Economic crisis a deadly sin misdiagnosed

What we know for sure is that the economic crisis that began perhaps as long as two years ago and began roiling the stock markets and the real economy in the summer-fall of last year is real. We know it is causing huge amounts of real pain, provoking increasing amounts of real fear and causing consumers, producers, politicians and pundits to assume the position of a deer caught in the headlights. There is no shortage of advice, most of the same in deep conflict with each other. And the other thing we know for sure is that we don’t know how bad it will get or how long it will last.

What we don’t really know, but seem to argue about nearly ad nauseum, is how it all started. The immediate cause cited by most is mortgages to Americans who couldn’t afford houses. The underlying cause is argued to be the greed of the banks making the loans and the cupidity and greed of the borrowers. And the poster image that encapsulates the entire mess is bankers spending $1,800 on waste baskets while earning tens of millions in bonuses and corporate executives flying in on private jets to plead for public dollars to bail them out.   

That's no solution

{mosimage}If there is something that history can show us, it’s that barring the gate and looking inward to ease the economic pain of this recession is not a wise route to take. One need just check the history books and see how taking this path only worsened the Great Depression back in the 1930s, when the United States brought in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act to protect its economic interests. Global trade fell off by two-thirds, turning a recession into a full-blown depression, the worst economic crisis the world has ever experienced.

Yet that appears to be part of the solution the United States is banking on to get out of the current recession. The multi-billion-dollar stimulus plan proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate is heavy on its “Buy American” details, shutting the doors on other nations and some of their goods in an effort to stimulate the American economy. A controversial provision of the House’s version of the bill would bar virtually all foreign iron and steel from the stimulus plan’s infrastructure projects, while the Senate’s version, still to be voted on by The Register’s press time, would extend the U.S.-only requirement to all goods paid for by the plan (though it appears President Barack Obama is attempting to water down these provisions).

Loneliness: spectre of human life

{mosimage}Frederick Olmstead’s design of the 19th century’s Central Park in New York during the Industrial Age was meant to act as a place to breathe and relax amidst the pollution of an emerging manufacturing colossus. The park was a respite for the weary factory worker who could not afford the more pleasant surroundings of upstate New York. No doubt, the park was also a place to socialize and be with family.

Sociologists of the time suggested that the sudden rush to dense urban living was contrary to social evolution and the maturation of the human condition; while the body would accept the changes, the human soul would be hard pressed to acclimatize. This seems a paradox; more togetherness creates a cloak of invisibility around persons whom, to coin a new saying, were not in our calling circle. The paradox employs anonymity, the cold rapidity of technology and the theft of time’s true meaning.

Not Much For The Poor

{mosimage}When it comes to economics, Catholic social teaching is pragmatic, not ideological. While popes in the last 150 years have recognized that capitalism beats socialist economic systems in terms of human freedom and effectiveness, they have been under no illusion that, unless carefully managed, free market economics can inflict terrible pain and injustice.

That’s why successive encyclicals on political and social matters have emphasized the “preferential option for the poor” and insisted that governments have a duty to protect the most vulnerable from the vagaries of the market while working for the common good of all.

Advising Obama

{mosimage}If U.S. President Barack Obama thought the hard slugging was through, overcoming centuries of oppression for  blacks in the United States to make history as its first African-American president, just wait for what the future will bring.

As Obama took his position as leader of the world’s only superpower Jan. 20, he assumed control of a nation mired in crisis, on so many fronts. The economy is in the tank, facing its worst financial crisis in eight decades. The United States is in deep in not one, but two major wars, with a third conflict in the Middle East never far beyond U.S. parametres. The rich-poor divide is widening, too many Americans do not have proper health care coverage, action is needed to combat climate change and, yes, despite his election, racial tension is always on the radar — just see the reaction to the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white transit police officer in Oakland at New Year’s for evidence.

Housing key to breaking cycle of poverty

{mosimage}The face of poverty and homelessness is often hidden in Canada. Unlike the stark faces of children and families that stare at us from photos in stories about the millions huddled together in refugee camps in Africa and elsewhere, we do not see the same faces here.

They are hidden away in shabby apartments or isolated rural areas. They are not gathered together in camps as in Darfur but they still shoulder the burden of poverty and homelessness made more stark and bitter because it occurs in a land that is bountiful and abundant.

Are Darwin and Galileo a tag team against religion?

{mosimage}“Be afraid, be very afraid!” is perhaps a tad too dramatic, but on the other hand be prepared for a year that promises to go too far in setting up one of the great fake dramas of all time.

The first hint of what 2009 portends was in the last issue of New Scientist for 2008. The editors of the magazine in their collective wisdom decided to poll leading scientists around the world on the vital question, “Who did more to knock man off his pedestal: Darwin or Galileo?” As with any vital question of the day, the framing of the question is truly much more important that the answer. The question is timely because this year marks two “very special” anniversaries. It is 400 years since the Catholic Church put Galileo on trial for heresy and 150 years since the publication of Darwin’s groundbreaking work on evolution. To round out the trifecta of anniversaries, it is also the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

Through God our lives can be extraordinary

This time of year is a low point for some people. The festivities of the Christmas season are over, the lovely decorations have been packed away (ours not too long ago) and we’re back into the rhythm of everyday life. Resuming routines is a relief to some of us, but for others the predictability is monotonous.

All of us go through periods where life seems rather tedious. We may feel like we’re in a holding pattern, biding our time until something exciting happens. Perhaps we’re awaiting specific occurrences: the weekend, a vacation, the next season, our next raise, a new job, a birth or a milestone anniversary. But life goes on in the meantime, and we need to make the most of it.

Bountiful problems

{mosimage}The Pandora’s box opened by the legalization of same-sex marriage continues to let loose assorted demons. The problem of what to do with the polygamists of Bountiful, B.C., is just the latest.

Bountiful is a knotty dilemma for legal authorities in British Columbia. Polygamy is illegal in Canada. But for years, Bountiful residents have been members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a tiny sect of the Mormon religion that adhered to the practice of polygamy long after mainstream Mormonism abandoned it in 1890. Among its leaders, Winston Blackmore of Bountiful is alleged to have had more than 20 wives and more than 100 children. James Oler, the bishop of this sect, has been alleged to have at least two wives.

Scarboros have made a difference

{mosimage}It was a celebration I was sorry to miss. On Nov. 9 close to 300 people gathered at the headquarters of the Scarboro Foreign Mission Society in Toronto for the 90th anniversary of the founding of the society by Msgr. John Mary Fraser. Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins, who is the president of Scarboro’s civil corporation, was the main celebrant for the anniversary Mass. It appears to have been a genuinely festive occasion full of memory, gratitude and solidarity.

When I received the invitation to attend it was with the greatest reluctance that I declined — other commitments made it impossible — and it was only when my copy of Scarboro Missions magazine arrived that I appreciated the measure of my loss. But also the measure of my indebtedness.

Christian hope in times of global economic crisis

{mosimage}That our faith bears responsibility for discerning and responding to the “signs of the time” is a conviction Christian theology has constantly maintained. In this tradition crisis is defined as kairos, a moment of truth and judgment that reveals us as we truly are. Though that moment may indicate failure and disaster, when surmounted, it provides a sense of freedom, an opportunity for growth and renewed effort. The challenge facing Christians in a time of crisis is: “how do we understand and respond to this moment?”

Early in the present economic disaster, an American single mother returning from work with her daughter discovered that the bank had locked them out of their home. Her surprising reaction was: “I know that my redeemer lives, I firmly hope that God will see me through this.”