Sunday, September 21, 2008

A story for our time. . .

Watching our financial markets implode has raised a question or two about the whole notion of so-called "free market" philosophy. Folks who argue for the complete absence of regulation or controls seldom factor in human nature. Greed remains a gigantic human challenge.

Jesus told the following story about a successful man, a person like most of us, a guy like the men and women you'll see in church this morning. It is a very dangerous thing to trust in the material. To do so is to buy into a basic human delusion that creates a false sense of security that overlooks some important basics of life.

Consider the story:

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:13-34)


Anonymous said...

Careful, Larry. The church has spent 2,000 years convincing itself that Jesus didn't mean what he said. People get kind of worked up when you suggest otherwise.

Chris said...

Well, Larry, have you noticed it's the government regulated institutions and enterprises that are going south? It's not the free market that has screwed up, it's the likes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government owned and operated, that has caused the present crisis. The housing market was fine until the government under Carter and Clinton decided people should be able to get loans who did not have good credit. It's the massive entitlements and unfunded obligations that has us in this mess and now some people try to blame it on the free market. No one will go to jail for this because it's primarly Washington liberals who have caused it.

Anonymous said...

You have a gift for making inappropriate remarks that make you appear more idiotic and stupid with each comment. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were not govt owned or operated until a couple of weeks ago. It really makes anything you have to say weaker when you don't get basic facts right, Chris. (And what you have to say is usually weak enough to start with.)

Anonymous said...

Chris: What does your comment have to do with the parable quoted? I noticed you completely ignored the personal challenge in this blog post and went straight to your predictable libertarian spiel. I do have to hand it to you, you are more "on message" than most politicians. If you don't like the question, you just answer the one you wished was asked instead.

Anonymous said...

Chris, over the last 8 years all you have to do to understand the genesis of the credit crisis is recall the ads that have appeared on TV. Banks and lending organizations, with fewer and fewer regulations, have been selling cheap credit with all sorts of financial vehicles that made it possible for people to get into mortgages without sufficient credit. I don't recall seeing a single Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac commercial, not one. Layer on top of that the ridiculous power of the credit card industry and you begin to see the deal. Greed, pure and simple, drives this crisis. Get your facts right and try to open your eyes to the truth for Pete's sake!

Charles said...

Chris, Lehman Brothers, AIG, and Bear Stearns (plus Washington Mutual and who knows how many others that are about to fall) were never government owned or supported, but they were regulated until Phil Gramm removed those regulations in 1999 - Clinton signed that bill if you'd like to share the blame there. Since then they've been terribly active in setting up their own downfalls. Now many individuals will continue to enjoy their millions while Rome burns.

Fannie and Freddie actually were the definition of good mortgages - subprime means not meeting their downpayment/income requirements. A combination of the real estate bubble and bad employment caused many of those loans to go bad, causing the institutions' problems. Not that they weren't poorly run, but they're not part of the subprime mess.

Both parties, though, can blame some of their favorite people's greed! Real estate agents, loaning banks, investment banks, financial advisors, executives across the financial industry, government regulators hoping to move into the private sector, elected/appointed officials already paid by the private sector. Oh, and homebuyers ready to believe anything to get their house.

For the conservatives who read this, the problem seems to be that the system's defense is at a disadvantage - you can't plan against all of the possible plans greed will devise (and other people's greed will finance) so either a free market leaves us open to people's greed wrecking the system or how can we incent good behavior financially? I'm not aware that any of the executives whose mistakes or fraud got us here have been punished at all besides early retirement.