That picture is etched in my memory. It was a picture of an old man with a placard, protesting outside the bank where he had lost all his life’s savings in the financial crisis.
Much has been written and said about what has been the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and there’s no intent on making this another analysis of it. But this picture on the editorial of a national daily stayed because the dejected old man symbolized the many who had lost their livelihood over the gamble that a few had taken.
Wall Street, the symbol of Capitalism over the past many successful years, had no answer to this conundrum. ‘Too big to fail’ banks and companies had to turn to governmental aid for their survival and there is now a resurgence of words like justice, truth, faith, ethics and the like.
The success of the market and the reliance on it as the answer to all of the problems of mankind was a bubble that burst along with the other bubbles.
Consider the surge of the economy in the last 25 years or so. Countries obsessed about trade pacts, bilateral pacts and ‘freer’ trade as everyone wanted a piece of the pie that kept getting bigger. What’s more, this pie promised capital gains to one and all. Statistics began streaming in about per capita income and GDP growth rates as countries competed for entry into elite round tables of the G8, OECD, WTO, World Bank and the IMF.
The growing economic activity also conceded space to growing role of intermediaries providing service to the public, bridging the gap between funds surplus entities and funds deficit entities. But speculation was growing as well. Everyone was investing in the hope of getting more and the risks increased. And you know where this story ends.
As much as many may hate to admit, this is another story of the greed multiplier. In the midst of progress and prosperity, it’s hard to see such vices creep up and become the standard. In The Post American World, Fareed Zakaria gives the world’s measure of progress- between 1990 and 2007, the global economy grew from $22.8 trillion to $53.3 trillion and global trade increased 133 percent. The crash after this was a reality check, a speed breaker if you will.
But really, was this just another problem confined to the business world and the markets? Economists and scholars around the globe have diagnosed and given solutions to avert such a problem in the future. Sure, but who holds the choices one makes in a situation? Knee jerk reactions are all too common and so are more regulations but it’s a different matter where the rubber hits the road. Let’s not pass by the deeper issues in man.
The Bible says, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Looking at the way the world works today and the way the financial markets played out in the recent past, I am reminded that man’s choices always have consequences. The dark places in a man have always taken over when the self has become greater. It’s not just about greedy people making complicated financial products but the intentions that underlie every choice we make. The ingenuity of man has overtaken him and even the corporate world has amplified the call for ethics and social responsibility of business.
Where is our treasure? What is it that drives us each morning?
Today’s world is one where the West and East have almost merged; boundaries are fading and our lifestyle options are wider. This world has succeeded in jamming our minds with so much information that there is only room for the self. We are constantly glued to television, the internet or some other form of media feeding us news about how others are living and how better we can get.
Is it wealth that’s the driver in what we do or how we build our lives and our society? Wealth could fall like a house of cards, says the old man on Wall Street and the banker from Lehman Brothers. Is it material or tangible things that occupy our minds and our choices? Because we have seen that the greater good is often sidelined. Yes, people have to make a living but building our earthly treasure on earth is what our Lord Jesus warned us against when He said, “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”
The dark clouds of the financial crisis seem to have passed. People hope that the jobs they lost will come back and that stocks will go back to the high that was. It’s much easier to pass this off as another bad dream and imagine we are now awake. It’d be a loss not to see the bigger picture in world events even as people scramble around looking for honesty in each other.
The first decade of the 21st century is coming to a close and perhaps it’s a good time to spend the last month kicking back and asking ourselves where our hearts lie. Nothing in this world is permanent, not even our lives.
Someone once said that the softest pillow is a clean conscience. If what we do keeps us awake at night, a self audit is due. We’d be better off investing in heaven.