Dordt College News

Soundings: A faculty reflection

January 23, 2012

What is “the beginning of wisdom” in today’s economic climate?

Our prolonged financial and economic crisis has wrecked budgets, damaged millions of households, polarized our country, and eviscerated trust levels.

Untold numbers of white papers and books have been written about the villains, causes, and potential solutions. Caricatures abound of big-spending Democrats, tax-hating Republicans, loony Libertarians, gun-toting tea partiers, tax-evading fat cats, and millions of “innocent victims” of foreclosure-loving big banks. For the most part, liberal and conservative Christians have too easily bought into these caricatures and happily aligned themselves with secularly-oriented small-government conservatives, social progressives, or libertarian compatriots.

Political debates ebb and flow (as Iowans know better than most), but they seem to have coalesced around the issues of unemployment, the wisdom or foolishness of taxing “the 1%,” massive U.S. government deficits and debt, and unprecedented Federal Reserve money creation. Important as these things are, I believe they are mostly symptoms of deeper problems. The need for changed hearts and reoriented values seems to be implicated at every juncture of the crisis. Reckless borrowing financed unaffordable homes, greedy bankers and mortgage brokers doctored paperwork and passed bad credits and risky investments on to others. Over-zealous politicians and government regulators mandated banks to make low quality loans, enriched Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives by gifting them “guaranteed by the U.S. taxpayer” privileges, created strong incentives for homeowners (through non-recourse laws) to abandon their loans when things got tough, and saddled innocent companies with mountains of paperwork rather than punishing the guilty. Asleep-at-the-switch regulators allowed bankers to make casino bets with government-guaranteed depositor money, allowed high-frequency traders to transform financial markets from long-term investment vehicles to dens of volatility, and gave get-out-of-jail-free cards to wealthy criminals in exchange for a small piece of their fortunes and the right not to plead guilty. Central bankers-turned prophets (and, later on, saviors) gave us reckless borrowing, higher commodity prices, and skyrocketing home prices with their near-zero interest rates, to the chagrin of savers, pension fund managers, middle-class would-be retirees, and those unable to get credit because of policies that suppress savings and steer credit to favored sectors of the economy. These are things most of us know. What we think about less is how sin has also penetrated and corrupted many of the structures and institutions on which our society depends and the tendency of the secular media, corporations, governments, and political parties to focus more on symptoms than problems. 

What are the problems? Perhaps we can only hint at them in this short “Sounding” by asking a few questions. Does a business exist primarily to make money or to serve people (including investors)? Should media encourage soundbytes and sensationalism or carefully search for the truth? Is government called to protect citizens from outside aggression, punish evildoers, and promote public justice or play favorites, redistribute unfathomably large amounts of money, and save us from the ordinary, logical consequences of our greed or foolishness? How ought our perspective on the appropriate role of government to differ from secular thinkers on either the right or the left?

John Calvin wrote that the purpose of government is, “to adjust our life to the society of men, to form our social behavior to civil righteousness, to reconcile us with one another, and to promote general peace and tranquility.” Is this what is happening when government grants massive relief to one group of homeowners and companies and nothing to others who “miss the cut?” When it subsidizes borrowing and penalizes saving? When people’s health becomes a political football? When it favors secular solutions to faith-based ones? 

Have we traded many of our most cherished Christian principles for pragmatism? A market economy and a level playing field for crony capitalism (I’ve seen crony capitalism in my work in Russia and China and it is not a pretty picture.)? Justice for expediency or elitism, believing “the smartest guys in the room” really are the secular, Ivy-League educated corporate CEOs, presidents, congressmen and FOMC members? Or, should we ask once again what the writer of Proverbs meant when he said “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?”

Perhaps it is time for biblically informed, deeply principled policies and political positions to go mainstream in the Christian community. And for us to trade our leisure time and comforts for the hard work of discovering the truth and reforming the political system. Perhaps it is even time for a Christian political party? We invite you to make this a real “Sounding” by sharing your thoughts with us. Tell us how you think the Reformed Christian community should respond to these problems or what kind of  leadership role  you would like to see your college play in ascertaining “the beginning of wisdom” in this matter.


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