Monday, September 29, 2008

Matthew 21:33-46

Pentecost +21 – Year A

Matthew 21:33-46

Stones at hand to throw. Stones aplenty to stumble over. Stones to build a watchtower and good-neighbor fences.

Wealth desire more profit while it at ease, off and about. In this sense the wealthy are a stumbling stone. Given what is deemed to be sufficient cause, wealth will come down like a juggernaut to crush its stoners.

The question of response to the initial scene is crucial. Are market forces and the divine-right of wealth the standards of measurement for relationships? Is there any other credible response than a killing-for-a-killing that the current rich might continue so? If there are, in what way might they also contain a see that, over time, will grow into a stumbling stone of another color?

In light of economic issues in the news, here is a column I found helpful by Jim Taylor. It's permalink (http://edges.canadahomepage.net/2008/09/28/459/) will be available later - How else might you link this Jesus story with today's events?

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Sunday September 28, 2008

PRIVATIZE PROFITS, SOCIALIZE LOSSES

I’ll be fine. Really, I will. Enough of my investments survived the recent stock market roller coaster that I can probably live reasonably comfortably for the rest of my life.

But I may have to die five years sooner than I had planned.

Do I sound bitter? I should. I’m bitter about the hypocrisy of governments that profess faith in the free market process and then refuse to let the free market apply its own consequences for fraud and mismanagement.

I’m furious at corporations that treat the public as a bottomless pit of suckers who can be exploited for investment capital, then milked for bailouts when those investments go sour.

I’m outraged at regulatory bodies that invite corporate entities -- anything from an international importer to a national food processor to a rural municipality -- to cut corners to balance their bottom line, by reducing inspections.

On the other hand, I’m grateful I don’t live in the United States where I have to pay taxes to a federal government that has squandered my money shamefully on wars built on lies and bailouts built on cronyism.

THREE STRIKES

But if I were an American taxpayer, here’s what I would have to conclude.

American banks loaned my savings to the mortgage companies. The mortgage companies competed to loan my savings to people who couldn’t afford to buy a house but who were led to believe that they couldn’t lose if the price of houses kept soaring.

Then, still using my money, the banks and mortgage lenders conspired to bundle those iffy mortgages into something they could sell as a sure thing because it was backed by real property. And the hedge funds used more of my money to buy up those toxic investments.

And when the whole pyramid scheme imploded, federal authorities want to use my money once again to bail out the companies that made all those dubious decisions.

Were I an American taxpayer, I’d have to conclude that I got screwed at least three times. Perhaps more.

Because even if I personally kept my nose clean, my credit above water, and my liabilities low, I would still owe around $37,000 as my per capita share of the $11.6 trillion that my government has gone into hock.

HYPOCRISY RAMPANT

Since Ronald Reagan, a series of Republican administrations has steadily promoted the ideology that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness depend on a free market economy.

As an outsider, I see them implementing this conviction through tax cuts and the reduction of government interference in businesses’ business of making a profit.

Tragically, Stephen Harper’s government in Canada has bought into the same mindset. Right now, he’s going around the country assuring voters that if you want to feel confident the country is in good hands, entrust it to the party that will mimic the policies that brought the world’s strongest economy to its knees.

Here in Canada, that mindset led to the Walkerton tainted water disaster, after Mike Harris slashed Ontario’s inspection services.

In the U.S., those policies produced the Enron and World.com crashes, the collapse of the Arthur Anderson accounting empire, and finally the sub-prime mortgage fiasco.

Now George Bush and the Treasury are lobbying to shore up their devastated economy with another $700 billion -- and maybe more -- in handouts.

Effectively, good ol’ free-enterprise George has socialized the U.S. credit industry.

COMPENSATION FOR LOSSES

At least this disaster has brought the true Republican principles into the open -- privatize profits, socialize losses.

If you can pillage natural resources, rape the ecosystems, slaughter your opposition, and abandon your wastes for future generations to deal with, you’re entitled to claim any loot you can acquire as a legitimate return on investment.

But if, perchance, your emulation of Attila the Hun should backfire, you’re entitled to be compensated for your losses by the people you pillaged, raped, slaughtered, and abandoned.

Yes, you’re damn right I’m angry.

But don’t label me a socialist. I’ve been a freelance writer and editor for 27 years now. I helped to found and co-owned an independent publishing company for 15 years. I haven’t had a regular pay cheque for ten years.

I quit sucking the teat of a great mother corporation 40 years ago -- although I still occasionally envy the pension plan that rewards those who stuck it out to the end.

But if I had to choose between the bureaucracy of government-run liquor stores, for example, and the crack cocaine dealers who peddle their products on street corners, I’d take the government operation any time.

At least they are accountable. To someone.

In theory, the corporations whose greed has tipped the world’s economy into red alert are also accountable. If not to the government, at least to their shareholders.

But the shareholders were never told what those companies were doing to inflate the value of their shares. According to some news reports, not even the executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, of Lehman and Merrill Lynch, realized how deep in trouble their firms were. Until it was too late.

Now those shareholders find that their equity has plummeted.

NOT BOTTOM YET

It’s said that alcoholics cannot begin to recover from their addiction until they hit bottom.

I’m afraid that the U.S. economy has not yet hit bottom. Because I see no sign that the people who run that economy have learned anything from their experience.

They are still protecting the CEOs, the managers, the corporate interests. They are still bailing out the bad decisions, the gambles, the fiscal flimflams. By analogy to the alcoholic, they are still in denial.

At least when a drug pusher screws up, he goes to jail. Or gets shot by his rivals.

The corporate and government leaders who got us into this mess will come out of it with gold-plated pensions and/or severance packages.

Thanks a lot, George.

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Copyright © 2008 by Jim Taylor.
Non-profit use in congregations and study groups permitted; all other rights reserved.
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