opportunities in other fields, your basic standard-issue panic — or maybe a simple absence of imagination can take hold and send us running into the arms of the recruiter with the flashy suit, a Hollywood smile and promise of a better life.
As Terkel reminds us: “Young people will continue to go work in the financial sector as long as its pay is disproportionately higher than alternative careers. It's basic human nature: Follow the money.”
But what would it look like if we didn’t follow the money? What if Wall Street paid no more than schools or hospitals?
What would our economy look like if these leading young minds chose not to work for big banks and consultants, but instead were the teachers that helped turn failing schools around, the innovators and engineers who were designing products that would create thousands of new jobs?
What needs to be done so that the finest members of the 2012 graduating class head to Main Street instead of Wall Street?