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Dealing with the prison of deregulated capitalism

We’re all in prison. And yet we’re free. We’re in the prison of deregulated corporate capitalism.

We’re back in the Roman Empire, where Paul and Silas were thrown in prison because they dared to interfere with the free market. They freed a young slave-girl who had been put on the street corner as a fortune teller. She lived on Main Street; all the money from her fortune-telling went to her slave owners on Wall Street.

By rescuing the slave-girl, Paul and Silas were challenging the morality of the prevailing economic system. So the folks from Wall Street seized them, dragged them “into the market place” before those in power and the judges — who were in the hip pocket of those who owned the marketplace and the market — beat them and threw them in prison for advocating “customs and practices” that were unlawful, according to law of the Roman empire. It’s all there in the New Testament Book of Acts. It was unlawful to be moral, unlawful to mess with the economy of a free market.

After beating them to a pulp, the judicial system ordered the jailer to lock them up in the most secure part of the prison — “the inner prison.” It’s always “the inner prison” — the one in our own hearts and heads — whose walls are the thickest. The people who challenge prison security are put in the “inner prison” — solitary confinement.

As Paul and Silas sang and prayed “at midnight” from their inner prisons and all the others were listening, there was a kind of earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison. All the prison doors swung open and everybody’s chains fell off! Everybody’s! And when the jailer woke up to what was happening and drew his sword to commit suicide, Paul and Silas declared that he, too, had been set free from the prison he had guarded.

Foundations of corporate capitalism shaken
In September-October 2008 an earthquake rocked the foundations of deregulated corporate capitalism. The earthquake, of their own making, shook the prison walls owned by the big investment brokerage houses and the big banks and AIG, and the inner cell doors had begun to swing open in the hearts and minds of the American people.

But instead of leaving the prison, we stayed in the “inner prison.” We rebuilt the prison, gave the keys back to Wall Street, and chose three square meals a day, a roof over our heads, some chump change for candy and cigarettes, numbed ourselves TV entertainment, and gave the slave-girl back to her owners so we could all dream about a different future. We rebuilt the Wall Street Prison.

What to do? For me, this is a matter of faith. I’m still an inmate of the Wall Street Prison, but my “inner prison” is free. I’m going to keep singing out loud at midnight about human freedom from the prison economy of a deregulated corporate free market that is anything but free. I’m going to walk out of that inner prison by taking my chump change out of the big banks that give $1,000,000 bonuses to the very people who foreclosed on the family of that slave-girl, and I’m transferring all it to the local credit union which belongs to the people. Then I’m going to invite everyone else to do the same.

I’m going to join Paul and Silas and song-writer Timothy Frantzich until everybody’s chains fall off and all the prison doors swing open. 

Gordon Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska.

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 02/12/2010 - 09:16 am.

    I like it I had just a same type of discussion with my teenage daughter over losers and choosers over clothes. I used Roman and first century christian examples.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/12/2010 - 10:11 am.

    Regulation is a double edged sword.

    Properly implemented regulation can, and does, enforce a discipline that is as beneficial to business as to the consumers they serve.

    However, as the infamous “Community Reinvestment Act” illustrated (to our extreme detriment), when manipulated to serve partisan socio-political agendas, regulation can just as easily exacerbate the very market chaos it purports to be guarding against.

  3. Submitted by myles spicer on 02/12/2010 - 10:33 am.

    To paraphrase Winston Churchill (roughly): “Capitalism is an awful system, but the best we have”.

    It will always require a delicate balance between free enterprise and regulation. It also has to be balanced to provide a FAIR distribution of wealth. What is often lost by those who strive to move wealth and income to the top tiers is that Capitalism is a consumer-driven economic system — starving the bottom groups is not only morally wrong, it is also antithetical to vibrant and prosperous Capitalism.

    Good article Pastor.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/12/2010 - 01:42 pm.

    “It also has to be balanced to provide a FAIR distribution of wealth.”

    Did that come from Marx’s Capitalist Manifesto? I’ve not seen that expressed from any economist; Keynes included.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/12/2010 - 02:37 pm.

    Thomas: Capitalists do not create wealth all by themselves. They need the infrastructure, governmental services like police and fire protection, educated and healthy employees and so much else provided to them by the taxpayers who also purchase their products and services.

    Fairness requires that they help through taxation to fund the public contributions to their success AND that they compensate all workers at levels sufficient to live decent lives.

  6. Submitted by dan buechler on 02/12/2010 - 09:42 pm.

    Bbalance came in the form of estate taxes, There are probably two main forms of capitalism (small d democratic and laisse fair with other myriad differences. Many republicans of old argued for such balance.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 02/12/2010 - 09:51 pm.

    Mr. Swift, “Critical thinking is a lot harder than people think, because it requires knowledge”. You seem to have a penchant for twisting facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

    When you’re ready learn about the CRA. Try spending some time on the two short pdf’s linked below. Cheers…

    Associate Professor of Economics and Law, UMKC

  8. Submitted by dan buechler on 02/13/2010 - 07:38 am.

    Yeah I know I am way too simple minded but look at the concept of a savings and loan pre 1980’s. An institution often community based took in savings accounts many of them small. They lent them out hopefully judiciously to local developments primarily in housing, you had the commercial banks for other things. They maintained liquidity, were transparent. never insolvent, all which required regulation. Yes sir call me a whatitbeezlebub with graduate training or a ben bernacke wannabee but part of the problem of the late 1920’s and the early 30’s was that many savings institutions were run like pawnshops (see Oxford review). Oh gawd a newsflash on fox news contradicting everything I just wrote fox declares high credit card debt good for the economy. Excuse me I must be wrong and I take back everything I just wrote.

