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The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reflections by an Amateur Non-Economist

The nation is in the biggest financial crisis since the great depression and fall of the stock market in 1929. The mortgage industry has collapsed causing the fall of the stock market. Loans are hard to get. The government is trying to bail out failing financial institutions. “Socialism for the rich” is what the late John Henry Galbraith has called it. Big business wants no control so it can play ball in free market capitalism. But when BB gets in trouble it wants the government to help it out of the difficulties it has gotten it self into.

We are OK as we are both retired. The Church Pension Fund has a ten billion dollar portfolio so I expect my monthly check is OK. So far Social Security is table. Ann's pension is in stocks and bonds so that may waiver a bit but we are OK. I suspect that most Americans and we will ride this out without undue suffering. At least that is my fondest hope.

This crisis goes to the root of human nature. Many people believe that we are born pure and innocent and then are damaged and corrupted by the wicked world. My belief is that human nature is deeply flawed to begin with. We are born with a basic inclination to self-preservation, which never really leaves us. We all want to do good but we don’t do it. We all want to avoid doing bad things but we do them anyway. We will do anything to protect and enhance our self-interest. To put it another way we are radically imperfect.

But there is the other side of human nature. At the same time we are imperfect we have a drive toward love and compassion. These two sides of our nature are in constant tension. In raising children we adore our children and their behavior causes us to be angry and punishing. We fall wildly in love in love with our partners and we can be hostile, mean and unfaithful. We want to be honest and profitable in our businesses and we lie, cheat and steal sometimes. The good and the bad are there in us all the time. The truly mature human being knows about these warring tendencies and is in control of them.

I think the mortgage brokers, stock brokers and government employees are no better or worse than the rest of us. They are a combination of good and evil. They love their spouses and children. Many enjoy their work and want to make money to live well and be responsible citizens. Then greed, the desire for a little or a lot more, comes into play. Temptation comes, risks become exciting, and there is even the possibility of great wealth. Sometimes it pays off and lots of money is made. This will always happen for a few people. The risks are worth it.

“When I make lots of money, then I can give lots of it away.” That is true and many wealthy people do just that. Some don’t.

Free market capitalism doesn’t work because it does not take into account the fact that people are as bad as they are good. People are as greedy as they are generous. Destroying competition, evading taxes, hostile take-overs, and endangering and underpaying workers are some of the evils of capitalism. Free market capitalism always leaves a good number of people at the bottom of the economic heap, hungry, homeless, sick and degraded.

Controlled capitalism is the system we have in the United States now. Congress had done many things to control rampant runaway capitalism and its abuses. They have allowed labor unions to exist to demand better working conditions and pay for employees. Until recently there was strong legislation in place to control some of the abuses of people playing the stock market. The government controls farm, energy and communication policies.

Only the government is big and strong enough to assure that all Americans have adequate medical care. Capitalism has failed in providing medical care to millions of American men, women and children. The fear of “socialized medicine” has given pause to real comprehensive medical care for us all. I think the government must get more deeply involved to assure widespread medical care for all.

Our business and political leaders are imperfect, a combination of good and bad. They are doing their best in a difficult and complex financial world. They have trouble keeping their allegiances straight. What is good for the country, the economy, the party, the world, the ecology and their families?

We love a simple-minded blame game. It is the Republicans, the Democrats, the Unions who are to blame is the usual way. A more realistic way is to get past the blame game to what is the best way to move forward, make changes and keep our country healthy. We need an attitude of trust, that in getting the facts and solutions we need we can live comfortably in a world where human being are imperfect and good at the same time.

RWC

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