A Christian View of the Economic Crisis

A Christian View of the Economic Crisis

With the current economic situation in America, many people are asking tough questions about the market, capitalism and how Christ fits into all of it. That’s why New Man is proud to present a Q&A with David Cowan, a former bank executive who currently is a pastor as well as the author of Economic Parables, which looks at Jesus’ teachings on money.

New Man: Who is responsible for this mess?

Cowan: We all are. The current crisis has to be put into perspective. In some ways, we have become a spoiled society, only happy in the good times and unprepared for the bad times. Unlike our parents and grandparents, we only think of things getting better, but this is unrealistic. The economy has its own rules of gravity--what goes up will come down. We didn’t hear complaints when it was easy to get loans, without backing it up with any assets, but now that the markets have gone against us we don’t want to take responsibility.
New Man:Will the bailout work?
Cowan: The bailout will have to work. Not because it is wise, sadly, but because that is what the loudest voices are baying for. On the plus side, there is an opportunity for government to make money and return a profit to the American taxpayer a year or two down the line. This was done back in the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, and again in the 1980s with the Resolution Trust Corporation in the savings and loans bank failures. On the negative side, there is the possibility the profit could just get squandered by various lobbied interests and government bureaucracy.
New Man:Is this is all the fault of bankers?
Cowan: It’s easy to attack the fat cats of Wall Street, and they deserve a lot of criticism. But what about the big pay-outs to sports stars, movie stars, celebrities and others? Isn’t it the case that we have a culture of greed? This is a tough thing to say--which is why you won’t hear the politicians say it--but we all share the blame. There is a gambling mentality in our economic behavior. We’ve all—not just the banks, but all of us—been putting our chips on red, and now that the market has gone black we look for someone to blame. Too many of us, on Wall Street and Main Street, have been managing our desires unwisely.
New Man:Is this proof that capitalism doesn’t work?
Cowan: This is not the time to question the future of capitalism. It is not a question of whether capitalism works or not. It is not a time to go back to the tired old debates of the last century about capitalism. The alternatives, like socialism and communism, caused oppression and were unsuccessful. We still believe in democracy, even when elected leaders have become dictators. Equally, we still have to believe in capitalism, even when we see irresponsible leadership in the market.
New Man:What is the way forward?
Cowan: This is the question to ask: What kind of market do we want? The answer should not be a kind of European socialist “lite.” It should be about robust capitalism, made robust by effective regulation, increased individual responsibility by all, and greater accountability of financial institutions and businesses so that managers actually know what is going on in their organizations.
New Man:What should we do as individuals?
Cowan: What is happening right now is a bleak message to us all; we know that. But there is a bleaker message when we do not listen to Jesus when He says in the parable [that] you can’t take it with you. If you are hurting right now from this economic crisis, you have to ask yourself what you have left, and you should see indeed there is much left, for there is the love of Jesus in your life. Just like with the economy, this is an opportunity for you show Him that you can go through the bad times with Him, not just the good times.
New Man:What questions should I ask of myself?
Cowan: Many people, as they find their material life difficult, will also find they have nothing left in the spiritual bank, because they have based their life on material things. If we base our life on the parables, we learn that Jesus tells us to use our worldly wealth wisely, so this is a time to ask, Did we do that? Did we do that economically? And more importantly, did we do that spiritually?
New Man:Let’s say I’m surviving; what should I do?
Cowan: For the faithful who have managed both their economical and spiritual wealth wisely, this is a time for you to reach out into your community and see how you can help people in trouble. Help people with debt counseling, and give people spiritual counseling. When 9/11 and [Hurricane Katrina] happened we knew we had to reach out. This is an economic storm we are in; we need the same approach. Money doesn’t make it different.

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