  9. Submitted by Gordon Stewart on 02/13/2010 - 09:17 am.

    Thank you all for the thoughtful comments. I’m not an economist. I’m a language philosopher and a theologian. As Richard Schulze says, we need to look at the facts. And the facts are both objective (“the outer prison) and subjective (“the inner prison”). The inner prison is an ideological prison in which individuals and societies assume certain things without examination, ideas and institutions to which we humans turn to create a secure Home. These words/ideas are like God – too sacred to criticize. Words like capitalism, freedom, America become sacred words – words of worship rather than description. Anyone who dares to question these sacred objects is dismissed as a socialist, a communist, or is un-American.
    We have come to a tragic point where words/ideas that are essential to a democratic republic – words like (elected) government, taxes (paying our fair share), and public (shared, common life) have been painted as evil itself – anti-American and therefore, anti-God. To the extent that our heads remain captive to the idea of American exceptionalism – i.e. that we are by our very nature a chosen people, a holy people who can do no wrong, we bow the knee, consciously or unconsciously, to “the military-industrial complex” of which Eisenhower warned us would eat our lunch and destroy us a people – we are not engaged in democracy. We are inmates in the outer prison. We are engaged in divine worship of that which is not divine. We are in “the inner prison” of lesser gods who deserve critical examination nd from which we must be set free, objectively and subjectively if we are to become a free people with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/13/2010 - 12:39 pm.

    I have read Black’s opinions, Richard. His anti-capitalist venom makes him the darling of the left and he is often quoted by leftist “media” such as Kos, Moyers, Huffpo & etc. I’m not surprised he pops up here.

    The Repeal of the Glass Steagle act was a mistake, and it did have a role to play.

    But surely you are aware that it was repealed in a deal between Dem’s and Repub’s that included enhancements to the CRA the left wanted….to “put some teeth” into the threats leftist special interest groups like ACORN were leveling against financial institutions that refused to ignore the credit un-worthiness of loan applicants.

    People like Black refuse to acknowledge that the derivatives they would make the sole villain would never have existed in the first place without the CRA forcing banks to make bad loans and Freddie and Fannie out there buying them up and encouraging more of the same through an aura of Fed. backing.

    Like I said; regulation twisted by partisan socio-political agenda’s are worse than no regulation at all.

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 02/13/2010 - 06:05 pm.

    Rather than using the childish techniques of name calling. I prefer empirical and or fact based evidence, where all can agree as to what they observed.

    Dogma and ideology are very personal and quite often result in an emotional response. Which has no relation to the overall evidence and or facts of the matter.

    As to Mr Swift, I would have expected nothing less from you in spite of the overall evidence from a non partisan source.

  12. Submitted by Dan Kitzmann on 02/14/2010 - 09:37 am.

    Mr. Stewart,
    Excellent article. It reminded me of Harvey Cox’s essay, “The Market as God,” in the Atlantic a few years ago:

    Cox, a theologian as well, delivers a devastating send-up of fundamentalist market cultists. Though now ten years later, especially given what has happened to our economy recently, his essay reads less like satire than portent.

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/14/2010 - 11:13 am.

    Ok, I guess I’m confused, Richard.

    Which part are you suggesting isn’t factual?

    That there wasn’t a quid pro quo between the Dem’s and Repub’s to pass the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act?

    Or that the GLBA wasn’t passed by a bi-partisan majority?

    Or, is it that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act didn’t require that mergers between commercial banks and investment houses be vetted by the regulatory agencies charged with implementing the Community Reinvestment Act?

    Or, is it that the Treasury Department reported in April of 2000 that CRA resulted in almost $500 billion in loans to borrowers unable to meet normal underwriting standards between 1993 and 1998?

    Or do you doubt the fact that Fannie and Freddie bought up most of those sub standard loans?

    Please elaborate.

  14. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/14/2010 - 02:36 pm.

    Dan B (#8) — Search “North Dakota State Bank” for a modern (since the 1920s or 1930s, I believe) state-owned and operated bank that really works to serve the interests of The People. Jimmy Stewart himself would approve.

    It is the official bank for all state business, but also writes (and holds until paid off) almost all real estate mortgages for North Dakota’s citizens. There are almost no foreclosures, even during the recent debacle.

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 02/14/2010 - 07:14 pm.

    Mr Swift you seem to have veered off of the subject with regards to this excellent piece by the Rev. Gordon Stewart.

    For sheer disruptive value, no uncle who hogs the gravy can match you Tom. Let’s try and get back on track.

    Best to all….

  16. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/16/2010 - 10:13 am.

    Yes, Karin. My parents and my five oldest sisters didn’t learn English until they started first grade at a country school. One of the places where a single teacher taught grades 1-8 and the older children helped the younger ones study. The teacher lived in my mother’s home.

    A U of M professor (Dr. Moe?) spoke in a 1980s history class about members of the Non-Partisan League traveling through North Dakota to present ways for farmers to unite in fighting back at the bankers, railroad operators and grain traders who fleeced them year after year. The Farmers Union soon came to be and did succeed in overcoming corporate exploitation.

    The joke was, said Mr. Moe, that League members had to pretend to be Republicans in order to get heard because so much of what they hoped to accomplish — everything to benefit ordinary people — was considered “socialism” and therefore anathema to recent immigrants from Russia. Thus, “Republicans” were elected to local, state and national office for decades, maintaining relationships with their fellow “Republicans” in N.D.’s small towns and farms.

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