I have said in previous posts that populist politics is popular with many people because it sounds so good and it allows us to foster class envy toward those who have more than we do. The problem with populist politics is that it is based on many myths. The mythical construct that I am concerned with in this post is the false notion that is touted by many politicians and political pundits that somehow there are two separate and competing factions of the economy: the fat cats on Wall Street vs. the regular Joes and Janes on Main Street.
Please consider the following:
First, two-thirds of the American people are invested in some way in the stock market. This is no longer 1929 when only the wealthy purchased shares. Average Joes and Janes have pensions, IRAs and 401k's. Many other run-of-the-mill Main Street people have additional investments in mutual funds and college funds for their children. As the stock market drops, so do their investments and so do their plans for retirement.
Second, the companies whose shares are dropping are also employing real "Main Street" people. Of course, there are indeed many businesses that are not publicly traded, but there are plenty that are, and when Wall Street is hurting it inevitably effects, even those businesses that do not offer shares. Remember the pensions and let us also not forget that even health care insurers have a stake in the stock market. And for the one-third who are not directly invested in the market, many of those persons have money in banks, all of which have connections to Wall Street in some way.
Third, when the stock market loses money less tax revenue is generated. The less people make, the less they pay to the federal government. With all the talk about raising and cutting taxes, historically the government receives the most tax money when people make more money regardless of the tax rates of the middle class and the wealthy.
Fourth, which is connected to the previous point, when government receives less tax revenue, it looks to make up for the shortfall by raising taxes in other ways. These taxes are usually levied on goods and services that people absolutely need, even though it is a time when they can least afford them. The tax relief that is offered through the federal government is lost in the increased state taxes on those goods and services paid by consumers. In tough economic times the private sector, as well as state and local government have to tighten "the economic belt" which makes things difficult for everyone. (By the way, have you noticed that the only institution not cutting back is the federal government?)
Fifth, when Wall Street is hurting unemployment rises on both Wall and Main Streets because the vast majority of jobs in this country are created by the private sector. It is really a myth that government "creates" jobs. It only does so when it institutes more bureaucracy. By getting out of the way, government creates the environment that fosters the right conditions for the private sector to flourish. This does not mean that government regulation is not necessary. Government's role is not to restrain capitalism per se, but its worst impulses; and if it does not restrain those impulses they will indeed run amok hurting everybody.
None of this excuses the bald-faced greed we have seen on Wall Street for the last almost twenty years. The Bible condemns greed in no uncertain terms, particularly when it takes advantage of the least advantaged. But as we condemn such greed, let us also not forget that it was not just the greed of the wealthy fat cats, but also the greed of the average consumer, who over the last twenty years has also been enjoying the money party with sub prime home loans, two new SUVs in the garage with two huge payments, and investing in the latest technological gadgets and going further and further into debt in the process. And let us not forget that the federal government started this mess by threatening banks into giving bad home loans to people who could not possibly afford to make the outrageous payments. (Here the worst impulses of the federal government were not restrained.)
We should condemn greed to be sure, but that is a vice that tempts all of us, not just those who are in a higher tax bracket. It is also not about coveting the lifestyle of those who have more than we do. The Bible condemns envy as well. It is about everyone being good and faithful stewards of what they have and understanding that if Wall Street doesn't flourish, neither does Main Street; and Wall Street would do well to remember that without Main Street, its financial future is also in serious doubt.
One final point needs to be made-- regardless of whether one is a CEO or a bank executive or a small business owner or a laborer for a company, as Christians we have a moral obligation to be Christians in whatever station we find ourselves. We can debate how the economy works or should work, we can discuss whether government's role should be greater or lesser in the private sector, and those are important discussions; but for Christians, the one thing that should be agreed upon by all is that we have a moral obligations to be Christians and to reflect the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all that we do. That includes how employers treat their employees, it has implication for how employees labor for the glory of God, and it also clearly includes all of us who should seek the good of the other. How that is fulfilled is not always clear, but the goal is worthy and, therefore, so is the discussion.
But none of this will happen if the greed that brings class distinctions and the envy that creates class warfare prevail. If Christians fall into one or the other extreme, they will have nothing significant to offer to the economic and moral discussion.
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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian