Personal Responsibility & The Empire of Greed
September 26, 2008, 9:47 am
Filed under: culture, money, politics, sabbath

Almost as soon as I hit the “publish” button on yesterday’s post, I was already thinking that I needed to write a follow-up.  So here goes.

First things first, I’m big on citing my sources, and I just wanted to say that when I write things that refer to consumerism as patriotism, that means I’m ripping off my good friend Jason Evans.  He’s a really good example of how I try hard in life to surround myself with people that are smarter than me.

Speaking of people smarter than me, my dear wife, Michelle, commented on yesterday’s post with some of the very same thoughts I had in mind for my follow-up, so let’s jump in now.  Among other things (some of which she and I may have to agree to disagree on), she noted that we have participated quite heavily in this financial empire, and we’ve certainly benefited from it.  Confession time: since 9/11/01,  we’ve purchased two new vehicles, bought a home when we moved to the Northwest, and have indeed overspent on consumer goods.  Mind you, we’ve done so without the use of credit card debt and we didn’t take out a ridiculous mortgage for a house we couldn’t afford, but still, we have definitely participated in the empire – sometimes with embarrassing enthusiasm.

But that points to the main issue I wanted to cover today.  Over the past few weeks, as we’ve watched the financial market roller coaster, watched major banks and investment firms go down in flames (including my own bank, in the past 24 hours), and see our politicians wrangle over bailout options, it’s been very interesting to me that everyone in the media is pointing blame on corporate CEOs and their greed, government oversight agencies that fell asleep at the wheel, and the economic policies of the presidential administration.  I don’t spend hours and hours in front of the financial news networks, or any news networks for that matter, but in all the reports I’ve read, watched, and listened to, I’ve never once heard anyone even hint at the responsibility of the USAmerican consumer in all this mess. 

Is it true that banks are getting hammered now because they made irresponsible loans to people who couldn’t afford them?  Of course.  But who did they loan that money to?  A lot of people who probably shouldn’t have been trying to buy a house at the time.  And who helped fuel the out-of-control housing market growth that is now experiencing its correction?  A lot of real estate investors who tried to make a fast buck by buying houses, putting minimal money into “improvements,” and then flipping them for a massive profit.  And when I say “real estate investors,” I’m not talking big tycoons, I’m talking about those people on the TV shows that are so popular on TLC.  Every business venture carries significant risk with it – but we collectively drank the Kool-Aid that convinced us that making piles of cash was easy, fast, and automatic.

We’re the ones buying the HDTVs.  We’re the ones buying the new cars.  We’re the ones counting the equity dollars in our houses.  We’re the ones that are sucked into marketing messages.

This post is not meant to be calloused to people who have struggled financially – I do have compassion for people who have fallen behind due to job loss, illness, natural disaster, and yes, corporate greed that ended up collapsing their retirement accounts.   But it’s absolutely irresponsible for us to point fingers of blame at corrupt corporations if we’re not also willing to own our complicity in falling for some of this stuff.  We share the blame.

This is why it’s up to us who follow Jesus to increasingly live a counter-cultural lifestyle.  For starters, it’s counter-cultural to admit blame.  It’s counter-cultural to settle for the ten year old sedan when that zippy hot rod is well within reach.  It’s counter-cultural to live within your means and give yourself and your money away to others.  It’s counter-cultural to say “Jesus is Lord, and the president is not, the Chairman of the Fed is not, my portfolio is not.”

Too many words spent here already, so I’ll shut it down now.  Pursue peace this weekend – via Sabbath, generosity, hospitality, and simplicity.


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