Friday, December 12, 2008

What's a Christian reaction to the automaker debacle?

Jim Wallis, writing for Sojourners, says that in relation to the Detroit crisis, relationships are central to Christianity, and that as a society we should remain in relationship to the automakers if we want some sort of reasonable conclusion to this crisis:

The heart of our faith is about relationships. How they are broken and how they are fixed. Righteousness is the term we use that means “right relationships.” It may sound like an oversimplification, especially in light of all of the complex market instruments that are in use today, but the root of all of this financial mess and turmoil are broken relationships, broken social covenants.

The relationship between employer and employee. The relationship between corporations and community. The relationship between stock holders and executives. The relationship between consumers and their creditors. The relationship between the businesses, the government, and our civic institutions. The relationship between people and the planet we live on. These relationships are broken, distorted, and even abandoned. All of them are in need of redemption.

If all that come out of this crisis are some new regulations on naked short-selling, transparency in hedge funds, realistic credit ratings for mortgage backed securities, and a slap on the wrist for those who spent more than they had, then we have missed the point. All or some of these actions may be good and may be necessary, but no maze of regulations or army of watch dogs can ever change It'the fact that we have broken and abandoned the relationships that build up the foundations of a good society. As I have said before, this economic crisis is both structural and spiritual.

If we only treat the symptoms of the problems without also seeking personal and communal transformation, we will find ourselves on the losing side of this battle. However, if we fail to regulate our markets and hope that the “invisible hand” will turn all our vices into virtues, we fall into the painful naiveté that brought us to this place to begin with.

Wallis mentions that society needs to reconstruct its relationship to greed. That's an obvious tack for Christians to take. Jesus commanded us to favor the poor, so it's obvious to me that Christians should favor offering financial assistance to displaced workers, assuming it is possible - and no matter what happens, there will be a lot of displaced workers.

It's harder for me to say how Jesus would feel about offering aid to the Detroit 3. Corporations often behave like sociopaths, and if Jesus had come today, he might well have forbidden his followers from offering them any sort of aid. However, the Detroit 3 are also not entirely responsible for the mess they are in. They didn't force Americans to buy gas guzzlers, for example, and to let them fail would be to cut off one's nose to spite one's face.

Either way, corporations also need a fundamental restructuring of how they relate to society and individuals. They are essentially immortal entities, and the worst they have to fear is public outcry and possibly fines. I've never seen a healthy corporation discorporated by regulators for social sins, so essentially corporations do not fear public reprisal for these sins. Sociopaths also do not fear punishment. Corporations at their worst act like sociopaths. GM, Ford and Chrysler have acted like sociopaths in the past. This cannot continue. Whether or not Jesus would approve of financial assistance for the Detroit 3, He would demand that corporations restructure their personalities, so to speak.

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