Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Those Who Don't Learn the Lessons of History....

I've been out of the loop for a while, but haven't been (haven't been able to be) unaware of the efforts to salvage the solvency of the financial markets. It has left me thinking of the question from my seventh grade math teacher: "Now, who has seen my deliberate mistake?" Yes, I know that those who made the decisions would never say they intended this result; but the critical decisions were nonetheless made quite deliberately.

So, what have we learned?

Perhaps we've learned - again! - that laissez faire capitalism cannot be sustained. We thought we had learned this. We thought that, thanks to Sinclair Lewis and other muckrakers, we had learned that unrestrained, "weakest to the wall and devil take the hindmost" capitalism would ultimately injure the community for the sake of a few industries and those who ran them.

Perhaps we thought that in "the new economy" that couldn't happen. After all, after the Depression we added regulation. And anyway, we're no longer in an industrial economy. We're in a service, information, and financial economy. Everything has changed.

Only, we've learned different. Not everything has changed. Some things have changed back, as deregulation became all the rage. Our society has changed as well as we've moved from a "barn raisin' " ideal of community to a rugged individualism. Most important, human nature, especially human greed, hasn't changed. So, our economic goals shifted from optimizing stakeholder benefits (profit, yes; but also full employment, philanthropy, and community investment) to maximizing shareholder profits.

And so we've now learned that laissez faire capitalism doesn't work in the "new economy," either. It has nearly destroyed this service, information, and financial economy as it nearly destroyed the industrial economy a century ago. At great human and emotional and financial expense we will survive and reshape, and call it recovery.

And, please God, we will pass this on. We will study and teach what went wrong. If we do that, perhaps a century from now our grandchildren won't have to ask again, "So, what have we learned?"

1 comment:

LawAndGospel said...

Sad indeed, this state of affairs. Totally unrelated, so pardon the intrusion, I am planning an independent study at seminary involving chaplaincy and wonder if I can pick your brain. You may email me at if you are willing to share in your experiences.