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Judgment Day For Wall Street

It's time for religious liberals to call for changes in the American economy. Real, tough, specific change to our financial system and the economy it runs.
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It's time for religious liberals to call for changes in the American economy. Not "poverty relief." Not gauzy talk about making things like God's economics. Not small-bore programs like shopping local. Real, tough, specific to our financial system and the economy it runs.

In fact, it's time for people of all religious persuasions to do the same thing. Conservative, centrist, liberal, progressive: it's time for us all to get on the bus.

Here's why I'm calling out religious folks in particular, rather than the faithful and the skeptical alike. Last week, a long-simmering controversy among left-of-center religious types broke into the open. There's been a lot of back-and-forth, but the main bone of contention is the place of social issues on the Democratic agenda. Should Dems downplay reproductive rights and marriage equality to attract partners who may be socially conservative but otherwise liberal, or should they hold the line and build up more progressive voices?

For a variety of reasons, I have long been an advocate of the second position. In short, I think that meeting social conservatives halfway is wrong and wrong-headed. It's politically ineffective and morally dubious. Much better, I believe, to accomplish progressive goals by dragging the political center left.

But having had some time to reconsider my position, I do want to affirm that it is possible to find common ground, despite differences.

So as an olive branch to the people I've called centrists, and sometimes the "Religious-Industrial Complex," I'd like to suggest one bit of turf we can all share. It might not be the first thing that would come to mind, but it should be something that religious centrists, liberals, and progressives alike can get under.

Religious progressives should join the call for a thorough investigation into what caused the collapse of the American financial system. If that results in criminal charges being handed down, so be it. If it results in resignations or charges against people in the Obama administration, so be it. Let the chips fall.

Religious progressives should also call for meaningful and effective reforms of the American economy. We need to make our financial system more transparent, more equitable, and more fair.

Let's be specific about what should happen:

  1. Everyone responsible the creation of the toxic assets mess should resign their position. In government, on Wall Street, all of them. That means Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, among others.

  • The government should stop subsidizing the very same Wall Street types who took us into the mess. In this case, that means the hedge fund managers who will be the big winners under the various permutation of Geithner's TARP.
  • As Thomas Geoghegan prescribes in Harper's magazine, interest rates should be capped at 9 percent, with lenders licensed to exceed the cap based on fair and sound business practices.
  • These points uphold the commonsense principle that people who do the wrong thing should be held accountable for it. Moreover, economic activity should be transparent: not only visible to the community, but in the community's interest.

    And as Peter Laarman points out, economic fairplay is written in Jewish and Christian DNA:

    Thus Isaiah to his bankers in the eighth century BCE: "The spoil of the poor is in your houses; what do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?" (Isa. 3:14f) And thus Jesus to his bankers--to the money changers in the Temple courtyard--"It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers." (Mt. 21:13)

    Muslims could say the same thing: "Allah will deprive usury of all blessing, but will give increase for deeds of charity" (Quran 2: 276).

    But, you might ask, of all the issues confronting our country at this moment, why this one? Why economic reform?

    Well, first of all, it's a popular issue. It's also one that's timely, necessary, and, well, crucial to the economic well-being of just about every person on the planet. Anger at Wall Street is at an all-time high, and voters are demanding accountability. After decades of being screwed by the big wheels, average citizens are ready for a fairer economic system. So there's a broad coalition just waiting to happen.

    And this is not just scapegoating derivative traders. They're only cogs in the machine. We need to find and hold accountable the people who dreamed up all the exotic financial products that have now proved to be a self-indulgent house of cards. These are the people who targeted hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of small-time investors and borrowers and dragged them into an appalling new form of debt servitude.

    In addition to ruining the finances of ordinary citizens, these financial shenanigans have mortgaged our collective future. Virtually every domestic priority in this nation is held hostage by calls for "fiscal responsibility" on the part of the government. Yet the Obama administration has proposed sinking $1 trillion into rescuing the financial system. What could be accomplished with that trillion? And if the US is going to pony up that kind of money, shouldn't it reasonably expect to hold accountable the people who caused the losses?

    The road to real economic reform begins with finding and excising the cancer in our system.

    In turn, the road to social reform begins with economic reform. According to the Guttmacher Institute,

    Poor women are four times as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy, three times as likely to have an abortion and five times as likely to have an unplanned birth

    Want fewer abortions? Make the financial system more transparent. Want poverty relief? Remove the obstacles to economic opportunity. Want responsible fathers? Make the economy more fair.

    It's really very simple: when people have a fair shake in the economy, they have the power to make good choices, and they're less concerned with how their neighbors are living their lives. And not a single right has to be compromised.

    But it all begins with holding corporate malefactors accountable. Until the license of the few to piss away the future of the many is removed, we will return again and again to this place, with the economy corrupted, looted and perverted. For everyone's benefit, it needs to end.

    So, my religious centrist brothers and sisters, how about it? Will you join me in calling for a far-ranging and thorough investigation of how we got off track in this nation? Will you join me in calling for accountability from our economic and government leaders? Will you join me in seeking a financial system that is transparent, equitable and fair? Let's find out who exactly has been responsible for crushing God's people and grinding the face of the poor, and take our nation back from them.

    It seems like the right thing to do.