Occupy Wall Street and economic justice

Dan Vander Plaats

Marta Layton
October 19, 2011

Socialism has gotten a bad rap in the twentieth century, I think (and for good reason!), but there are many elements of it that you can find in the society set up by the first Christians. I'm not for socialism per se, but just because something sounds socialism-esque isn't enough reason for me to oppose it.

For example, I personally don't think having a public-financed university education for everyone who can be admitted is a bad idea; I went to a state school from 2000-2005 where the tuition was about $2,500 a year and had a study-abroad experience that truly widened my horizons for the cost of a (school-subsidized) plane ticket and a semester's tuition. I'd say investing even $15,000 to round out a productive, able-to-think, and reasonably debt-free citizen seems like a decent investment to me.Anyway, on the larger issue. The Bible commands generosity when we have a surplus. It also commands fair standards in the market-place, criticizes loaning money as identity, and emphasizes that we must provide economic opportunities for all - even (especially!) the have-nots like widows and orphans. Economic justice to me means providing opportunities for security and meaningful work if you work hard and study hard. Handouts isn't the answer, though it's better than their lack when they're needed; we need a modern equivalent of the gleanings left in the field. And bringing back the middle class (which seems to be a core feature of the OWS movement) seems like a decent starting place to me.

October 19, 2011

In response to the public-financed university concept, the community college is the school of choice for the financially-strapped, a hopeful gateway to a 4-year institution, public or private, at a great savings. The problem currently for many students is that they are so financially strapped in this economic crisis that they need to find or hang on to current work just to make ends meet, and education for now is "on the table" for personal budget cuts.  I've had a number of students who've sincerely apologized for ditching class, because they had work opportunities or job interviews they just couldn't pass up.

October 19, 2011

I think you're ignoring what I've seen as another one of the major messages of the #Occupy movements nationwide, and one that I think would get agreement not only from those on the left, like me, but from many reasonable conservative thinkers as well: the idea that we should get corporate money in particular out of our political system. 

There's a reason they're occupying Wall Street to demand changes that would largely be determined in the Capitol in Washington, DC, rather than just going to Washington: it's because they understand that the levers of power in Washington are pulled by those in the penthouse offices in Lower Manhattan. 

The Main Street Americans who are occupying Wall Street get it: the political process is broken largely because our political choices are defined not by the will of the people, but by the will of corporate interests. Our leaders no longer govern in the interest of the people they purportedly represent; they govern in the interest of the corporations and wealthy individuals who put them in office.

The Americans protesting on Wall Street and in dozens of other cities and towns across the country are frustrated that our politics is decided largely by the corporations and wealthy CEOs who have millions of dollars to funnel into shadowy SuperPACs that can spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns, or the corporations that own the news media (print and broadcast) who play a major, if not deciding, role in determining whose voices will be heard or treated as credible.

I'd think that people on the Left and Right could agree on that basic idea: that all of the people—not just those with pockets deep enough to plaster every commercial break with an attack ad, with a few thousand dollars to drop on a rubbery chicken dinner for a campaign fundraiser, or with a major news network under their thumb—should have a say in every level of our politics, that our political leaders should be acting in the interests of everyone instead of just those who can buy their attention and interest. 

Get money out of politics, and let those who want us to vote for them to lead us make their case to us on equal footing, rather than giving those who represent the interests of those with money a massive megaphone.

Gary Bebop
October 19, 2011

Christian bloggers should "get over" trying to explain Occupy to us.  We're seeing it for ourselves, and "it will be what it will be," with all the ugliness and petulance and idiocy and enthrallment thrown in.  Remember Jesus' warning: "They will lead many astray."  Don't go after them.

October 19, 2011

Gary, I don't believe anyone involved with #Occupy would claim to be Jesus (Mt. 24:5).  I do, however, believe that Christians in support of #Occupy would look at Jesus' words a bit earlier in Matthew, where we are commanded to not neglect justice and mercy and faithfulness.  A reading of the minor prophets and Jesus' other teachings tells us why.

I don't believe we have the luxury of saying "it will be what it will be," either.  In that mindset, I wouldn't vote, donate to charities, or do anything else to further God's kingdom.  If we as Christians do not engage these issues, but only observe them from the sidelines, we are not living up to our calling.

A blog like this is a great place to engage in conversation with other Christians about these issues.  If you have a critique of what #Occupy is standing for (or, more importantly, against), I would love to hear your reasons why.

October 19, 2011

You are Wall Street, I am Wall Street. Buying a publicly traded company provides the financing for the shoe company to purchase the leather to make the shoes we wear. It allows the car company to purchase the rubber to make tires...and for our investment in those companies, we make a return on the money we loan which finances the retirements of millions of Americans. The recession started with the sales of bundled sub-prime mortgages that banks were directed to make by some in congress. Occupying Wall Street is misguided.

Dan says, “Many of the people who joined with Occupy Wall Street are losing their homes, and banks won’t loosen up funds for debt re-financing.” 

The federal policy that encouraged universal home ownership and riskier loans to under-qualified people was created and promoted by people like Christopher Dodd, Charles Schumer and Barney Frank and their oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. When more regulation was proposed Frank famously said "These two entities ...are not facing any kind of financial crisis ... The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.” In 2003, Frank also stated his "famous dice roll": "I do not want the same kind of focus on safety and soundness that we have in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision. I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing." Dice roll is a curious phrase because Frank is also a promoter of legalized on line gambling.

Those responsible for encouraging financial failure are sitting in Congress. Dan Vander Plaats is right, the pendulum has now swung the other way and the tight regulations and higher capital requirements for banks means that no matter how low the interest rate go, banks will not loan money for re-financing or home purchase. The mortgage market is dead, people’s largest investment, their homes, are worthless and the economy is in the tank. The remedy is not to Occupy Wall Street, the remedy is to vote out those responsible for massive financial failure. Occupy Congress.

Economic justice is not confiscating my neighbor’s earnings and savings and redistributing it to others. Eliminating profit for risk simply takes away the incentive to work or save, removing the incentive to innovate and invent. At best, economic justice starts with creating a system where all can work, accumulate savings, have access to education and enjoy the rewards of their responsibility and thrift. Marta, socialism earned its bad rap in the 20th century for the massive failure of the United Soviet Socialist Republic, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, for the failure of China’s economy and its return to capitalism. An economic system based on collective ownership of the means of production eliminates personal responsibility. Yes, Socialism emphasizes equality rather than achievement, and values workers by the amount of time they put in rather than by the amount of value they produce. It also makes individuals dependent on the state for everything from food to health care. Witness the imploding socialist economy of Greece. Utopias based on an inadequate understanding of the fall of man become the worst kind of oppressive dystopias.

Gary Bebop
October 20, 2011

"Someone left the cake out in the rain..."  Ah, the utopians.  They have such high hopes that "this time" they'll succeed (without the mess, without the bloodshed, without the misery and final disappointment).  Occupy is the distraction of the passing parade.  And Jesus warned about distraction...

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